“How are book sales going?”

I’m asked this question a lot: “How are book sales going?” I know when people ask, they mean well. They know I’ve written and published a book, and they’re making friendly conversation, being supportive, and so forth. I know that, I know that, I know that. But that’s not how I hear the question.

***EDITED NOTE added Jan 11: I got a comment (you can read it in the comment section) suggesting that this post has me come off as defensive and negative. That was never my intention, as I strive to make all of my posts swing more positive, attempting to execute my mission through humor and dry wit. Therefore I’ve since gone through and colored the existing jokes green (because green is a nice color) and even added more jokes to it alongside the existing joke by using parentheses (I love parenthesis, can’t you tell?), so you know I’m not a meanie or constantly feeling sorry for myself. I say “constantly” because sometimes I do feel sorry for myself. Especially when it’s cold and I’m hungry. Who doesn’t? But I didn’t write this hungry or cold. I’ve also highlighted some important text blue (blue is another fantastic color) so it jumps out. If there is bold blue text beside it, that was added. Anything bold has been added to the original post. END NOTE.***

You ask: “How are book sales going?” *

What you mean: “I know you wrote a book and I’m trying to be friendly by asking about it.” (I know this is what you mean.)

What I hear/feel/think: “How much money are you making?” or “So that book you slaved over for years, do people actually like it enough to buy it?” or “How successful, or unsuccessful, are you?” (Most people aren’t asking this at all. I’m overly-sensitive about my book. I say that below). This is just how I perceive the question.

I admit it, my hackles raise. To me, asking that question is the same as me asking you how much money you’re making, regardless of your occupation. Again, I know the question is posed with support, but I can’t help how it makes me feel. Because if you have to ask how sales are going, that means I’ve not reached the notoriety I long for. (I do reach for notoriety, as I think any author does. We all hope for success, we all want to be the next JK Rowling, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, etc.)

Then I don’t know how to answer the question. This is my first novel, what should I expect? What are you expecting? (Okay, I can see how this might be perceived as accusatory, those italics. “What do YOU expect?” But I swears it on the precious, I was wanting to know what you thought a first novel needed to be “successful.”) What does it mean when I say “Sales are good.” How should I know? I have no way of measuring a first novel’s successes or failures. Though in my fantasy world, I’m an international bestseller (it’s really a cool place in my fantasy world, and my boat has so many neat improvements, like a wind turbine, solar panels, a wood burning stove, maybe even a cannon. No boat is complete without a cannon), in the real world of today, I’m a nobody (a small little ant. Tiny. Itty-bitty, teeny-weeny. Insignificant). There are millions of novels out there, and thousands of novelists. I’m new, fresh to the world of books, a small blip on an enormous radar. Really, I have no idea how sales are going. Do I know how many I’m selling? Yes, but I really feel like that’s none of your business, and I don’t think that’s what you’re asking anyway (You’re probably just wanting to chew the fat, shoot the breeze, chit the chat. Which I know).

It’s important to know that when it comes to Jaden Baker I have little to no sense of humor (I can’t help that, the book is too close to me). Even if you tell an obvious and innocuous joke about it, I don’t hear it that way. To you it’s just a book, but to me it’s so much more than that. It may have taken you days to read, but it took me years to piece together and write, and I treasured every single moment I had with that novel (I had to say this, as most people haven’t written a novel. That was not meant as a neener-neener, but a hey, this is how it feels, please understand. I didn’t want to say the book was “my baby” because that’s a little cliche). Yeah, I know it sounds ridiculous, but Jaden was a relationship to me, something much stronger than a friendship. Someone chose to reveal their life story to me, and only me, and I was privileged with the honor of chronicling that journey, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, one time shaking my head in anger and yelling at the villain, getting frustrated with a certain character’s inability to keep her jokes quiet (which just goes to show you can’t control a character or what they do and say. An author is sort of like God: your people have freewill and you can’t stop them from doing or saying something stupid or that they may regret later), and being surprised to learn new things about the story’s meaning, direction, and revelations.

Patience

Books are slow sellers. How slow, you may ask? At JK Rowling’s first book signing, twelve or thirteen people showed up. The woman who had the best selling book series OF ALL TIME had only a handful of people at her first signing. Most books take years, not weeks or months, to hit the big time, if they’re destined for that. They’re not movies, which get trailers, TV spots, billboards, cast interviews on Letterman, Leno et al.

What Jaden is Not

I was browsing through books at Costco yesterday. Most of the selection were murder mysteries, a smattering were about how a woman lost the love of her life and now she’s moving on but her lover may have had a dark secret (or her new lover does), and one book which looked like it had potential, turned out to be about vampires―I ignored the books that were obviously about vampires (there were lots of those). (I should fess up and say that I’ve read six vampire books, including Dracula and Interview with the Vampire. You can probably guess the other four…) Why did I bore you with all of that? Because Jaden doesn’t really fit into a mold (BTW, this is very frustrating. In the book sales world, specific genres are GOOD! I wasn’t tooting my own horn. It took me a while to figure out where my story fit, and it doesn’t fit anywhere that’s as hot as Vampires right now). It’s not a murder mystery. It’s not about vampires, and it’s certainly not a vampire romance. There’s no mention of the CIA or the president, and how the lone hero must confront enemies abroad―no espionage. No Nazis, no world war, no P-51 Mustangs or submarines. The book is not about racism: not about a black man or woman fighting prejudices in the wherever part of the country in whatever time. There are no ghosts, no demons, no elves, dwarves, and no wizards or witches (Though there are references to wizards!). There is no love triangle between an unremarkable girl and two hot dudes. There is no time travel, no spaceships, no distant planets, made-up languages, blue humanoids, green humanoids, teleportation, or pointy-eared emotionless people (There are references to Star Wars. It would’ve been impossible not to make them). You get the point.

People usually buy books from the same genre because they know what they like. It’s why Amanda Hocking is a huge seller: she’s writing about vampires! Vampires are hot right now (When I wrote that, I was thinking of Will Farell’s character in Zoolander). Tom Clancy writes about government/military subjects, as does Vince Flynn, Ted Bell, and a bunch of others. People like those genres, and when they finish with one book of a certain genre, they buy another.

Jaden Baker isn’t part of that. He is, after all, “unique, talented, and special.” (Words pulled directly from the back of the book synopsis.) It might take a little while for him to find a broad audience, but I do believe he’s getting there. Oh, and here’s a post where I discuss what the novel does have, in case you wondered.

Things to Say Instead

So you’ve run into me and it’s been a while. We exchange pleasantries: I ask how you are, you ask how I am and think you should say something about my book (because you’re thoughtful and caring). Rather than asking “How are book sales?” (because, dear heavens, look at what happens when you do that) (See how I tried making fun of this very post?) try this:

Even If you haven’t read it yet (what’s the dealio?):

  • I was in this small bookstore and they didn’t have Jaden. The nerve! Courtney, what should I do to get them to carry your book?
  • I just told _____(insert number here) people about your book! They’re going to buy a zillion copies each!
  • I got an eReader for Christmas and Jaden Baker is on my list of books to read.
  • Courtney, I’m part of a book club and we are going to read your book next. There are 30 of us and we’re all peeing our pants in anticipation.
  • I know a film director, screenwriter, gaffer (someone in Hollywood) and I’m going to give them a copy of your book. Start thinking about what designer you’ll wear to the movie premiere, girlfriend!
(ALL jokes. Though, if you did want to say them to me, that would be cool, too.)

If you have read it (I knew I always liked you):

  • I love Libby.
  • I ignored my family for two to three days so I could read your book (this is the best one). Now I’m making other people do the same, cause I told everyone I’ve ever known, met, bumped into, flipped the bird because they cut me off in traffic, about your novel.
  • Courtney. Your imagination. It freaks me out. What happened to you? (this makes me laugh. Probably not a good thing. I had to write a separate blog post to assuage friends and family. It’s here.)
  • Courtney, why are they’re so many freeloaders around? A friend came over and started reading your book and wanted to borrow it. I know, right! What a freak. I told him/her to buy their own darned copy. How are you going to be a successful novelist if everyone freeloads??!!
(More jokes. The two in the middle have been said to me, so they can’t technically be jokes…)

If my shoes aren’t new, my car is still old, you see me buying spaghetti sauce in Wal-Mart, I’m still asking for graphic design work, I’m begging you to leave a review of the book on whatever retailer’s site, and I’m writing posts like this, assume that I’m not yet a bestseller being asked to give commencement speeches at Stanford. But I really want to be. My dream is still out there, I just don’t have it yet. Please don’t ask me whether or not it’s come true; you’ll know when it has (This is the kicker. I hate saying I’m not as successful as you hope I am, because the reason you asked this question was because, I’m not sure how much, you’re excited for me. But I so hope to be successful enough to take you out for an expensive lunch. It just takes some time.).

End Note:

*Funnily enough, the majority of the people who ask “How are book sales going?” haven’t even opened the book, much less purchased one. (This isn’t really a “ha ha” kind of joke, but it does strike me as some kind of funny.)

By Courtney

Courtney Kirchoff is a published novelist, graphic designer, dog and horse lover, and lots of other (hopefully good) things. She lives in the greater Puget Sound area in Washington State with her lovable shelties, Riley and Margo.

7 comments

  1. Tell the would be do gooders to leave Amazon reviews for you. =) And if they haven’t read it, tell them to check the Amazon reviews (also they can buy it while there). You’ve got great feedback so far.

  2. I don’t expect this comment to be published, but I figured I’d give it a try. As one writer to another, knowing you only by what I have read, I’ve got some advice: you need to develop a thicker skin. You come across as negative and defensive, with an over-inflated sense of your self-worth. Harsh? Maybe. But honest. As an author, I prefer honest input. I feel that my work will never improve if the same old voices are offering the same old “I think it’s great!” ass-smoke, so I try not to do that to others.

    Go back and re-read this post- see if it comes across as you intended it to come across. You talk about what your book isn’t, how your hackles rise when people ask about it, you tell us readers that the answer is none of our business, after you intuit what you think we mean by asking the question, and you issue directions on HOW people should ask about your book.

    The problem isn’t the question, but how you perceive it. Lighten up!

    Here’s some more words of advice; Every person you talk to about your book is a potential sale, and once your book is published, especially self-published, you have to shift from author-mode to salesperson mode. If you want to make a living as a writer you have to treat it like a job. Polish your pitch. As a reviewer and interviewer, when an author can’t pitch their book to me in 50 words or less, but instead tell me all the things it’s not, I’m not interested. I don’t care that it’s not like Clancy, or Flynn or Meyer or whoever- tell me what it IS about, and why I want to read it.

    Have you done any signings? Have you done any readings? Have you done any expos/conferences to promote your book? How many review copies have you sent out? How many local reviewers did you take to lunch, or for coffee?

    I hope it helps.
    Regards,
    bljones.

    1. Hi bljones,
      Your comment was published automatically, and I thank you for your input. You’re right, you only know me by my posts, most if not all of which are written with lightness and humor, which I tried infusing into this very post, even mocking myself toward the end for over-reacting. I even admitted that I had little to no sense of humor about my book. I wrote in the first paragraph that I know what people mean when they pose the question “How are book sales going?” as an avenue of friendly discussion. This post is an honest reaction of my feelings when I get the question, asked by people who usually don’t even know the title of the work, just that I wrote something.

      A family I knew when growing up were cattle ranchers. My father once asked, “How many cows do you have?” just as friendly point of conversation. He was pulled aside and kindly told that, in the ranching world, asking how many cows someone has is like asking how much money they have. My father had no idea that’s how the question was perceived. Asking a realtor how many houses they sold last year is the same question.

      I’m not sure how many times I needed to say that I understand that no one has meant rudeness when asking the question “How are book sales going?”, but my gut reaction is thinking of how much money I’m making (or not making). Also written in the post is how I have no idea how sales are going anyway. So I’m not sure how to answer the question honestly. Perhaps I should’ve written that I always reply: “Everything’s going really well!”

      I’ve written numerous posts about what my book is about, and even wrestled with the issue of selling it in a matter of sentences. It’s something I’m working on, and have already written about (I linked to that post [“What Jaden is About”] in this post). I’ve done signings, I’ve tried booking readings (have a possible available slot coming soon), am working on a book trailer to post to YouTube, have tried getting the book additional signings through Barnes & Noble (but as soon as they saw my book was self-publihed, they never returned my call). A team of people, who enjoyed my book, have asked local retailers to carry it or display it in their shop windows. I’ve dropped the ebook price down from $8.99 to $3.99.

      As for giving people cues on what to ask me regards the book rather than how many are being sold, that was a joke. When I put in parenthesis (what’s the dealio) and (I knew I always liked you) I was hoping that would give me away as being playful. I can see that’s not how you perceived it, and sarcasm often runs that risk, especially when it’s written and not spoken.

      To be terribly honest, I’m terribly honest. Honest and sarcastic are words used freely to describe me. Humble and patient haven’t been attributed to my personality. So I’m guilty there. As for not having a thick skin, I’m not so sure that’s true. I’ve been a designer for over three years, and have had my work picked apart. I think my book is a lot different, to be sure, as you probably know as an author yourself. Design work is built and designed around communicating a certain idea, and it either does it or does not communicate, could be communicated better, etc. Though a design is still a creation, it isn’t as personal as a novel is. I’m not looking for critiques on it, to be frank. It will not be a book for everyone (no book is). Some people will not like it. Some people will try reading it and not make it through. I don’t know how many bestsellers I’ve picked up and put down because they simply weren’t my taste of book. That doesn’t bother me one iota regards my own book. If you picked it up, read a few pages, or chapters, and decided it wasn’t worth your time, oh well! But I’m not, nor never will, look for someone to say “this was good, I didn’t like this, and think you should change that.” Nope. That’s something I get to decide when writing the story (and did), and an editor can chime in later. Things got taken out, things got put in, things were amended, moved around, and so on. But a reader, or fellow writer, should never tell an author what should or shouldn’t be in a story. So I’m going to disagree with you there. I can only grow as a writer by practicing, reading a lot, writing a lot, and respecting the story given to me, not by taking dictation from others. I may ask someone “what did you think about ______” after the book was finished, but that probably means I’m insecure with ______ and could use direction. But having someone freely offer what they think I should do instead? Nah, I’ll pass.

      I’m sorry you think I came across as negative, defensive, and with an over-inflated sense of my self-worth. I’m not sure there’s anything I can do about that other than what I wrote above. Perhaps I’ll add more jokes in the post, or bold certain things.

      Regards,
      Courtney

  3. I keep coming back to this post to see if there is any follow up. I was confused when I read his post because I didn’t take it as negative, defensive or with a higher sense of self-worth. I read it as a person who was being honest about their circumstances not as a thin skinned person enlarging themselves like that of the Southern White-faced Owl (Google: Transforming Owl).

    Maybe I just saw the sense of humour in the writings. Either way, I’m glad you didn’t let it bother you. Protect your baby, baby and keep being honest.

    Sidenote: How are book sales going?!

    1. Ha ha, thanks! I don’t think you’re alone in the checking to see if there’s any more follow-up/drama. Someone else wrote me an email commenting on the “harsh commenter” and told me they didn’t read that post the way he did either, and added that there was no need for me to go back and highlight and color things. I went back through the post and added bold and colored text to simply illustrate the absurdity of taking it so negatively. I’ve been writing fiction for a long time, and many years ago I wrote fan fiction (which people are still reading), and every once in a while I’d get a review from a reader basically saying I suck and how dare I make them read 32 chapters of trash. I’ve learned to laugh at those kinds of comments, like I’ve somehow held them at gunpoint, forcing them to read my stuff. The internet is full of negative people who, sadly, lack a sense of humor or the ability to detect sarcasm. There’s nothing I can do about either. The commenter also assumed his comment wouldn’t be published, so he probably felt protected, thinking his words of admonishment would be just between us. If I’ve approved a comment from a user once, the user’s subsequent comments are automatically published.

      And book sales are doing great (winks and grins)! The more I write, the more I sell. This post has actually boosted sales, it hasn’t dented them. I appreciate all the great reviews people are leaving, and hope that readers continue to publish their thoughts about my novel to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, thus spreading the word.

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