Whether it’s the number of followers we have on our blogs or twitter, the number comments or retweets, or our Amazon rankings or Nielsen BookScan sales figures—we writers have the tendency to obsess over our numbers.
We can deny it all we want. We can claim that those numbers don’t matter, that we’re blogging for the pure joy of it, that we don’t ever notice how many twitter followers we have, or that we never pay attention to how well (or poorly) our books are selling.
But that would be a lie (at least for most of us). In all my travels around the cyberworld, I see people all the time who get excited when they hit a milestone number. I see tweets like, “Only 1 more follower until I reach 500. Who will it be?” Conversely, I see things like, “I’m stuck at 89. Why won’t more people follow me?”
Numbers matter to us. In fact, they usually matter a lot.
Whether we like it or not, numbers are a way to measure success.
Some may argue that success is defined by each individual, that what might constitute successful blogging or book publication to me might be different for you. You might derive success simply from the accomplishment of posting regularly and connecting with a few readers. Someone else might define success by actually completing a book and seeing it for sale on Amazon regardless of how well it does.
Yes, we’ll all define success differently.
However, no matter how we define success on a personal level, there’s still a broader definition of success on a professional level.
In the professional world, in most careers, success is measured in terms of numbers. Whether it’s a baseball player’s statistics or a student’s GPA or ACT scores, whether it’s the box office sales of a movie or how fast a runner completes the 100m dash, numbers are important. We’re conditioned by the world around us to pay attention to numbers as a measure of success.
And in the writing industry, numbers matter too. In fact, most decisions boil down to numbers. It’s simply a tangible way to measure how well something/someone is doing. My publisher wants to see a baseline number of sales from each of their authors. They keep a detailed report of my sales figures down to the exact number and penny sold. The numbers definitely have a bearing on the future of my career with my publisher.
Writers do indeed need to be conscious of numbers. As much as we’d like to stick our heads in the sand and pretend statistics don’t matter, we won’t help our careers if we dismiss them. But neither should we obsess. Instead, here are a few things we can do:
Move toward a balanced approach. I personally have found a balance that works for me. I check statistics from time to time just to see how things are going and if I’m on track. I keep a big picture view in mind, but I don’t pay attention to every single move up or down.
Maintain professionalism. Refrain from posting about our numbers—either negatively or positively. In other words, don’t boast or complain. Quiet dignity is often the best way to present ourselves publicly and professionally. Save the excitement or disappointment for our inner circle.
Motivate ourselves. Let the numbers (or lack thereof) help push us to look honestly at what we’re doing and whether it’s working the way we want it to. If our numbers are decreasing, what can we do to stop the downward spiral? If they’re stagnant, we can evaluate if we’ve reached our ceiling or whether there’s still more we can do to climb higher.
Make the people behind numbers the priority. Part of the reason we should refrain from talking about our numbers is because it makes the followers/readers we already have think they’re just another number in our quest to gain more. Behind every profile and number is a real person with real struggles. We should do our best to make our current followers feel valued.
Model early the attitude we want later. We can start early in our careers developing a healthy approach to watching our numbers, keeping an eye on them, learning from them, challenging ourselves with them—but not letting them control us. Hopefully the balanced attitude we develop will hold us in check later when we have even more numbers to worry about.
My Summary: We should all have our own personal definitions of what success looks like to us—and that may or may not involve numbers. But regardless of how we define success on a personal level, if we hope to have a professional writing career, then we have to accept that the professional definition does involve numbers, and usually lots of them.
My philosophy? Don’t sweat it. But be savvy.
Be honest! Do you pay attention to your numbers (followers, sales figures, etc.)? Why do you think so many writers obsess over their numbers? How do you keep a balanced approach?