What Makes a Book Successful?

As they do for many children, books gave me a means of escape: reading was (still is) the best kind of dissociation. From the time I learned to read, I was eager to give myself and my reality over to an author, many of them dead, whose imagination it was my privilege to inhabit for a time.

My love and respect for the authors of my favorite books grew into a wishful idea – could I become one of them? Was I allowed to join the club of book-writers? During my working life, to my delight, I’d been accepted as a writer of short things – magazine and journal articles; papers, speeches, and talks – and a participant in workshops and panel discussions. But a book?

After several years of coaching writers, and longer experience editing them, I had an exciting idea for a nonfiction book – a guide for writers who feel stuck. Next, I asked my then-spouse how he would feel if we were a two-writer family. It felt presumptuous of me to encroach on the spouse’s territory. He’d been in the literary world for some years before we met. With his slightly amused permission I set out to write my first book.

From idea to pages to ISBN

Many of us have creative ideas. Many of us can speak spontaneously with eloquence and passion from our unique perspectives. Many of us get bogged down when it comes to translating that evanescent clarity onto “a fixed medium of expression,” as the US copyright statute puts it. Pen to paper, ones and zeroes into digital media, pick your method. It’s a tricky process.

When we get our ideas into a semblance of coherent sentences and paragraphs and chapters, with a page layout and a cover and an ISBN, what happens then? On the one hand, you feel wonderful, for accomplishing the daunting task. On the other, you face the even more daunting challenge of letting your potential readers in on your secret. And a secret it will remain without significant boosts from the rest of the world.

Publishing, marketing, selling

I published my book independently in 2016 with a great sense of satisfaction. Did it “do well”? Not as measured in sales. Rubber met road when it came to marketing, at which I was inexperienced and inept.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. As with many of my nonfiction author clients, the point of the enterprise for me was not to climb the best-seller charts. The point was to say what I had to say, in a polished, thorough, professionally presented way so that it might be useful to my audience: writers and other creative people. Mission accomplished.

3-D photo of the paperback book, FLOAT: Becoming Unstuck for Writers by A M Carley showing a pale sea- and skyscape with an orange feather suspended at the horizon

FLOAT: Becoming Unstuck for Writers by A M Carley
Image by the author

FLOAT provides a framework and more than 80 tools that writers and others can select from, to become – and stay – unstuck in their creative work. Here’s how author, coach, and teacher Lisa Ellison describes the FLOAT process:

First, you focus on why you’re stuck, what being stuck looks like, and where it comes from. Then you listen for your inner wisdom, because deep down a part of you knows the problem.

Once you’ve identified the issue, you become open to any other messages that arise. Next, you analyze these messages to discover whether your issue stems from overconnection and overwhelm or loneliness and isolation.

After you’ve gained some clarity, you can choose one of the many tools Anne has developed over her years as a writing coach.

~ Lisa Cooper Ellison

Success on your terms

What makes your book or other publicly available creative work a success? What criteria do you apply? Does comparison to others get the better of you?

Do you look to others you respect for their validation? Do you know in your heart that it’s good work, and that’s enough for you? Do you require reviews in prominent publications before you’re ready to believe in your accomplishment? Are sales figures your only acceptable metric? Do you enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done, while also working steadily to increase your work’s reach? Do you feel great for a nanosecond, followed at once by an overwhelming desire for the next new challenge?

We’re each different. And we can change our own approach to success as we learn and grow. It’s an adventure, isn’t it?

FLOAT is on sale!

To celebrate the holiday season, I decided to reduce the Amazon price on the paperback of FLOAT. Then I discovered that Amazon, in its algorithmic wisdom had further reduced the price, to almost ten dollars off! I can’t promise how long the behemoth’s sale price will last, but I can assure you that my $9.95 price will stick around through the end of 2023. So it’s a great time to stock up – for yourself and your creative friends and colleagues.

Do you feel you could benefit from some kindly nudges toward more and better writing?

Do you know people who’d like some positive interventions in their creative lives?

You know what to do.

With my warm wishes for the holidays,


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