When it comes to the book business and how I comport myself, I'm a man of guiding principles:
1. Write what's in my heart, not what I calculate to be the quickest route to sales, notoriety, etc.
2. Connect with readers, not other authors.
3. Don't get in back-and-forths with critics. They have their role, I have mine.
4. Don't yammer on about sales figures.
For much of my novel-writing career, still in its adolescence, No. 4 has been easy to honor. There wasn't much to say. Beyond that, trumpeting one's sales has generally struck me as unseemly, unless it's for educational purposes (see J.A. Konrath, who has been transparent about how his life and career have been changed by self-publishing) or some truly remarkable threshold has been met.
I hope the latter is the case here, as I deviate from my self-imposed rigor.
Because of the vagaries of sales numbers—this month's sales could be eroded by next month's returns—I won't know exactly when I cross this threshold, but sometime in the next week, I should reach 100,000 books sold since my first, 600 Hours of Edward, was originally released in October 2009.
In some significant ways, it's no big deal. I haven't spent a day on any of the big bestseller lists. My books aren't released with big multimedia marketing campaigns. I haven't managed to keep an entire publishing division afloat with any single title. And, hey, it took me four releases in almost four years to accumulate those numbers. (And that doesn't even get into sales numbers being a poor arbiter of book quality. We've all known crap books that sold in crazy quantities and wonderful books that never found an audience.)
On the other hand ...
Before 600 Hours came out, I never expected to sell one book, let alone 100,000. In the years since that first release, some remarkable things have happened. I've been able to write more books and leave my job, dedicating myself full-time to being a professional author. I find now, at 43 years old, that I am what I dreamed of being back in high school: a self-sustaining, satisfied, working-man author. That was the aim when I started. Not awards (although they're definitely nice). Not being the toast of the tastemakers (not bloody likely, ever). I just wanted to be a guy who put in the work and made a living.
That's the significance of the sales, that I'm there and can now dream bigger. More, that's the significance of all the people who've been so kind to buy the books, read them and tell their friends. My gratitude is bottomless.
To mark the occasion and to say thank you, I'm doing some giveaways over at my author page on Facebook. Among the goodies:
Follow the link above and comment on the giveaway post on my Facebook page. That's all it takes.
My intention was to launch my memoir, Friends of Mine, Thirty Years in the Life of a Duran Duran Fan, today, which just so happens to be Duran Duran Appreciation Day. No day was more appropriate. However, the closer the day came, the more I realized the book wouldn’t be ready in time. I had to resign myself to missing the deadline, as well as the opportunity.
It killed me a little on the inside.
I can take comfort knowing that when it’s ready (and stay tuned for the new launch date—it’s coming very soon!), it’s going to be the best book it can be. I am so proud of the work that went into it, and the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts.
But I had to do something today—I couldn’t just let it be like the last few August 10ths. This one means even more to me. Writing this book, and living with it for the last year, has opened me up in ways I hadn’t anticipated. It reconnected me to memories—some pleasant, some not-so-pleasant. It reconnected me to people. It introduced me to new friends, all Duranies. And they were kind enough to share snippets of their stories, their personal Duran Duran experiences.
It reconnected me to the description “total fox.”
Better yet, readers all over the country (and abroad!) now take an extra minute to inform me of a Duran Duran website, that a DD song has just come on the radio, or a DD concert aired on their local cable station. They pass along photos of the band, links to websites, all with the message, “Thought of you when I saw this.” I feel the need to apologize for the fact that now the band and I are now inextricably linked in your consciousness, yet I am touched and grateful beyond words by these simple gestures of thought.
And so, on this Duran Duran Appreciation Day, I’d like to extend my appreciation to my family, friends, readers, fellow Duranies, and all those involved with this project (especially Patty Palazzo), for all your support, encouragement, thoughtfulness, cheerleading, and enthusiasm for this book.
And to my beloved band, since I can’t express my love with my book today, let me at least express some of my appreciation…
For giving me a reason to write this book.
For bringing so much color to my life for the last thirty years.
For making me smile.
For inciting tears of joy.
For getting me on my feet, in more ways than one.
For all those fabulous live performances of “New Religion.”
For your inspiration.
For keeping in touch.
For staying together.
And, most of all, for the music.
I love you.
I spent yesterday stressed out. The cause of the stress was a book blurb-- the brief synopsis that appears on the book's back cover or inside flap or Amazon product page.
200 words, give or take.
The thing kicked my ass.
I'd started it the day before yesterday. Completed a draft, and it looked OK to me. Then I posted it on Facebook for both fellow authors and laypeople to see, for the purpose of inviting feedback, and I got it. Critical, even blunt, but honest and respectful. So I devoted yesterday to revising the blurb.
Problem was, I didn't know how to make it better. I knew my rhetorical purpose (or, at least, I thought I did). Knew I had to make Friends of Mine enticing not as a memoir, but as a story. Knew I had to make it enticing for non-Duranies. Knew I had to sell it. But for whatever reason, I couldn't figure out how to put the words together in order to achieve that. I looked at blurbs of similar memoirs. Didn't seem to help.
"A book blurb is ending my writing career," I posted on Facebook. "Piece of shit."
The frustration nearly drove me to tears. My fellow authors offered me encouragement and commiserated with me. Even continued to make suggestions for improvement.
I knew what I wanted to say. But the words still wouldn't come out right.
Finally, I gave it to my twin brother. A former bookstore employee and stockroom manager (I gave Sunny his job in Adulation), he'd seen a lot of blurbs. He sent me back a revised version, and it was better. I tweaked it some more, and came up with something I liked. My Facebook friends agreed with their "Like"s. Some offered suggestions for even further improvement. I took it all in, and finally put it away, vowing to revisit it with fresh eyes. I have yet to do so.
Needing to de-stress, I went to the beach at the end of the day. Just sat and stared at the water, listening to the rhythm of the waves. I began to think about my students, and how frustrated some of them would get. And I realized that I'd been in their shoes all day. As a teacher, it's easy to appreciate that writing doesn't come as easily for them as it does for us, and it's easy for us to say, "Sometimes it's hard for us too." But when we've got 60 papers to read and respond to in a timely manner, when we've got lessons to plan and prep, meetings to attend, and a life to manage, we become separated from our empathy. That's not to say we don't care. We just forget what it feels like for them.
I've always disdained grades, and I constantly pleaded with my students to write for more than just the grade. "The goal isn't to get an A," I would say. "The goal is to write the best paper you can, and to achieve your rhetorical purpose." That sounds nice and academic. But last night I realized I was trying to write an "A"-blurb. And I was upset because I knew I was falling short, and I couldn't fix it despite having the tools to do so. How many times have I assumed my students didn't understand the assignment, didn't understand what revision was all about, or didn't care, when really they were just downright frustrated because they knew they had something to say, understood why and to whom they were saying it, and cared very much, but just couldn't put the words together? For how many did "getting an A" mean "getting it right," getting it the best it can be? And how many felt that getting it to less than an A-level meant not only that the writing wasn't good enough, but that they weren't good enough?
I haven't been in a classroom (other than in a guest capacity) for over a year. But today I wish I was. I'd be in a better position to help them, simply because for the last two days, I was one of them.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.