Of Royalties and Statistics

I got a little present from the universe this weekend; my royalty checks arrived for last quarter.  I’m not about to retire on the earnings, certainly, but I was pleasantly surprised that the amount on the checks merited a trip to the bank to deposit them.  While it’s good to have the week’s groceries paid for by the characters in my books, there’s a satisfaction that transcends the financial.  What it tells me is that people are reading what I’ve written.  The expectation is so obvious as to be above mentioning, and yet…

Being an author in the early twenty-first century is a strange undertaking.  Thanks to the advent of self-publishing, literally anyone can be an author.  For many reasons, I can’t find fault with this; it gives me a career, and it gives me the opportunity to be the novelist I’ve always dreamed of being.  What it also gives me is competition; lots and lots and lots of competition.  The old saying goes, “Everybody’s got a book in them.”  Self-publishing takes that book out of them and puts it on the market.  Today’s book buyer (a diminishing audience, thanks to the plethora of alternative entertainment available) is looking for a quality read.  With so many titles being published per month, how can anyone possibly know what’s worth reading?

In 2007, the Washington Post reported that one in four adults read no books in the past year.  None.  Zero. Here are some other disturbing statistics:

One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
42% of college graduates never read another book.
80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
57% of new books are not read to completion.
Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.

Source: (http://buzzmachine.com/2006/07/21/the-book-on-books/)

It’s enough to make you want to clutch at your head and shout, “Holy crap, what am I doing this for?”  But then you get a royalty check in the mail, and you see that some people out there—despite the disheartening statistics—have thought of you enough to purchase your work.  I’m smart enough to know that some of these come from friends and family, but others don’t.  Strangers read a synopsis of what I wrote or saw an image of the cover or anxiously awaited the final installment in the series, and they purchased my book.

Part of my concerted effort to do more marketing involved sending queries to 100 literary bloggers, asking them to review the first book in my series.  Thus far, none of the reviews has been published yet.  Some said they don’t have time; others said they’d get to it later.  I did get a reader review courtesy of Penguin’s Book Country (www.bookcountry.com), a wonderful site for authors.  It’s not that I’m looking for validation (I think) or self-esteem bolstering (I guess).  I just want people to know these books are there, and in my humble opinion, they’re a fun read.

So I get the word out, and I maintain my blog.  I submit to bloggers, and I make copies available for free sometimes.  Some people like the books; others not so much.  But every time someone tells me they’ve read one, I think back to those grim statistics, and I content myself to know that at least somebody’s reading.

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