She Wrote: Publishing Kills, April 12, 2006

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

SHE WROTE: Publishing Kills

Today, Bob and I hit the wall. And apologies to everyone who came to the Lexington signing and watched us hit it in the middle of the Bob and Jenny Show. I think it was a combination of no sleep and a bad lunch for me, and too long on the road for Bob, but we were about halfway through our usual song and dance, and I could feel myself losing my grip because I was exhausted and queasy. So I turned to Bob and said, brightly, “Bob?” and he stared back at me and there was nobody home in there. Barb, our escort, said she could tell–which is why she moved fast and got us through the stock signing and out of there, she’s terrific–but she said nobody else knew. I don’t know. I think people could actually see my brains dripping from my ears. It was the first time we’ve ever spoken together that we never caught a rhythm, so listening to us must have been like going down a bumpy road in the wrong gear. We looked at each other after that and pretty much decided to never take the good shows for granted again because you wouldn’t believe how hard it is when we can’t make it work.

So of course this is when the advance news of the NYT list hits. The NYT is a phenomenon in publishing: hitting the top fifteen has huge impact in the industry, and even the top 35 is pretty damn good. But the kicker is, it’s not a true reflection of sales, which everybody knows. So everybody knows that the NYT is essentially meaningless, but everybody also knows that it means the most of all. Thanks to all of you, DLD has been kicking butt and taking names: it’s #11 on the B&N list after the first partial week, and #5 on Walden’s overall hardcover list and #3 on its fiction hardcover list. And the Bookscan numbers, which count actual sales everywhere but Walmart which for some reason won’t report to Bookscan, are terrific. But we hit the NYT at #21.

I’m pretty happy with #21 on the NYT hardcover list after a partial week. But if you look at the actual numbers—and trust me, our team is–we sold more copies than some of the books in the top five on the NYT. How does this happen? We probably sold them at stores that don’t report. This is okay with me because we’re selling books and people are reading them which is pretty much the point of publishing, and I am flat-out delighted at the numbers. So where are we now? Don’t know. Nobody knows what will happen next week (which does NOT mean that you should buy more books, you did great by us so put your feet up and have a Ding Dong), we’ve still got 3/4 of a tour to do here, the TV ads are running, anything could happen. We’re good here.

But it does make me think about the vast majority of authors who do not have TV ads and book tours, who give everything they’ve got to a story that gets shipped to the bookstores, shelved, and then lost in the mass of books out there, good stories that are written from the heart that may never find their readers. Publishing can break your heart, NOT because you don’t hit higher on the NYT list (that’s a high class problem if there ever was one) but because your book never finds its readers at all, the readers who will love it and read it over and over again, keeping your characters alive. Bob and I heard a motivational speaker in Boston who said that writers write to be read, and we really disagreed with that, the story is what matters and telling the story is the reason we write. But once we have it right, then yes, it needs readers to live. And that’s where we hit the jackpot because DLD has found readers, many of them through this blog and many more, I suspect, through Cherry Bombs out there forcing people to read it at gun point. I can’t imagine how writers without Cherries and Cherry Bombs survive in the bookstores. It’s a cold, cold world out there in print land.

So here’s the story for today. We’re wiped out, I’m sick, we did a sucky talk at the signing, and we’re #21 on the NYT next week. Which means, we’re the luckiest two authors I know, even before we factor in the fact that we have each other to tour and blog and write with (hello, Agnes).

So basically, we’ll get some sleep, I’ll feel better in the morning, we’ll hit the road for Louisville and then home for both of us for a couple of days, and there’ll be nothing but good times ahead.