As a recently self-published author, I am often asked: How are book sales going? Selling like hotcakes? Tall stack? Short stack? Lingonberry?
We all know that sales figures are the sole determinants of a book’s commercial success. Hardly Working entered this commercial world the day it went on sale. No longer just a manuscript, indeed, It became a product, the same as Jello or Dawn dish soap or DQ Dilly Bars. Every day a handful—or fingerful— of citizens orders this product: not a great example of selling like hotcakes. At this rate, by my calculations, if I live to be Methuselah’s age, I might make back all the dough I spent getting the book out. Of course, my goal wasn’t a financial one. My goal was to chronicle the world of work as seen through my eyes.
A Question of Relevance
So, sales are not yet on a trajectory that allows me to quit my day job—if I had one—a job that no longer exists, in an industry that has changed, in a world that is simultaneously accelerating and regressing.
Can a story recounting my work experience and my work philosophy in the 1960s-2000s be of interest in this current world of impending artificial intelligence, creeping fascism, degrading environment, decreased critical thinking skills, high inflation, and digital addiction? How might a book about what was feel relevant in a world of what is? Well, people still read Don Quixote, written over five centuries ago. Because the story remains entertaining and relevant. And doesn’t that old book about a Jewish carpenter remain a popular read? Each generation shares basic wants, needs, and desires. Forging your own path is a universal theme. My hope is that Hardly Working stands up as an entertaining story set in the recent past. I wrote it as entertainment not as a career self-help book.
The Stranger Consideration
Will those who don’t personally know me be interested in the Flange Ladies or the Ace Hamburger Flipper or Dishwashing Moses or how it feels to cross dress while playing kazoo for and audience of kids and nuns?
Consider that my original intention was to write something for my kids. After working with editors and joining a writer’s group—Writer’s Ink at Arlington Heights Memorial Library—the project morphed into a story that, I hope, both explains and transcends the time in which it was told. A story that a stranger could enjoy. A story that might sell like hot cakes. (Slathered in butter and syrup with a side of maple bacon, served by a gum popping waitress with a pony tail, who is a single mom writing a book about her own experience waitressing with a college degree. She’s shopping it to a university press.)
Author or Marketer?
Back to the threadbare thread…What I have quickly come to learn: self-publishers must be self-marketers. Having spent much of my adult life in various forms of marketing, this should be easy for me, no?
Marketing begins with defining the target audience, yet I’m uncertain of my target. I didn’t write the book for a target other than smart, curious people of any age who possess a sense of humor, who are still interested in life. I will have to “see how things go” and perhaps my target will be revealed. Until then, I must contact this library or that bookstore or professor or old friend or podcaster. Remind readers to post a review. Contact everyone I know. Suggest that friends do the same. Beg for book club consideration. Practice the fine art of reaching out.
Feels like there is always something to do. Leave no stone to unturned. Sheesh, what a marketing strategy!
Hardly Working Again
Which leads to a dilemma. How much work does the author of Hardly Working wish to do? Well, if I enjoy the book marketing hustle, then I’m hardly working because work, as defined by me, is doing something you would rather not do. Conversely, if I find self-marketing to be tiresome and endless, then I am working and no longer a role model for the hardly working set—which includes myself. What a conundrum. (Incidentally, I prefer writing to marketing.)
The Car Wash Incident
I interrupt this message to give some anecdotes. For example, as my sister-in-law was reading Hardly Working at the car wash—take a moment to picture this—a woman next to her, also waiting for her car to be groomed, asked, “What are you reading?” “A hilarious book by my brother-in-law,” came the reply. A few clicks and the unknown car wash woman punched in Amazon on her phone and ordered the book. I would like to meet this woman! I should suggest to friends that they, too, bring their copy to the car wash.
Read at your own Risk
One reader informed me that, after reading the book, she quit her job. If “Take This Job and Shove It” could be a hit song, might Hardly Working find similar commercial success? Will the book cause unemployment to rise? Can capitalism withstand this potential onslaught? Hardly Working might spawn an anti-Calvinist work ethic? Will it be banned for sending the “wrong message” to hard working Americans? (Sorry for getting carried away.)
One collection of friends from a previous lifetime sent me a group photo posing with the book, warming my heart cockles.
A visual artist friend informed me that Hardly Working is the first book he has read in over ten years. Is this testimony to our friendship or my literary skills?
A musician friend, who happens to appear in the book, believes I should pursue a Netflix deal and requests that Brad Pitt portray his character in the series.
A gourmet chef reports that his wife reads a chapter aloud each night as he prepares dinner: like the readers who read aloud to the rollers at Cuban cigar factories in days of yore.
Yet another fine reader claimed that the book is banned in his bedroom because it caused him to chortle and guffaw, preventing his wife from sleeping. Another book banning, of sorts.
Mind If I Watch?
Recently I gave a beach reading to fifteen or so as the sun slipped into the bay. You never know who your competition will be in the book hustling game. Breathtaking sunsets are tough competition.
Earlier that day, on the same beach, the sun shone brightly as I read Raymond Chandler while five or ten feet away, a woman read my book. (Farewell My Lovely vs. Hardly Working.) This made me both pleased and anxious. I glanced at her expression, looking for signs of boredom. What is it called when you’re looking at someone who’s reading about your life? Reverse voyeurism?
I must now choose my next course of action because I will continue to get asked, how are book sales going? Should I finally open an Instagram account? Oh please no! Must I waste a few copies on Oprah or Terry Gross or Obama? Do I pursue the Netflix deal? How? Or, shall I have a sandwich board made and hawk copies at the train station?
All things considered, I could now write a book about writing a book, then write subsequent books about the experience I had with the previous book—like a literary Russian nesting doll. Or, should I be satisfied that I authored and published a book, a task only a sliver of the populace accomplishes? Hmmmm. I’m ready for a tall stack of hot cakes so lemme know if you have any ideas.