Me 'n' The New York Times. And We, The People.
Every Wednesday at about 5pm EST, book industry insiders get a peek at the results for The New York Times Bestseller List. But that’s not where this story begins.
Back up to launch week for THE FIRE STARTER SESSIONS: The book hits #1 in three Amazon categories, we ship thousands of copies. I appear on over eighty websites from Forbes to The Happiness Project, morning talk shows, and radio. Book reviews = freaking fabulously heart warming. Thousands of you cheering me on on Facebook and Twitter. The Credo for Making It Happen video topped 40,000 You Tube views. A 30 Day featured video program on The Huffington Post… As book launches go, this was, ya know, a good one.
My publishing team and I were optimistic but restrained. We never uttered the words ‘sure thing’. Because baby, the book business breaks hearts all the time.
Enter, my Whacky Wednesday. My inbox was burning up, “Did you hear if you made The Times list?! Call me when you know!” I text a Hollywood friend: “waiting is killing me. want to puke. is this what it’s like waiting for Oscar noms to be announced?” His answer: “yep”.
I’m in my car. In a parking lot. Cell phone rings. It’s my editor.
She’s speaking more softly than usual. “We didn’t make The List”, she says. Time warbles. Silence. Simultaneous thought waves: Doesn’t matter, we made a helpful book; Doesn’t matter, there’s a bigger plan; But…what the fuck?!
Even though we sold enough copies to make it on the list…even though we sold more than some of the books that did make the list… nope, didn’t get on. Yep, it’s a head-spinner. And yep, this happens with some frequency for authors. So we start deducing.
We already knew that the digital and audio versions sold wouldn’t count (I know, sad trombone, especially because y’all bought lotsa Kindle + Nook editions). Apparently The Times favors books sold in actual bookstores (you know, the five of them that are left standing in North America), and so many of my sales were through online outlets. So if y’all want to walk into a bookstore and pick up a few copies next week then…maybe…
The Times ‘weights’ bulk orders differently so maybe the 650 people who left my book party with books…maybe that didn’t count. And kinda like you never win an Oscar on your first nomination, there’s a theory that The Times would rather put you on the list with your second major book. Maybe… Or maybe it’s because my Venus is in Aries.
Metrics of success = Make art that feels good to make + Create resonance + Get feedback that it’s useful. And…the brass ring would be, like, a very helpful bonus.
Seth Godin analyzed my bestseller aim and miss in this post: Avoiding False Metrics. God bless. He warned me weeks before, essentially saying to me, Your book deserves to be there, but why bother if the system is so corrupt? He’s not a fan of the List. “Crooked and unfair,” he says.
There are 27 sound career reasons to aim for the brass ring of your industry, and there are just as many reasons to not bother with it. Awards do not define your art, but they might mean that more people get to see it. My Tao gets down to this: First, and always fundamentally, pour your heart into something that you hope will resonate and elevate. Then, give it it’s best chance at spreading like wildfire.
The answer to the following is Oh Hell Yes!:
Did I buy my yearly pack of smokes that night and cry on my porch?
Did I feel slightly fucked over?
Do I still believe, with every cell of my being, that there is tremendous power in declaring your dreams?
Will I continue to be vocal about my ambitions?
Do I still believe that you should want what you want with all your heart and give all you’ve got to give?
And that EVERYTHING IS PROGRESS?
If making a book that lotsa people are finding useful, but didn’t get approved by the ol’ bastion of book approval is the worst of my problems, then, well, there is no problem. Rather…There’s a new level of liberation.The kind of liberation that THE FIRE STARTERS SESSIONS is all about.
Where this story really begins.
I don’t journal, I’ve never been to a writer’s workshop, I still feel weird putting “writer” in the occupation field on forms. I seek truth for myself — but I write for other people. So this story begins with you.
You were rooting for me. You rallied for this book. You Facebooked, you tweeted, you Instagram’d, you “kissed the UPS guy” when he showed up at your door with the book. Thousands of you got.the.book.
And, you’re still getting the book. And telling friends, and ordering boxes for your staff, and “doing yoga with the audio.” And sending love letters. That kill me.
You taught me what I’ve been preaching about for so long: There’s nothing to lose when you fully show up.
Thank you for a beautiful beginning.