Metrics and meaning: how do you measure success?

My giveaway closed on Sunday after one month with 676 people requesting A Deconstructed Heart. I did not have time to really promote the giveaway, so I’m very pleased with the results. I also saw a large increase in the number of people putting my title on their to-read shelf; if even a small number of them mosey on over to give my book a second look, I will be happy indeed.

I started to think about what constitutes success in the modest aspirations of a self-published author. I have not written a Dan Brown page-turner, or a dystopian novel that channels the zeitgeist of a generation, or a magical series that delights adults and children alike. There will be no tsunami of sales or selection to Oprah’s Book Club. There will only be small conversations about my book taking place in disparate places, a flowering and fading in different parts of the country (and sometimes, different parts of the world) as someone new bends back the cover of my book–or clicks on the title page in their Kindle–for the first time. That is a limited but gratifying marker of success.

Revenue from sales is a wonderful validation, but it does not necessarily quantify an author’s achievement–just ask Dave Eggers, who gave an honest and rather disheartening breakdown of his income from sales of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a New York Times bestseller, in the preface. Yet, his was definitely the “it” book for a while and launched him in the publishing world with a bang. 

Reviews, as I have mentioned before in previous posts, tell authors that they are doing something right. Personally, I am greedy for these, especially for the feedback that makes me feel as if the reader “got it,” and perhaps, even more, when she or he sheds new light on my writing for me. It is a gift to be read by a reader who is engaged, thoughtful and passionate. That reader is someone with whom I would love to share every book that means something to me. I am honored that A Deconstructed Heart has been chosen for three book clubs next month (two in Illinois and one in Canada), and I am very excited to attend one in person: the DesiLit Book Club at The Book Cellar in Chicago on June 3.

There is also quantifiable success evidenced in the metrics for my work–the numbers continue to grow at a modest rate: sales, reviews (Amazon & Goodreads), blog appearances, and selections to Goodreads shelves (380 to-date for A Deconstructed Heart).

I am delighted to be where I am today with my book and short stories, but I keep turning over the question of when it is that I will feel that I have achieved success with my work. Yet, I must realize that I am always moving the goal posts: by continually sharing my writing with more readers and reviewers in every way I can, there is no limit or end point to the life of my book. This, too, is success: a victory over the tendency in me to rest on my laurels (a wonderful euphemism, that).

I think Flaubert hit it on the head, when he noted that, above all, success is self-mastery : “The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life, and the promise of future accomplishments.

Onward.

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Where the conversations never stop…

My promotion for A Deconstructed Heart wraps up in a few hours. It has been a fun and eventful week; heavily promoting my book brought me into a round of delightful conversations with readers and fellow authors. Many of my favorite moments were on Twitter: I received a gracious tweet from a sculptor and fellow author in England who thanked me for sharing the book and told me how much she was enjoying it. I had a meaningful exchange with an author about writing about England and deciding, as readers, at what point we give up on a book that has not made a connection with us. I had a lot of fun with the lively ladies at the Thirty Mommy blog, who had chosen A Deconstructed Heart for their book club of the month. It was fun to chat with them in real-time, having cross conversations with multiple people from various cultures. We discussed the role my character Amal plays with regards to being a caretaker for her uncle, Mirza, and how many of us have taken on unexpected family responsibilities in our lives.

I come away from this week with two thoughts: firstly, how art created in isolation ultimately calls for a shared experience, a human connection at the most fundamental level, and is a panacea for the ills of disconnection in modern life. You may not like the art, you may disagree with it, but hopefully, at the very least it has been thought-provoking and engaged you on some level. The only manner in which art can fail is when it has not succeeded in forming a connection with the reader/viewer/beholder.

Secondly, I was struck this week by how the internet, Twitter in particular, reminded me of what I loved about Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children: in his book, every child born at midnight at the time of India’s Partition is given two magical gifts, the first is unique to that child: it might be strength, or the ability to become invisible… the second is the ability to connect telepathically with all other children born at that moment in history… to meet in the rooms of each others’ minds and hang out together. Twitter was that room for me this week.

Here’s to many more conversations about the human experience sparked by a book, a painting, a sculpture, a piece of music. We need that connection because we need one another. As Desmond Tutu said: “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.