This week's blog was inspired by one of my favorite authors. Actually, this was to have been last week's post, but I was too worked up about the topic and didn't think I could write about it un-nastily. I have calmed down enough, I think, to give it a try.
We are about to publish the fourth book by a very talented author. This woman is a class act: a terrific writer and a gracious person. Her books don't rocket up the bestseller lists, but they have good, solid sales. Each time a new book comes out, we see sales of the backlist go up (always a delightful experience); readers' enthusiasm is equaled by that of professional reviewers.
And yet, last week, this selfsame author was in tears.
It all started innocently enough. We were having a call with the publicist to discuss a few ideas, and I made an innocuous comment about the first hundred copies sold being the easiest, due to the friends/family effect. That's when she said to me, "I don't tell my friends and family about my books any more. It hurts too much when they don't congratulate me, don't buy them, and don't read them."
You know, this is not the first time I have heard this. So, I must therefore ask anyone who has had a friend or relative who has a book published, and who has not bought a copy of that person's book: WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?
There, I said it. I'm not talking about people who write professional books that sell for $200 a copy. I'm talking about people who have written mass-market, trade, or hardcover books that sell in the very affordable range of $6.99 to $15. And yes, that includes hardcovers that are priced at $24.95, which are discounted to the $15 range almost immediately at Amazon.
Please tell me why you choose to ignore this remarkable accomplishment by a family member or someone you call a "friend." This person has labored, most likely for years, not only in writing a manuscript, but also in jumping through an endless series of hoops to get an agent and/or publisher. S/he has then had to exercise the utmost patience in rewriting several times to please an editor. Then, of course, comes the proofreading, which is even more work. At the end of the process, s/he holds an extremely affordable, compact, 300-page book that is the culmination of years of hard work and determination. And you - who will spend $4 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks, drop $100 for dinner for two at a trendy restaurant, or waste your money on cheap plastic crap at Walmart - cannot find it in your heart to buy a copy of this book?
But Agatho, you will say: Your bias is showing. You don't care about the authors - You are a greedy publisher who just wants to sell books! Aha! Well, I have never claimed otherwise - I DO want to sell a lot of books, because that's what pays my salary. But I also want to see VERY LARGE royalty checks for the authors who've worked so hard for so long. Why don't you want the same?
Is it that you don't like reading mysteries? Frankly, who cares whether you like them or not? I bet you know people who do - and we all know that books make excellent gifts. So you are a little short on cash this month? I respect a limited budget, I really do. But it seems to me that you could maybe sacrifice that lunch at McDonald's in order to buy your friend's book. You're super busy, so you haven't had time in the last six months to click that button on Amazon? I am glad you are not MY "friend." Do you think, "Oh, my buying the book won't make a difference; it's just a drop in the bucket." Wrong! Every book sale counts, especially for first-time authors who are hoping to get another contract.
I don't get it; I really don't. In almost every creative industry, friends and supporters are there to encourage people as they take tiny steps toward success. Friends and relatives fill tiny, puke-filled venues where garage-bands are knocking out their tunes in hopes of getting a record deal. Actors and singers always have friends show up for the performance. But when it comes to books - something strange happens. Some of the people who should be the happiest for us kill us with their indifference.
Or...is it not indifference, but perhaps a bit of professional jealousy? An unwillingness to admit that someone did something you'd like to do, but haven't quite been able to? A sense that if the world were fair, YOU would be the one with a book contract, not your "friend"?
I don't know the answers to these questions, and I'm not sure that venting here on Mysterious Matters will make much of a difference. But, to those authors who go through what my author (referenced above) is going through, I offer a word of consolation: Surely, at the end of the day, the fact that strangers buy your book is much more important - and much more validating - than the fact that acquaintances do.