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When will you consider your writing a success? What metrics are you using to determine what it means for you to be a successful writer? What metrics are your readers using?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines success as achieving a favorable or desired outcome, as well as attaining wealth, favor, or eminence (a position of prominence). I think most people measure success according to wealth and popularity. With those metrics, the vast majority of writers are quite unsuccessful, including yours truly. But does the number of books sold or your popularity rating on Amazon truly determine your success as a writer?
I’ve written five books as a self-publishing author. Four are in English and one is in the native language of Senegal, West Africa, where we lived for most of the 90’s. To date, I haven’t sold enough books to make even one month’s mortgage payment, and we live in a very modest home. However, I now consider myself to be an extremely successful writer because my metric is SOTHAS - Success Of The Heart And Soul (both mine and my reader’s).
Writing is laborious work. You pour your heart and soul into it. Some of your success should therefore be wrapped up in the reality that you published a book. It's been stated that 83% of people want to write a book, but very few ever do it. You are part of that very small percentage of people who have made their dream of writing a book become reality. Congratulations! You did it! You succeeded in conveying your passions into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages, pages into chapters, and chapters into an actual book. You have succeeded!
Of course, all of us writers would like to see thousands of people buy our book, read it, and recommend it to their friends, so more and more books are purchased. We all want to sell a lot of books because sales reveal that people like what you wrote. However, I don’t think books sales is the best metric to determine your success as a writer. A better metric is whether a reader was truly inspired by your book. You know the difference between liking what you read and truly being inspired by what you read. I’ve decided to determine my success from the occasional comment a reader makes about how my book touched their heart and soul. It’s all about inspiring another human being to make some life-change, try a new method, embrace a new idea, or simply strive to be a better person. A successful novel will inspire the reader to escape the challenges of their life, even if it’s for a brief time, just like a great movie does. It may not bring measurable life-change, but an inspiring story does bring much needed rest and refreshment. There is a plethora of ways to inspire readers.
One reader stated that my book, What Men Crave – Spoiler: It’s Not Money, Sex, or Power, “has been an amazing catalyst for growth in our marriage.” My little book really helped to strengthen a couple’s marriage? Wow, you can’t get more successful than that, at least, not in my mind. It’s just like the little boy on the beach in The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1907-1977).
The author tells the story of an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. Early one morning, following a huge storm, the beach was teeming with starfish, as far as he could see. Off in the distance he noticed a little boy. As he approached the boy, he saw him pick up a starfish and throw it back in the sea. When asked why he was doing this the boy replied, “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.” The old man replied, “There must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.” As the boy threw another starfish into the ocean, he looked at the man, smiled, and said, “It made a difference to that one.”
When I receive those pitiful ACH commission deposits, or check the status of book sales, I have to go back to evidence of how my book touched another heart. I have to remind myself that success isn’t about how many people read my books, rather it’s about the depth to which my books touch someone’s heart and soul. It’s about how I feel having accomplished the arduous task of pouring my own heart and soul into that book. I encourage you to jettison the world’s view of success in order to embrace the SOTHAS metric to determine your success as a writer. I believe it will bring you rich joy and deep satisfaction in your writing.
Bill Simpson is the bestselling author of How to Ask God, Take 10 to Menó, What Men Crave and his latest book Kingdom Come Leadership. A business professional and a veteran pastor, halving his career between the marketplace and vocational ministry. He’s run his own company, worked for two Fortune 500 firms, pastored two churches, directed an international ministry team in Senegal, West Africa, launched a nonprofit, authored three previous books, and hosted a podcast. He holds a BS in engineering and an MA in theology. Bill and Tammy have been married since 1981 and live in Wilmington, NC. Bill's book are bestselling.
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