Thanks for Making My First Time Great

We’re coming up on the one-year mark since the release of my very first book, The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival. And i just want to take a moment to thank every single person out there who read it, bought it, borrowed it, used it in book clubs, talked about it, and gave it to others as gifts (hey, there’s still time for that!). Thanks too for the help on Twitter and Facebook, for taking photos of my baby in places like California and Ohio and Georgia and the Carolinas and Brooklyn and Ireland and even Manhattan.

Oh, and special thanks to Toby Dore for setting up this page and the fan page. That was a big help. (If any of you live in the Lafayette, area, go check out the music some night at Grant Street Dance Hall. Toby’s busting his butt to book good acts in one of the last great dance hall’s in America.)

Throughout the year, people have asked me, “Hey, Ken, how’s the book doing.” And I would respond, “Leave me alone!” and then run to my room and cry, slamming the door behind me.

This is not true. There was no crying. Not about the book, at any rate. As I’ve said before, the book publishing industry is a bit, how do I put this? Let’s see… If the business world was a big high school, the book-publishing industry would be in Special Ed classes. They mean well, do some really good things, but, hoo boy, they have some issues. Especially with numbers.

For most of the year, I had no idea how the book was doing. I could watch the extremely meaningless Amazon rank number go up and down. And I knew that it wasn’t showing up on any best-seller lists. There is a service called BookScan, which tracks numbers of books sold at most stores across the country — but not at many independents and not at Walmart and Sam’s Club. (I had the good fortune of getting my book into both stores.)

Many publishers and/or agents won’t share BookScan numbers with writers, either to protect trade secrets, or to save writers fro obsessing over things they can’t control or … well, who knows why, really? And BookScan is typically too expensive for a lowly author to use.

Until now. Amazon.com, in its ongoing effort to give every publishing executive in the country a stroke, has made BookScan numbers available to authors. So now, I can tell you that during the week ending Dec. 12, 19 copies of The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival were sold. I can tell you that in the prior four weeks, the Baton Rouge area sold the most copies. Two were bought in New York City. One up in Maine.

BUT, I can’t tell you the total number of books sold. That particular part of the BookScan puzzle is missing. (And, again, it doesn’t count Walmart or Sam’s Club, not that I expect many copies of my book still hanging around in either of those two stores.)

Publishers, however, do have to keep track–somehow–and report back to writers. After all, this is a business. They do that with royalty statements. Kensington releases royalty statements twice a year: once in November and once in May.

My first royalty statement was sent to me last month. “But Ken,” you may ask, “if your book dropped in December, why didn’t you get one in May.” I’ll tell you why. The November royalty statement was for the period ending June 30. That’s a hell of a lag time.

So what can I tell you about the status of the book as of June 30, 2010

“LEAVE ME ALONE!”

Haha. No. It’s not that bad. One problem with a royalty statement is that it can be harder to read than the walls of a Mayan pyramid. Kensington’s, in reality, is really simple as these things go. It tells you number of books shipped (23,254) and number of books returned by book stores (7,294). Subtract one from the other and you have number of books sold! Easy as pie! 15,960!

Well, not exactly. That just means there are 15,960 books sold OR still sitting in book stores and they haven’t gotten around to returning them yet. So, on the off chance a LOT more get returned, the royalty statement also includes something called “Return Reserves,” which is sort of like an insurance policy. In this case, Kensington works under the assumption that as many as 8,796 more books might be returned and withholds the money represented by that number until such time as … you know what … it’s still sort of confusing. And scary.

At any rate, they run all these numbers, throw in subsidiary rights and ebooks–that number is actually one of the few concrete ones I have. As of June 30, 417 e-copies of The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival had been sold. So thanks to the Kindle and Nook readers out there. So then they take all these numbers, come up with a figure, sacrifice a chicken and then subtract the advance they gave you.

Now, for the writer who isn’t obviously on the best-seller list, earning back the advance is probably the next best thing in terms of career development. It’s not just that you might get some dollars in your pocket. It’s that you made the publisher some money. Agents and other editors may see this and smile upon you some day.

So the good news is that while I still have no earthly idea how many books I actually sold, according to the mathematical wizardry of the high priests in the Kensington royalty department, as of June 30, I’d earned back my advance … and then a little bit more. (The little bit more I promptly spent on the MacBook Pro that I’m using to type this).

So THAT’s how the book is doing. I hope you don’t have any questions, because I just broke my brain trying to explain what little I know.

And let me be completely clear about one thing. I owe this all to you. I couldn’t have done it without you. And I thank you from the bottom of my cholesterol clogged heart!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to writing. And finding an agent. And getting this second book published.

Hope everyone has a happy new year!

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