What makes a writer successful? According to some recent articles, success is based on sales, specifically 1,000,000 sales in the past 5 years (link). Is that what makes a writer successful? Absolutely not, not by any means. But, if specific sales numbers don't measure success for a writer, then what does? The answer to that is simple: there's isn't one single answer.
Most sales-centered writers would most likely count success not as 200,000 sales per year, rather as however much they need to sell to live off their writing. Based on their lifestyle and book prices, that could be as low as 10,000 books per year, or as high as 100,000+. Even still, that's a far cry from 200,000 per year. My personal definition of monetary success? 15,000 sales per year. Am I there? No way, but seeing it that way makes success much more realistic of a goal than 1,000,000 over five years.
But success is much more than sales. Even though I don't live off my writing, nor can I really see myself living off it anytime soon, I consider myself a successful writer. But how's that possible, Mitch? Don't high sales make you feel good and low ones make you feel bad? Well, yeah, that's how business works. But success shouldn't be focused on numbers or monetary gain in any artistic business endeavor. If you found out your books took off and paid your bills simply because the public love laughing at your awful writing and ridiculing how bad you were at it, would you still consider yourself successful because your numbers were high? I'd venture a guess and say no, you wouldn't. Success is five star reviews from people you've never met, success is fan art, success is fans reaching out to you to make sure you know just how your writing changed their lives. Success is all in the audience.
Even though I don't sell the way I want to, my career could end with me being happy about it, because I've gotten those reviews, and gotten those bits of fan mails praising what I do and how my writing changed a reader's life. I never thought that would happen, but it did. That's the moment I became successful, sales numbers and money had nothing to do it.
In short, you can't measure a writer's success. It varies between each writer. Some only focus on sales as a measure of success, and within that group is a whole new level of difference. Successful sales for some are a few hundred, if that, while others measure success as millions sold and chart topper books. Those writers usually don't last long. For others, success is in the fan response no matter how many they sell. If they can please a single soul with their work, they're a success. Others still consider themselves successful if they even get their work out there. Success for a writer can't be measured by stats or sales rank, it can only be measured by the writer's own mind. Here's to hoping we all achieve success, whatever success means to you.