People ask me whether my book is selling well. And I have no idea what to say.
Authors don’t get told anything about sales until April and October each year. That’s when the global data is reconciled by a company called Nielsen, and royalties are paid. Then you find out whether your book is being devoured by people all over the world who are buying extra copies as gifts for their friends, or whether it’s a complete dog and you need to move on with your life, or just a long hard slog.
I haven’t been told this by anyone in publishing. It’s what I’ve heard rumoured by other authors groping around in the dark in the support groups we all belong to.
The only thing you can do, as an author, is look at the hilariously named ‘bestseller rankings’ on that big online book-selling behemoth that we’re all supposed to hate because it’s a conglomerate, but in actual fact we keep an obsessive eye on and secretly worship because it enables us to sell our e-books and paperbacks The World Over.
The Amazon Bestseller rankings. Books are counted in various magical ways in various categories and then ranked. Some of this is predictive on the part of algorithms. The gremlins have taken over the machine and computers are running this world. Remember the way Mrs Thatcher used to twiddle with the unemployment figures? Equally scary.
The rankings are recalculated hourly. That probably means that if two people buy your book, and they don’t buy Kate Atkinson or Bill Bryson because their books have been out for a while, yours might go up. It might even go up by a fair bit.
If, like me, your book is in a genre where there are fewer titles published, then you have less competition. And if your book is selling in Australia, where the market is smaller, then it can sometimes seem quite exciting.
Okay, so it can SEEM exciting, but it may mean NOTHING. You have to remember that. As an author. Expect nothing. Hope for nothing.
But here, look at this. Because might be meaningless and ephemeral, but it looks pretty bloody brilliant for about five minutes.
On Amazon Australia my book is listed in travel categories. And for the second time, it is currently #1 in Australia & Oceania Travel. The other titles in that category are mostly travel guides, like Lonely Planet. And at #11 is Down Under by Bill Bryson. I’m next to him somewhere else. It gets very cosy.
In another category, Travel Essays & Travelogues, I’m #3. And that’s the category that made me catch my breath this morning. Because it is packed with all my heroes.
Beside me at #4 is Tracks by Robyn Davidson – probably the best women’s travel memoir of all time, about her trek across the Simpson Desert of Australia with a camel train. It’s a seminal work with no equal and I remember buying it Stanfords map and travel bookshop on Long Acre in Covent Garden. I still have that copy.
At #7 is A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain. His other book, Kitchen Confidential, is one that I go to every few years to remind myself how to write as if I’ve got bigger balls AND a bigger vocabulary than everyone else. I remember who recommended that book to me. And it remains on my shelf.
#10 is Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. I love his Notes from a Small Island and a few of the others. Haven’t read this one, but still. A bit of a hero.
At #12 is Chris Stewart’s Driving Over Lemons, the book that inspired and influenced mine. From it I took the lesson that self-deprecation is key in a travel memoir. You’re writing about the people around you, but the joke has to remain on you if you’re going to get away with it. And humour, gentle humour, the means of observing important things in life without sounding pompous.
At #13 is Anthony Doerr, a well serious dude. I couldn’t read All the Light We’ve Never Seen because it was Christmas and I didn’t need to read about children hiding in ruins from the Nazis during bombing raids. Serious literary company though. Humbling.
At #17 is Bill again with Down Under. And at #18, big breath, is In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin. I read Chatwin A LOT in my twenties. And he is by turns mesmerising and waffly and self-indulgent, but by crikey he loved the world and he loved to travel in it and see its magic, its undersides, its forgotten people. He was restless and an instinctive explorer and adventurer, and when I was working in an office in London for a company who were sucking the soul from my body, I read his theory that people are essentially nomadic, and that’s when the idea of living elsewhere, travelling a bit, and writing about it began to seep through my bones and into my consciousness. He hasn’t just influenced my writing, he’s influenced my life.
So I continue to hold back on hoping that these listings mean anything. But you can perhaps imagine what it’s like to scroll down and see my own travel memoir, a lifetime ambition realised, alongside such impossibly august company. This is something I allow myself to enjoy, however fleetingly.
Thank you, if you pledged for my book, and if you have bought a copy and are making it go up in these meaningless but lovely rankings. I hope you’re one of the people who has enjoyed it and perhaps it even meant something to you. This all means something to me. Even if I’m not sure what.
Apple Island Wife has been on a Book Blogger’s tour this week and has kept a lovely lady called Candice warm as she gets through the Winter Vortex Freeze in Canada. Here is her lovely Scottie dog Vinny, who kept her warm too. You can read her review, and others like it, online.