In which Bennetts mouths off…

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.

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20 comments on “In which Bennetts mouths off…

  1. Janet O says:

    Carry on. Good points all.

  2. I know what mine are: five, last month. So you haven’t upset me in the slightest.
    I find the whole thing vaguely amusing. Witness those trumpeting Amazon Best-Seller status…at $0.00 a copy!!!

  3. M, what a wonderful. refreshing post! I have to confess to being one of those authors; shouting, not about sales figures but about the Amazon ranking of my books (or one of them anyway that did rather well lately). So, yes, I sinned, getting caught up in this awful addiction of checking sales figures and charts. It is easy to fall into this pattern when one publishes one’s books onself, doing all the formatting and cover designs oneself (which I gather you didn’t do). But I came to the conclusion all by myself just the other day, that this is soul destroying and can also make you lose that passion for writing that drives you to write every day. I became a promoter rather than a writer and I nearly lost my writing drive.

    So, bravo, I say to you for daring to say what many people think. It needs to be said. I urge every author out there to stop checking sales figures and get back to writing.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I’m so relieved to hear you say this. Yes, that’s exactly what writers are being asked to become–whether self-published or trad publishing house–promoters and marketers. And we can either do that–it’s a full time job, let’s face it!–or we can do what we’re good at–writing.

  4. Sandie Zand says:

    Not offending me either… yes the endless numbers scrolling past on newsfeeds does become tedious, though frankly I find same with daily writing word counts which always strike me as a pointless gauge in the main, quantity vs quality and all that… also I get irritated (seeing as I’m now on a roll) by those people who measure marital ‘success’ in years as though there is some accolade in merely having clung on/tolerated/suffered the state for x decades – hurrah! 60 years! what an achievement…

    Okay, I’ll shut up too now.

    Yes. Numbers. Drone, drone, drone… you’re right… I agree.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Laughing very hard now. I’m trying to recall which famous author it was (Joyce?) who said something about having only written 16 words one day, but they were good words. So he was quite pleased.

  5. That Shakespeare – what a guy! Thought his spellchecker was infallibel!

    Sorry. I very recently hinted (in a tactful way, of course) to a young lady on a Facebook group that while the cover pic her publisher had chosen for her collection of horror stories was really good, they might want to take another look at the title – ‘Ad Nauseum.’

  6. Ben Bennetts says:

    There isn’t a Like button big enough for me on this post.

  7. Mignon Fahr says:

    Ah, Bennetts! ‘Tis a far far better thing I do, than I have ever done and ’tis a far, far better place I go than I have ever been. . . .which is usually of late the slush pile.

    Of COURSE I agree with you on all points of ideals. But with equanimity I will add:

    As I do understand it, today you not only have to be your own writer, editor, promoter, sales-person, telemarketer, possibly illustrator, but of course your own agent and finally, yes, your own publisher. . .I KNEW it would come to this when I took up the pen, pencil, typewriter, copier, scanner, floppy, CD, and finally(?) flashdrive, MA in Literature and 5000 composition papers to correct.

    Truth is, for most of us who write literary fiction hoping to publish, all this means not only giving up our free time, our social and family time, our side interests, but also our earning time to see all of the above is accomplished. And for the desperate to be read, perpetual debt may be the only payment rendered. This is a most lethal sport and certainly not for the starving artist. It is owned of royalty. The Sport of Kings, really. Publishing.

    So it is not surprising many are tabulating it in the same way they read the daily races or for that matter, the stock market.

  8. I’m actually very proud of the fact that I learned how to format my own books for the Kindle. That took some learning and fiddling. But now my books are better formatted than many ‘professionally’ formatted ones. I love a challenge and formatting was quite a learning curve.

    But then I got too caught up in all those writers’ forums, where they talk about sales figures and what to do to promote etc. And it was getting to be like a race and something that was eating up both my time and my inspiration. And my self-esteem.

  9. “…And here the male stud slug can be seen tenderly caressing the female with one trembling eye stalk…”

  10. Rebakai says:

    Good timing for me. Thanks!

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