Failure is the New Success
On Sunday, my in-laws came over and my mother-in-law asked how Kanye & Trump, the e-novella I recently wrote and published about the meeting of the titular figures, was doing. I told her that I didn’t know, because I wasn’t paying that much attention to its Amazon ratings or its sales.
I was being half-honest. I was, in fact, making a point of not checking my Amazon sales frequently. With previous books, I checked my sales compulsively, to a pathological, obsessive and unhealthy degree. I vowed to be different this time, and I am proud to say that I’ve been successful in only visiting Amazon once or twice a day, if that.
But even sporadic visits to Amazon revealed that, sales-wise, Kanye & Trump is doing what we in “the biz” call “very badly” and that at this point it seems to have sold almost nothing. Now when I say “almost nothing” I’m not putting things into perspective. When I called my Scribner and asked him for the first time how my 2009 memoir, The Big Rewind, was doing and he said it'd sold about five thousand copies in its first few months I remember turning ashen and being mortified. 5000 copies struck my neophyte brain as almost nothing. With the benefit of time and perspective, that now looks more like a cause for pride than shame.
At this point, it would not surprise me to discover that in its first week on sale, Kanye & Trump sold maybe sold a dozen copies, or twenty-five. Actually, I just went and checked and the novella has sold exactly 16 copies in its first week. From a commercial perspective, it may have not been wise to send a PDF of the novella to all of my patrons, AKA the 534 people in the world most likely to buy Kanye & Trump if they hadn't already been sent it for free.
As of this writing, Kanye & Trump is the 406,016th best-selling book on Amazon. No matter how you look at it, that’s terrible. My previous books, almost all of which are out of print and were released years ago, are out-selling my newest one by a healthy amount. I’m not terribly surprised because Kanye & Trump is a weird, small little self-publtished oddity I wrote partially to prove to myself that I was capable of doing so.
My previous e-book, 2016’s 7 Days In Ohio, was also a weird little self-published affair, but it had some huge advantages over Trump & Kanye. I did a really huge, 4000 word Salon interview in connection with it, and scored a Fast Company piece as well, but mostly I managed to sell about a thousand copies of 7 Days in Ohio because for a good two month stint I did everything in my power to publicize and promote the book.
I was obsessed. I checked my Amazon ratings constantly. My moods would rise and fall based on how I was doing. And in the end, the two months of obsession and constant self-promotion yielded about 600 dollars in royalties from Amazon, or about two hundred and fifty dollars in quasi-profit once the cost of the cover (the only real expense) was subtracted.
I was proud that I managed to get people interested in a project I felt passionately about, but from a cost/benefit perspective, spending two months desperately trying to get people interested in a project that netted me much less than a thousand dollars made no sense at all.
So I decided with Kanye & Trump I would promote the book a little but would more or less let it live or die on its own. I decided that I would not obsess about book sales with Kanye & Trump, and so far I’ve been able to live up to that, in no small part because so much of my time and energy is taken up by Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place.
I succeeded in selling a modest number of copies of 7 Days In Ohio in a way that made the project seem like a distinct commercial failure, if a creative and personal success. I would still love for Kanye & Trump to find an audience. At this point, I would be overjoyed if it sold a thousand copies. But I also realize that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter how Kanye & Trump sells.
A lot of these past two years have been about looking and thinking about success in different, more healthy ways. So even if Kanye & Trump continues to do almost nothing commercially or profile-wise, I’m not going to see it as a failure. These days, not being overly invested in things I cannot really control feels like success to me. I can’t control how the world responds to my work, but thank god I can, for the time being at least, control how that effects me emotionally, or doesn't affect me emotionally. That makes a huge difference.
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