Early on in your writing career you need to take some time and really think about why you want to write and publish, as not everyone has the same goals. There’s no point comparing yourself to anyone else when you don’t understand what you’re trying to do or what their end goal is.
There are a number of different goals that can be achieved by writing and publishing a book (or multiple books). For example you might be all about the money you can earn, or you might want to see your name in print, or you might want to position yourself as an expert in the subject (more for non-fiction), or you might want to create something that you can show off to others, or you might want to prove to yourself that you can, or you might want to get rid of all the ideas that are drowning you, or you might want to be able to give something that you’ve created to your (grand)parents or someone else important in your life. Or it might be something else, or a combination of these.
None of these are better or worse than the others, but in order to be able to recognise what success looks like you need to know what you’re working towards. And of those I’ve listed above the desire to make money from your books is probably the hardest. But not impossible if you treat your writing like a business.
Once you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve you can think about what that would look like. For example, if your goal is to make money, how much money would that mean to you. Break it down to an annual and monthly target, even calculate how many book sales per day that would mean you need. Make it easy for you to see your trajectory to meeting that goal.
If your goal is to be an expert in the subject your target might be to get bestseller tags for your relevant subject categories and then be invited to speak about the subject. Or if your book is a lead into other content, eg courses or a monthly subscription group, then set your goal to be both the number of books you are likely to need to sell to get the tag in your chosen sub-category and the number of sign-ups for your other content.
If you want to be able to show off and have your books for others to see, then how many books do you need to publish in order to be impressive enough? How may books fit on a shelf on your bookcase? How big a pile do you want to photograph for Instagram? Look at your process and work out how long it is likely to take you to get there. We all work at different speeds, so this will be different for everyone.
But it is important to realise that writing and publishing a book can achieve multiple goals, and what success means to one author doesn’t necessarily mean the same to another. So you can’t compare your journey to anyone else. Once you have a better idea of your trajectory you can then work to improve and find the best path for you. As the only person it’s worth comparing yourself to is what you were in the past.
Knowing what your end goal is also helps you decide what to prioritise, both for your time and money. If you’re publishing to make money then you need to get the best quality product that you can for the lowest price so that you maximise profit. This doesn’t mean cutting all costs down to zero, as you still need to have a professional product, so covers and editing are important. But you do need to be able to justify every cost. Those images in your book – are they contributing to the product, or are they a nice to have but really only raising your delivery costs and so losing you money?
As a self-published author you need to take on all the roles within your publishing company – not just the creative writer, but also the pragmatic business person. And knowing what goal you are trying to achieve means you have a baseline with which to judge your decisions.
Over time this will change and develop, so I would recommend every so often checking in with your vision and goals, both to see how you’re doing and to check if they still resonate with you. Maybe you started off with writing as a way to rid yourself of all the characters and story ideas you’ve created, but over time have realised how much you like the business side of it and want to work towards making more money. Or maybe you have found it difficult to balance the business side of self-publishing and decide to continue purely to have books for yourself, and if anyone else buys them it’s a bonus.
Whatever you decide is right for you.