Have you ever wondered how your books are doing out there in the world, "among the English" (as was noted in a popular movie a few years back)? Oh, sure, there's evidence in bits and pieces. But unless you have been Skyped on OPRAH, invited to speak at the Library of Congress---or, better yet, at the U.S. Mint---or are meeting the U.S. Poet Laureate for dinner this evening, the evidence is, shall we say, probably a bit sketchier. I'll just mention a few of the key indicators here.
For example, there is the quarterly royalty check. I've heard those things can go as high as $19.83 right after a school book sale. Family support is also critical. I once got a brief note from my Aunt Susie that she is holding two copies of my book for an autograph one day---you know, when I make the trip down to Tierra del Fuego where she is setting up a lending library among the Tierra del Fuegans.
Sales rankings are also a nice metric to reflect on, especially during the week immediately after the book is released---that's when there's a chance the one copy you bought on line to "prime the pump" will trigger a rank placement under one million. I used to let the rankings thing get me down but not any more. It's much more fun (read "less depressing") to declare the gargantuan number as actual sales---as in "Hey! Last week I sold 2,785,738!" I've decided not to worry too much that the royalty check is six months late, what with the almost monthly increase in postage rates of late. No doubt the check is so heavy it's permanently stuck in the "insufficient postage" loop.
Of course all those measures are important. I mean, I cherish the single comment from Bengladesh on my August 11, 2003 blog entry about my inspiration for writing my book on ants. But when I really want to know how my books are going to do or what impact they might have, it's best to get out there and put them in the hands of a child. Do a book reading or sign your books at a little table in an indie bookstore.
Watch the kids as their eyes scan over a display of books, flitting from one cover to another until they actually pick one up. Will they linger on the inside pages? Do they turn to look for Mom or Dad nearby to ask a question or show some particular discovery they have made right there in the book?
Yeah, there's a chance the book might go home with them on that day, with the author's well wishes and an autograph scribbled on the inside cover. But that really doesn't matter. I would rather the book speak to the child and that it might leave a lasting impression. Who knows? It could happen.
Here's to making those connections.