Righto. I thi-ink I’m about to offend just about everyone I know.
Good. Excellent. Carry on.
The thing is, of late I’ve noted a growing habit among authors which is fast becoming a source of vexation to self: it’s this constant trotting out of ebook sales figures.
Now, this doesn’t particularly vex me because it engenders any sense of inferiority or otherwise. Indeed, I’m delighted that many of my friends and acquaintances are prospering.
(I’ll also tell you right now, I don’t know my sales figures. I daresay I could ask–though, to be honest, I really can’t be bothered. And if you think I’m techno-savvy enough to even begin to know where to look for such things, think again.)
No. But this whole thing really disturbs me–because it’s essentially treating the publication of a book, and the sales, as if it were all some kind of a competition. It invites or even demands comparison. And preening. Or envy. And that is not what it is about. Authorship isn’t, or it shouldn’t be, a popularity contest!
Frankly, it doesn’t matter a turnip if Oscar Templeton-Littlehump outsells or does not outsell me or you or anyone else. His work on the mating rituals of mid-Atlantic slugs may or may not be more of a page turner than my books on Napoleonic espionage, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not important.
What matters is the work.
And I firmly and absolutely believe that we authors should be measuring our success against ourselves and only against ourselves. Is the book good is the real question? Does it surpass our best vision of what we can produce? Or is it less? (Sigh…) In which case, get back to work.
Because if we continue down this road of daily and hourly sales reports, how are we any better than the bean-counters at the big five publishing companies (about whom most of us have complained at some length) who in their pursuit of the best sales figures encouraged more and more fatuous celebrity authobiographies (because they sell well in supermarkets) to the exclusion of the hundreds of fine mid-list and first-time authors?
I recall reading somewhere that many of the books which over the years have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize have had maximum sales of perhaps 4000-5000 books. Which is nothing to the bean-counters, I daresay. And yet our culture and our lives–our understanding of our world and our fellow beings–have been made immeasurably richer for those novels being out in the world.
(Okay, yes, in some cases, those are several hours of our lives we won’t get back…Still…)
Rembrandt von Rijn couldn’t and frequently didn’t get paid for his paintings during his lifetime. Those same works which we today consider masterpieces, every one.
Our pride should be in our work. Our joy should be in our work.
As Shakespeare wrote in Much Ado About Nothing, “Comparisons are odorous…”
(Okay, okay, yes, I’m now laughing at a 16th century joke…because the original was by John Lydgate in his Debate between the horse, goose, and sheep: “Odyous of olde been comparisonis, And of comparisonis engendyrd is haterede” and I think Shakespeare’s malapropism is a delight…Okay, yes, I need help.)
That’s it then.
And that’s me shutting up.