Sweet smell of success




I am a published author. This often makes me wonder about success. How is it to be measured? What does it really mean to be successful? How would I know? Can I judge about it myself or do I have to wait for others to tell me?

My latest book is an intelligence biography. Not many publishers would touch the genre, so I resorted to self-publication. This means that I had a certain number of paperback books printed. I'm not going to tell you how many - it doesn't really matter. For argument's sake let's say it was 500. And let us say that by now I have sold 250. Let us also say that it has been great fun so far and I've had a lot of pleasure from the process. However, the signs are not good: the sales are tailing off. I have come to realise that I may not be able to sell the remaining books. So this means that I have not been successful - I have 250 books to sell and there's no queue of people waiting to buy.

Suppose I had ordered a printrun of 250 instead? Then all the books would be sold, I would be happy and my project would qualify as a success. And so it may have been my mistake to decide on 500. Did I overestimate? But 500 didn't seem too many at the time. Even now I think there must be some 250 people somewhere who would like to read my book, if only they knew of its existence and if only I knew how to reach them.

I have thought of hiring a publicist. That would involve further cost, but that doesn't worry me half as much as the thought that with the publicist's help I might easily sell the remaining 250 and what would happen then? Suppose the publicist advises me to print more books, since the sales are going well. He carefully avoids committing himself to a figure when I ask how many I should order. He cannot guarantee anything, he says. And so, let us say I order another 500. And suppose that again I manage to sell 250 easily but get stuck with the remaining 250. What then? The present situation will be repeated and I will lose sleep. Again.

So how many copies will bring success? And altogether, what is success? At what point is a writer at peace? What is a sure sign of success? I have pondered about the three for £10 offers in bookshops. Is this something to aim for? It seems illogical. Reduced price can't be a sign of success - quite the opposite. So I have written to a handful of traditionally published authors who in my estimation seem successful. Not the top names, just moderately successful ones, who might even be interested in my quest. I have been polite and just asked for confirmation that the author is successful and that success does feel good. Not one has replied.

So how am I going to find out about success? I may never achieve it but I'd quite like to know what it is. Or do all authors, however popular, worry about their sales, wondering whether they could sell another 1,000 or how many more thousands to go before a million?