Hi there! Duolit is on hiatus, but please feel free to explore our extensive archive of posts and our free Weekend Book Marketing Makeover. Thanks for visiting!

Gut Check: How Bad Do You Want It? (Publishing Success, That Is!)

successI think my husband is a little bit weird.

I don’t think I’m the only partner to think this way about her significant other (am I right?), but it wasn’t until very recently that I  started to figure out what makes him so (adorably) socially awkward.

Back when I was in college, I spent my Tuesday nights taking advantage of Domino’s Two for Tuesday deal and watching American Idol in my dorm room.

When Michael was in college, on the other hand, he spent Tuesday nights at the computer science lab, working diligently on his current coding assignment and studying his butt off to stay ahead of the game.

You see, from the time he was a little kid, all Michael wanted was to be a computer programmer. And he knew he would have to work his butt off to get there. So, while other college students were checking out parties (and each other), he worked.

And studied. And read. And sacrificed.

So, when I quote an obscure movie from 2003, and he’s never heard of it…maybe I should cut him a little bit of slack.

How about You?

We get emails from authors every day who are confused, overwhelmed, fed up and tired of being jerked around on the Wild Wheel of Publishing Success. The complaints themselves really boil down to this one, simple truth: your writing career isn’t where you want it to be.

But, to me, the really interesting question is: Why?

Why aren’t you achieving the success you want?

What’s holding you back? Sometimes, it’s a force out of your control…

…but, other times, it’s you.

Are you committed 100% to achieving your writing goals?

Look, I know this topic is a bit of a departure from the norm here at Duolit, as we certainly love us some boundless positivity. But, every now and then, it’s incredibly important to ask yourself the hard questions and marinate on the answers.

Part 1: The ‘How Bad Do You Want It?’ Author Success Test

How bad do you want it?
How bad do you need it?
Are you eating, sleeping, dreaming
With that one thing on your mind?
Cause if you want it all
You’ve got to lay it all out on the line…

Ah yes, wise words (if not grammatically correct) from the American county artist Mr. Faith Hill (ahem, that’s Tim McGraw, for you non-Southerners).

Those words, simple as they might be, are also incredibly true, especially when it comes to publishing success.  Successful indie authors, in particular, know this better than most. While some may argue that, in traditional publishing, some success is given rather than earned (although I would disagree with that statement in 99% of cases), indie authors cannot take success for granted.

Take an honest look at where you are in your writing career!

Before you start the simple quiz below, promise to be 100% honest in your responses. No one else will be checking your responses, and being less than truthful only hurts yourself.

Here’s how the quiz works: Rate each statement below on a scale of 1-10 depending on how much you agree with it (1 being not at all, 10 being completely):

1. I make time in my schedule to work on writing and book promotion, even if it comes at the expense of my leisure time.

This answer reveals your Attitude toward your writing career. Are you willing to sacrifice geeking out at the premiere of Iron Man 3 or catching up over coffee with a long-lost friend to finish that blog post or email those readers?

We recently worked with an amazing author who was battling a shift job, an infant, his writing career and CANCER simultaneously — if he can make time to write and promote his work, you can too!

2. I spend idle time (standing in line, driving, riding public transit, breaks at work, sitting in a waiting room) planning/thinking about my writing/promotional efforts.

This answer reveals the Creativity you put forth in working on your writing career. When you don’t have a bunch of extra time (which, let’s face it, many of us don’t), being creative and carving time out of your schedule wherever you can becomes extremely important.

For me, this means never sitting idle when I could be productive: I carry a notebook everywhere I go to capture my latest Duolit post idea or Coffee Date inspiration. For less than $5 (the cost of a notebook and never-fail pen), I can easily steal time to work wherever I am!

3. I’m willing to invest in professional cover design, editing and marketing services to give my book the best shot at success.

This statement reveals your publishing Business Sense. Authorpreneurs (LOVE that word), understand that their book is an investment and know that having a quality finished product is the first step on the road to success.

Don’t want sticker shock after you’ve finished writing? Seek out quotes during the writing process and start saving up! If you have more time than money, seek creative ways to bring down the cost: find college students willing to do the work in exchange for a portfolio piece or, if you have another skill, consider bartering with a service provider.

4. If I’m unsure how to do something, I’ll spend at least 15 minutes Googling/trying to figure it out myself before  giving up.

Your answer here shows your level of Independence. We bootstrapping (read: poor) authors are willing to take the time and learn how to install a sidebar widget in WordPress, create an email template or figure out the inner workings of GIMP (ick).

It’s true: Almost every question that pops into your brain can likely be answered by a quick Google search, but we hear from many authors who give up before even trying this simple tactic. Next time a question pops up, give it a shot!

5. I understand that there is no guarantee of success for any author; I must work hard to create demand for my book and achieve publishing success.

This statement reveals your Dedication to your writing career. Is this a fly-by-night hobby you want to use to make a little extra cash or is it a lifelong passion that you’d love to turn into a career?

The competition for eyeballs nowadays is FIERCE, and if you’re not willing to work to build your fanbase and create demand for your work, your sales will reflect this.

6. I know that success doesn’t happen overnight; I’m willing to roll with the ups and downs and work on writing/building my fanbase for at least six months before seeing results.

Truly successful indie authors have high amounts of Perseverance. You kinda have to to survive in this business, right?

Part 2: Interpreting the Results

Add up your answers for each question and use the chart below to figure out where you stand:

  • 0-30 points: Ask yourself: is being a successful indie author something you really, really want? If so, choose one of the questions you scored low on and work over the next month to bring up that score. Next month, choose another!
  • 30-48 points: You definitely have your head in the game, but there are likely one or two areas you could work on to bring up your score. Choose one and, for the next month, focus on ways to increase that score. You can do it!
  • 49-60 points: Rock on! You have the perfect mindset for publishing success and we’re excited to watch your career progress. We’d love to hang out with you on a Coffee Date to set some goals for the next three months!

Talk Back

Give it to me straight: how badly do YOU want success in your author career? Did you score better (or worse) than you thought you would on the quiz? What traits will you work to improve? What advice do you have for other indies? Let’s chat in the comments!

  • Toni, thank you! I can’t even tell you how spot-on this post was. I was nodding my head at all of it. Especially #3, about being willing to invest in your business. I belong to a couple of groups where authors and small publishers hang out, and the resistance to spending money on these things, particularly editing, is staggering. They just don’t want to pay for it. Some of us there are actually editors as well as writers, but most of the members would rather send their manuscripts to non-native English speakers on the other side of the world just to get the cheapest possible rate…and that’s really counterproductive, IMHO, especially for fiction!

    I recently attended a webinar hosted by Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing where he was talking with Guy Kawasaki about his latest book (about indie publishing, of course!). Guy said the same thing…you must get a professional cover designer and you must pay for professional editing…by a native English speaker! My editor hat was nodding vigorously. It’s a competitive market out there, and you gotta step up your game to compete! :-)

    • Hi Jaimi! I was so nervous before I posted this, but I’m glad you agree with me. While you might be able to have some measure of short-term success with a hastily put-together book, I firmly believe that building a writing career requires a product of a higher caliber. Thank you for your comment! (PS: LOVE Danny and Guy)

  • Bette A. Stevens

    Great post… I needed a little inspiration today. THANKS!

  • Ke-Yana Drake

    I have trouble with 3 because of my limited income, but I do the best that I can with what I have and, actually, cover art is about the only thing I do always spend money on–it’s unavoidably important. 6 is also a problem because I’m so desperate in my financial situation I sometimes get frustrated and impatient. But I’m working on the one step at a time and don’t get frustrated thing. Slowly. :)

    My biggest problem is actually my health. I’ve been physically unable to type for more than a few minutes for the last three months, and unable to sit long enough to do the other work involved. The body is just in too much pain. If I had a telepathic computer and a drip feed of caffeine I’d be in a much better situation. But I keep coming back here and to the project of improving the fanbase whenever I’m able to, even if it’s not as often as I want it to be. I’ll happen. :)

    • Thank you for commenting, Ke-Yana! I think attitude is so very important, and yours is always great. You’re doing what you can, when you can and that’s the main thing. Consistency is a major factor in eventual success, but I totally understand how having the patience to get there is difficult! Have you thought about using dictation to help out with the typing issues? I’ve heard that recent versions of Windows have that speech-to-text capability built-in, but I’m not sure what your computer setup is. Also check out this guest post on the topic: https://selfpublishingteam.com/dictation-im-a-story-teller-not-a-story-typer-guest-post/ I hope that helps! :-)

  • Alison Walker

    Well, that was interesting! I let myself down on #1 and #2. My problem is one of guilt, and procrastination. Guilt because I know I am always pushing to snatch those extra five minutes for my work, when as a mother of 3 kids, including one with special needs, I feel I should be dedicating my time to being their mother. And procrastination through fear of rejection, I think, ie I have committed myself to my writing, but I’ll wait till the next book is finished, then I will have something more worthy to promote. Why this fear? All the reviews I have had have been good. I blame visibility for poor sales, and that requires promotion, and I guess I’m no good at blowing my own trumpet…because of this fear!

    • Hi Alison! Thank you so much for your comment. I totally understand that guilt/work dilemma; I experience that between my daughter and doing work with Duolit, too. Mom guilt is ridiculous, isn’t it?! So crazy.

      As for the fear of rejection, I think that’s a totally normal thing for writers to have — heck, I was terrified before I published this post! But, my advice here is to go for easy wins. Start promoting in places you’re 75% sure will be receptive to your work. Print out those positive comments and have them nearby, too. That way, when you step out further, you can do it with confidence that there are some folks behind you. Good luck, and I know you can do it!

  • Great post! I’m writing full-time now, but when I had a day job in addition to writing I learned to use idle time to the fullest. I still find that many times the solution to a writing problem pops into my head while I’m waiting in line somewhere. :)

    Thanks for the motivation to keep charging forward!

    • You’re more than welcome, Shana. I’m so glad you found the post useful, and kudos to you for using that idle time to its fullest :-)

  • Love this, Toni!

    It’s astonishing how reluctant some writers tend to be about viewing their writing career as a business. Like any start up, there is a ton of work and personal sacrifice required.

    You must have a long term outlook and believe that the time and money you’re investing now (honing your craft, developing your marketing chops, building your platform) will pay off down the road. Very few businesses make a profit early on, but successful ones continue to push forward making adjustments and improvements as they go.

    If food was your passion and you decided to open a restaurant, would you find the cheapest ‘chef’ you could find, or the best you could afford? Would you outfit the kitchen with the necessary tools required, or further cripple your business’ potential by giving him a spoon and a microwave and telling your chef to have at it?

    It’s not just how bad you want it, but whether you are willing to do what it takes to get it, that really separates the successful from the wishful thinkers :)

    Great post!

    • Amen, Kimberley! You’re absolutely right — the willingness to put in the (massive) amount of work it takes to reach success is SUCH an important piece of the equation. Thanks for reading and taking the time to write sucha great comment! :-)

  • nadia mathews

    I love this!!!! I have to do a better job promoting my book. I’ve become okay with the idea that my two books haven’t sold in a while. I was so caught up in helping others that I abandoned myself. Thank you for the inspiring words.

    • You’re very welcome, Nadia. Just ease right back into it — you can do it! :-)

  • I ended up with 56. My weakest area is Making time to write… I need to get on that. Much of this I learned from running my own webcomic for five years. I guess my experiences with that helped instill the needed values needed to be an indie author, heh. My biggest issues are with not letting the world distract me. That isn’t always the easiest with 24/7 access to the internet and living with a big extended family.

  • Da Nekidgoat

    Great article. I’m handicapped (amputee) so I have an an ample amount of time to write but not the resources to promote my books. I will work on that. I have got 4 books already published. Thank you for the article!

  • Peter Dudley

    Interesting idea, and you make a strong collection of very valid points.

    My only problem with this kind of scorecard is that it pushes everyone toward one definition of “publishing success,” which popularly is how much money per month an author is bringing in. I self published my first novel specifically because I had a different idea of what success would look like for me. It had a lot more to do with the long term (two or three decade horizon), dayjob/kids/home/writing/travel/fitness balance in my life, and building community/camaraderie with my readers and my fellow writers.

    By the measures I use, I have been very successful and look forward to much more success in the next three decades. Meanwhile, in terms of dollars in, each book has so far profited enough after expenses to pay my coffee and whiskey bills while I’m writing the next one. Could I sacrifice more for higher sales velocity? Sure. Will I? No, though I’ll slowly and consistently look for ways to expand my marketing, more efficiently manage my time, and keep on writing new books. And not worry about all those hares rushing past me and my tortoise pace.

  • Nina Amir

    Great post! And so necessary. The majority of aspiring authors don’t achieve their goal of becoming published authors because they lack the necessary attitude, which I call Author Attitude in my new book, The Author Training Manual. I devoted a whole chapter to attitude, in fact.

    Ask any successful person from any profession and they will tell you attitude helped them achieve their goals. And they’ll tell you that attitude helped them wrap their arms around the tasks they didn’t really want to do and learn to enjoy them (or at least accept them). They’ll also tell you their attitude helped them sacrifice and overcome obstacles to achieve success.

    Successful authors don’t whine about not having time or about things being hard. They find a way! That has to do with their attitude.

    Thanks so much for writing this. I had it up on my screen for 9 days…I started reading it and knew I wanted to finish, comment and share, but I got busy, went to conference, and then had a huge catch-up week. But here I am…commenting, sharing, and thrilled to have finally had time to read it all the way through!