“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson
Why I chose this quote
There are a lot of metrics available to authors. You can measure loads of things. From how many words you’ve written, to how much your advertising costs as a percentage of book sales. But sometimes those kinds of metrics tell you that you haven’t achieved much. Even when you have.
Like when I’ve figured out how to solve a story problem. Or I’ve gained readers in a new country. If we look at those achievements in terms of words written and books sold, it would appear not much progress is taking place. But actually I’ve achieved something really useful that’s propelling my career in the right direction. There just isn’t a metric for that.
Instead, I like to measure achievements by asking: Did I make progress towards my goals today? Most of the time that works really well. Solving a story problem is making progress towards finishing my current book. Gaining readers in a new country is making progress towards increasing my visibility as an author.
But as I expand my writing and marketing activities, it becomes less simple. I don’t always know if I’ve made progress.
Firstly, there are the activities that take months or years to have an impact. Writing in a new genre is a risky choice. It takes months to write a book. And I can’t know for certain if the next book will be popular. It may not sell enough copies to make the time spent worthwhile. I won’t know that until I finish it.
Book giveaways and book promotion sites are another example. I can measure how many books are downloaded. I can measure how many reviews that book gets. But I’ll never know how many reviews were from those specific downloads. Because after the initial flurry of excited readers comes to an end, the rest of the books will be read over a number of years. And I’ll be blogging, and advertising, and posting on social media during that time. It’s impossible to track sales and reviews back to the originating promotion.
Then there’s training. I know I’m becoming a better author but I can’t demonstrate it with facts and figures. I can only look back at what I’ve written before, and know I’d write it a different way now.
But this doesn’t mean I’m not getting anywhere. You wouldn’t plant one seed, and pin all your hopes on that one plant doing really, really well. Being an author is about so much more than just writing a book and promoting it. It’s about making a series out of ideas that do well, and learning from the ideas that don’t do so well. Promoting existing books while writing new ones. Being present on multiple social media platforms because the right readers are on at least one of them.
It’s about learning, growing, and trying new things. Some of which won’t result in any progress at all. Without trying them, there’s no way to know.
For me, more than anything else, being an author is about doing what I love.
What this quote means to me
If I can write 1000 words a day, every day for four weeks, I will make a lot of progress in those four weeks. But then what? I can’t sustain that. I will hit story problems and fall into plot holes. I will have to slow down to fix those issues. There will be days when no words are added. And once I get into editing, there will be days when the word count will go down. That’s still progress, it’s just much harder to measure.
The same goes for marketing. Peaks in sales are not rewarded by retailers. So stepping out of my comfort zone, to reach lots of people and cause a short-term increase in sales, is not a great idea. Retailers promote books that sell consistently. It turns out the best marketing is whatever I can do on an ongoing basis.
The activities that are most likely to reap consistent results are those I will use consistently. Here’s the good part – the activities I am most likely to stick with long-term are those I enjoy doing.
I wouldn’t enjoy making videos for TikTok, or being interviewed on radio or TV. Those activities would, at best, create peaks and troughs. I do like blogging, and posting on social media about things that inspire me. And planning the next book in the series, and the one after that. And improving my work in progress, whether that’s 1000 words added, or a problem fixed.
These are the seeds I can keep planting, day after day, regardless of how much – or how little – I can harvest right now. So going forward, I’ll be counting the seeds, as well as what they grow into.
How do you judge your hard-to-measure progress?
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