Academy for Wayward Authors: Understanding the Truth About Author Success Stories

Why author success stories are misleading

They are meant to inspire.

A humble brag and an act to express gratitude to those who have helped an author succeed.

You see them occasionally in groups on Facebook, providing an author’s interpretation of their journey.

They show a graph from Book Report, ScribeCount, or Author Helper Suite showing the mix of revenues and when they took off.

There are two reasons why these are so misleading.

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I rarely read accounts where the writer breaks down the costs for the results beyond just looking at marketing costs. Therefore, they are not giving you the whole picture.

Next is the message, “If I can do it, you can too.”

They believe it because, for them, it’s true.

That’s survivor bias.

The reality is that less than 1% of published authors earn money from selling books, and even fewer are profitable and can earn a living from their writing. The probability of making multi-six figures in publishing is in the thousandth of a percent.

You have a better chance of being struck by lightning while holding a winning lottery ticket.

Of course, you never have a chance to win if you don’t participate.

This is not meant to discourage you but to help you recognize what is realistic.

I’ve seen people make millions in genres that didn’t exist a few years before they published, and I don’t think they’re all that good at writing. They chose to buy a lottery ticket and go hiking in a thunderstorm. Yes, it’s possible, but it’s not probable. Set your expectations accordingly, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have similar results.

The same goes for those of us selling courses to authors. Wouldn’t it be nice if every course had a distribution of before and after results? A method of showing you who can deliver results.

Until they do, the best assumption is that any group or course results are IDENTICAL to the prevailing market results.

I’m not suggesting authors stop making these posts or trying to go full-time. Today’s article concerns not falling for the bait and beating yourself up for not having extraordinary results.

Instead, spend time understanding how your economics work rather than another author’s. The author you’re trying to emulate likely doesn’t know anything beyond that… they do sell a lot of books.

I’m not saying they don’t know what caused their success; I’m saying they don’t know if they are successful. Maybe they are, if it’s all about outward appearances, but for most, we seek sustainable financial security. If that is what they desire, then… is it happening?

When you ask why they do what they do, the usual reply is growth for growth’s sake. They are building an audience, and eventually, everything will fall into place.

How do they know?

“Well, look at those sales!”

Sales are not an audience. Sales are not profit. Sales are not post-tax returns to you as an investor.

That never gets shown on the sales chart. Is their cash building up month after month?

Those who had massive growth by selling in KU and using AMG had significant sales increases along with substantial costs.

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The problem is that if an audience was never brought into a system to make them visible and where they can be tapped into without continuing to pay to play, they are just creating a bigger, more expensive hamster wheel.

Profiting while building the right audience is the goal.

This can be scaled and compounded. The market is predisposed to reward you further when you do this.

Instead of trying to figure out how others are succeeding, figure out what your success looks like.

Is it just getting to where your business breaks even?

Is it seeing your ideal readers go from invisible to visible in your retention system?

Is it building a system of positive feedback loops that supports how the publishing market works?

It could be as simple as “I want to write and publish these books.” The most significant barrier to entry in our business is turning your story idea into something another human can experience.

Identify and celebrate your next big win, even if it is just finishing your next book. Measure your success against yourself and your circumstances, not the image some other author seeks to project into another author’s sphere.

Read: Why a Map Isn’t the Solution for Your Creative Journey