Zen and the Art of Publishing—or, How Authors Should Measure Success.

I get asked all the time how Goosebottom Books is doing, which I hear—rightly or wrongly—as, is it a success? I never know how to answer that question.  In October, we will celebrate our fourth anniversary.  Yet, we are still not in the black. I haven’t made less money since college. (Yes, this is an appeal to you to buy a Goosebottom Book immediately!) On the other hand, we win awards and garner accolades. We have a small but enthusiastic fan base. People love our books. Some people see the books we publish as foot-soldiers in a cause, as an expression of high ideals—as we do. But more than that, selfishly, Goosebottom Books has made me happy. For four years, I’ve gone to bed fulfilled, and I’ve woken up excited. I don’t want to sound like a MasterCard ad, but isn’t that priceless?

Well, before my original-thinking-girl niece rolls her eyes at me for being a hemo—a “hippy emo,” which I believe she coined just for me—I have scientific evidence that it is.

In his TED talk, “Flow, The Secret of Happiness,” psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (yes, I copy-and-pasted that) presents evidence that people are happiest when they’re being extremely challenged, and yet feeling extremely skilled. He’s got a neat graph to show what he means. Check it out: ted.com/playlists/what_makes_us_happy.

On the other hand, in the same TED playlist, psychologist Dan Gilbert in “The Surprising Science of Happiness” reveals that we often manufacture happiness by learning to prefer what we have. Maybe I’m just an expert in acceptance or even denial?

Be that as it may, nobody can take four years of happiness away from you. You’ll always have them, snug under your belt. Which brings me to my nugget of wisdom for the day; something I share often with my writing students. Take control of how you define success. If you let our capitalist/consumer society do it for you, it’ll come down to money, and not many authors (or publishers!) make a lot of that. Instead, recognize that you’re being paid in joy: when you open that acceptance letter; when a child wants your autograph; when a school asks you to visit, or a book store asks you to sign. And before you even get to any of that, recognize that you’re being paid in flow, in bliss when you share that telling observation or craft that perfect sentence. And, look forward to the day when you will first set eyes on your advanced reading copy, as Goosebottom author Janie Havemeyer did just recently. I caught it on camera. See that? For both the author and the publisher, that’s success.

Shirin Yim Bridges




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