Not A Number

Not a rant about word counts! My number obsession today involves sales and readership–and it isn’t even a rant. Merely some random thoughts about success and expectations and so on. That’s it. Totally safe. Stick around for paragraph two.

The people who advise authors to “not look at sales” and say, “the numbers don’t mean anything,” are ignoring a critical point: sales are in fact a measure of audience reach. Not all buyers read what they download, especially if you’ve offered a full novel at a steep discount, but all readers had to get your book somewhere. So, not all buyers read, but all readers buy. (For the sake of simplicity, I’m counting free promotions as sales, dangit.)

The usual addendum to the advice is an interesting one: there’s no point in trying to measure success by numbers because as soon as one goal gets met, the craving for the next will begin. It’s a slippery-slope argument: don’t start caring, or you’ll never be able to stop.

I ignored the advice of course. And the funny thing is, it’s been okay.

I share the basic belief that sales are not a valid measure of a creative work’s value. Yes, comparisons can be depressing. I have a pathetic audience reach compared to the English-speaking population as a whole. It’s sad even compared to the SFF-reading population, to be honest. Fifty people. Maybe a hundred. And that’s taking all my readers together. Some have read only one story and never returned for a second helping. I am not to everyone’s taste.

But by all the advice, I should be upset that I don’t have more sales, and since I do have some readers, I should be dying inside that I don’t have more. It should be getting worse as time passes and the astonishing lack of popularity continues.

And yet I’m getting more content, not less. I’m settling. I do have readers. Every so often, someone discovers me and sticks. And since I watch, I get that boost when it happens.

Yes, I want more. Duh.  I wanted it all before I had any readers. That dream of reaching “everybody loves my words!” status isn’t going to change because I have a dozen. Or two.  That pining, itchy yearning every time I look at my lack-of-sales report–that’s a constant, not a variable.

It’s a constant. There’s no risk. I can look at the numbers, they can rise or fall, and my ambition remains unchanged. It is more resilient than any fluctuation in fortunes.

What I’m saying is this: looking at the numbers isn’t jumping off a cliff. There’s nothing to fear in watching them now and then, even obsessing over them occasionally. Every sale is a new connection. That isn’t a life-changing meaning, or a value judgment, but it is worth remembering.

And a last point: flat sales don’t make the existing connections disappear. Once made, those numbers are eternal. Today’s zeroes do not cancel out yesterday’s. It isn’t arithmetic. Those numbers are people. That’s worth remembering too.

 

Time: 12:30 PM
Tea: Lipton’s. Don’t judge.
Steep: Stillllll steeping.

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