Book sales are nice of course. But to a writer, they are more than just sales. They are the equivalent of one more person, sooner or later, entering the fictitious world you spent a few years creating. This unknown reader will meet the characters that live there and have their own interactions and responses to them, be privy to every conversation and inner thought, every intimate
moment that unfolds between your characters, accompany your characters through their heartache, laughter, embarrassment, growth. They will explore the settings, the background, the cultural narrative, the messages that unfold. In other words, you will take a total stranger on an intimate journey through your words.
In many cases, readers keep their experience of that journey to themselves. Unless they are someone you know personally who wants to share, or someone who tends to write reviews, you will never know how those few hours
(or 6 hours, 9 minutes in the case of my second novel) affected them.
What a strange, and fairly new phenomenon!
New? Books have been around forever! Well, not really. The ancient Egyptians wrote on papyrus, Sumerians on stone tablets, monks eventually sat hunched over little tables, hand-copying or producing original books, followed by wood tablet technology. But it wasn’t until Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press to Europe way back in 1439, that the printing revolution really began. Before and after this time, many people shared stories through the oral tradition. Thus the storyteller was engaged with a rapt audience, could work the stage, adjust the cadence of his story as needed, incorporate the name of a village to make the story personal.
Storytellers like Michael Katz still practice the ancient art of story telling and have the
ability to engage their audience directly, enthralling audiences wherever they go.
Storytelling is still very much alive when we get together with friends and share our lives and experiences.
But those of us storytellers who share our stories through the written word quite often miss the chance to engage with our audience–except at “meet the author” events and book signings.
Yet social media brings that chance back to the forefront. It’s not as intimate as having a storyteller standing before you, but you can join Facebook groups to discuss a novel with the author, drop them a tweet or talk to others who have been on that journey as well, without spoiling the story for anyone else who hasn’t read it yet. (What would Shakespeare, Jane Austen or Orson Welles have been like in a Facebook author chat group?)
As an author, some of my most cherished moments are when someone talks to me about the characters in my novels as if those characters are real people. On Saturday, I stopped by the local tea shop to drop off a flyer for my upcoming book signing of The Things We Said in Venice (Saturday, May 20th at the ABC Bookstore The Hague, The Netherlands from 3:00-5:00p.m. in case you wanted to know). The owner of the tea shop came up to me and greeted me enthusiastically.
“I just LOVE your novel! It’s so well-written. Fokke and Sarah seem so real. I can’t put it down.” He went on like this in some detail. He didn’t exactly ignore his customers, but he certainly took the time to tell me his thoughts, and I felt the excitement of sharing a world with someone who appreciated it. How often does that happen?
Book sales are nice, but it is the anticipation of this sort of interaction that keeps us writers looking at the numbers. How many books have sold today? As the numbers slowly crawl higher, there’s a sense of excitement at the knowledge that someone else will soon enter this fictitious world we’ve created.
But as April clicks over to May, or May clicks over to June, the total count starts all over again. This means that on day 1 of a new month, an author runs the chance of being confronted with a big fat 0 in the morning, where a double digit stood just the evening before. This is a good reminder that in the digital age, a writer, self-published or not, has to have their cheerleading, look-my-way hat on more often than they wish. They need to get their novels not only in the hands of new readers, but to the press, to reviewers, in the news. I’m sure at some point, the sales take care of themselves, but in the meantime, we need to be not only authors, but shakers and movers.
It’s also good to remember what counts. In the right hand corner of my WordPress screen, there is a little icon with a pen that says WRITE. It is a simple icon used to start a new post, but I view it as a reminder of one of the most basic principles of being a writer. WRITE: Every day, twice a day, wherever and whenever you can fit it in. But in the mean time, there are 291 pages consisting of 83,825 words of storytelling just waiting for you. And millions more by other authors in bookstores, libraries, online, on your own bookshelf, just waiting for the right moment for you two to meet.