This week’s Monday Motivation relates to the slippery topic of book sales, and how many are considered enough to make your book a success. This week, I read this excellent Open Letter To New And Would-Be Writers by the author James Smythe. I was led to the article by some interesting tweets James sent, in which he questioned why there is so much emphasis on an author’s debut novel, when we should be expecting the author to grow, learn, and become more exciting with each book they create.
In the article on his blog, Smythe refers to the J.K. Rowling/ Robert Galbraith author pseudonym story of last summer. A now well-known and best-selling crime novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling was released into the market as a debut by the previously unknown Robert Galbraith. The book was well-reviewed. It was deemed a ‘success’ in terms of a debut. Robert Galbraith looked like he had a bright future ahead of him.
Three months after its release, it was ‘discovered’ that the book had actually been written by J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. As a result of the ‘leak’ (by a friend of one of J. K. Rowling’s lawyers), the sales increased from around 500 hardback copies in total between April and July (and a further 7000 across Ebook, audio, and library editions), to 17,662 between just 14th and 2oth July. The news was leaked on 13th July.
Rowling vehemently argues that this was in no way a marketing ploy: and whether or not that is true is inconsequential. What is interesting about what happened is exactly what James Smythe describes in his blog post: the question of whether The Cuckoo’s Calling was a success or a failure as a debut before the ‘outing’ of the author. When the sales figures for the book pre-pseudonym discovery (470 hardbacks) was announced, it was suggested that this was a dismal failure for a debut. Smythe argues that this is a very respectable number of sales, and I would agree with him. In three months, even with hype and excellent reviews, this is a figure to be proud of.
You can read Smythe’s article here, which warns would-be writers to manage their expectations as to what success in the early stages of a debut release really means. He makes the excellent point that we shouldn’t be focusing on the sales figures (though it is often hard not to), but on the writing itself: on making our next project the best it can be. He is right that being a published author is a gift, and that we should make the most of it.
Want more? Here’s my Monday Motivation from last week, which shares Mark Manson’s blog post 10 Things I Learnt From Surviving My Twenties.