Thursday, March 25, 2010

Books I've Sold and Other Elusive Numbers

By Nicole Seitz

My husband's favorite question for me when I walk in the door from a book event is, "How many books did you sell?" I CAN'T STAND this question. Makes me want to pull my hair out. Or his. Don't get me wrong, I understand that he's a number's guy, he likes statistics, figures and things adding up--but honestly, the numbers DON'T add up. Ever. Rarely have a done an event, whether in a book store or book club or speaking to an organization, where the number of books I sold actually made the event worth it, financially speaking.

It's not about how many books you sell. In fact, if you try to keep count, you'll have a hard time getting the gumption up to do it again the next time. Trust me on this.

You never know what you're going to get when you sign books at a bookstore, school, etc. I've sold over 150 books at one event. I've sold zero at another. You just never know. So why do you do it? you might wonder. I'm glad you asked. Here's what I tell my husband:

I do these events, not only because it's part of the job and good to get your name and face out there, but because there are people involved. Real live human beings. I sit all day long behind my computer, writing, researching, imagining fictitious characters and their worlds... It's a solitary existence. Occasionally I get a lovely note from a reader who enjoyed a book, and he/she tells me why. These notes are pure gold. I save them and stare at them when the going gets tough. But the book events take a lot of effort...traveling, packing up, slogging everything along. As such, they require more preparation.

Here's what I do. First, I pray on my way in the car. Yes, my Southern grandmother always told me to "go first class" when I drive, which, to you Northern folks means, "let Jesus take the wheel." Since he's already in the car, I choose to talk to him on my way to book events. I ask him to bless the people I'm going to meet. To give me the words to say. Occasionally, he really gets creative.

Recently, I was describing my four books to a lady and said of one, "This one deals with suicide. It's a book about learning to live again. A book about healing." Mind you, I NEVER mention that word, s-u-i-c-i-d-e, so as not to scare people off, but for some odd reason, that's the lovely way I described Trouble the Water. The woman looked at me, picked up the book and said, "This is the one I want. I've always been suicidal." Gulp. I signed it for her, and she looked at me hard as she walked away. To this day I pray for her healing. To this day I don't understand fully how I was prompted to say that word that resonated so deeply with her.

Another time I was in a bookstore and a woman walked by. I thought I knew her for some reason, so I said hello. She continued on, so I insisted, "Don't I know you?" We talked it over and no, we'd never met. Then she told me her name. It struck a chord with me. I remembered personalizing a book for that same name the year before. How did I remember that? It turns out, this woman had indeed received a book of mine from a friend. She said it had been especially poignant for her since she's a breast cancer survivor and Trouble the Water also deals with that. We'd never met, yet had some connection forged through a book. As if we knew each other. Goodness. Blows me away.

I could go on with the strange coincidences of book events, but I'll just say this: there are real live people involved. You never know about a word of encouragement you may give, the things people will open up about, the tears they'll shed, the laughs you'll share, the characters you'll see before you that may wind up in a future just never know. It's give and take, this beautiful dance between author and readers, and sometimes, they don't even buy the book! Sometimes, they just talk. Or ask where the bathroom is, or tell you about a loved one. Or just touch you in some amazing way.

When my husband asks me how many books I've sold, I still cringe. I can't help it. "It's not about that," I tell him. Being a numbers guy and all, this book-writing business is all about the number of books I sell. It only makes sense to him. But being an author, I can assure you it's not about that at all. Sure, big numbers would be terrific, I won't lie, but if that's why you do it, you will be sorely disappointed in this profession. Being an author is about people, emotion, connections. It's about intangible things no numbers could ever quantify.

How many books will I sell at my next event? Don't know. Could be 1000. Might be zero. I may be able to count on my fingers, possibly my toes. But how many incredible book event experiences have I had since my first novel, The Spirit of Sweetgrass, came out in 2007? I don't know. Too many to believe. I stopped counting long, long ago.

Nicole Seitz is the author and cover illustrator of four novels. Saving Cicadas was an Indie NEXT List Notable (Jan 2010), a Pulpwood Queens Book Club Bonus Selection (Feb 2010), and a 2010 SIBA Book Award nominee. A Hundred Years of Happiness was a Summer Reading Pick and 2009 SIBA Book Award nominee. Trouble the Water was chosen as one of the Best Books of 2008 by Library Journal and went into a second printing two weeks after release.

Nicole lives in the beautiful lowcountry of South Carolina with her sweet (and good with numbers) husband and two children. When traveling, she always goes first class. Find her at


Linda said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. I write not for financial gain (although that certainly would be nice) but to resonate the hope I still have for the human race and to describe some positive philosophies in a non-preachy and entertaining way.

Your experiences remind me of the quote by Gandhi, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Elaina M. Avalos said...

I love this post. For some odd reason, I never fully grasped how solitary a writing life is at times until recently. I'm not published so I can't speak to the specifics you mention here. But I love how you relate it to making those connections. I'll keep this with me and hopefully someday I'll have a book signing. :)

On another note, I was hoping to stop by your visit earlier this year at the bookstore in Wilmington NC. But it was a trek from my neck of the woods and the weather was nasty (icy/snowy). I was so bummed! I head back to California soon so I probably won't be able to make any events any time soon.

Anonymous said...

I've been at a lot of book events, wondering, "What am I doing here?"

Your post helped answer that question. I liked the idea of Jesus being in the car and will keep that in mind. Now if he'd only but a few books :)

Jackie K Cooper said...

My mother in law is the one who always asks, "How many books did you sell?" I always want to answer a million and leave it at that.

Nikki Thornton said...

Liked your post. Someday I hope to write a book where the royalties will pay for the copies I give away.

Karin Gillespie said...

Great post, Nicole. It can be so hard to have the right attitude when you go to an book event that is less than lively.I really have to psyche myself up sometimes, especially for store events. It's very had for me to start conversations with strangers particularly when they know I have an agenda.