A Measure of Success

October 14, 2015 by Sara Davison


I once heard an author remark that he was envious of John Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress in prison and was then able to just slide the manuscript under the door and forget about it. While I have no desire to land in jail, I do understand the sentiment.

Marketing and promotion are not, as a rule, the aspect of the writing journey that authors enjoy. With a few rare exceptions, most of us just want to pound out the book, hand it off to someone else to promote, and get back to writing the next one. You know, like the good old days. When they also had benefactors and big advances, and publishing companies pursued authors, begging them to give their house the extreme privilege of being the ones to publish their books.

Did those days ever really exist? If so, they are long gone. The easiest part of the process now is the actual writing of the book. The next hardest thing is finding an agent and a publisher willing to take on your work. And the hardest thing of all is getting anyone to even hear about your book, let alone buy it.

The problem lies in the panning out. While an effective, dramatic technique in movies, when applied to the business of promotion it is incredibly discouraging. An author releases a book and experiences a few heady days where everyone on their Facebook page is talking about it and congratulating them. Everyone from the kid you went to high school with but haven’t talked to in years to your great-aunt Matilda rushes to order the book from Amazon and sales numbers soar. Family and friends show up at your book launch and line up to get your autograph. It can be easy, at this point, to believe that your book is a sure best-seller. After all, every time you turn around, your book is the topic of conversation. Obviously it is generating a buzz that will translate into numerous awards and New-York-Times-bestseller status.

And then you pan out. The new vantage point sticks a pin into your dreams-of-success bubble pretty quickly. Sure, everyone you know is talking about the book. The problem is, everyone you know represents, at best, a thousand people. And about half of those people, based on the fact that they once delivered you a pizza late at night, or led your son’s Cub Scout troop eight years ago, are waiting for you to give them their free copy. Not to mention the fact that we toss the words “know” and “friend” around pretty lightly these days. In point of fact, the eight hundred “friends” you have on Facebook may not all feel the responsibility of buying and telling everyone else about your book that you think they should, given your tight—albeit completely virtual—relationship.

The truth is, the more you pan out, the more you realize the overwhelming truth. There are millions of authors out there, representing tens of millions of books, and every one of them is coercing their friends and families to buy their books. How on earth can you get anyone outside of your small sphere of influence to hear about yours?

The answer is, on your own, you probably can’t. Thankfully, as writers who are Christian, we aren’t on our own. In fact, we have these three things to our advantage:
1) It is God who gives us the stories and who fights on our side
2) We are not in competition with each other, but can help each other to achieve excellence for God’s glory and for the furtherance of the kingdom, and
3) We don’t measure success the same way the world does. If God gives the stories, then he has a plan for them. If that plan is for five people to read the book and be influenced or changed by it, and that is what happens, then the book is a resounding success.

While it may be easier said than done, keeping these three truths in mind takes the sting—and the discouragement—out of the panned-out view. It gives us a whole new perspective, an eternal one in which our work, crafted and promoted to the best of our ability in obedience to the call of God on our lives can, regardless of sales figures, have a much greater and more meaningful impact than any New York Times best-seller ever could.

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About this Contributor

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Sara Davison has been a finalist for three national writing awards: Best New Canadian Christian Author; Best Column – Single; and Best Novel – Mystery or Suspense. Davison is a member of three different writers’ groups, two of which she helped to found. Her favourite way to spend the days (and nights) is drinking coffee – a running theme throughout her novels – and making stuff up.

Visit Sara’s website: Choose to Press On
Twitter: @sarajdavison
Facebook: Author Sara Davison