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April 26, 2013
Column: Thanks for humoring my indulgences
I’m about at the end of the one-year period I promised myself for pushing a novel I was forced to self-publish because editors and agents all said its sales potential was too small. An e-book since 2010, but much revised since then, it came out in paperback a year ago in March. That’s when I started the one-year clock.
The agents and editors were right. It has garnered a fair amount of attention for an “Indie” book, the new term for what used to be called a vanity book, but its sales have been very small indeed — about 800 in 2012. (That’s a lot better than the 20 or so for my previous self-published book so I’ll take it.)
As I write, I’m scheduled to give a talk on the book at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton and I am prepared for three people to be in the audience for this valedictory performance, including my long-suffering wife.
It was a fun ride, except maybe for her. Well, actually, she was a rabid fan of this book. Her belief in it spurred me on.
And for a while there, I was regularly getting email alerts from Google that posts about the book (the title of which I will not mention here to feebly deflect the charge of self-promotion) had appeared here and there on the web. One place was an amorous blog devoted to all things Jefferson (Thomas, we’re talking here, though I think many of its users really had crushes on Stephan Dillane’s version in the HBO series “John Adams”) on which a love-struck reader asked if anyone else had read the book and that she was sorry she had finished it because she wanted it to go on and on.
There were random Tweets about it, too, including one from a breathless college professor in Kentucky who wrote that the book had taken over her body and soul and asking when would the movie come out. Yikes!
Various libraries acquired it. At the Urbana Library in Illinois, the staff later included it on their list of top books for 2012. A University of Virginia online news site, UVA Today, mentioned it, recommending it as a good read.
How many self-published writers see these kinds of responses? I’m very grateful that a fair number of people out there liked this book and, I hope, will remember it.
Most gratifying was its acquisition by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation for its beautiful library just down the hill from Monticello. Even if thebook merely sits on a shelf there, it amazes me to think that my incarnation of the man has found a place on his mountain.
The book, unlike many, had its chances to take off. There were sparks out there, all right, but they never started a fire, which I admit disappointed me. I really thought this one was going to make it — not in a blockbuster way but in a nice 3,000-annual-sale way for a year or two. I believed I really had to force myself into the shameless promotion mode to help make that happen and give the book its chance. I dislike that kind of aggression in anyone including myself.
A final few words about all this: After all my years of writing professionally as a newspaperman, it was an experience to have my work reviewed rather than merely attacked in letters to the editor, which is really about politics, of course, not writing.
I fully accept the review process, which has evolved dramatically with the Internet. Everyone can now alert thousands or even millions of potential readers that they hated a book. Scary.
I understand that not every book will work for every reader no matter how “good” it is and that a writer must face judgment if he or she chooses to publish. But I’m still not quite used to it and I’m still stupidly smoldering about one review in particular, which was posted all over the Internet and, I suspect, was motivated by something other than an honest and fair reading of the book.
It wasn’t all that bad a review, actually, and I’m a jerk to even think about it.
Overall, the reviews were very positive, 23 of them on Amazon as of this week with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon (very few were posted by people I know) and 44 with a 3.93 rating among fussier
Goodreads members, for whom a “3” is supposed to mean they liked it. So a virtual 4 is good news.
That average was dragged down by a couple of 2’s among readers who just did not get it. They wanted hot sex, car chases and vampires, I self-righteously think.
See how nuts I am, still parsing all this? I need another book to work on, I know. I’m trying to make that happen.
I’d like to thank colleagues at the Reporter for enduring my obsession. They had to hear about it every time I saw a sale reported on the book’s Kindle site. Thank you friends and family for putting up with me, especially the many who allowed me to harangue them into attending my talks, including those who packed the house and bought the paperback at Canio’s last summer. That was fun, though I am abashed I really did such a thing. (By the way, my old boss from my Southampton Press days sat in the front row, his mouth hanging open in amazement at my lack of hair, I later learned.)
I had a good talk on Shelter Island, too, where a small but enthusiastic crowd turned out at the library — thank you Denise DiPaolo for scheduling me there. The audience included Patricia Shillingburg, an Islander in the news often over the years for her work on the Deer and Tick Committee, the Appeals Board and the 350th Anniversary Committee.
She gave me a rare chance to deliver a line that allowed me to make people laugh and, for a moment, consider myself a very clever fellow.
Speaking from the audience, she declared she loved the book and that it had made her cry at the end.
“Well Patricia!” I said. “I think by the time you get to the end of everything I’ve ever written in the Reporter, you’re in tears.”
Guess you had to be there.