The Business of Being an Author: What is Success?

Most articles about publishing focus on selling a ton of books with the ultimate goal of leaving behind the lousy day job to make a living as an author. That’s a great job if you can get it, and I’m thrilled whenever I hear of authors–indie or traditional–who find fantastic success. I would never argue with success for any author because it means more success for others. Fifty Shades of Grey sold 30 million copies? Awesome. Now there are a lot of readers out there looking for more books to read.

The more I read about e-book sales, the more I realized that the books that sell the most are genre fiction such as erotic romance, mystery, thrillers, and science fiction. That’s not what I write. The most accurate genre for what I write is literary fiction, and based on this graph I saw on The Creative Penn, fiction and literature make up 5% of e-book sales where genre fiction is 69%. For Amazon’s sake, I classify my books in more popular genres like paranormal romance (for the Loving Husband Trilogy) or gay romance (for That You Are Here), but they’re not romances in the traditional sense, and they’re definitely not erotic, so they don’t sell as well as, for example, Bella Andre’s books. I read an article that defined literary fiction by saying genre fiction is an escape from reality where literary fiction makes the reader deal with reality. That’s why genre fiction sells more. People want an escape from a long day dealing with work and family. I get that. That’s why I write fiction—to escape reality, my own reality at least.

So…if I don’t write the kind of books that sell a ton, then what? I’ve thought a lot about that over the last three years. When I began writing Her Dear & Loving Husband, my initial idea was to write a traditional romance about a vampire who rediscovers his one true love. As I wrote it, it evolved into what it is…a look into the good and the bad of human nature. When I had Her Dear & Loving Husband critiqued, the reader suggested I turn it into a more traditional romance by adding some steamy sex scenes and deleting the flights of literary fancy. She wanted me to turn James into an alpha male. I could have done it. I was tempted to do it. But when push came to shove, I realized that’s not the book that was in my heart to write. I made the decision to write the novel the way I was drawn to write it, not the novel that would fit more easily into an Amazon category, thereby finding a larger audience and selling more copies. I knew my choices could cost me readers, but I decided I was all right with that. Success for me no longer came in the form of huge numbers (though I certainly won’t argue with huge numbers if they happen). I believed that if I wrote the book that was in my heart, readers could relate to it on that level. I believed there was an audience out there for my Loving Husband stories, maybe not as large as the Fifty Shades trilogy, but my gut told me there were readers out there.

I was right. I’ve had the most beautiful messages from readers all over the world who love the Loving Husband Trilogy and waited patiently for each book, and it was a year between books. Book Three in the series, Her Loving Husband’s Return, landed on the Amazon best seller list the day it was released when I had done exactly zero things to promote it, and it stayed there for months. Is that success? It is to me.

On The Creative Penn, Joanna wrote a wonderful post where she talks about authors defining success for themselves based on what they want from their writing careers. For some, they want to sell a lot of books and make a lot of money. For some, writing is more of a creative pursuit than a financial one. She talks about writers who want to create body of work over their lifetime that they’re proud of. That’s me. I even left a comment on her post to that effect.

I’ve noticed how whenever the topic turns to writers who write as a creative and artistic pursuit, some poor soul takes offence by saying, “Why can’t I write for money? Why do I have to defend myself because I want to make money writing?” The answer is, you don’t have to defend yourself. If you want to write to make money, then write to make money. No one is poo-pooing that idea, especially not me. But if I write because I want to share the stories that are in my heart without making changes to increase sales and profits, then I can make that choice too. In fact, I think it’s the other way around. The vast majority of posts I’ve read focus on selling as many books as possible and quitting the day job, as if that’s the holy grail for indies—when you make a living selling books, then you have arrived. Arrived where, I still don’t know. If anything, those of us who write for artistic expression are the ones who have to defend ourselves because we’re not focused on the same things everyone else is focused on. That, as Leo points out in his post, is scary. It’s always scary when you make your own way instead of following the pack.

5 thoughts on “The Business of Being an Author: What is Success?

  1. Thanks for all of your support, Carole. It took me three years to figure a lot of this stuff out! I’ve been very lucky because I’ve met some great people along the way like you.

  2. Meredith, I so appreciate your determination to design your writing and your marketing according to your own convictions. Reading about the position you’ve taken was freeing, as I’m sure it was to many other writers.

  3. I think the old adage “sex sells” is true, which is why so many authors feel compelled to add sex scenes. Like you, I’ve read books where the sex scenes felt disjointed from the rest of the story, as though they were added as an afterthought in an attempt to sell more copies. Thank you so much for your comment!

  4. I enjoyed your article and I agree with you. I haven’t written much and only one article published in a couple christian newspapers. However, I’ve noticed more frequently that there are so many sex scenes in the books, that they take away from the story. That’s kind of sad to me especially when I enjoyed parts of the book. So here’s an thank you to all you authors who write whats in their hearts.

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