How Do You Measure Success?

Recently, I was asked how you know you’ve ‘made it’ when you’re an indie author. Is it the number of copies sold? Amount of money earned? When an agent comes calling, or when you grab a traditional publisher’s attention?

Generally,  I’ve seen success determined in terms of numbers of copies sold. However, it strikes me that – like anything in life – different writers have different goals.  Some might lower their prices to reach more readers, while others may be more focused on income. Just hitting ‘publish’ and putting the e-book out there could be an author’s end-goal, too . . . or getting their head around learning to create covers, formatting, and all the other technical issues e-publishing entails.

Defining your own goals and critical outcomes before you publish is critical, I believe. Once your book is out there, it’s all too easy to become caught up in the angst of comparing yourself to other (often better selling!) authors, negating any sense of pride and accomplishment you should have in what you’ve done. It’s been a hard lesson, but I’ve learned that every book and every author is different, and it’s almost impossible to compare apples to apples. Take time to pat yourself on the back if you reach your goal, and to sit back and reflect if you haven’t. By focusing on the things you can control, you’ll be a much happier author!

How do you define success for you?

EasyFreeAds Blog News Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati Digg Google Yahoo Buzz StumbleUpon


  1. Thank you for this, Talli, just what I needed to read this morning. xxx

    • Talli Roland says:

      Aw, thanks, Phillipa! It’s a good pep-talk for me, too.

    • I’m happy ro have published my e-book, but now my goal is many more sales. My goal was also to write the kind of book I want to read, and I feel I’ve done that. If I saw my book on Amazon, I would definitely buy it. It’s only been out for two weeks, but so far, not very many people seem to feel the same way. For me, it’s a major accomplishment after a very difficult yeear last year (you can read about it on my author page at Amazon or inside book one is the long version if you want to fall asleep. LOL!

  2. Mel Sherratt says:

    Yes, me too! Thanks, Talli. We all, no matter how we are published, should sit back every now and then and think – I did that. I’m terrible at taking my on advice though ;)

  3. Jo Carroll says:

    I find that checking the numbers of copies sold is soul-destroying – there’s always a feeling that I want to sell more.

    But when a stranger tracked me down, to send an email saying how much she’d enjoyed a book – that was wonderful. She didn’t have to do that, and it made me dance for days. ‘Making people smile’ is unquantifiable, so useless as a goal – but it gives me more satisfaction than anything else.

  4. Sibel Hodge says:

    So true, Talli, thanks for posting this. I think it’s easy to feel like you’re achievements are never good enough, and that’s too much pressure to put on yourself. When you accept how amazing it is just to finish that book in the first place, take pride in it, and trust that the rewards will come back to you.

    I agree that when readers contact you to tell them that your book helped them through a bad patch in life or made them look at things differently, there’s no measurement in the world that can express how amazing that feels! :)

    • Talli Roland says:

      Having a reader contact you is an incredible feeling that makes all the stress worth it! Thanks for dropping by, Sibel. It’s good to hear I’m not alone is struggling to celebrate accomplishments.

  5. Nancy Lee Badger says:

    I started out counting sales of my indie books (which quickly exceeded my publishers’ sales) but now I find name recognition is what gives me that sense of accomplishment. I recently attended a Scottish clan gathering and was thrilled how many members asked about my writing & how many said that had downloaded one of my books!

  6. For me, success comes in two guises.

    One is the business/commercial side of writing. Not very romantic but in terms of bringing in an income, unfortunately it’s something we writers are forced to acknowledge if we want to pay our bills.

    The next is all about readers, however many there are out there, enjoying my books… most of whom I’ll probably never meet, in places I’ll probably never go… I find it fascinating to think there’s a little bit of me on a beach, or in coffee shop, or someone’s living room. And for me, the fact that these people take the time to read something I’ve written, well that’s success as well x

    • Talli Roland says:

      Great point on the business side of things, Suzie. If you’re a writer who relies on the income, it’s critical to set ‘real’ goals in terms of finances, etc.

      But yes, it is fascinating to think of all the places you’ve been! :)

  7. I am a success. I’m doing what I love full time and making an income at it. How could that not be a success. Even so, I’m still filled with self-doubt, waiting for the bubble to burst (it’s not a huge bubble by any means).

    Thanks for the post and making me remember that I am a successful author. Everyday no matter what my sales are.

    • Talli Roland says:

      “I am a success. I’m doing what I love full time and making an income at it. How could that not be a success.”

      YES! Exactly! What could be better?

      Like you, though, I do feel I’m on tenterhooks sometimes, uncertain if it’ll last.

  8. You’re so right, Talli. We often compare ourselves to other and forget to revel in our own successes. How to remedy that, I have no idea. If only we could write out way out of it…

  9. carol hedges says:

    Success is being happy and satisfied with what you have achieved. And recognising that you HAVE achieved. The ‘world’ judges success in our field by no. of copies, reviews, name-checks, interviews etc. And it’s easy, as you rightly point out, to ‘compare’ ourselves. And if we go down that route, we will feel a failure. I have deliberately NOT chosen to view my ebook sales figures, nor, when other writers peek, and then tell me, do I care. Really. We have (as women) enough stressy stuff in our lives. You are a huge success as an author, Talli, I rejoice for you. As I do for each and every other writer, published or unpublished. Let’s stop trying to constantly find or manufacture ‘measures’ by which to judge ourselves , and just be content. (Oldie wisdom!!)

    • Talli Roland says:

      Very good points, Carol. I do have to agree with Suzie on her earlier point, though, that self-publishers do need to be aware to successfully run a business. I guess that’s where finance collides with art!

  10. LM Preston says:

    I’m not much of a numbers girl when accessing my success as a publisher. However, since I’ve made back my overall investment with a bit of a profit and have readers that still support my work, I’m overjoyed and feel as though I’ve surpassed my view on success. Being realistic is the key, setting small goals another, and being greatful for your accomplishments however small makes this journey much more rewarding.

    • Talli Roland says:

      You’re definitely a success, LM!

      And I agree: setting small attainable goals rather than reaching for the stars in one go does make the journey more enjoyable.

  11. D.D. Scott says:

    What you said here, Talli, is just fabulous and vital to being a “Happy Author”:

    “Take time to pat yourself on the back if you reach your goal, and to sit back and reflect if you haven’t. By focusing on the things you can control, you’ll be a much happier author!”

    Basking in every single one of your journey’s successes is vital to enjoying the journey itself. :-)

    How I define success has changed throughout my Indie Epublishing Journey, when it comes to individual goals (making this bestseller list or that one or moving higher up those lists, income levels, number of books sold, etc.).

    But one definition has never changed for me, since I started the writing-for-publication journey 13+ years ago. And that is “Reaching as Many Readers as I Can and Treating ‘Em to LOL Reads.” Life is too short, and all I’ve ever wanted to do was help people laugh and then pay if forward with those laughs. Because laughter is truly the best line of defense and the healthiest way to live.

    • Talli Roland says:

      I love your definition of success, DeeDee, and that it hasn’t changed. Reaching readers makes the journey all worthwhile, and if you can keep that one constant, I reckon you’ll remain a very happy author indeed!

  12. Lois Lavrisa says:

    Talli, I set goal on or around the new year. This gives me something to shoot for- although with four children and just life in general my path to my goals may saunter off a bit. But at least I have a direction- whether or not I go in a straight line, as long as I get there (or close even) Great post- Thank you!

  13. Mandy Baggot says:

    I’m always comparing myself with the awesome Talli Roland and GOD does it get me down! She’s superhuman I tell you!
    You’re right about goals though – start small and aim bigger, mark every acheivement along the way, cheer every piece of good news and people will cheer with you! We’re all writers, but we’re all different – sales are good but sometimes having thirty people read your blog is equally satisfying!

    Mandy :)

    • Talli Roland says:

      Mandy, haha! I wish! :)

      Yes, there are different ways of being happy – I totally agree! Whether it’s reaching readers through your blog or books, we should celebrate each accomplishment.

  14. PJ Sharon says:

    Thanks, Talli. You’re absolutely right. Goals and measures of success are as different as the individual. My measures change as I go. My first success goal was a finished manuscript. Once I decided to publish, I figured 10,000 books was good measure of indie success because I felt the financial equivalent would compensate me for my time. I’m halfway there and feeling as if it’s a possibility now, although I’d hate to calculate my hourly rate:-(

    But the true measure of success for me is every time I hear from a reader how much they’ve enjoyed my books. That gives me a smile and a sense of pride every time!

    • Talli Roland says:

      It sounds like you have well-thought-out goals to shoot for, PJ!

      I have to agree: hearing from readers is the ultimate joy. It’s such a great motivator to keep going!

  15. Glynis Smy says:

    Wise words, Talli. I am content with my lot. Just knowing folk are reading my work is enough for me. I have achieved my goal.

    The feedback from UK readers on my most recent trip was a huge boost. Many were friends and family members but were genuine with their praise. It was all I needed to push me forward as they are waiting for my second. No amount of money could replace that feeling. :)

    • Talli Roland says:

      Absolutely, Glynis, and congrats on all the positive feedback! I can only imagine how wonderful it was to have been recognised for your work, and to know there are people waiting for the next one. Brilliant.

  16. I love this post! I think it’s important that we set attainable goals so that we hit them and feel a sense of accomplishment, whether they be monetary, sales ranking numbers or numbers of reader emails. Otherwise, we’ll be frustrated. The definition of success needs to be changing as our careers grow.

    I also love that you emphasis that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others! It’s so easy to have our sense of accomplishment slip way when we do. Someone will ALWAYS sell more than you, have more name recognition than you, etc. Revel in what you have and shoot for your next goal.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Thanks, Denise! Yes, I agree attainable goals are definitely the key to being happy — and taking the time to celebrate when we reach them, even if it’s just a quick ‘well done, me!’.

      When I first started out, I had such a hard time not comparing myself to others . . . and I still do at times. It’d really get me down when I looked at how others were doing, even if my books were selling relatively well! Then I realised I just couldn’t function that way any longer, and that I had a lot to be happy about. Like you said, there will always be someone doing better than you!

  17. Great post, Talli, and timely, too! No matter what I’ve done it’s never been about the money. I needed to be reminded of that! Thank you.

  18. Great post, Talli, and great comments, too!

    Like Cynthia, I am a success. We all are. After I finished writing my first book, I felt that way. Writing a novel is not easy. It’s a huge accomplishment and everything else is icing on the cake.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Thanks, Theresa!

      You’re so right: writing a novel *isn’t* easy, and in the angst over sales etc, it’s very possible to overlook that accomplishment! Everything else beyond that is, as you say, just icing.

  19. Sara Rosett says:

    Very wise post, Talli.

    I try to remember that there will always be someone who will sell more/reach more. What matters most to me is that I’m writing the books I want to write and I’m making readers happy.

  20. SK Holmesley says:

    Thank you for the reminder that we should each celebrate who we are and what we’ve accomplished as individuals.

  21. Julie Day says:

    I am with Suzie. I measure my success in the number of readers reading my ebooks. Which is more than I sold for my first children’s book. I think my first feeling of success was when I managed to format and publish my first ebook. Something I’ve not done before. I am currently reading Bob Mayer’s ‘From writer to successful author’ and working out what my primary goal is.

  22. Hazel Osmond says:

    Excellent post. Thank you… nice to be reminded to enjoy your successes whatever form they take.

  23. Gray Nomad says:

    I cannot read a post with a scrolling add along side it. Sorry, I was interested in this and I did try. The site was recommended to me, but the adds are too distracting.

  24. Mimi says:


    Funny you should say that.
    I generally do not pay much attention to ads, and hardly ever click on them.
    I don’t click on the ads on this site much either, but I do find them interesting, if only for the opportunity to assess the cover art. Much of an indie’s success (or traditional success for that matter) comes down to how the book looks on the outside. I enjoy comparing the covers on indie books, and these scrolling ads help me to do just that :-)
    Most of these books sell well, so it gives me an indication as to what to shoot for.

  25. deniz says:

    You’re right, Talli. For now I think that slow but steady sales would make me happy, but who knows?