Friends sometimes ask me, “How’s your amazon ranking?” a question I take as a well-intentioned show of interest in my work, but which I am finding increasingly annoying because it taps into all the ego challenges of promoting a book that I felt called to write and promote. On a spiritual level, I feel my answer should be, “I don’t care,” though, of course, that’s not true.
For those who aren’t sure what I’m talking about, amazon ranks its products by how much they are selling compared to other products. Because publishers are very slow to tell authors how many books they have sold, it’s often the only metric a writer has to measure whether or not people are buying their book. What the number means in absolute sales is a mystery since it only tells you how you’re doing compared to everyone else. As one writer (whose name I forget) estimated, less than 1,000 means you’re a bestseller. Between 1,000 and 10,000 means you’re doing well. Over 10,000 means you shouldn’t quit your day job. That’s where my book is right now, even though I did quit my day job 17 years ago. You see part of the problem. I am trying to unite my vocation and my avocation (as Robert Frost put it), and selling books is not irrelevant to this endeavor.
Another problem is that, while I think there are great things about amazon, I also want to support bookstores, including Borders and Barnes & Noble, and especially independent booksellers like Quaker Books and the Big Blue Marble, both of which are selling copies of my book, a fact that does not show up in the ranking that everyone else looks at. I have absolutely no way of knowing how many copies are being sold in bookstores where I don’t happen to know the managers. The accuracy of the ranking is further complicated by the fact that several websites in the last few weeks linked to the hardcover version of the book on amazon, which is now deeply discounted. The part of me that only cares about getting the message of the book out into the world is happy to see that people are buying the hardcover. The ego-driven part of me would rather see good numbers for the paperback, which is how my current publicity efforts will be evaluated by people in the publishing industry.
By other measures, my publicity efforts are going very well. The book has gotten three new positive reviews since the paperback release two weeks ago. I’ve had a personal essay on Finding Serenity as a Caregiver on the Washington Post site and an article on the Huffington Post that got a lot of comments. I’m doing my third radio interview tomorrow with more to come. I feel I’m being faithful to the leading to promote this book, and it feels like way is opening on many fronts. (God sent a great new publicist to work for my publisher, for which I’m very grateful!) That’s what I want to focus on, rather than the numbers, which so far, haven’t been that encouraging. In that vein, I decided a few weeks ago not to look at my amazon ranking at all, which went about as well as my summer decision not to eat chocolate for the rest of my life. I am looking at amazon less, though. I need it for information, just not for validation.
I will be in Boston hawking my book during the upcoming Ministry and Writing Colloquium at Earlham, but I’d love to sit around with other Quakers who feel led to write and talk about how we handle this tension. Not everyone feels led to try to make a living from their writing, and not everyone feels led to put effort into promoting their work, but I’m clear that I am. How to do that in a Spirit-led rather than an ego-led way is an ongoing question.