Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to witness countless stories unfurl, not just within the pages of books but in the narrative arcs of authors themselves. Each writer’s journey is unique, a path punctuated with challenges, discoveries, and revelations. However, like any adventure, there are distinct stages — milestones if you will — that most authors encounter on their road to author success.

Now, before diving into these milestones, I’d like to lay down a caveat: this perspective is purely mine. Derived from personal observations, interactions with myriad authors at conferences, networking events, and my tenure as VP of Author Success at Draft2Digital, this framework isn’t a one-size-fits-all blueprint. Instead, it’s a compass—a guide that can offer direction, especially when the waters of the literary world get a tad murky.

Specifically, it’s a guidebook, and it works best when you fill in the blanks. I’ll give my definitions of each level, but to get the most out of your own path forward, try to define each level for yourself.

And it’s perfectly fine to stay on one level or another, so long as it’s part of your overall plan. If you enjoy the pace and freedom Level Five offers, you should feel no obligation to continue “climbing the ladder.” Stay there! Stress lies at the end of the path of trying to reach a level that’s not true to our desires.

But why use “levels” as author goals at all?

You see, in this dynamic and ever-evolving industry, it’s not just about crafting compelling stories. It’s about understanding where you stand in your journey, recognizing the potential horizons, and setting the sails right to steer your ship toward them. That’s why, though every author’s expedition is unique, having a framework can be invaluable. It helps anchor goals, gauge progress, and, most importantly, imbue the journey with a purpose.

In this post, I’ll be delineating what I perceive as the “Eight Levels of Author Success.” Now, you might resonate with some, revise others, or even concoct your own benchmarks. And that’s perfectly okay.

After all, the essence of being an author is to script your narrative. By knowing where you stand, you can better strategize where you want to go. Imagine navigating a maze without any checkpoints.

Level One of Author Success: The Beginning

The first level is about establishing yourself. You have one or more books for sale, but usually no more than a few. They’re generating some revenue. You’re not a millionaire, but you’re starting to see the potential.

The focus at Level One is on establishing a stable of readers — finding those people who love what you’re writing, and then writing books for them.

How to Reach Level 1:

  • Level One success is all about mindset. Shift your mindset from “I have a book for sale” to “I’m a serious, successful author.”
  • Treat your writing as a business by tracking metrics, planning, and maintaining a disciplined writing schedule.

Level Two of Author Success: Expanding Formats

This level involves diversifying the formats of your books. This could mean different versions of print books, audiobooks, and even translations.

How to Reach Level 2:

  • List all your books and the potential formats (hardcover, paperback, audiobook, translations, etc.).
  • Prioritize and create those formats.

Level Three of Author Success: Going Wide

Level Three is about expanding your reach. You’ve got some books under your belt, and you know a bit about the industry now. It’s time to bring your work to the world!

At Draft2Digital, we excel at bringing your book to all corners of the globe, and I would be remiss to not mention that we’re simply the best at what we do.

However, even if you’re exclusive to one platform for e-books, ensure your other formats are available in as many markets as possible. Level Three is about leveraging direct sales, mailing lists, and other channels.

How to Reach Level 3:

  • Use your platform and your following to understand what formats or products your audience is most interested in.
  • Convert existing content into new content, and distribute it as widely as possible.

Level Four of Author Success: Special Editions

Level Four is the pinnacle of adding value (one of my favorite marketing terms!). You’re creating special versions of your books that fans would treasure. These could be signed editions, exclusive covers, or even related content spun off from your main books.

I know authors who make a mint selling handmade leather-bound special edition hardcover versions of their books on Kickstarter, and plenty of authors who do quite well selling signed copies from their website.

The best part about special editions is that you don’t need to spend nearly as much time producing the copies themselves — the book has already been written!

How to Reach Level 4:

  • Engage with your readers to understand what they’d value as a ‘special edition’.
  • Utilize deleted scenes, character profiles, and more to create these exclusive products.
  • Offer something unique, like how the author created a bartender’s manual tied into the theme of his book series.

Join us next week for the last four levels of author success and lessons to keep in mind when pursuing your own author journey.