Tag Archives: numbers

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.



Filed under Anxiety, Sales, Writing and Life

The Numbers, or, How Writing a Book Is Like Giving Birth

Numbers 7/52

Before embarking on a second career as a writer, I was a software engineer. I majored in applied mathematics in college. Obviously, I enjoy using the analytical parts of my brain as much as the artistic ones. So now that both BE A CHANGEMAKER (my young-adult nonfiction) and MY DOG IS THE BEST (my fiction picture book) are in copyedits, I thought I’d reflect a little on some of the behind-the-scenes numbers involved in these 2 very different creative endeavors.

I knew when BE A CHANGEMAKER was acquired that it was going to be a lot of work in a short period of time: I’d sold it on proposal as a 20,000-word book that would take me 1 year to write, but they wanted at least 45,000 words in 5 months. I was open with the publisher that I wasn’t sure if I could do it (I’m a SLOW writer), but that I would give it my best shot. I dove in and started researching like crazy.

Almost immediately, life threw me a curveball, and I lost pretty much the first 2 months to an unexpected surgery, recovery, and ensuing complications. Things began to look pretty hopeless. Because of the time constraints, I was already drafting on the fly, sending it to the acquisitions editor, and incorporating her feedback as I went along. I became a much faster writer than I ever thought possible, but I still couldn’t quite get there in time. The editor and I strategized on what the highest priority pieces were and what could be left for later. TKWhen I submitted the “final” draft on the original deadline, the manuscript was a not-entirely-off-the-mark 42,200 words, but with 10 known holes left as TK, “to come” later. I continued working to fill in the TK pieces while the manuscript moved on to a full developmental edit round.

Since it had already been through 1 round of editing and the feedback I’d been getting was that it was in pretty good shape, I wasn’t expecting the developmental edit to be overly difficult, even though I had less than 2 weeks to do it. Wowzers, was I wrong! The marked up document I got back from the developmental editor (a different person) had 570 insertions, 414 deletions, and 339 comments, most of which were something along the lines of, “Can you please add x here?—where x was a quote, an exercise, an example, etc. They were excellent suggestions, and I knew I’d have a much better book to show for it if I could do them all! No TKBut try though I did, I still couldn’t get it all done in time: I just needed a few extra days. Luckily, the publisher was willing (bless her!). So, less than 3 weeks from receiving the revision letter, I returned a clean manuscript that was nearly 60,000 words, with 100% of the TKs removed and developmental edits accounted for. Phew!

During those weeks (and, to a lesser extent, the months that preceded them), I definitely questioned both my sanity and my career choice on more than one occasion. I told myself if I survived this experience, I would never, ever write another book like that one. Afterward, I walked around the house like a zombie for a few days, barely able to function, let alone dig out from under the piles of dirty laundry and unpaid bills that had accumulated. All of this couldn’t possibly be worth it, right?
Couch potating

Then a marvelous thing happened. Just like the pain of childbirth fades instantly when you hold your newborn child, I soon forgot the 10- to 12-hour days, the missed meals, the cramped EVERYTHING. The manuscript was accepted: I had done it! Unicorns and rainbows, kittens and puppies, walking on sunshine—that was me. I’d brought to life something that never would have existed without me, and I was on top of the world.

Then I moved on to completing the author questionnaire about who might like the book, review the book, use the book, etc., and THE BOOK started to become a real thing in my mind, a real thing that real people would really read! Recently, the publisher sent me the cover proofs… with my name on them! And now I’m thinking about blurbs and preliminary marketing ideas. I’ve got that floating-on-air feeling again, that hopeful exuberance that comes after an offer. Maybe, just maybe, someone out there will read my book someday and it will matter to them. What was I ever thinking? Of course it was worth it, every single minute! As Adora Svitak, one of the amazing teens I interviewed for the book, said, “It’s good to push yourself. When you really go all out for something… it’s the best feeling in the world.” She is absolutely right about that. I can hardly wait for my next opportunity to do it all over again!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, MY DOG IS THE BEST clocked in at 96 words, and I just found out it went straight to copyediting with zero revisions necessary. As you can probably guess, that feels pretty darn good, too!
smiley face stress ball

Laurie Ann ThompsonLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, will be published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. She also has two upcoming picture books: an as-yet-untitled biography with Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House and MY DOG IS THE BEST with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan. Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.


Filed under Editing and Revising, Editor, Happiness, Writing and Life