Monday, October 26, 2009

How Do You Measure Success?

My guest today is Romantic Suspense Author, Loucinda (everyone calls her Cindy) McGary. She is also known as Aunty Cindy.

Her topic today is one that many an author has wondered. How do you measure success? These days, authors must do self-promotion for their books and that's true whether you're published through a small Indie press or with traditional publishers. As an author, Cindy also speaks about blog tours, are they worth the whirlwind of time involved?

To promote my recently released romantic suspense, The Treasures of Venice, I did a ‘blog tour’ that required me to post on eighteen blogs in three and a half weeks. Yes, after eighteen blogs in twenty-four days, my head was spinning. Plus, I was left with the nagging question: Was all that effort really worthwhile?

Back in the not-too-distant past when I still had a Dreaded Day Job, I worked for many years as a policy analyst. In those days it was my job to dredge up data or find some other method for quantifying the success of a recommendation, a project, or sometimes an entire program. My bosses wanted numbers and I had to find them.

The saying goes “old habits are hard to break,” and I’ve definitely found this to be true in my new career as a romance novelist. Let me get back to my earlier question about the eighteen blogs in twenty-four days. I quickly discovered there was no ‘hard evidence’ (in other words--numbers) to prove that blogging is an effective promotional tool. However, my in-house publicist, and more importantly her boss, my publisher believe it is. Since I know they want my book to succeed as much as I do (they’ve put time, effort, and money into it too), I just have to take their word for it.

But what is success in this crazy publishing business anyway? Okay, I suppose we can all agree that hitting number one on the New York Times List or being one of Oprah’s Bookclub picks is successful. But it’s also not a very realistic goal for the vast majority of us, so why set ourselves up for failure?

Until Sept. 14, 2007 (the day I got The Call), my entire measure of success hinged on selling a book – ONE book – to a publisher. Of course, as soon as I achieved that goal, I immediately saw that publishing one book was not enough. Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee notwithstanding, I did not want to be a ‘one hit wonder.’

Shortly after my first book, The Wild Sight was released last October; I was thrilled to sign a contract with my publisher for two more books. As I mentioned, The Treasures of Venice was just released, and The Wild Irish Sea, will be out next July. And, you guessed it, I’ve decided three published books still doesn’t meet my elusive definition of success. Please wish me luck on my new proposals.

Phyllis A. Whitney was one of the first romance author’s whose work I loved, and I’m proud to claim her as an influence on my own writing. She published scores of novels during her long career, her last at the age of ninety-three! Another author I idolize, J.R.R. Tolkien published only four novels in his lifetime, but what novels!

Clearly the number of books published is not an accurate way to measure success, but what about sales? Again, this seems to be very subjective to me. Again, in the days when I was still unpublished, my little pea-brain couldn’t even conceive of 10,000 people reading my book. Such a thing was on par with when the pilot comes on the intercom and tells us passengers we are cruising at 35,000 feet. That is too vast a distance for me to fathom, so I don’t even try! So for the unpublished, or newly published, 10,000 copies sold might sound like a huge number. But it could be very disappointing for an author who previously hit one or more best-seller lists and is accustomed to sales over 100,000. Plus, copies sold are not the same thing as copies read.

One of the most exciting things I discovered was Library Thing. This site shows you every library in the US (and a few foreign countries) that has a copy of your book in their collection. Seeing my book in the library was a huge success for me! From the time I learned to read until I graduated from college and finally got a full-time job, I couldn’t afford to buy many books. The library was my own personal refuge, and is still the place I go for most hard-cover novels and research books.

I feel the same when people tell me they loaned their copy of my book to a friend. I have to really love a book before I’ll loan or recommend it to someone else to read, so I consider this a very high compliment. And that brings me around to the thing I love most – hearing from readers!

The main reason I write stories is for people to read and enjoy them. Entertaining an audience is my goal and having my books published helps me to achieve that goal. I’ll never forget the happiness I felt the week after The Wild Sight was released and I received three pieces of honest-to-goodness fan mail. I knew that hearing from readers would be wonderful, but I never imagined just how much! I’ve received dozens of emails, snail mails, and even in-person praise since then, and I treasure every single one of them! Knowing that someone read and enjoyed my story makes all the hard work and hassles of writing and publishing worthwhile.

So maybe readers are my true measure of success. As long as I know I have one or two (or more) people out there somewhere who are reading my books and eagerly turning the pages to see what happens next, I don’t need to crunch numbers or collect empirical data or anything else. I have achieved my ultimate goal.

Blurb for The Treasures Of Venice:
When American librarian Samantha Lewis and Irish rogue Keirnan Fitzgerald set off to find priceless jewels, they become embroiled in a 500-year-old love story that eerily prefigures their own...

In 15th century Venice, beautiful and wealthy Serafina falls in love with Nino, a young Florentine sculptor. They decide to flee to Padua, and to fund the trip, Nino copies a set of jewels that then disappear.

In modern-day Venice, Keirnan needs Samantha's help to locate the jewels so he can pay his sister's ransom. Samantha must decide whether the man she's so drawn to is her soul mate from a previous life...or are they merely pawns in a relentless quest for a priceless treasure?

Question for readers: Out of curiosity, how many of your books were chosen because you read a blog about the author or their latest book?


A life-long avid reader, Cindy writes the kinds of stories she likes to read – stories with danger, romance and a touch of the unexpected. Cindy likes to read and write about wonderful, far away places and people not so very different from her or someone she knows. Her characters must overcome physical and emotional obstacles, sometimes risk their lives, and eventually discover love.
  • Cindy discovered and joined Romance Writers of America in 2001. But her stressful career as the manager of a multi-million dollar State and Federally funded program prevented her from doing much writing or traveling. She still managed to squeeze in a little of both, but not enough of either to be truly satisfying. Finally, at the end of 2003 she decided to take an early retirement from her career to fully pursue her twin passions of travel and writing. Cindy likes to set her novels of romance and suspense in some of the fascinating places she has visited.
Cindy loves to hear from her fans and you can visit her Here.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Cindy, welcome to Over Coffee.

There's plenty of coffee, tea, and cocoa on the virtual coffee bar, not to mention plenty of homemade goodies to nibble on, so help yourself. (I even have a selection of doggie treats. My dog's swear by them.)

Well thought out article and one I enjoyed reading.

I will say I'm curious about how many books people chose as a result of reading a blog. I know that even before I wrote one, I would look through blogs to discover new authors or new to me authors to read.

Kat Sheridan said...

Nice to meet you, Cindy, and your books look fascinating! I've seen them at the Casa blog, and added them to my wish list, so it looks like blogging may help make sales! I've purchased several books based on blogging by the author. I can't imagine coming up with that many blog articles, though. WOW!

Sia, still in commando cleaning mode, though now that includes clearing out dessicated spiders and amphibean bodies (lesson: Never leave a house vacant too long in the land of mutant plants and critters!) I'll have that coffee to go, and make it a double shot, please!

Elle J Rossi said...


The last four books I purchased were either a result of blog interviews or blog recommendations. I hadn't thought about it until you asked the question. So I guess I'd have to say that a blog tour is pretty beneficial.

I love that your measure of success keeps evolving and expanding. If you were satisfied after that first sale you may have never written the next book!


Gina Robinson said...

Great article! I got the call just a few weeks after you did. Your article dovetails exactly with how I feel. First just getting a book published was the goal. Then that wasn't enough.

In answer to your question, I think I have bought a book or two because I've read a blog.

Good luck with your proposals!

VA said...

Quick count on the answer is 4, with another two expected in the next month since they are being released.

My general MO for purchasing books is to check out on the publishers' websites what is out and read the excerpts. I particulary like the extended browsing feature of some since then I can really get a feel of the author's voice and style. I keep a list of books, in my mind, not usually organized enough to remember to take a list with me even if I do write it down, and go to the store. I like buying books in stores, but I don't like browsing in stores. Weird, but hey, whatever.

I find new authors from blogs, like Sia's and recommendations, as well as random searching by category.

Cindy, your metric for determining success sounds like one that I could embrace. Best of luck with your sales and next book proposals. Now off to read about the Treasures of Venice.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Good Morning Sia and All!

Yes, it's still morning here on the West Coast and a beautiful sunny one -- HURRAY!

Sia, I'll take some Irish Breakfast Tea and I drink it the Irish way, piping hot with some milk (no sugar).

I'm glad to hear that you do look at blogs to find new authors. So do I!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Thanx for popping by and for reading the Casablanca Authors blog. I know Sia is one of our regulars and we have a lot of fun there talking about our books and sharing info.

ICK on cleaning up the mutant plants and critters. Hey, it's almost Halloween, why not leave them as 'decorations?' That's what I'm doing with the cobwebs.


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

HURRAY! Some real numbers! 4 books purchased because of blogs?!?! That is sooo good to know. Thanx bunches for sharing!

And technically, I wrote Treasures of Venice BEFORE I wrote Wild Sight. ;-) However, you are correct in that I would have never written any more, and both my editor and my CPs LURVE The Wild Irish Sea, so there ya go.


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Thanx for stopping by! It's nice to know I'm not the only one... But then, with writing and writers I usually do find out I'm not alone. VERY NICE FEELING!

YES! Good to know you've bought books from blogs too. And all my very best for your own quest for success,


~Sia McKye~ said...

I'll add to your numbers, Cindy. Off the top of my head, the last 12 books, in my tbr pile in my office were purchased as the result of reading blogs.

My husband drinks Irish blend tea every morning, w/honey. He's only a quarter Irish though, lol! The rest is Italian.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

THANK YOU! More real numbers! See, my publicist and publisher were correct about those blog tours. I KNEW they were smart cookies, it's just that when I'm working on blog post #15 in almost as many days...well, let me just say that I was definitely standing on that line between normal and crazy! LOL!

Oh, and my publisher Sourcebooks has a great website with all kinds of info and reviews. Please do check it out!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

WOW, Sia!
12 books?!?! That's GREAT!

And LOL on the quarter Irish. Irish and Italian sounds like a GREAT mix to me!

There's a scene late in Treasures of Venice where my Irish hero asks his sister, "Aren't there enough tragic figures in Irish history? Why would we be Italian?" (You'll have to read the book to find out her answer!) ;-)


~Sia McKye~ said...


God knows both races seem to have their trajic figures.

Oh, I plan on reading it, Cindy.

Sheila Deeth said...

It must be time for coffee. I've reached Sia's place, and it's lovely to meet you here. I really enjoyed the Wild Sight. I've bought a few books now as a result of reading about them on blogs. But I usually have to have read about them several times, and seen them in a store, preferably with husband nearby so I can tell him why I'm interested. Off to get that coffee now.

Anna Campbell said...

Hiya Aunty Cindy! Hiya Sia and her Coffee mates! Cindy, great post. As I'm currently in the middle of a blog tour, I know exactly where you're coming from! It's kinda if it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium. Actually I know I've bought books as a result of reading a blog - especially when we've had guests on Romance Bandits whose stuff sounds like it might appeal to me. I've found some great new authors that way. I've heard a great saying about promo - a quarter of all promo works but nobody knows which quarter! Just about sums it up, doesn't it? Treasures of Venice is getting some great buzz! Congratulations!

Joan said...

Hiya AC!!!!

How many books have I read due to a blog? Counting The Wild Sight and TTOV??? About 3,000

Well, maybe not QUITE that many but due to the wonderful guests we've had in the Bandit Lair, I am not hooked on MANY new authors!

And almost finished with word? FAN-friggin-tastic

Christie Kelley said...

Great blog, AC! I'm heading to Borders on Wednesday and they had better have your book! I can't wait to read this one!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

GREAT to see you here! Enjoy your coffee, m'dear. And haven't you learned the trick about hiding purchases from hubby? My mom taught me that one... hide it somewhere (my sister and my room was always a good spot) for awhile and then when you bring it out, say in all honesty, "I bought this ages ago!" :-)

Guess you can see where I inherited my 'sneaky' gene!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Fo!
(Aunty waves madly to her Bandita) I've heard that saying about promo and it is not very comforting in the midst of a blog tour! I know you know what I mean. ;-)

Yes, I too have found several GREAT authors because they guested with us on Romance Bandits. Gotta believe the same is true for other great blogs, like THIS ONE!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hi Joanie and Christie!

Two more Banditas swinging by. HURRAY! And thanx bunches!

Joanie, I agree that we have MANY fabulous guests on Romance Bandits. And I LURVE your one word! LOL! So glad you enjoyed the story.

Christie and Sia, hope you both enjoy it as well. Like I mentioned, TToV was actually the first romantic suspense I wrote, so it is very near and dear to my heart. Plus, it finaled in the 2006 Golden Heart and got me involved with so many WONDERFUL NEW FRIENDS!


Beth said...

Hi, AC!! Hi, Sia!!

Cindy, I can't wait to read The Treasures of Venice *g*

I've lost track of how many books I've bought because I've read a blog about the author or their book. But there have been plenty :-) And I'm so glad as I've discovered some great New-To-Me authors that way!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hi Sia! Hi Aunty Cindy! Another Romance Bandit swinging by to say howdy. Man, the chandeliers here swing just as well as the ones in the Lair. Grins.

AC, measuring success is SO subjective, isn't it? I love Libraty Thing! How cool.

Anonymous said...

With the internet,, it is great to read about the books you can buy, the last five books that I have gotton have been the result of save time in a busy world..very usefull, because you can get the jist of the book and about the author.

Carolyn Goff

~Sia McKye~ said...

I'm kinda fond of those wild Romance Bandits, lol!

Joan, 3000? You're an authors dream, a reader too.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Anna, as always a pleasure to see you. I've found more than a few good ones in the Bandits lair.

Sheila, I always have coffee for you. And good company and good books too. :-)

Judi Fennell said...

Waving Hi to a fellow Casababe!

Terms of success: I can say that I've seen my amazon ranking go up (or down, since a lower number is better) when I send out promo or do blog tours. And having been to my first readers' conference since In Over Her Head came out, I realize that I have fans - people who I don't know who bought my book, read it, and loved it. And are looking forward to the next one. When they started discussing my characters as real people, man! that was success!

jo robertson said...

What a great topic, Cindy! It's often very hard to measure success, not only in the publishing industry, but in others.

How do you measure a successful teacher, for example? A popular one? One whose students all get A's? One who never misses a day of work?

I agree with you about readers. Writing a book is all about getting someone to love your characters and story as much as you do. If it's not about that, then a person is probably in the wrong business.

And I always wonder about those one-hit wonders whose books became classics. Why? Did they stop writing? Had they written all they wanted to say? Did they die young?

As for blogging, I think many writers like it because it's a great chance to interact face-to-face with readers in a virtual world.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi AC -

Wonderful thought-provoking post. I think I've bought a couple books as a direct result of blogs, but often I already know the author or have bought the book when I read the blog.

I've noticed when I do a blog tour that it seems like there's a similar pool of readers that visit each blog. Maybe one or two new readers, but the rest I've talked to before. That's not a bad thing because I love to talk (grin) but it makes you wonder if you're really getting any coverage.

Well - whatever keeps you churning out books, may it never stop. You have a gift. Love your work, now get back at it (grin).

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...


HEY BETH AND JEANNE! Thanx bunches for dropping by to say hi! Sia has a GREAT blog going here. :-)

Beth, I hope you enjoy TTov. Your latest His Secret Agenda is on my TBR mountain, close to the very tippy top!

And Le Duchesse! What else can I say since I can't thank you enough for your pre-publication blurb for Treasures?!?!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Thanks for popping by and for the reminder of what a time saver it is to 'discover' books and authors via the Net.

I'm sooo glad I asked this question today, because all the answers are making me feel much more positive about those exhaustive blog tours. :-)


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

So glad you don't mind a few rowdy Banditas swooping in. We do tend to liven a place up where ever we go. ;-)

Once again, thank you for inviting me to guest today. It's been both FUN and informative!


Anonymous said...

Hey Cindy and thanks for sharing with all of us. The last couple of books I've bought I actually did get the recommendation from or on blogfriends. And I always check out Sia's blog just to see what's new, she keeps us well informed here in blogland! :)

Thank you Sia for another great post! HOpe you are doing well my friend. I'm working on some new art you will have to come by and check out, take care my dear friend,
Julian :)

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hi Judi!
(Aunty waves madly at her fellow CasaBabe)

Aren't fans THE BEST?!?! It still blows me away when I think about people so far away (like Australia or South Africa or Europe) reading my books and loving my characters!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Jo-Mama!
(Aunty waves to her interpid CP)
You are sooo right! Authors aren't the only ones who have a hard time quantifying "success" in their professional lives.

Sometimes I think success is like art, you can't really describe it, but you know it when you see it! :-)

They have turned Margaret Mitchell's apartment in Atlanta where she wrote GWTW into a museum. It's really interesting and I do recommend a visit if you are in the area. I honestly think she is one novelist who said everything she wanted to say in her one book, because she was a journalist in her 'day job.' But she did die pretty young also. :-(


Olivia Cunning said...

I'm guessing that gorgeous cover sold a few books. Wow! Makes me want to buy the book and go to Venice.

I think successful people never really feel they've reached the pinnacle of success. They keep reaching for that next goal and THAT'S what makes them a success--the drive. Your marker for success is a wonderful one. Hopefully, I can use it as my own marker one of these days. So is one fan enough success? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? Dare we hope millions? Not that I'm trying to raise that bar or anything. I'd be happy with one fan, right now. :-)

The last book I bought was due to a blog recommendation. I need to work through my TBR pile before I start buying books again, but will likely look for new authors by reading my favorite blogs. Like Sia's!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Donna,
You bring up a good point about many people visiting the same blogs. But then there's that marketing statistic that says you need 7 (14 or 21?) repeats of something for a person to remember, so maybe that works to an author's advantage???

Getting back to work now! I promise!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Thanks for stopping by and giving me more numbers! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Thanx for stopping by and for your compliments on my cover. I LURVE both my covers and can take NO CREDIT WHATSOEVER for them. They are the product of the Sourcebooks Art Dept. who does a wonderful job on all the Casablanca books!

How many fans are enough? Hmmm, I'll get back to you on that one in a few more years! :-) Discovering a new fan is truly one of the BEST parts about this crazy biz!


~Sia McKye~ said...

Many fans/readers like blogging, Jo, for the same reason. They get to interact with some of their favorite authors. When you, as an author, are approachable and friendly, it means something to them. It's a chance to create lifelong fanbase for your writing.

I have nothing but respect for the hardworking authors that blog. I sse first hand, via private communication, how hard a blog tour is on them and what a drain it is on not only their time, but their energy. Many do a blog a day, for two SOLID weeks or more. I know from experience, coming up with topics, questions/answers for a blog on a daily basis, much less, write the articles too, isn't easy.

Again, kudos to hard working authors invested in their careers. I appreciate you all. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Donna, you remind me I need to be talking to you as well. I loved your presentation at the conference.

You make a good point on the pool of commenters. However, for every comment on a blog, like mine for example, there are at least 3 other people who came and read, but didn't leave a comment.

So actually, many MORE are reading the blog, seeing the author's comments, and looking at their book and blurb than you realize.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Julian, What a sweetheart. Yes, I need to see the new artwork. You always have such nice pieces and creativity. I'm amazed.

Writing is a art form, as someone above mentioned. Both forms of art, words or physical expression of color and form on paper. You artists create with brushes, pencils, charcoal, and paint, we writers create the same effect with words. Others, like chefs and gardiners, use other means to project beauty and enjoyment. Pretty cool when you think about it. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Olivia, I have NO doubt you'll have plenty fans, my dear.

I agree with your thought on drive. So very true, because it's not a matter of competing with others so much as competing with yourself. :-)

Anonymous said...

What an appropriate article for me at the moment! I am in the midst of a thirty-five day blog tour, which means seventy-blogs in thirty-five days -- one for my host and one for my blog to promote my host's blog. Believe me, I did not intend to do such a concentrated tour, but the thing is taking on a life of it's own.

Your question about whether a tour is worth it is one I asked before I embarked on this quest, and I'm not sure it is in terms of sales. But it is a quest (which is fitting since the book I am promoting, Daughter Am I, is a quest), and one does not always know where the quest will take them.

Many authors talk about the value of book signings coming from making a connection with the bookseller. Perhaps the value of a book tour lies in the connections one makes.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Pat, you're a busy lady, wow!

"Perhaps the value of a book tour lies in the connections one makes."

Well said, Pat. It's all about connections.

Business 101. First have a good product. Reasonable prices set. Know your market. Promote your product--make connections. Give samples, be personable, create a buzz. It all plays into success of the product and creator of the product.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Cindy, thank you for joining us on Over Coffee. It was a fun time. I'm looking forward to your next book, out in July 2010 and hope to have you back here having fun with us!

Thanks to the Romance Bandits and the Wombats for interjecting lots of fun and laughter!