Rank Musings

There are many things about being an author that are very, very fun. Writing, for example, is fun. Meeting with agents and editors is fun. Editing can be fun when you approach it with the right attitude. Meeting readers and getting letters from them is fun. Signing books? Fun. Traveling to conferences? Fun. Meeting people who work in the book trade? Fun. Doing interviews? Fun, fun, fun.

Thus far, about the only thing I've discovered about being an author that's not fun is the vast but necessary black hole you're dropped into between the time the first review copies of your novel are sent out and when the first finished copies arrive in stores.

In that time, anything can happen. You know that you could wake up one morning and discover you're a star. Or you could wake up (same disoriented feeling, same bedhead, same peaceful trundle to the computer in the morning... but a different deal altogether) and discover that, while you were sleeping, someone wrote a review so unimaginably bad you'll be forced to cry yourself to sleep for a year. Or -- and this is maybe the worst option -- that no one at all will even care that your new baby has been unleashed into the world.

It's all tres unsettling.

In that necessary-black-hole-time just as my first novel, Mad Money, was coming out -- so this is, like, November 2004 -- I kinda, sorta, a little bit lost my mind. Fortunately, it was brief. Perhaps a month at most. But it was a time of such hyperventilatingly mad madness that I'll never forget it.

Each day began with the necessary check of Mad Money's Amazon ranking. For various reasons, I know better than most how very meaningless that number is. Still. Still. It was the first thing I'd check every day.

Next stop on my morning of madness would be Google. My computer knew me so well, I'd just have to key in the first letter and it would fill in the rest: Linda L Richards "mad money". You might think I'm kidding, but the authors among you will know that I'm not. You're nodding your head, perhaps pityingly. "Ah yes," you'll be saying. And you'll sigh. "I remember those days."

I'd take note of the number of hits returned. Perhaps 20 the first time. Fifty or more by the next week. Over a hundred the week after that. And so on as reviews began to appear, bookstores put the book into stock and libraries added it to their collections. If only the search results or the ranking had stayed the same, maybe I could have left it alone sooner. But it didn't. It grew and the information that came back changed. I'd not see a new review for three days, perhaps more. Then suddenly a new one! Maybe followed rapidly by another.

I was lucky. Or perhaps unlucky, depending on where you're standing. The reviews I found were all good. Had I discovered a review that scorched my soul, maybe I would have moved on sooner, gotten back to the book I was working on at the time; the one that I quickly noticed wasn't writing itself. But I didn't. I hung on hanging about, chastising myself, even while I typed in the URLs that fueled my madness.

My son, who is an actor and so perhaps has a special understanding for the illness that was consuming me, told me to cut myself some slack. "Mom," he said, sympathetically, "just go with it. Enjoy it, even, if you can. You'll only ever have one first novel."

"Thank goodness," I cried. "I don't think I could stand it if this happened every time."

And it hasn't. It doesn't. Not, at least, to that degree. I mean, I still check on the ridiculous Amazon ranking. Even though I know it's meaningless, I still want to know, you know? But I don't do it several times a day. Heck: I can even miss several days in between. And the constant Googling has ended, as well. Somewhere along the way I regained my life. And, as mentioned before, the books weren't writing themselves.

This isn't the piece I started out writing. I was going to tell you about an excellent article on the Murderati blog by Naomi Hirahara. It talks in great and even somewhat specific detail about Amazon's mysterious ranking system as well as what it means to dazed and confused authors like me. That article leads to Morris Rosenthal's Rank Economy blog, which is just full of advice for stats-hungry authors.

I was also going to tell you that all of that Web-mad silliness didn't stack up to the first time I saw my book at Safeway. (The Next Ex is pictured above left if you look carefully near the top of the books part.) Or the first time I did a signing, or an interview. And the first time, most of all, that someone told me my book had touched them in some real and special way.

Somewhere, in all of that, I realized that it wasn't going to be about waking up one morning and finding my world altered. It was going to come in increments, one lovely -- and sometimes lonely -- step at a time. I needed to be watchful, so I'd recognize those moments as they approached me. And I needed to be ready so I could taste the moment as I stood in it. So that I could touch it and feel it on my tongue and know it for what it was.

And it would be delicious.


Sandra Ruttan said…
I'm going to bookmark this because I have a feeling I'm going to need to read this MANY times in the next few months.
Maybe not. Maybe for you it will be all hippity skipping on the clouds. Maybe it's just me.

Yeah: you're right. Bookmark it. It seems to be at least a slightly universal affliction.
Sandra Ruttan said…
LOL, my life has never been hippity skippity. I'd be really scared if it was. I don't think I could handle that!
Anonymous said…
Gosh! All too true. I'm doing it right now over my first book. Checking and checking and losing my mind. Make it stop! (And yeah, I'm leaving this posting anonymous for fairly obvious reasons.)

Popular Posts