Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

AttitudeLast week an artist I’ll call Krista held her first show in our local art gallery.  Krista served delicious food, brought in an amazing crowd, sold four paintings, and made $600.00. Everyone was impressed and I (the president) declared her show a huge success.   But yesterday someone told me Krista is disappointed and bitter about her show. “What am I supposed to do with all the paintings that didn’t sell?” she asked.  “I spent time and money preparing for this show, and it didn’t sell out.”

 Sell out?  No one sells out around here. This is redneck country, where people buy art at Walmart or Costco, not from galleries.  Most of us have filled our walls, closets, and studios with unsold paintings. Selling four works of art in one day is something we dream about.

I’m deeply sorry to hear Krista isn’t celebrating her success – and I see this same attitude with certain authors. They work hard, get published, follow the rules, and then wait for fame and riches to rain down upon their heads.  When that doesn’t happen, they give up.

Every artist has a personal definition of success.  If we place the bar too high, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment, bitterness, and failure.  At NorLightsPress we’ve worked with authors who gave up on marketing when they didn’t achieve best-seller status after a couple of months.  Writing books was a passing fancy, not a lifelong passion.

Define Success

Before you decide to write a book; before you publish a book; before you begin marketing a book, you need to decide how you define success.  If you think only in terms of book sales, dollar signs, and fame, then success will be elusive. You are not going to become rich and famous overnight.  Expecting that outcome and trying to compete with famous authors will only bring frustration into your life.  You can achieve fame and riches – if you persevere and grow your talent.  But don’t expect these things to fall into your lap.   Try using a different yardstick to define success, such as:

  •  meeting readers and finding new friendsCommunity College Cover-5
  • making a difference in people’s lives
  • helping people solve problems
  • contributing to change in the world
  • publishing a book people talk about
  • learning and growing
  • . . .and yes – selling books!            Isa_Adney_on_Personal_Branding

Author Isa Adney (Community College Success, NorLightsPress, 2012) finds joy in helping college students succeed.  Isa  is now a role model and mentor for thousands of non-traditional students across the country.  Having this translate into book sales makes her life even better.

We were the first publisher to recognize Hugh Howey’s talent (Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue, NorLightsPress, 2009), and now he’s a well-known author with legions of fans – but still humble. Here’s what Hugh says about success:

The biggest advantage I had as an aspiring writer was my prior experience as a bookseller and a book critic. I knew going in that making a career out of writing was highly unlikely. This was a huge advantage. It allowed me to approach my writing as a hobby, as something I loved, rather than something I needed to pan out. Knowing my chances also prevented me from wasting years pursuing agents and publishers,

"Luck favors the well prepared." best-selling author Hugh Howey

“Luck favors the well prepared.” best-selling author Hugh Howey

I spent that time writing as much as I could, and writing the stories I wished were already out there. Being relaxed, prolific, and making my works available to readers gave me a chance. The rest was a mix of luck and word-of-mouth.

I will say that the authors who experienced some luck put themselves in a good place by sitting down and pounding out the words and crafting the best story possible. Luck favors the well-prepared.

  Give yourself time to grow and learn. Give your book time also.  More about this in the next post.    



Comments on: "“A” is for Attitude — and Author Success" (2)

  1. My advice to “Krista.” Find a small pond nearby. Walk to the edge, and toss a small rock into the pond. Watch the ripples. They all travel outward, hitting the edge of the pond at different times. And some of those ripples rebound and travel back to the point of origin and hit the other edge of the pond.

    Her first show is the rock in the pond. Any artist must contemplate the other ripples. Where are they going? Where will they end up?

    Find a local diner or restaurant that will sell her art . Sell to local motels or other tourist destinations. Start an art blog and sell online. And most importantly, continue to practice art in her chosen medium. Paint. Paint. And then Paint some more!


  2. That’s great advice, and I’m trying to do those things with my own art. I quickly discovered that being an artist is even harder than being a writer! I hope you’ll continue reading my blog and making comments!


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