This month on the Fictorians, many of us are following up on posts we made back in January and July. We’ve given a great deal of thought over the past twelve months to setting goals, meeting them, and coping with the inevitable shortcomings and failures that are common with people managing their own destinies.
Like most careers, becoming a self-sustaining writer is not unlike climbing a mountain—but one that has no summit. It’s more a matter of reaching one plateau after another in a line of them that extends to the end of our days.
I use that analogy deliberately because of something I noticed recently on Amazon.com. Amazon—that mega, web-enabled shopping cart of doom—has become a mainstay for traditional, hybrid, and indie-pub authors alike. We ply our wares there, and many of us track the status of our success or lack thereof in a little place called Author Central. If you have books or stories of any kind, regardless of publisher, that are available on Amazon, then I would recommend you go through the exercise of setting up your Author Central Account and tying in all your available works back to that account.
Once you have this mechanism in place, you can track where you sit in the Amazon author rankings. I must add here that it may be a bit daunting at first. To give you an example, my data goes all the way back to September 28th, 2012. My rank started at 386,929. Between then and November 2nd of this year, I saw a low of 629,888 and a high of 35,451. It’s a jagged graph that seems to plot, at least partially, when the novel came out or was revamped in a new edition. It also seems to reflect when the anthologies I was in came out.
Then something happened. On the 2nd of November there was a sharp spike in my ranking. It jumped to 4,500 and then slid back down slightly to hover for the past month around 20k. That is the plateau I was talking about. The beauty of it is that I can track that spike to three separate releases that all occurred at roughly the same time. Essentially, One Horn to Rule Them All, Fantastic Holidays: The Gift of Stories, and The Best of Penny Dread Tales all hit the streets or had media spikes almost simultaneously, and this gave me a bit more “street cred” in Amazon’s ranking algorithms.
I mention this all because while goals are an important aspect of being a writer, tracking metrics on your successes and failures is the first step in truly managing your writing career. We all need to have an understanding of what a success is—beyond just finishing a story or getting it accepted somewhere. There is a bigger end-game that many of us work towards: namely, making our writing career a viable means of self-employment. You can’t steer your course unless you know where you are succeeding and failing. Author Central is just one mechanism to do this. Maybe what you are looking for are positive book reviews, or sales data, or invitations to conventions. The metric you use isn’t nearly as important as having the knowledge of where you are in your career path.
Be aware of these things. Set your goals, implement the tools to track your success, and consider each “failure” as a stepping-stone to the next success. I quote Thomas A. Edison who said, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” While it wouldn’t surprise me that Edison stole that quote from Tesla, the import of what he said is paramount to us. Failures are inevitable. We need to know each one intimately, so continue to have them, and use them as a foothold to the next success. And have a means of knowing when you’ve reached your goals. It’s always more than just finishing a story. In fact, finishing the story is just where the work begins.