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.


Shifting sands

Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes (Photo credit: David Stanley)

I’ve been away from my blog for a few weeks, startled by a recent change in the landscape that surrounds me. I’ve been reflecting on the nature of tragedy, both on the public shared level and in the private space, and I found that I was short of words to share with you via my blog, or with myself, in the stories I have been spinning.

Writing is a healing tool, but I find it is more powerful when employed at a distance, after allowing oneself to live in the raw moment. It is essential to blunder, to understand that we do not have control of the overarching narrative that is our own life, before we attempt to shape and mold an interpretation of existence that pleases us in our stories. For myself at least, anything else would be an attempt to escape feeling, and that strategy always comes back to bite me.

I have been affectionately accused of being cruel to my characters in The Purana Qila Stories, by throwing obstacles in the path of their happiness. If I picked up the thread of my tales now, I would be tempted to give my good (fictional) friends the happy endings they deserve, but my writing would probably be unsound and dishonest. I believe in the exhortation of Ernest Hemingway: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”

For now, I will content myself with the true sentences crafted by other authors and the distilled, clear truth of poetry, none more so than the haiku. Here’s one from the master, Basho:

Now the swinging bridge

is quieted

with creepers…

Like our tendrilled life

An embarrassment of riches…

One of the pleasant surprises of becoming an author is how kind and supportive the writing community is. I am fortunate to belong to the Authors Social Media Support Group and the World Literary Cafe and they have been of incalculable help in getting the word out about my writing.

I have also had the opportunity to guest post on various blogs, and each time I am introduced to a vibrant and passionate group of writers and readers. Today, I have the honor of appearing on two writer’s blogs.

I am featured on Tony Riches’ The Writing Desk, where I share the motivation behind my short story, The Dust Beneath Her Feet. (I promise I didn’t intend to make a pun in my blog post title, but there it is. )

You can read the guest post here. Stay awhile and visit the other pages on his site; he has lots of really great writing and promotion ideas for new authors.

I’m also featured today on the Pebble in the Still Waters blog. I hope you get a chance to visit Jaideep Khanduja’s site. He invites a number of interesting authors and you may find your next favorite book there!

Do you find yourself being drawn to the same theme again…

Molen Lava (kindof)

Molen Lava (kindof) (Photo credit: lrargerich)

… and again? Either as a reader or as a writer? I can’t explain my attraction to stories about India/Indians and Pakistan/Pakistanis. Well, duh, you might say, your Indian heritage explains everything… but indulge me for a moment… what exactly is at work here? Is it a desire to see if someone is doing this better than I am? (Writing about, or simply being Indian?) Or is it a sense that something is inadequate… there is a missing piece that a novel, a story, even one I write myself, will tease out? A childhood memory that I am grasping towards or an inarticulate loss? I thought back to all the writers whose work I have coveted: Naipaul, Rushdie (for Midnight’s Children), Anita and Kiran Desai, Amitav Ghosh, Mohsin Hamid. While they rework the molten silver into strange and fantastical shapes, each utterly original but shining with that familiar gleam, I am rapt.

About Coins in the Well

Coin Collection - I

Coin Collection – I (Photo credit: д§mд)

My mother once told me that a great-, great-, great-grandfather had several wives. When he died, his youngest wife disappeared with the money he had hidden in a well. I love this story because it shows me that our pasts are rich with fantastical stories and myths, and that, for writers, inspiration gleams at the bottom of a well somewhere.