Guest Post with Shelli Johnson – “Why I Stopped Looking at the Numbers”

Today’s guest post is by author, Shelli Johnson. This is the second time Shelli has been on my blog. Her last guest post got a great reaction and I’m sure this one will do the same. Over to Shelli.


“If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all.” ~ Anna Quindlen

I’m writing this post because I need a reminder about what’s important to me. When I started this independent-publishing journey, I was happy I’d sold a book . . . to anyone. I was happy at least one person, somewhere, was reading what I’d written. I was happy that lovely person wrote a review, even better if it was a fabulous review.

What’s important to the world, though, is numbers: sales figures, dollars earned, number-one rankings, the number of visitors/retweets/Facebook fans, and the list goes on and on forever. I used to check all that. I used to until I noticed my happiness took a nosedive. Why? Because inevitably I’d read about some author bemoaning the fact that he/she was only selling 100 books a day (only 100 a day!). They were upset. They were venting about it. Complaining to whoever would listen.

And it made me feel less than, both as a business person (Why aren’t my sales better?) and as a writer (Why isn’t my book good enough?). At that point, when I’d read that post, I’d sold 2 books ~ in a month.


For starters, reading other people’s numbers made me start not liking them. A lot. Sure, it was jealousy but it was also the fact that I’d give almost anything to be where they were at & they weren’t grateful. Heck, they didn’t even seem to be happy. Anne Lamott in her fabulous, amazing, you-should-really-go-buy-it-now book on writing, Bird By Bird, talks about this in detail (in case you think I’m the lone person who’s felt this way). She writes about jealousy & how, yes, it happens but you also don’t have to hang around/listen to/like people who shove their success (or in the case of the 100-a-day-sales failure) in your face.

The second thing it did was made me start doubting. All the advice I’ve heard over the years about growing a business ~ it takes time, be willing to grow slowly, don’t let your ego get in the way ~ started going out the window. Panic crept in. And along with it came lots of self-doubt. Maybe this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s working out for other people, why isn’t it working out for me? Maybe I should quit and go get a real job. And on and on the crazy-go-round went.

Finally, it also had the sad effect of making me look at writing with an endgame in mindwell, is this gonna sell? Here are a few things I love about writing: when I get so caught up in the story that I lose track of time; my characters, who I actually look forward to sitting down with and seeing what they’re going to do next; and finally, getting surprised by the story, having it veer off in a direction I never anticipated, never planned for, & so I’m just as shocked as a reader would be about what happened. Looking at the numbers & anticipating the end result of my writing ~ forcing the story along or trying to make it into something it wasn’t ~ made all those things I love about writing unimportant, which, of course, also made it totally unenjoyable for me.


It feels good in my heart not to be enslaved to the numbers, to be happy when I sell even one book, to write the way I want to without worrying about selling it later. It feels good in my heart to keep plugging along and making sure the writing is what’s important. It feels good in my heart to craft stories that matter to me. So that’s why I stopped looking at the numbers.

What about you? If you’re a writer, are the numbers important to you?

Shelli’s part of a Christmas blog hop & having a giveaway. Head on over to her blog ( ) & enter to win an eBook copy of her novel, SMALL AS A MUSTARD SEED, for Kindle.
Her award-winning novel, SMALL AS A MUSTARD SEED now an eBook for Kindle, Nook, & iPad/iPod/iPhone!
Publishers Weekly called it: “An intense and heartbreaking story of the fallout of war.”
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29 thoughts on “Guest Post with Shelli Johnson – “Why I Stopped Looking at the Numbers”

  1. Excellent perspective and thank you for sharing it. It is always good to be reminded where our true focus should be. I don’t look at my numbers either but it is validating to hear that you don’t as well! Best to you and your ambitions Shelli 🙂

  2. I look at numbers for everything–not that I’m selling anything, but I am fascinated by ‘numbers’. I’m sure if I self-published I would drive myself insane with those numbers, as well. 🙂 Good for you, for focusing on what’s important.

  3. I’ve been trying hard to wean myself off of checking my numbers every day. Feels like quitting cigarettes or caffeine — is their a patch for this? Basing your happiness on numbers does no good, and as you say, can lead to depressing thoughts and suck the joy out of writing. Much more fun to focus on the work.

  4. Hi Kellianne & Kelly! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Yes, it was driving me insane, which is why I stopped. 🙂

  5. I cannot possibly tell you how grateful I am to read this post, Shelli. I’ve been stressing over this exact thing, and I think this is just what I needed to read to help me deal with my anxiety and frustration. Thank you so much.

  6. I wish I could say that the numbers didn’t matter to me, but they do… But this is something I can work on. At the very least, it will make a great New Year’s resolution: No more worrying about the numbers!

    Thanks for this post!

  7. I don’t look at my numbers as much as I used to. Like you I was growing frustrated and then worried that the agents that fobbed me off with the usual rejection letters really did believe my books weren’t good enough!

    But I stopped fretting. Marketed the books only on occasion and began to have fun blogging and meeting other like-minded writers. I reminded myself I wasn’t writing to make mega money (wrong job to go into if you think you’re going to become rich), but because it was something I loved to do.

    My sales have grown, dipped, grown, steadied, dipped and grown, but whatever stage they’re at I’ve stopped fussing over them.

    1. This is such an important attitude for a writer to have. Nothing makes you lose sight of your artistic vision faster, or doubt yourself more, than focusing on some mythical “bottom line”.

  8. I LOVE THIS! I used to be a numbers person and in some small way I still am. But I’ve been so turned off by the very behavior you describe that I now avoid all things numeric when I can. I am honored by every book I sell and again by every reader who takes the time to rate, review, or email me. And likewise by those who visit my website or blog, and by those who leave comments. To that end, the only number that matters is ONE, and that’s the one of which I am most proud.

    Great post!

  9. I love the numbers, but that’s because I love statistics. It’s part of me. I don’t let the numbers drive how I write, nor do I get put off by other people’s numbers if they’re higher than mine. They are just numbers. Plenty of people sell books that aren’t any good. (And of course my book isn’t out yet, so who knows if the numbers will depress me later)

    BUT I like that you know what works for you and what doesn’t. Stick to that. Persistence pays off…keep working hard. 🙂

  10. This year, I’ve become more intent on focusing more on writing quality books I’m proud of. Not sales, not Twitter followers, not Facebook fans, nothing besides the quality of my writing.

    It’s made a huge difference. I’m much happier.

  11. Great post! Similar to getting on the scale each day and determining our mood by that number, our sales and other metrics can cause our confidence to nosedive. Thanks for reminding us all what’s important!

  12. Sheli, thanks for your wonderful post. I understand your feelings. I don’t look at the numbers everyday but must admit, they’re always on my mind. My book was just released last month so with little promotion and only being sold on at the moment, I can’t complain too much when I don’t have a sale for a few days. However, I do get excited on the days I sell copies, even if it’s one. I found it’s so easy to get lost on Amazon and online with so much out there. Similar to writing the book, getting the word out will take time. I’m still trying to figure everything out. Writing my blog has taken up a lot of my time but I will need more time for planning promotion. I do wish you the best with your book.

  13. Great post, Shelli. I can’t help looking at the numbers but at the end of the day I’m comfortable no matter what they are, because I know that the writing was where I put all my energy. You are so right that we writers must keep the focus on what we are writing, and not how it is selling. The market is fickle. Sometimes lousy books become bestsellers, and great books languish in obscurity. We are well to be reminded how little control we have over sales. What we CAN control is what we do with the keys on the keyboard. Keep the faith!

  14. Shelli,

    Your essay is a healing balm for my soul. I’m reading your words out loud, rereading them, and hoping they embed themselves in my heart.

    I, too, got caught up in the numbers game and started comparing myself with every other published novelist on the planet. I still check them but I’m starting to let go. Everyday I remind myself just how far I’ve come as a person, not just a writer.

    Thank you for your honesty. For being real. For writing.

  15. Really interesting piece Shelli, I was in the process of posting a piece on my blog and FB page in relation to the importance of setting targets in any business situation…. and then the e-mail came through from Derek with your post! Your post caused me to rethink and consider the negative aspects of ‘watching the numbers’. I hope I reflected your concerns – the post is at

  16. Hi all! Thanks so much for reading & commenting. Stuart, I love this: “Is there a patch for this?” Jeez, I wish there was. Hi Jonathan, I’m glad this post was helpful to you; no more stressing. 🙂 Hi Marc & Louise! It took me some time, too, but I’m much happier and less frustrated now. Hey Mary: I love this: “Nothing makes you lose sight of your artistic vision faster, or doubt yourself more, than focusing on some mythical “bottom line” ~ absolutely true. Hi Sarah, I love this: “I am honored by every book I sell” ~ me, too. Hey Krystal, I love your attitude: “I don’t let the numbers drive how I write.” ~ hear, hear! Hi Sharon! I was nodding my head with your comment; been there & done that with the scale, too. Hi Justin, thanks so much!

  17. Numbers can play havoc on the strengths of a writer, without question. Doubt can too easily creep in and take hold. There’ve been times when I’ve gotten frustrated with being done and getting little response from “the outside world”, and I’ve gone back to my work and discovered there was more to do. I wasn’t as ready as I thought. 😉

    As long as I can go back and make my work better, I’m okay with where I’m at. The last thing I want is to race an unprepared horse I’m not absolutely comfortable with.

  18. That which gets measured gets done. Tracking your stats is important in charting progress and evaluating what you need to do in order to achieve the results you want.

    If you want to write for yourself, that’s great – get a diary. If you want to write as a business that puts food on the table then you need to approach it with the perspective that you have to be flexible and willing to do what is necessary to sell books.

  19. I understand the tension there is between creating and being addicted to that morning fix of stats. If you want to improve things, then you have to measure them . Improve your writing by getting reviews, using an editor (essential if you are self publishing), look at the numbers if sales are important to you – watch to see whether you can teak the numbers, move them up slowly.

    It is tough, life’s a bitch and then you’re dead. On that cheery note, I’m off to take some of my own medicine. But first, the wine…!

  20. Thank you for sharing Shelli. I completely agree that it’s important we keep our perspective and remember why we started writing in the first place. It wasn’t for the numbers but for something else. It’s that something else I try to focus on. Thank you for hosting Derek.

  21. Shelli, thanks for a great post! As an as-of-yet unpublished author trying to establish a platform and a base of potential readers, I can relate to the numbers game. I actually got depressed about a week ago because I lost three twitter followers in one day. Three. It’s a sad commentary when something that miniscule can affect your mood when there are lots folks with bigger problems out there. But with all the pressures writers are under nowadays, it happens often. Thanks for a great reminder of why I (and I have a feeling most of us) began writing in the first place. Good luck with your writing!

  22. Hi Will. I love this: “focusing more on writing quality books I’m proud of.” ~ Amen to that. Hi Stephen & Ggallen: Thanks! Hi Randall, I agree that it’s easy to get lost online and sometimes it does take time ~ that’s the problem when you’re obsessed over the numbers, there’s just not enough time to let your work find its audience because you need the sales NOW. Hi Fred, lovely to see you here, too. I love this: “I’m comfortable no matter what they are, because I know that the writing was where I put all my energy.” ~ Hear, hear!

    Hey Kathleen! Thank you so much. It’s easy to get caught up & start comparing, which I personally think is the worst possible thing you can do to yourself as an artist. I love this: “Everyday I remind myself just how far I’ve come as a person, not just a writer.” Hi Vincent! I absolutely believe it’s important to have goals and targets in most business situations; however, the problem with selling books is that you don’t have a whole lot of control over the outcome. Some fabulous books never take off; some I couldn’t get past the first chapter go on to be bestsellers; finally others take a long time to finally find their audience. Who knows why?

    Hi Richard! I love this: “I’ve gone back to my work and discovered there was more to do. I wasn’t as ready as I thought.” Yes, sometimes that’s the case too when the sales aren’t there; it’s good you recognized it and fixed the problem. Hi Jason! Thanks for your perspective. I would love to have my writing be a self-supporting business but when the enjoyment is no longer there because I’m obsessing over the numbers, well, that’s a problem, at least for me.

    Hi James! I love this: “watch to see whether you can teak the numbers, move them up slowly.” Watching the numbers to see what works & what doesn’t is a good strategy; making yourself crazy over them, IMO, is not. 🙂 Hi Tom! I still believe quality matters. Hi Debra! I love this: “remember why we started writing in the first place.” I didn’t start writing for the numbers either; I started writing because I loved doing it.

    Hi Nicole! I love this: “It’s a sad commentary when something that miniscule can affect your mood.” That’s why I stopped because it was affecting my mood. I’d rather be happy. 🙂

    Thank you all for reading my post & taking the time to comment. (If I missed anyone, I’m sorry.) Thanks, Derek, for having me on your blog again. It was lovely as always. Cheers!

  23. Hi Shelli!
    I totally agree with you. I started out being excited that I had sold even one book. Then I got farther into the self publishing world and got caught up in all the craziness you described.

    Now I’m back to writing and just enjoying the process. It may take awhile, but I’ll get there. I don’t let the numbers get me down anymore 🙂

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