How to Measure Success Writing a Book

This week, I’m continuing with my blog stream about debut writers choosing between legacy (traditional) publishing and self-publishing. So I’m imagining a writer with a completed manuscript burning a hole in the top drawer of her desk, wondering what to do with it.

It would be natural to answer, “I’m going to choose the path that gives my book the highest chance of success.” And what is often meant by this, is the chance for sales and/or financial success.

However, writing fiction, while a great hobby for those with the passion, is an awfully tough business. Many authors won’t experience significant sales, whatever they do with their books. Does that mean their books aren’t successes?


Franklin D. Roosevelt, America’ s 32nd President, said aptly, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” There are many achievements in creating a book that generate joy and therefore deserve to be recognized as successes of the author. The author’s book might not be a success measured in sales, but her journey is.

Here are some examples of author achievements that can rank as successes (ok, a few are tongue-in-cheek).



  • She finishes her manuscript.
  • She finishes the tenth draft of the manuscript.
  • After ten drafts, her writing skills have improved immeasurably.
  • Her mother wants to read the book.
  • Folks other than direct blood relatives want to read the book.
  • Some readers (other than direct blood relatives) say they enjoyed their book – this one is big.
  • The author pays for professional editing and even the editor says he liked the book.
  • An agent agrees to represent her.
  • A publishing house agrees to sign her to an onerous contract.
  • She has building readership.
  • Her book wins an award.

The point is, there are lots of “successes” along the way. And all but getting a commitment from an agent and/or publishing house are available whether you choose legacy publishing or self-publishing.

But if an author does measure success by book sales, is it better to try legacy or self-publishing? Next blog in this stream, I’ll discuss the direction suggested by an amazing recent authors’ earnings report.

Copyright © 2014 Peter Fritze

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