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Emergence ©Mike Spinak

Emergence ©Mike Spinak

I’ve finished photographing and writing the draft of The Onshore Lives of Northern Elephant Seals. It’s currently in the hands of 40 test readers. The feedback has been effusive. A number of readers are saying they like it even better than Growing Up Humming – which is encouraging, considering that Growing Up Humming was the number one top-rated book out of ~50,000 in its category on Amazon for 6 months straight.

When I’m through with revisions, I’ll begin the process toward publishing. There are numerous steps, including coming up with funding, getting it edited, getting the book designed, getting it formatted, and so on. It will probably take a few months, but it’s coming.

Elephant seals have extraordinary and peculiar lives. Both their bodies and their behaviors are rife with extreme adaptations. The Onshore Lives of Northern Elephant Seals shows their lifestyles in dramatic detail. It’s full of surprises… and sometimes shocks. This is an unflinching look that touches upon some of the more sobering realities of nature, so please use discretion before sharing this book with kids. It may not be child-appropriate in the way that Growing Up Humming is, but it should be an interesting read.

I’ll keep you updated when there’s more news to report about it.

Thank you for reading.

Seth Godin recently posted a blog entry called The Weird Tail Continues. In it, he states that we’re getting weirder: as options are getting broader, people are opting more for the exotic choices in products and culture. Then he notes your efforts should be directed more toward the outliers near the flat tails of the bell curve than the masses in the center.

He’s right, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what you might think.

Someone posted to a writing forum about Seth Godin’s blog entry, and asked some incisive questions. Is your book weird enough? Are you re-telling someone else’s story or trying to create something new? Have you put conscious thought into differentiating your book from the other books in your genre?

Photographers often think along similar lines and ask similar questions. Are your pictures instantly recognizable? How are you making your work stand out from the crowd? What are you doing to develop a unique style? And so on. In response, photographers often pointedly choose to adopt recognizable eccentricities of technique, equipment choices, or subject matter, for the explicit purpose of differentiation.

In fact, artists in every field seem driven to “weirdify” their work.

“Make your creations weirder” may seem to follow naturally from Godin’s observations. This seemed to be what the forum participant took away from The Weird Tail Continues. I expect many others did, too.

But Godin doesn’t actually say it in the article.

In my opinion, consciously making your creations stranger will usually backfire. Why? Because this kind of oddness is a hollow artifice. It’s an arbitrary gimmick. It’s nothing but weirdness for its own sake. It’s just slapped on so that novelty can be used as a selling point. It’s trite because it lacks an intrinsic and well integrated artistic purpose. This will come across as a deadly combination of inauthenticity and pointlessness.

Instead, the weirdness has to be internally based, not externally. It has to be a natural outgrowth of who you are, not a conscious machination purposely cobbled to your creation because you felt it needed to be queerer. You are already truly and deeply weird. You’re already filled with ideas, inclinations, and idiosyncrasies unlike anyone else’s. You already perceive and understand the world in ways uniquely your own, which can thereby inform your creative expression with a combination of characteristics only you impart. Most people stifle it. Let it flourish. You need to forge your creations in the depths of the full and real you, thereby making them truly your own.

This will result in uniqueness with significance, avoiding affectation.

Don’t just place your art on the altar of empty weirdness worship. It’s a mistake to believe that most people want books (or photos, music, movies … whatever) to merely be different. “Different” is necessary, but not sufficient. Anomaly is the carrier that transports what folks actually want, but it isn’t what they want, in of itself. People want a creation’s peculiarity to be meaningful. They’re really after a new way of perceiving and understanding the world. They want their minds expanded by seeing the world through someone else’s worldview. Give it to them by giving them a glimpse into your being. Funkiness served up as contrived mishmash is no substitute.

Rather than make your art weirder, let it be weirder.

  • S0rceress0 - I agree. Your work should have a point. Don’t try to “weird it up” more to make another point or add flash. The work should be able to stand on its own merit. Now that’s not saying that if you are writing fiction, you shouldn’t “illuminate” your character more. Making sure that people can see that character clearly in their minds is invaluable, but making the character larger than life when they don’t need to be is just…a little too weird ;DReplyCancel

“Why isn’t my book selling?” is a question on most published authors’ minds.

I sympathize with those wondering. My book isn’t yet exactly a blockbuster, either.

Many authors are happy to share their opinions about what you need in order for your book to sell. Some will tell you that you need a fantastic book cover. Others will state that you need a damn good book. Yet others will say you need a great sales copy blurb. Others still will claim that you need the first few sample pages to be grabbing. Or you need glowing reviews. Or a lot of “followers” on social media websites. Or all of the above.

There are whole websites devoted to the topic, such as Why Isn’t My Book Selling? You submit your book and its case history, and they tell you what’s wrong that’s holding your book back – what you need to fix.

It’s probably safe to say that you’re better off if your book, cover, reviews, and the rest are terrific than if they’re terrible. “Awful” can only handicap you. In this sense, those pointing out the problems and fixes are legitimately helping authors in need.

The issue with such advice arises when people start equating things like, “You’re better off with a great book cover,” or, “A poor cover can only handicap you,” with, “Your bad cover is why your book isn’t selling.” The implication is that if you fix these issues and get all your ducks in a row, then your book will start selling well. Sadly, that’s often not true.

Take my book as an example. My book cover was made by the designer who does the graphic work for the Museum of Modern Art and Bloomingdale’s, along with select books. My book’s reviews are positive to the point that I have the #1 Top Rated book in my book’s category on Amazon. I have about 50,000 “followers” on Google+ alone, and many more on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. – compared to the oft-repeated recommendations that authors should strive for at least 1,000. And so on.

I have things in good accord with the common wisdom about book sales. Yet sales are meager. There are many thousands of other similar cases of deserving books not selling well. One of this year’s Pulitzer prize winners, Embers of War, by Frederik Logevall, sold a total of 40 copies prior to winning the Pulitzer, and sold a total of 353 copies in the first two weeks since.

If you’re wondering, “Why isn’t my book selling?”, that line of questioning is a red herring. The notion that there has to be something wrong to explain a book’s lack of sales is false. The belief that a book will sell well unless there are issues preventing sales is mistaken. Books don’t sell unless there’s a reason for them to sell. Otherwise, they just sit there, regardless how good they are or how well you have all the pieces in place. Doing things right enables sales, but it doesn’t make them. At least, not from the start, nor early on.

If books don’t sell without reasons for them to, then what kind of reason sells books? In most cases, the reason is you. Especially when you’re a new author with a new book. People won’t know your book has a fantastic cover until they encounter the book. Likewise with the damn good writing, great blurb, grabbing sample pages, and glowing reviews. These kinds of persuasions only help once readers have found your book. Someday, hopefully, people will be finding your book through word of mouth and through your reputation as an author. But in the beginning stages, when no one has heard of your book yet, you have to actively bring your book to the attention of your readers – not passively wait for them to discover it.

When I did a book reading and signing at a big event, I sold my book well. When I contact retailers and libraries and ask them if they want my book, I can sell them fairly well. However, if I wait for them to sell on their own through “etailers” like Amazon, days can go by without a sale – unless I do something to make the sales happen.

Then how do you make sales happen? I wish I could give an insightful answer, but I can’t. I’m just another author learning the ropes through trial and error, like most everyone else. In fact, I’m particularly poor at marketing and promotion. Furthermore, even if I knew how to do it perfectly for me, what works for me would not likely apply well for anyone else. Selling a paperback, nonfiction, photo storybook about hummingbirds is not the same as selling a text-only ebook novel about cowboy romance, or whatever else. When you also factor in differences of location, author personality and suitable sales styles, available marketing budget, etc., any specific advice would be of little use.

But I can tell you this (at least, for new authors with recent books selling poorly):

Don’t ask yourself, “Why isn’t my book selling?” Instead, ask yourself, “How can I sell my book?” Books don’t sell. Authors sell books.

When sales are slow, don’t be discouraged. Be active.

Here’s a new review of my book, on the Blithely Bookish book blog. The Blithely Bookish blog normally focuses on romance literature, but she kindly made an exception for Growing Up Humming. In addition to this being a very positive review, it’s all the more heartening to get good reviews from people outside of their explicitly stated preferred genres.