Saturday, February 5, 2011

Flattery Will Get You Nowhere, At Least With Me

Numbers speak volumes.  They can get you fired if you don't meet them.  Then can help to forecast your financial future.  They can help to differentiate between a hall-of-fame player and just-another-average-Joe.  They can be telling...humbling; they can make you grin ear-to-ear or grimace wishing you hadn't seen them.  I suppose that the latter is where I'm at now.

Yesterday I decided to pop onto the website of the publisher that I used to print The Lion in the Desert and The Walking Ghosts to draft up a royalties figure so that I can move forward with doing our 2010 taxes since it takes the company forever to send me the 1099-MISC form that I need to use to fill out the proper schedule and to get the correct number on my 1040.  I knew that it wasn't a lot of money so I figured that I could just add up the quarterly totals and get the sum; after all--I had a ballpark total in mind anyway.  What I found, when I looked though, surprised me a great deal...and not in a good way.

Given all of the wonderful and amazing things that I had had going on last year (chiefly, Timmy's birth and everything relating to him, since then), I paid little attention to the financial "success" of the book.  It had been released in the middle of January--less than two weeks before Timmy's arrival; needless to say, I had my hands full with two different "children," if you will: one living and one literary.  Given the fact that I have written my two novels as a hobby and not as a way to make money, my focus, rightly, was on Timmy.  That's not to say that I didn't pay attention to the new book I had released; on the contrary--I did more with promoting this one than I did the first.  With my wife's help, we designed websites and marketed the book to a far greater degree than we did with the original work.  I took up offers from friends who were willing to let me come on their radio shows or interview me for well-known newspapers.  I drafted numerous notes and memorandums that I distributed amongst friends and co-workers--particularly the people who had read the first book and said that they, "couldn't wait!" for the second one.

And therein lies the problem.  The numbers don't speak to that.  At all.  Again--had this been my life's work and it was my dream to market my own works, I would be having a very different reaction to all of this than I am.  After all--I'm writing these books (and these blog entries, if you will) for my son and any of his future siblings should we be blessed with providing him with any; they are all meant to be keepsakes for him--a way for him to hear his father's voice through his written words.  Among my most cherished possessions, in fact, are letters that my Dad wrote to me when I was an infant and other written personal artifacts from progenitors past.  Reading them is like having (or hearing?) a conversation from the past--one that began decades ago and that is picked up only when you, the second party involved, finally reads the letter.  I have always enjoyed analyzing these letters, wondering where my Dad (or another ancestor) was when he wrote it, what he was wearing, what his frame-of-mind and mood were like at the time, what else was going on at the time of the letter's writing (was there something on the television or radio--what song or program was it?).  I suppose that it comes from my interest in writing: I am a detailed oriented person with a photographic memory.  I love repainting scenes in my mind and picking up on the minutiae; the devil's in the details, they say.  I am hopeful that my son is the same way and it is for that reason that I keep a journal for him.  I have always been terrible with maintaining journals and have done so only when absolutely required by a professor or teacher; as soon as I can stop, I do.  But not with Timmy's journals.  I started in July 2009 and have continued perpetually since.

But I digress: the numbers for The Walking Ghosts.  Now, I am not a proud man and have no problem humbling myself, which, I suppose, I am about to do.  This time, my reason is to (I hope) help people to recognize whether they fall into the categories I will elucidate and, if so, to find a way to break out of the behavior that places them there.  You see--I sold roughly fifty copies of The Lion in the Desert, not counting what I, Heather, and my Mom and Dad purchased.  I was blown away by that (and still am) considering that I expected to sell exactly three copies: one for Heather, and one apiece for my Mom and Dad.  I had no desire to market the first book as I had written it solely as a hobby and published it solely as a way of fulfilling a dream of seeing said book in print; I published The Lion in the Desert so that any future children I had would be able to have a professionally bound and printed copy of a story their Dad wrote.

My wife and my parents did a lot of marketing for me, spreading the word to friends and family (though I did draft and send my own announcement to those same groups first, my wife and parents sent plenty of follow-up communications) and I credit them entirely with the number of books that I ultimately sold. 

Now--here's where it gets tricky.

Let's say that of the fifty units that were sold, forty-five were actually individual sales (meaning that some people bought a hardcover AND a softcover, so two units might have gone to one person and would not reflect accurately the number of people who read the book).  The bulk of these people, many of whom I have spoken with about the book, told me a) that they loved it b) that they couldn't wait for the second book to come out and c) to let them know when it did come out so that they could pick it up.

Now--here's where it gets ugly.

The Walking Ghosts sold twelve units.  Twelve.  But, unfortunately, that's not entirely correct.  SEVEN of those twelve units, as far as I can tell, were purchased by my wife, her mother, her brother, my parents, and one by me (presumably for someone asking for a copy).  That leaves a whopping five copies sold.  Five.  Five! 

(See what I said about not being prideful?)

Now--here's where I start to shake my head.

There are any number of reasons as to why I sold five copies of the book (of which I am aware of one more person who told me when he bought it, so, technically, we're down to four now) and most of them make me cringe.  The one that I would like to think is at the heart of the matter is money.  We're in difficult economic times and were even more so back at the beginning of 2010.  I would never judge someone for how they spend (or don't spend) their money and, if money was the problem, I would totally have understood.

But no one mentioned that.

So that leads me to draw other conclusions from this: either people are exceedingly forgetful or they are unabashedly dishonest or disingenuous.  Let's tackle the former.  I am hoping that this is the reason for the poor sales but I cannot say for sure.  The reason I would believe in the veracity of forgetfulness is the abhorrent prevalence of so-called "smart phones" such as the iPhone, Droid, and Blackberry.  I say "smart phones" because, in my estimation, they have served only to dumb down the population in a big way.  I cannot tell you how many emails I have sent out that were never responded to because they were looked at on an iPhone/Droid/Blackberry and the recipient expected to "reply when I got home."  Except no one seems to remember to do that, which is the problem with looking at shit on a phone that destroys what little attention spans and recollective abilities we have left.

Seriously though--I think that it very could be at the core of the issue: some people have almost no memory recall anymore.  Unless something is entered into a virtual calendar, stored as a note with an alarm attached, emailed to oneself, or otherwise placed in such a way as to be unavoidable, people will forget.  It's unquestionably because we rely so heavily on technology to do our thinking for us that we forget how to think and how to remember things.  I know that I, for one, am seriously tired of hearing people say they forgot to do something because they didn't put it in their phone or whatever the case happens to be. 

Consider me a Luddite but if there's something I need to remember, I commit it to memory and, as a safeguard, I write it down and put the piece of paper (see: actual piece of paper) in an unavoidable place (like if I need to remember to take something with me and I'm afraid I'll forget, I'll write a note and leave it at the foot of the stairs or by the door so that I can't help seeing it and thus can't help but to remember to take whatever it is I need).

So what does this have to do with the book selling only four (or five, technically) copies?  Well, of the forty-five people that we have decided read the first book, at least forty of them said that they really enjoyed the book and either stated directly or implied that they couldn't wait for the second book and/or that they looked forward to picking it up.  After The Walking Ghosts came out, I had at least a dozen different people tell me, in person, that they couldn't wait to pick up the book and they asked where they could get it.  I told them (and approximately four to five hundred other people online) that they could get it on Amazon, on Barnes &, and directly through the publisher.  I emailed them, I text messaged them, I wrote on their walls on Facebook, I sent messages on Facebook, and I tagged people in notes on Facebook.

Over four hundred people contacted directly, many of whom expressed an interest in buying the book.

Four copies sold.

If forgetfulness really is at the core of this then I don't know what else I could have done or could do to help people out, short of buying the copies myself and mailing them (which I did do, on one occasion, and, surprise surprise, I never got the money).  I don't like pushy people and I hate when I, myself, need to probe people repeatedly for things.  I shouldn't have to and chose not to probe people more than twice about the book.  If you asked me about it, I told you exactly where to get it and what to do.  When I invariably followed up and you said, "Oh!  Yeah!  Sorry!!!  I TOTALLY forgot!  Where can I get it again?"  I provided you with the exact same information a second time in the same multitude of ways: in person, in email, and on Facebook.

Four copies sold. 

Now--here's where things start to turn really ugly.

Let's do one final calculation.  We approximated forty of fifty unique buyers and readers of The Lion in the Desert who said that they were interested in the second book and would purchase it when it came out; four people actually did.  Assuming all four had read the first book, that would mean that nine out of ten people who bought and read the first book lied through their teeth about their interest in the second one.  This is saying absolutely nothing about the scores of other people who hadn't read the first book and expressed an interest in picking them both up.

"OMG the first book was so great!  Can't wait for the next one!"

"Dude!  You wrote a book?  Two books?  That's awesome!  Where can I get them?!"

"The second book is out?  Congratulations!  Where can I buy it?"


Now--here's where it gets real.

I'm not mad that the second book sold only four copies--I'm mad because I was lied to by dozens and dozens of people; I don't appreciate being lied to.  I appreciate flattery even less.  Anyone that knows me knows that my ego doesn't need stroking.  I don't need to be told how great I am, or how great my books are, or how great of a writer I am.  I don't need to be told these things because I know that, the only people that really matter to me, believe them and, whether they say them or not (and they have, otherwise, how could I make such a claim?), I know that they support me one hundred percent.  What worries me is that everyone else was placating me and THAT is unforgivable.  I don't need to be patronized with a pat on the head and a, "Look at you and your little stories!  How precious!" which, to me, is the equivalent of hearing "Hey!  Yeah I'll buy your book!  How do I get it?" three times (or more--seriously, there are a few people who say it every time I see them which, thankfully, is infrequent) and telling them how to get it, only to see them a few weeks or months later and get the same inquiry again.

What infuriates me is that so many people felt the need to tell me what they thought I wanted to hear.  That pisses me off because it shows that they just really don't know me at all.  If you wanted just to be nice and had no interest in supporting me with a financial contribution in the form of a book sale, you could have simply said, "Congratulations" and nothing more!  Instead, you built up false hope within me that turned into disappointment and embarrassment.  The sycophancy of these people served only to damage the trust that I had in them and to make me more wary every time I hear someone say that they want to buy the book, especially if that person is a friend.


I personally sold three of my personal copies of the book at a yard sale in September to three complete strangers.  That's seventy-five percent of the total number of books that were bought by friends and family (many of whom said that they would buy it)--by people that know me from work or just from growing up togetherMaybe it's just me, but you would think if your friend toiled over something, whether it's a book, an album, a painting, or whatever, and you can help them out, that you would do so and take pride in doing so.  If my buddies in Varix Vanity come out with an album I'll be among the first to pick it up and it will have a prominent place in my collection, if for nothing other than it will be something my friends created (as it is I keep their 4-track EP in my car to play for people and to throw into my rotation).

My biggest fear isn't that people didn't like the story but rather that they thought the writing was terrible in the first book.  The reason that this worries me is because that's how I feel about it.  I started to write the story during the summer between high school and college, gave it up at the beginning of undergrad after having it ripped to shreds (and rightfully so) by an English major friend of mine, and then picked it up again midway through my undergraduate studies.  I finished writing it (The Lion in the Desert) in 2006 and put the finishing touches on it in 2007.  Essentially, the writing was that of a high school student and an undergraduate Finance major.  Though it was serviceable, the writing, to my current standard, was atrocious.  And the worst part is that the writing in The Walking Ghosts isn't even close.  Instead of having high school and undergraduate English classes bolstering it, I had graduate level writing experience as well as a substantial amount of esoteric and classic literature behind it.  In essence: the writing in the second book makes the first one look like it was written by a bunch of chain-smoking monkeys sitting at typewriters (presumably before they managed to write Hamlet).

I can't help the writing that comprises the first book any more than I can help the reaction to it by its readers.  I also have zero control over what people say and do.  Unfortunately, it seems that I have encountered scores of people who have said and done completely different things.  As I said earlier, though, if it was a money issue, then please don't take what I am saying to heart; I would hate like hell for someone who wanted to buy the book but couldn't to feel bad.  If you never told me you would buy it, then don't worry about it--this isn't addressed to you either.  Instead, all of this is addressed to the people who told me that they would buy it and, worse, the people who asked me where they could get it (because I gave that information to all of them).

For any of those people, feel free to put your money where your mouth is...or don't; the damage is already done.  But if you do fall into that category, do me a favor, please: when I finish the third and final part of the Kosmogonia story arch, don't make me promises that you never intend to keep.  If you want to extend some sort of kind gesture, just offer me congratulations or say "Way to go!" but don't lead me on and make us both look like assholes.

And to the fifty and four people who did buy the books: THANK YOU!!!  As much for your support as for being true to your word.

And possibly for not using a smart phone.