Most Books Don’t Sell
It doesn’t matter how you publish, most books don’t sell very well. If you query your manuscript, there’s a 99% chance you won’t sell a single copy. If you self-publish, there’s probably an equal chance that you’ll never sell more than 1,000 copies. A great thread on KBoards pointed this out and serves to balance the numerous threads from those authors doing very well. The message is this: Don’t think you’re doing something wrong or that you aren’t successful if your book isn’t keeping up with your neighbor’s.
It’s a great message, one I agree with 100%. My attitude remains this: “You mean I’m ALLOWED to publish my book? Without asking permission? I can just do this? No one is going to stop me?”
I don’t take the miracle of publication for granted, much less that I might sell a copy. I marvel that I’m able to set up a book on CreateSpace for free and then order a $5 proof print copy and hold my work in my hands. It’s a book. A real book. Full of words. That I wrote. How crazy is that?
My dream when I set out on this adventure was simply to have written a book in my lifetime. I feel like I’m getting away with something devious when I hit “publish” and my book shows up on Amazon with all the other “real” books. Someone commented on Facebook today that it was weird to see me enthused about these things. I’ve been on book tours all around the world. I’ve sold millions of books. Shouldn’t it all be blasé by now? It isn’t.
Keeping this mindset — that publication itself is a miracle — ensures that every single sale, review, and email are a treasure. The other way to look at the world is to compare up and be disappointed. A publicist once told me about an author she was touring with in Spain. This author found out that his novel debuted at #2 on the New York Times list. He fell into an inconsolable funk for the rest of the book tour. That’s the other way of looking at the world, seeing what you missed. How many of us would go bonkers to even be on that list? I assume this author had been on the list before. That was no longer a goal, just placing. Now it was to be #1. There is always yet another goal, accomplishment, or reward taunting us over the horizon. Or inspiring us. How we look at the world dictates which.
Sadly, it isn’t often up to us. There’s no credit to take for our attitudes, and it’s difficult to blame others for theirs. Numerous psychological studies suggest that our innate base level of happiness is fixed. Winning the lottery results in only a temporary high. Losing a limb results in only a temporary low. Those who haven’t had either of these things happen to them balk at this suggestion; they claim that they would be supremely happy for a very long time or insanely depressed for the rest of their lives if they won the lottery or lost a limb. But that’s not what takes place.
As authors, we can be thrilled with a handful of sales a month or miserable with “only” 10,000. Our desire for and belief in free will makes us think we choose this reaction. Those same beliefs make us doubt study after study that tells us otherwise. Even though these studies have been replicated over and over.
I would counter, however, that knowing this about ourselves gives us the ability to make a concerted effort to see the world differently. That is, the more we are aware of our lack of free will, the more free will we exercise. We suddenly begin to “feel” ourselves reacting to our environment in a manner we find distasteful — and we immediately fight this urge. Learning that our attitudes are mostly reflex gives us impetus to change them. Understanding how limited our responses are makes us aware of those responses and also of possible alternatives.
This is a powerful muscle, once exercised. The positives in our lives can be drops of nectar, each one unique and delicious. And the negative can be responded to with honest positivity. Hate can be countered with love. Violence with an embrace. There’s nothing false about this; it’s simply a choice. A powerful one. How we feel should be up to us. So why don’t more of us spend the vast majority of our lives blissfully happy? It takes practice.
Most books don’t sell. Knowing this as a writer, how are you going to feel about publishing your book? One choice will have you turning to the next story with a smile on your face, disbelieving that you can make your works available for them to be discovered or not. The other choice is to give up in frustration, your expectations unmet. Are we free to choose between these two options? I like to think so. But first, we have to understand how difficult — how very nearly impossible it is to see the small good in the world. It takes effort. But it gets easier the more we try.