So, how’s the book doing?

One of the most common questions a pre-published author gets asked is:

How's the writing going?I’ve never been exactly sure how to answer that, since so much of writing—especially in nonfiction—isn’t actually “writing.” There’s the brainstorming, researching, outlining, and, eventually, the revising. I spend a lot of time in each of those other phases, and the actual writing phase is a small fraction of the overall work. Still, as long as I’m making forward progress on a project, in any phase, I’ll typically answer, “Great! I’ve been doing a lot of ______________ lately.” On the other hand, if life or other things are getting in the way and I’m feeling less than productive, I might say instead, “Not so great lately. I’m hoping to get back on track as soon as ______________.” I think those are satisfactory, honest answers.

Since BE A CHANGEMAKER has come out, though, the question has changed. Now the most common question I get asked is:

How's the book doing?I’m having a much harder time coming up with a satisfactory answer to that one. First of all, what does that even mean: sales figures? reviews? press/publicity? awards? Amazon ranking? speaking gigs? fan mail? There are so many ways to measure a book’s success. Which yardstick should I use to measure how the book is doing?

Second, how’s it doing… as compared to what, exactly? All books have a unique place in the market, and that market is constantly changing. A rather dismal Amazon ranking may be just great for a niche market book, while a rather fantastic one may be disappointing for a well-known author or series. Even within my book’s categories, the other books have obviously been out longer, so those comparisons don’t make much sense to me either. And the way these numbers fluctuate? It’s hard to distill any meaning whatsover.

Third, we authors don’t really know too much about how a book is doing quantitatively. True, Amazon’s Author Central gives us some useful numbers, but it’s not the whole picture, and it’s hard to know just how complete and up-to-date the information is. What’s the reporting delay? Which sales are counted in those numbers and which are not? It’s an indicator, sure, but I’ve yet to figure out just how important an indicator it is for me. The more important metric is whether or not a book is performing as well as the publisher expected it to. But those numbers seem to be impossible for authors to come by (which is probably for the best all around, don’t you think?).

Finally, there’s the issue of timing. Should any of us be worrying about how our book is doing so soon after publication? Yes, we put a lot of time and energy into the pre-launch, launch, and immediately post-launch phase, and we know books aren’t given a very long runway on bookstore shelves these days, but still, doesn’t it typically take quite a while for a book to find its audience? Is how the book is doing a week or a month after its publication date necessarily all the relevant to how it will be doing a year or two from now?

Clearly, I don’t have satisfactory answers to any of these questions, and frankly, I’m not really sure I want to. I just hope no one is offended or thinks I’m dodging the “How’s the book doing?” question when I answer honestly with:

I don't really know. I'm just trying to focus on writing the next one.

In closing, I’ll leave you with this lovely quote from Martha Graham:

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.

No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

— Martha Graham

Keep on marching.


Laurie Ann Thompson head shotLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, was published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. She also has two upcoming picture books: EMMANUEL’S DREAM, a picture-book biography with Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House (January 2015), and MY DOG IS THE BEST, a fiction picture book with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan (May 2015). Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.

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32 Comments

Filed under Anxiety, Sales, Writing and Life

32 responses to “So, how’s the book doing?

  1. “So how’s the book doing?” is a question I get frequently. The problem is if one person asks that question twice in a week and you’re not in the creative phase in the process, but the waiting phase. People have trouble fathoming how much waiting there is at so many points in the process.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Here’s to blessed unrest. And to whatever next book it takes us to.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I love this post! And it’s spot on! I haven’t looked at any numbers, nor have I asked for any. I’m just working on my next book and don’t want anything to put pressure on me, or mess with my enthusiasm. I can do nothing for the numbers other than write a new book that’s better than the last. I figure that’s the only way to build a genuine audience anyway 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Lindsey Lane

    I love the answer: “I really don’t know. I’m trying to focus on writing the next one.” Pins should be made. Thank you for the Martha Graham quote. Marvelous.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ooh, Laurie, I love that quote!

    And I’m coming to not love that “how’s your book doing” question, for all the reasons you mentioned. Generally, my short way of dealing with it these days is to give one example of something nice that has happened for the book. “It’s a ___ selection!” Or “It got a great review from ___!” I think most people just want to hear that it’s doing well by some measure and aren’t so interested in the nitty-gritty numbers that we don’t have anyway. But I could be wrong about that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, that’s how I have been handling it much of the time, too, Tara. And I know all the questioners mean well. I never, ever resent the question. Heck, I’m thrilled when they remember I have a book to ask about! 🙂

      Like

  6. Great post, Laurie! And I seem to keep running into that M. Graham quote this week. Guess my inner-editor needs a good kicking to the curb – thanks!! March on.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Good for you, Laurie. That’s an awesome answer. Keep on keeping on. CHANGEMAKER is making waves in individual lives, and I have the honor of seeing that every day. No ranking can capture the most critical measure of how your book is doing, which is how it’s affecting your readers’ hearts and actions.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Catherine Johnson

    Great post! It’s so hard to know if it is as successful as a book.in that niche should be rather than in comparison to friend’s books. I gave your book to my son’s school. I’ll ask them soon if they’d read it 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Yes, yes and yes. These question can make me crazy when I let them. Thank you!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Laurie,
    This is such a great post. I’m reading it pre-publication and it gives me a bit of serenity. I know I’m speaking before my book comes out and I’ll most likely lose some of that serenity, but listening to the EMU wisdom has prepared me for things I never would’ve thought about. I love your approach, and I absolutely love that quote! Thanks 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. mariagianferrari

    Great post, Laurie! People seem to want quantification, concrete numbers. If there were only a way to measure how many hearts books touch. That would be the most rewarding 🙂

    I love the Martha Graham quote too: divine dissatisfaction all the way!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Right on ! I have fielded the same question many times and had no idea how to answer. Now my first mental response is more along the lines of “Who knows? I’m managing four kids!” but that isn’t very helpful either.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I’m so uncomfortable when folks ask me that question. Good news feels boastful and bad news feels whiny. Think I’m going to steal your response.

    When I run in to an author whose book has recently come out, I don’t ask how the book is faring, but how the author is faring since launching can be rather overwhelming.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Good news feels boastful and bad news feels whiny.

      Yes! That’s a huge part of the problem for me, too. You hit the nail on the head!

      Asking how the author is faring is a much more meaningful question. Funnily enough, I don’t think a published author has ever asked me how the book is doing. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I read somewhere that only one in 5,000 manuscripts gets published. Non-writers generally have no idea what talent, hard work, and luck it takes to get a book published. Most are just “making nice” and I “make nice” in return. I simply smile and answer, “fine.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t really thought about it that way before. I feel like most people I talk to do get it, and they’re asking because they really care: they want the book to be doing well, because they know how hard I worked on it. That’s why I struggle so with the answer: I want to be honest and authentic, but without being boastful or whiny. I can certainly see it coming up in the “small talk” context, too, though, and in that case, your answer is probably best! 🙂

      Like

  15. kevanjatt

    This a wonderful post and something I have not seen addressed before. And never considered it an issue before. I always thought it was just part of my neuroses. It is an agonizing question—even if it were asked as I was holding a nice royalty check.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Such a great post, Laurie! There are so many details of that authors are not privy to, once the book is released. Chalk it up to “things we have no control of.” I’ll be referring back to your wise words when I field my own “how’s it going?” questions.

    Like

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