What Does the Average Person Say About Your Work?

If you read Seth Godin’s blog, you probably saw the post that talked about how easy it is to manipulate the New York Times’ bestseller list.  Said Seth:

“It doesn’t cost much to scam it and it’s pretty straightforward to buy your way onto the list I know authors who have done this and consultants who sell this service. As a result of this distortion, the books on the list get more promoted, and thus sell more copies. It’s not pretty but it’s true.”

This really got me thinking.  I am gearing up to publish my sixth book in 2011.  My books have been printed through a variety of channels from huge, traditional, New York-based conglomerates to small association presses.  And since the beginning, my goal has been to have a bestseller.

But why?  If you believe what Seth says – and he’s a bestselling author himself – being on the bestseller list doesn’t actually mean much because it’s not a true measurement of how much an authentic audience sample likes the book. Ever since my bestselling goal was debunked, I’ve been working on reframing how I define success as an author.

I decided that success as an author means that readers regularly contact me to tell me how much one of my books helped them.  It means that a book is useful enough that I am able to pin a whole career, with multiple revenue streams, on its content.

How Do You Define Success?

Do you rely on one executive or manager’s very subjective opinion, or do you take into account your colleagues’ opinions?  If you walked into a room of fellow employees or clients and asked a random person how they felt about your work, what would be the feedback?  Having a golden reputation among those who see you in action every day, is, in my opinion, more valuable that a one-time award or arbitrary promotion from a boss you never see.  What do you think?

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  • Alexandra, I think that the “metric” for success as an author is readership engagement: to what extent are your memes adopted, propagated and even built-upon. I put that in quotes because quite honestly, I'm unclear on how one might measure such a thing.

    For example: should I publish a work revolving around a core concept I've been thinking about and I start seeing it in social media, I now know that it's enjoying mindshare–but without analyzing every single instance, cannot be sure whether this is positive, negative, or more nuanced discussion of the meme in question. As importantly, social media is a self-selecting group of people with something they want to share: it's hard to know how representative the social media discussion is vs what the average reader might think.

  • Alexandra Levit

    @Ed: I love this, and it makes me feel much better about there being about 25 copycat books to “They Don't Teach Corporate in College,” originally published in 2004. Thanks for chiming in!

  • @NitoA

    I really think that the best way is to work doing your best, being always honest… That way, if u r really good, your colleagues, boss, clients, etc. will find your job all right… And i remark being honest! (it's even more important than doing the job)
    It might sound naif, but i think is true.

    Reading your post from Argentine, my first time around here! good luck!


    ps: Great movie DodgeBall!!!

  • Alexandra Levit

    @NitoA: Welcome to the blog, so glad to have you! Honesty is such a critical trait in the business world, counterintuitive as it may sometimes seem. And I love Dodgeball too!