There’s a wonderful project out in the blogosphere to sing the praises of YA that has flown below the radar and not gotten the attention of, say, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Books, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, or my own Scott’s Uglies books. I think it’s a wonderful idea. All hail Kelly for coming up with it.
I was unfamiliar with about half of the books recommended on these unsung lists, which to me means the lists are doing their job.1 Many of the book descriptions sound irresistable. So my list of books to read just expanded. Again. To which I can only say, excellent!
Some of the comments about these lists, however, got me thinking on the differences between how authors and readers think about success. Some folks wondered if such & such a book counted as unsung because it had won an award or because the author’s other books are so popular. We authors tend to measure our books’ popularity in terms of sales. We know what our sales are because once every six months (typically) we get royalty statements. Thus we know all too well how little impact most awards have on sales. This makes us painfully aware of which of our books has sold the least. So, yes, we think books can be unsung even if they’ve won awards, been critically acclaimed, and all our other books are the bestsellingest books in the universe.2
Those outside the industry don’t have access to sales figures, so they’re mostly judging popularity by how often they hear about a book, by how big the piles of it are in a bookshop, and in this case by how many people have it on LibraryThing. Before I became part of this crazy industry, I paid zero attention to bestseller lists. The only way I knew if a book was bestselling was if that fact was trumpeted on the front of the book. I guess I would have assumed that Stephen King and Colleen McCullough were bestsellers, but I didn’t really know for sure.
It’s amazing how different my relationship to books is now that I’m an author. These days I keep an eye on the big bestseller lists, which is why I was suprised to see Lisa McMann’s Wake listed as unsung. It’s a NYT bestseller. But I suspect the only people who consciously track whether a book is a bestseller or not are the authors and the people in publishing.
The other thing I noticed were comments about how hyped a book was. One book I’ve seen talked about as overhyped I happen to know has been selling poorly. The correlation between being talked about online and sales is not one to one. Not even close. Some bestsellers seem to barely get a mention online, some poor sellers are talked about all over the internets. I’ve seen Liar described as a bestseller because of all the online talk. It’s not. Trust me, if Liar were a bestseller or even close to being one, I would know.
We authors have a very different relationship to our books than readers do. Which is why some of us have had odd reactions to being called unsung or sung. For example, when I saw that How To Ditch Your Fairy was on an unsung YA list my first reaction went pretty much like this: “Unsung! HTDYF‘s my bestselling book so far!3 It sold more in six months than Magic or Madness sold in hardcover in almost five years!” I know that compared to actual bestselling books HTDYF‘s sales are as a grain of sand, but for me they’re large and happy making.
My second reaction was to be dead pleased that the blogger in question had such lovely things to say about HTDYF, which, while it has sold better than my other books has had the least positive critical attention.4 Poor lamb. *pets How to Ditch Your Fairy* Though, truly she’d rather have the sales than good reviews.5 You can’t eat good reviews.6
What are sales after all but a reflection of how many readers a book has? The more sales, the more readers. Every author wants to be read as widely as possible. And every reader wants the same for their favourite books so they have more people to talk about them with. (I speak as both author and reader.) Isn’t the whole point of the unsung books meme to get more people reading and talking about these books?
But even my least-read books have their fans. I treasure the letters written to me about those books every bit as much as I do the letters about HTDYF. I treasure the letters from readers for whom my books have had a real impact even more. The ones who tell me that my book showed them they weren’t alone, that there’s hope, that my book got them through a family crisis, the loss of someone they loved. Because that is what so many books have done for me over the years. That is the real point of being a published author, even if my books have that impact on just a handful of people. It’s so worth it.
- Quite a few of the ones I’d heard of I hadn’t read so the lists will probably kick me into actually reading them. [↩]
- Not that I know for sure on that last one seeing as how I’ve never had a bestseller. One day . . . [↩]
- This does not include Liar. The earliest I’ll know how it’s doing will be my second royalty statement of this year. Due in October. [↩]
- Which has kind of led me to wonder if there’s an inverse correlation between the two. [↩]
- Yes, I think of my books as female. [↩]
- Not that books eat anything other than souls. [↩]