Monday, July 25, 2005

What's Wrong With This Picture?

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' Bulletin arrived last week. And--can you believe it--I've already read it.

Now, I joined the SCBWI maybe four or five years ago in an attempt to form connections with my fellow writers. I hoped that finding others of my own kind would be a little psychic boost. And we can all use a boost of the psychic type every now and then, right?

Well, I sure didn't get one last week. The SCBWI Bulletin carried an article on bestselling children's books for the year 2004. One of the Lemony Snicket books has sold over a million copies. That's just one of them. There are what seems to me to be a large number of books teetering around the half million mark and even more in the hundreds of thousands. As I was reading the article (which was evidently based on a list that appeared in the March 29th issue of Publishers Weekly), I thought, Maybe they don't mean a half a million just in 2004. Maybe that's her total sales. Then I thought, You know, that really doesn't make me feel any better.

I was not envious. I rarely feel envy when I hear about someone's good fortune. No, what I feel when I hear about someone else's great sales figures or how she came up with a brilliant marketing gimmick for her new book is that I am a failure. What the #?!%%% is wrong with you, Gail? is what I always want to know. Because clearly there must be something wrong with my thinking, my drive, my talent, my skills, my everything.

My sales figures are so low ("How low are they?" the audience roared.) that I'm embarrassed to tell my kids. When they were in high school, I worried that their annual incomes were higher than mine. And they worked part-time in a bakery. Washing dishes.

The SCBWI has a lot of unpublished writers among its membership and, I'm assuming (and hoping), a lot of people like myself who are not major players. What's the point of running articles about the sales figures of bestsellers? At a writers' forum I take part in I'm always reading about writers who are terribly frustrated because they can't make a living or can't get the kinds of sales figures they'd hoped for. Most writers don't make a living, don't get the kinds of sales figurs we hope for. We have to accept that about our work, the way plumbers and public works people and doctors have to accept that they're going to work some odd hours. Isn't it terribly counter-productive for a writers' organization to be suggesting differently by waving these kinds of sales figures in front of its membership?

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