I hit the mark last month, without even realizing it.
It’s everything and nothing to an author, when you think about it: 100,000 books since May 12, 2015 and the release of the first title in my series. And I can think of self-published authors who’ve probably long since celebrated their millionth sale.
To be perfectly honest, I stopped counting how many books I was selling when my publisher kicked me out and I fell from the glory of being a traditionally published author to the relative indignity of being a self-pubbed one. Sales numbers no longer mattered to me, only income did. I didn’t care that I had sold x thousand copies; I cared how many dollars those translated into. Not, as you might believe, because as a professionally self-pubbed author my life is now dedicated to spewing as many terrible books as possible, as fast as possible, in order to pay my condo mortgage.
I don’t have a condo. Money matters to me because I use it to finance my next project, and I want the full monty for every title: dev edits, copy edits, proofread, audiobook, promo… That costs money. The quadruple digits I see rolling every month pay for all that.
Anyway, back to the number. 100,000. Small and big.
Big, for me, because I never imagined I’d sell that much, and also because I’m actually French, a distant, barren land where 5,000 copies and a couple of glib journalistic accolades make tomorrow’s voice. (Make that 300 copies if you were already a notorious politician with a penchant for ecology— if you’re French, you probably know who I’m talking about…)
I am a French author who sold 100,000 books. Man… Okay, I write in English so it doesn’t actually count. But once I’ve tumbled all the way down and I end up shaking my MacDonald cup on Boulevard Haussmann in front of the Galeries Lafayette, I’ll probably scribble it on my piece of cardboard: “I WAS SOMEONE ON THE INTERNET. LOCALLY.”
Anyway, that number is actually small here in the US, where publishing is a roaring machine pumping up to a million titles a year, traditionally published or not, and where over two billion (!) books are sold over that same period. To put things in perspective, my 100,000 copies mean I hit Amazon’s paid top 100 at #57 once in my career, and once too, I was featured in a minor USA Today online article, along other authors — the whole thing had been arranged by my publisher at the time my first book came out. I’ve never had a single article of press coverage since — yes, I am somewhat ashamed to say that I did repeatedly try to contact French newspapers, basically saying: “Here’s my adventure, literally no one else has achieved that kind of trajectory in France in the recent years, are you interested in writing about it?”. Dignity: it’s overrated.
So, with all my love and admiration, and to all the self-pubbed authors out there who sweated blood to hit 10k sales and are anxiously waiting that tipping point when big publishing will notice how well this unagented newcomer is doing in the absence of any promo, shit will get viral, and their book will become the next Martian…
It’s probably not gonna happen.
Not at 20k, not at 30k, 100k or even a million. Especially if you write romance. If you write romance, a million copies might get you recognized at RWA by powerhouses who sold two millions, and by a few hungry editors too. Outside of this warm bubble, a pair of enthusiastic readers will ask you for a selfie in the line at Arby’s. Once. And you’ll forever frame that moment in your living room. I still keep the pic two lovely Japanese readers took of themselves in a Tokyo supermarket I happen to mention in my first book. That pic, and pretty much every single gift, postcard or selfie readers ever sent me are my championship rings.
Now, as a trad pubbed author, I’d say 30k is more than enough to warrant a publisher’s continued PR efforts: you can reasonably expect a few press articles, reviews from reputable sources not a single living reader cares about outside the realm of publishing — Yes, I mean K***** and P******** * ******— and, depending on what you write, how well you write it, and who publishes it, you may win a minor but nonetheless prestigious award. Now we’re talking shit you can show to your parents and neighbors with legitimate pride.
So am I saying the rest of us moderately successful self-pubbed authors are working in vain? Not at all, but our reward is a continually bittersweet one, a strange blend of local Internet fame and complete anonymity that can be difficult to adjust to at times.
It’s having readers write you everyday through your website or social media, and having ten publishers in a row reject your next book because you’re actually no one. It’s squatting Amazon’s bestsellers list once in a while but realizing that only the small and marketing-savvy community of self-pubbed authors understand those numbers and care that you did the thing, that you were up there and a lot of work went into it. It’s selling your foreign rights for the first time, it’s greedily raking hundreds of enthusiastic reviews from strangers all over the world who post photo montages of who they want to see cast in a future movie… only for you to carefully curb their — and your — enthusiasm with a gentle reminder that Hollywood will make Sharknado 18 with Charlie Sheen’s taxidermized remains before they bring your work to the big screen.
It’s cashing $9,000 in a single month and having your mom ask, “But does that thing with your books work?”
It’s basically being that guy who’s famous in his dorm for being able to lick his own eyeballs. Except somehow people pay him a fairly decent amount of money to do that and 300 people saw the vid on Youtube.
It’s a perpetual war on your ego, an impulse to keep going because you’re living the dream, and the constant knowledge that you’re pushing against a glass ceiling you won’t break.
But it’s also waking up every morning knowing that it doesn’t matter what the numbers mean to whoever you share them with: You did the thing.
I’m almost certain that this possum is actually in a defensive stance against whoever disturbed them as they were doing their possum business, but inspirational memes care no more for animal welfare than they do about copyright.