Saturday, January 13, 2007

Making the Bestseller Lists

Almost nothing turns out the way you might expect or want it to. A case in point: Between December 23 and January 7, CROSLEY: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation made the New York Times Bestseller List, the Wall Street Journal's hardcover nonfiction list, and the New York Times Hardcover Business Best Sellers list.

If you believe what you see in movies, you might expect me to be whooping it up--buying a new house and looking for a 1963 Jaguar XK-E coupe as I sign six-figure contracts and consider film offers.

Hardly. Little has changed, at least not on the professional and financial fronts. Neither editors or agents are contacting me with offers (though I'm open). I'm in the same nice little house, and still drive the mini-van with the trick transmission. My banker friend, Greg, is still waiting to recommend investments, and I'm putting off buying that 1958 Fender Precision bass.

Did I expect my bank account to suddenly swell to mammoth proportions, or that I would get calls from Hollywood? Truthfully, no. I've seen enough writers make bestseller lists and fade into obscurity to know that bestsellerdom isn't necessarily life-altering. Besides, these things take time. (Remember Cheops' Law: Everything takes longer and costs more.)

But what the heck--I never expected to even make one bestseller list, let alone two!

And some things have changed. Relatives I haven't heard from in years (and who once ridiculed my writing) are calling me. When I do a bookstore signing, scores or hundreds of people turn out instead of two or three. People who have seen me on TV or in newspapers congratulate me and enthuse over all the money I must be getting paid.

Most of them are so honestly happy for me that I hate to burst the bubble by explaining that it will be most of a year before even I begin to see any money from the book. That the publishing world has taken little notice of my name on the bestseller lists. That, aside from a box of books and a couple of neat shirts I haven't gained anything material from this.

Oh, certainly I had a book advance, but that was years ago, and I spent far more time writing the book than the advance warranted. (It's usually my practice to get a large enough advance to cover the time I put into a book. That way, if it doesn't earn royalties or sub-rights money I'm not disappointed. But CROSLEY was a special case. I'd been waiting decades to write this book)

Otherwise, publisher response is as slow as it ever was. I suppose I could speed up the responses by making a nuisance of myself, but that's no way to sell books. (Another aphorism comes to mind: If you press for an answer, you'll likely get the one you don't want.)

The lesson in all this is fairly straightforward: Public acclaim doesn't always translate to professional success. But it's all fun!
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

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