I’ve been asked in one way or another by almost everyone I know if my book is “a success.”
The short, easy answer, is “of course it is.” I’ve had a lifelong dream to see my name on a book cover in a bookstore, and I’ve done that (and more are on the way).
Of course, I think the “success” of a book can actually be measured in three ways: commercial success (how many copies you move), critical success (i.e., good reviews, awards, etc.) and creative success (did you tell the story you wanted to tell). There are books that sell a million copies that are universally panned, and there are those critically-acclaimed novels that sell a couple of thousand. Either way, I think one would say those books were successful.
However, the only measure that we as authors can really take of our own work is the last one: is it a creative success? Did the work satisfy the artistic and creative urge that compelled it?
At some point, we started with a story/question burning in our brain, something so important that we were willing to spend countless days/nights alone trying desperately to fit one perfect word after another to capture that vision or idea on the page. Being creative is damn hard work, and we do it with the expectation and understanding that some number of people (hell, maybe a whole lot of people), won’t appreciate our efforts; that they’ll never see our vision as clearly. But that’s okay, as long as we can look back at the work we produced and believe it reflects (to the best our ability) our original intentions.
Publishing is a business, but the writing itself is art, and no amount of sales or reviews or awards can or should change the satisfaction you get from your own art.
I know when I start a new story, when I’m really in the grip of creating, I can't really rest or relax until I get that story out...every single bloody word. I’ve finished whole books knowing they were unpublishable, but I was just as thrilled when I wrapped them up as I did those I honestly expected to see the light of the day. The outcome didn’t change my need to get that story out of me, if for no other reason than as my own best audience, I had to see how it all ended!
I’ve been tremendously fortunate. My first book has sold nicely, and I’ve received some wonderfully generous reviews. But more importantly, I can still flip through that novel and find sentences and passages that I'm just as happy with as when I first wrote them. They're perfect; exactly what I wanted to say. And they're mine.