Debut Author Lessons: Mini lesson on leveling up

Sometimes I think it’s useful for early career writers to see the things that might  happen to your brain later. I just got an email from my editor that Shades of Milk and Honey is going into its 7th printing.


Between all the US editions so far, we’ve netted 23,793 copies. That’s not counting the UK or foreign language editions.

Now… to me, that seems like a staggering amount of people to have read my book. But, to put that in perspective: Wise Man’s Fear sold more in the first week. At the same time, other writers will look at my 23k and be jealous because they haven’t sold as many copies. This is the tricky thing about being an author. You are constantly measuring yourself against other writers, which isn’t useful. Books are very, very different beasts and you can rarely do direct comparisons.

So on the one hand, I’m looking at seventh edition and feeling like OMG! I’m a real writer now, and also knowing exactly how that stacks up compared to a NY Times best seller.

The point of all of this is that, as you go forward you have to define your own sense of success.

For me? Seven printings is a very nice place to be.

But so was selling a single book.

And so was selling a single story.

And so was just finishing a story.

Those success points are going to change over time, and they should. That’s how you level up as a writer. It’s why imposter syndrome happens, because you attain success and immediately set another goal. When you stop having imposter syndrome. When you stop thinking of ways in which you can improve, that’s when you need to worry.

Meanwhile, enjoy the highs of attaining a goal and then set the next one.

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8 thoughts on “Debut Author Lessons: Mini lesson on leveling up”

  1. Hi Ms. Kowal,

    Just wanted to say thanks for this concise piece of advice. I got to see you on stage at Denvention in 2007, and was wowed at your eloquence then, and remain so. I sold my first story after Denvention ’07, and then went back to school when my first novel only sold 87 copies via self-publishing and got meh to meh-plus reviews (I only made two editing passes. It was only mostly complete. And some parts sucked.)

    So my goal is to sell a book, I’m putting one together now. Do you still recommend the agented approach, or is it all self-pubbing online these days?

    1. First of all, congratulations on selling a story and also on having the gumption to put a novel out there.

      As for agented or self-pubbing? I would still go agented, but it’s a personal choice based on what I want to be doing with my time. I want to be writing. I don’t want to be an entrepreneur or publisher. That’s the piece that I think a lot of people miss: It’s self-publishing. And that means dealing with the business end of writing far more than I want to.

      That’s not to say that I don’t treat a writing like a business, but that I don’t handle the publishing aspects of writing.

  2. I feel like 23k is a great accomplishment. I guess that means you’re closing in on 100k from all 4 books?

    1. That would be lovely if that’s what it meant, but no. Bear in mind that this is 23k over the lifespan of a book that came out in 2010.

      One of the things that tends to happen with a series is that sales drop off over time. The first book continues to sell well, usually, but the others slowly sell fewer. Then, when the last book comes out, you’ll see a bump.

      1. So I surmised. I just couldn’t say it that humbly. I still think you should celebrate when you get to 100k. Even if it takes a few books.

  3. “When you stop having impostor syndrome. When you stop thinking of ways in which you can improve, that’s when you need to worry.”

    I so needed to hear that. I feel like I always have impostor syndrome, that I’m never good enough AND that the success I’ve had (what little there’s been) I don’t deserve. But it does motivate me to do better. To keep going. Congratulations on your 7th printing!

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