How to Measure Success as an Author Today

by Amanda L. Barbara

December 2013

The digital world has brought an onslaught of content directly to audiences, and savvy authors know that success is measured much differently than when bookstores were in their heyday.

While print is by no means obsolete, the introduction of digital publishing and social media has created new methods of reaching readers. Free reading platforms and 99-cent e-books have disrupted how we measure sales and distribution, so new qualifiers of success need to be defined as authors enter the era of the independent writer.

Redefining Success

Traditionally, the most basic way to gauge an author's success was based on sales numbers. But as more self-published authors make bestseller lists, create large followings, and engage readers in new ways, these revenue numbers are becoming less meaningful. In the current publishing landscape, the truly successful authors are those who:

Dominate a niche. E.L. James originally wrote Twilight fan fiction under a different pen name, growing an audience while creating an entirely new genre. She eventually moved her collection to her own website, and it evolved into her erotic novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. She later followed traditional paths in publishing her book and subsequent pieces of the trilogy, but this was only after creating success on her own by defining a niche.

Determine a specialty that sets you apart from the crowd. This will give you leverage in the publishing industry and allow you to make connections and build a solid network. Come publication time, that network can ultimately determine your success.

Connect with their audience. Social media, online groups, and in-person events have helped many authors spread the message about their work. Kristen Ashley, author of the Rock Chicks series, used Facebook and Twitter to interact with readers individually, showcase her unique personality, and build a movement. This all led to her latest book making the New York Times e-book Fiction Bestseller list. Creating an online community can deepen the loyalty of your existing audience, help you reach new readers, and provide a forum for feedback on future book ideas.

Garner financial support. Many indie authors still need monetary support to make writing a full-time job. Authors who use crowdfunding platforms to raise support for their work showcase that market demand exists, ensuring a successful book launch.

Push the boundaries of publishing. Hugh Howey is a great example of a successful author who transitioned from a small press to self-publishing. He used Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing system, choosing to do so because of the freedom self-publishing allowed while ensuring he could stay true to his personal goals. Howey later signed a deal with Simon & Schuster to distribute Wool to book retailers in the U.S. and Canada. He was able to maintain tight control over his publishing deal and even retained the digital rights to Wool. As your audience and network grow, don't be afraid to step out in nontraditional ways.

Take Control of Your Own Success

Creating an online platform, independent of any publisher, is how leading authors are taking marketing, branding, and distribution into their own hands and building successful careers that last beyond one breakout bestseller. Here are a few methods to help you build success that can be measured by more than the dollars or number of e-book downloads you accrue.

Build an Audience: A successful author is able to identify, target, and build her audience. Readers determine the ultimate success of an author and, therefore, should be an author's number-one marketing priority.

Create a Recognizable Brand: An author should develop her own specific, recognizable brand. It's often not enough to simply be a good writer. You also need to have a distinctive voice and recognizable branding that's consistent across all your books and marketing materials.

Be an Authority: Finding a niche within the industry is a means for authors to brand themselves. Concentrating on providing great content and becoming an industry expert will help foster an author's overall success.

Create a Loyal Network: An author's network should not be limited to her audience. It should include other industry professionals who will help her spread the word about her books.

It's easy to be intimidated by the changes in how we read and publish books, but these changes have brought new opportunities for authors. Take advantage of the newfound autonomy to publish, market, and distribute your work. Use social media to understand and grow your audience. Revel in the fact that you can communicate instantly with thousands of readers and professionals from your laptop. The pen is mighty, but your keyboard can be even more powerful.

Amanda L. Barbara is Vice President of Pubslush . Pubslush is a global crowdfunding publishing platform for authors to raise funds and gauge their audience for new book ideas and for trendsetting readers to pledge their financial support to bring books to life. Follow Amanda on Twitter !

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