Yes, I’m talking about The Book again. Sorry about that, but that’s what’s going on right now, so it remains the subject of the moment. Late last week I learned that the distributor was out of copies. I had to take a moment to digest that. Savor, actually. I mean, think about it–the outfit in charge of getting the book into sales venues was out of stock. Which meant that the book was being ordered. Which meant that there was demand. Which meant…well, let’s not get too crazy. The point is that the distributor was not sitting on piles of stock that no one wanted. In fact, Prime had to send out the rest of the copies they had on hand so that the distributor could handle their orders. So now the publisher is out of stock. All remaining copies are either 1) at the distributors or 2) at the bookstore(s). This is, what we in the business like to call, “a good thing.”
So what does this mean? Hard to say right at the moment. Distribution aside, the numbers look good. Actual sales are at a brisk rate, and at the very least odds are good that the publisher won’t lose money on the book. They might even make a buck or two. This is important for obvious reasons. A publisher might love your work, your editor might even believe you’re a genius, but if your books don’t sell, none of that matters much. Most publishers, especially smaller presses, can’t afford to publish books that no one wants. When a book does well, the publisher is more inclined to want another one from you. Simple as that.
Here’s the thing—if you’re a writer, you want to write. Which is fine, because who’s stopping you? If you don’t have time, you’ll reset your priorities until you do have time. If the work isn’t going so well you hang in there until your creativity decides to wake up and join the party. Even a fallow period—they happen—is understood to be temporary. Problem is, we’re greedy. We don’t just want to write—we want to be read, too. We, narcissists that we are, want to think that what we write matters, even a little. Sure, you can self-publish, and there are even times when that makes sense, but without a readership in place it’s a long slog to get one, and the readership is what you really want. We have more options these days, sure and yippee, but publishing through a competent traditional publisher, large or small, is still the best way to find those readers, or rather, let them find you. Otherwise everything you write is just you, talking to yourself. I think there are psychiatric terms for that, none of them very flattering.
So we have to worry about the business side of things. Self-promote as best we can, do what we can do and still face ourselves in the mirror come morning. As others have pointed out time and again, writing is both an art and a business. Art comes first. After that, it’s business. We forget the second part at our peril.