My publisher emailed last night to tell me the remaining 650 copies of my book will be sold to stores for less than the price of the paper they're printed on. What remains will be pulped. And so, before its second birthday, And You May Find Yourself is effectively dead.
Naturally my first thought was HOLY FUCK THIS IS THE BEST NEWS EVER but that soon gave way to melancholy of the type I might feel if someone had emailed to say my testicles had been selected for a new, experimental removal procedure.
There are some mitigating factors:
My publisher went out of business about ten minutes after the book was published. I like to think this was related to funding cuts for small to medium arts businesses in Australia and not because the book sucked balls. In any case, I certainly didn't know it was going to happen when I signed the contract, or what it would mean for the promotion/non-promotion of the book, or anything really ... I was a babe in the woods.
As I understand it, all stock being held on behalf of the defunct publisher will be given the arse, not just my book. I hope I'm wrong about that for the sake of the other authors, and that I'm right for the sake of my vanity.
77 million books a year are pulped ... so even in the recycled toilet paper market mine is unlikely to make much of a splash.
Selling books is a slog, particularly if they're written by nobodies and stray from big-hitter genres such as crime, romance and sci-fi. Article after article attests to this – I would hyperlink a couple of pertinent examples if I could be bothered.
At the same time it's hard to avoid the impression that a book charting my own personal failings has itself become a personal failure. And hard to avoid the realisation that, even as it dies, I like my book, which is really saying something because I'm an unforgiving reader, especially of my own work. It's well-written, well-paced, funny in places, sad in others; it's an honest book, written with integrity, craft and care. And people (in modest numbers) have really enjoyed it. I think it's the best book I could have written at the time and secretly believe it's way better than other books published by other authors that are performing about a gazillion times better than mine ever will.
In marketing terms it was a disaster – not that it was ever marketed, which was also a disaster. It was publicised as a memoir (it's a non-fiction novel); it was shelved in bookshops with Autobiography (it's definitely not that) and even Australiana (what da fuck?); in my local library it's shelved in non-fiction with the tags "personal psychology" (huh?) and "family migratory accounts" (yummo!).
It also has a picture of me on the cover, which is bad for a couple of reasons: nobody knows me, so my scribbled-on mug is hardly going to be a big draw in the Autobiography section; and books with pictures of women on the covers (or birds, lately, for some reason) outsell books with men on the covers so heavily that ... go on, tell me how many books with non-celebrity-men-and-no-women on the cover you can think of. Oh yeah, there was And You May Find Yourself, Holding The Man, Mr Bump, Mr Tickle and ... I think that's it, really.
The plot didn't help either. A Scottish man moves to Melbourne and lives on his in-laws' floor with a couple of infants and ... fuck, even I had to stifle a yawn. The triumph from my perspective was taking that idea (normal person does something slightly unusual but still pretty normal) and making it a compelling, involving read. But in terms of marketing hooks Godzilla's going to beat it every time.
I've been invited to buy as many of the remaindered copies as I like, and will be doing that, for sure, to sell at a hefty discount on my website. After which, boom, they'll be gone forever.
Which should segue effortlessly into few paragraphs about how I'm considering whether I should "keep going" as a writer, or whether it's time to call it quits and get a "real job". Which segues effortlessly into a few pertinent points:
I'm 41, not 18. If I'd seen writing books as my "real job" instead of actually having a "real job" I'd have long since died of scurvy. I spent more on electricity to charge my laptop while writing of And You May Find Yourself than I ever did from royalties. So what does "keeping going" as a writer actually mean? Look at me now, I'm writing this: I'm "keeping going".
Equating a lack of commercial success with a lack of writing ability is tempting, and sometimes true, but it's a mug's game all the same.
I'm a sucker for the hero's journey and tend to see failure as some kind of inspiring bullet point in a hypothetical future Ted Talk I'll give about not giving up that gets watched by 84.5 million people, receives 430,000 thumbs up and only 7 thumbs down.
Most importantly – and thankfully – I'm deep into another manuscript at the moment and it feels like the best thing I've ever written. I've done 180,000 words since March, hot on the heels of another manuscript draft I decided to shelf (sequel to an underperforming debut, anyone?), which in effect means I had a 120,000-word warm-up for the current manuscript, which in turn probably explains why I'm writing like a fucking demon.
When it's finished it's going to knock my socks off. It even has a great, marketable hook of the kind that may (imagine!) appeal to an agent/publisher/reader. (Are you an agent/publisher/reader? Message me!). In other words, it's a winner.
Banner image: Juan Bendana/ Flickr.