At one point in The Matrix, Neo is told not to try and “bend the spoon,” which would be impossible, but to remember that “there is no spoon.” I have such a relationship with my Amazon sales numbers. But, unlike Neo, I have a hard time remembering the “no spoon” part.
For a while, I kept a daily written record of what my numbers were on all my books. At first I even checked those numbers twice a day, at morning and night. (In case you are unaware, I have some OCD tendencies when it comes to writing and reading.) Even I got tired of that after a while, and I also realized it was far more likely to depress than to uplift or motivate me. I filed those records and told myself I wasn’t going to write my numbers down anymore. I’ve kept to that, although I still check them pretty regularly, at least for my new stuff.
And I have to admit, I also compare my numbers against those of other writers. I wonder what I’m doing wrong when my numbers fall well below those of other authors at comparatively the same level of experience, or lesser experience. I wonder what they are doing right. And at times, to my chagrin, I feel a touch of despair. For example, I read the other day that the Harry Potter books are expected to sell “millions” in ebooks. I honestly do not begrudge J. K. Rowling her success. I loved those books and want her to succeed. But I can’t help feeling that it would be nice to cut off a little slice of that pie myself. I suppose I can’t help feeling that I deserve a little slice of that pie, or some pie.
I get irritated with myself for feeling this way, and even for making the comparisons in the first place. Yet, I do it. And even if I’m good for a week or two I find myself at some point having a look, making some comparisons that I’d be better off not making.
You can call me a whiner and I will wince because I suspect you might be right. You can tell me I’m silly and I’ll agree with you absolutely. But if you tell me just not to do it, well, that advice will only take me so far. I know some other writers who are much like me. I also know some who tell me they are not, although at times I must admit to doubting them.
Maybe the point of this is that I seem to need reassurance that my stuff is worthwhile, and sales provide one objective number to support that I am. But the very fact of this begs the question. Why? I don’t need that kind of reassurance constantly in my day job. I don’t need someone to tell me every day that I’m a good teacher. So why in writing? Is it because writing is such an intensely personal thing? I do find emotional satisfaction in doing a good job teaching, but it’s not as powerful as the emotional satisfaction I get from completing a story and realizing I’ve come close to capturing what I intended for the tale. And its not as intense as when I know my book is being read, and that at least some of those reading it are truly enjoying it. There’s nothing quite like that feeling.
And so, I watch the numbers. And I try to bend them higher. And I keep telling myself there “are no numbers.” But I seldom listen.