How Do I Define “Successful?”

When I was in high school, I used to love to stay up late and watch the “Arsenio Hall Show.” I recall an episode where he interviewed Jean Claude Van Damme. The action star made a comment that I’ll always remember. He said that, even if they told him that he’d only earn two dollars for making a film, he’d still make the film. Why? Because he loves making films.

We can argue that this is probably a good thing because of the drop in his popularity after the 90s and the fact that he has mostly made “B” movies in recent years, with “Expendables 2” being the exception and I’ve yet to see that film (though I REALLY want to). But I took something from his comment that has gotten me, as an artist, through some tough patches.

In 2003, my first book was published by a “traditional” publisher. When I got that fateful email telling me that they’d decided to give my book “the chance it deserves,” I was absolutely ecstatic. The book even sold fairly well for the first few months. My now ex-wife was pregnant with our daughter and the pregnancy was a high risk one where she was constantly ill, so I found myself unable to put much effort into promotion, so the sales dropped off fairly quickly. I did get an email from my Sunday School teacher’s wife, who had been an editor professionally, lovingly pointing out all of the errors that my publisher’s “editors” had missed. I decided to get my own editor for the second book. And, since I hadn’t really had much of a chance to promote the book, I figured that the lack of sales were my fault (and not the 19.95 price tag for a 181-page, trade paperback). That was why I went ahead and submitted the sequel to them. I have to admit that I ignored the warning sign of getting a form response that was pretty much identical to the first book’s acceptance email. My sequel, despite being much better edited (thanks, Karen!), sold fewer than half of the books that the first one did.

But I didn’t let it get me down. Actually, it wasn’t really a matter of letting it do anything. The lack of sales didn’t bother me because that wasn’t the reason that I was writing. I have been writing fiction since I was in elementary school and have always felt a deep sense of pride when I would finish a story. And I can assure you that I didn’t have anything published when I was in the third grade. Sometimes “success” is just finishing what I’ve started.

That’s actually kind of depressing when I really think about it.

After I published Lily’s Redemption in 2010, I didn’t see many sales. It wasn’t until I finally relented and made an ebook version that I saw an increase in sales. On B&N, the Nook edition sold really well. Well, I made enough to maybe go out to eat each month. But I was perplexed by my lack of sales on Amazon. From what I’d heard from everyone else, I should be getting way more sales on the Kindle. But I wasn’t.

But I had some people who were actually buying my work and reading it. And that was success to me.

Then something strange happened. Sony, who had their ereader version supplied by Smashwords, dropped their price to zero. Less than a month later, Amazon price-matched them. The result was that, over the next two months, I saw over 20,000 downloads on Amazon. It resulted in 39 reviews. And sales have been sort of steady (at least matching B&N) since the impromptu free promotion ended.

The strangest thing? I felt more successful after I’d gotten three low reviews. Granted, two of the reviews that were low just boiled down to my book not being their “cup of tea” . . . and I would disagree with one of the reviewers on what constitutes forgiveness and grace . . . but it made me feel more legitimate to have a few reviews by people who didn’t like the book. After all, even Frank E. Peretti gets some one-star reviews. So I’m in good company.

So, “success” would be defined for me, personally, as writing because I love to write. It’s having people read my work, even if they don’t have to pay for it. And it’s having them discuss it, even if they didn’t necessarily like it.

But please don’t assume that I’m asking you to go and leave me a bad review. 🙂


1 Comment

Filed under ebooks, publishing, writing

One response to “How Do I Define “Successful?”

  1. This is wonderful, wonderful insight, Jeffrey! Thank you so much for sharing it!