That Bookshelf Feeling

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Just two days after I wrote about how KDP Select and free promotions seemed to be less effective than they used to be, my novel The Prodigal Hour became the #1 free bestseller on Amazon.com. Now, I’m cognizant that downloads are not sales; as I told my wife, I know many who argue that Amazon’s free rankings don’t count as bestselling because it’s not as though people are actually buying the book.

But I’m also cognizant that 45,000 readers have downloaded The Prodigal Hour in the past three days. I know, too, that a book needs to get more downloads to hit the free bestseller lists than it must get sales to hit the paid bestsellers lists; from experience, several hundred sales in a day are enough to get a book charting in its respective categories, and close to 1000 mean it might hit Amazon’s top 100 overall. I don’t know how many sales it takes for a book to hit the top of the paid list, but I now know that approximately 30k downloads can put it atop the free list, and from a promo with Meets Girl earlier in the year, I also know that 10k might get it into the top 10. (Meets Girl hit #8 and managed 12000 downloads over a week.)

And honestly, I couldn’t be happier. It couldn’t mean more to me. I love Meets Girl but The Prodigal Hour is, somewhat ironically, a more deeply personal book for me. I think people think Meets Girl is my story because it’s about a young Manhattan writer and it’s written in the first person, but in the end I think I identify more closely with Chance Sowin. He’s infuriatingly stubborn and often so wrapped up in his own head he neglects the bigger picture or at least its context, and I may know a thing or three about both.

Moreover, The Prodigal Hour challenged me in ways Meets Girl didn’t. It took me forever to get Meets Girl‘s ending right (if I might be so bold as to claim I did), but The Prodigal Hour required more attention and focus to handle bigger ideas and themes in ways I was afraid of. It’s no secret that the World Trade Center attacks of 2001 play a central role to the story, and it was as difficult to revisit my memories of that day as it was to portray them and ensure that day was honored and true.

I’ve been proud of the book since the moment I uploaded it. I really feel like it achieves something I hoped for but never dared attempt, focusing instead on writing a good story well. And of course now my hope is that all those readers who found it might enjoy it.

I always used to imagine a particular moment: the first time I saw a novel I’d written on a bookstore’s shelves. I imagined how I thought I’d feel, and back when I used to receive rejection letters regarding queries I’d sent to agents, I’d file those rejection letters away to focus instead on how I imagined it would feel, finally, in that mythical bookstore.

Eventually I stopped sending queries. Eventually I learned too much about business to want to get that bookdeal I’d always dreamed of, finally becoming aware of the rights and control I’d have to give up over work that would, ultimately, have my name on it. Eventually I got a Kindle and realized how much I preferred reading on it, and wondered how many other people might, too, and began to direct my attention there. To endeavors in my power and under my control.

My fantasy of that bookshelf-feeling never faded, even if I became uncertain about any possible replacements. I stopped thinking about it, really, because I got the idea that there would be no real feeling of either arrival or culmination; that the whole process of journey is the end in itself. Through Exciting Press, I’m doing work I couldn’t be prouder of nor believe more powerfully in. I’m working with authors who completely astound me, and when I see readers connect with their books, when I see a review of something by Nick Earls by a reader who mentions he or she had never heard of Nick before . . .

It’s all so brilliant, and yesterday brought that home to me. Because yesterday, in addition to all the new readers who discovered The Prodigal Hour, someone also mentioned they thought what I was doing with my authors is amazing.

Last night I was elated. It’s not a destination; it’s one more milestone on a journey that is continuously surprising and delighting me by being everything I ever wanted in ways I never expected. I know that, but I also know that yesterday I found my bookshelf moment.

And there aren’t any shelves in sight.


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