It happens almost every time. At book signings and book clubs, even at gatherings that have absolutely nothing to do with books, someone (and many times, someone I would not expect to have the audacity) asks how many books I’ve sold. In a pregnant pause that seems w-a-a-a-y longer than Rick Perry’s “oops” moment, potential answers crawl across my brain. Should I be snarky and ask her how much she weighs? Should I give a flippant “who cares about numbers” and move on? Should I politely tell her I’m not comfortable talking about that?
Snarky is probably my most readily accessible mode and would certainly be the most fun. “Darling, who is your plastic surgeon? One can hardly tell you’ve had so much work done.” Alas, I usually just end up stammering something about not having received current numbers from my publisher but am told that they are pleased.
The asker is usually just curious. She’s used to seeing “Over One Million Copies Sold” on book covers (don’t I wish!) and doesn’t really equate asking how many I have sold to, say, asking her the amount of her annual salary. The question is benign, even benevolent. And sometimes I know the bee – I mean asker– and she’s just flat-out nosy.
I’m still a fairly new resident of Book World, but I pick up a definite vibe that my fellow denizens are prickly about their numbers, even to other authors. We live in an age where the value of a home, salary, and yes age-age are just a few clicks away. Our Amazon ranking (# 657,420 – woo-hoo!!) is posted for all the world to see, yet still we guard our sales figures as if they were handcuffed to our wrist inside a bullet-proof brief case. I have never asked even close writer friends. A few – well, two anyway – have shared, and I have reciprocated. It’s not a matter of the money (what money, you say?). Is it that we don’t want our success to be measured by numbers when the meaning of those numbers varies widely among genres? In Lawyer Land, I never knew anyone who was bashful to announce making partner or raking in one-third of a multimillion dollar contingency case. Yet in Book World, even within Book World, it seems crass to divulge anything other than winning awards or making best-seller lists.
Is it just me? Have I not been properly indoctrinated and the rest of you are spewing your numbers hither and yon?
How do you handle The Question?
Amy Bourret is the author of MOTHERS AND OTHER LIARS, a Target Breakout Book. Her publisher is very pleased with the sales.