By Steve Weddle
Imagine the horror that author John Rector felt this week.
Not too long ago, he was on top of the world, ma. His two novels have been well received. His newest novel, THE COLD KISS, published by one of The Big Six New York publishers, was named to Suspense Magazine's 'Best of 2010' list and has been optioned for one of those Hollywood movies. His novel before that, THE GROVE, was so popular as an indie publication that it got the AmazonEncore treatment in re-release. And last fall he got to sit within robe-touching distance of yours truly. Rector had it all.
Then last week someone on the internet pointed out what a failure he has become. Where did it all go wrong?
Is it the writing? No. According to the posting, he has "very good books."
Did he fall prey to alcoholism? Drugs? Does he lock himself in his hotel room to work on novel edits while I'm keeping him a seat warm at the bar and texting him and calling him to come back down and hang out? And how did the internet even find out about that?
Maybe it's even worse. Did he commit the cardinal sin of crime fiction writers? Did he go an entire week without tweeting about bacon?
No. It's worse.
Allow me to quote from the blog post that explains The Failure of John Rector:
There’s no other way to put it – Signing a book deal was a huge mistake. John Rector could have been a Top 100 Kindle Store Author.Oh. My. Gracious.
He signed a book deal? With a publisher? What in the name of Wendy Everly was he thinking?
According to the post, Rector was On The Charts at the Amazon website. He was on his way to being able to see his name in the TOP 100 Kindle authors. And yet, he chose to sign THE COLD KISS over to Macmillan/Forge. How could he have made such a mistake? As the post author elaborates in the comments:
The very act of signing up with a Publisher is the equivalent of saying – I’m going to focus less on readers.Yes. That is exactly what it is saying. Not long ago, John Rector would spend his time and energy writing a novel. Then he would upload it for the Kindle. Now he has signed with a Publisher. Which clearly shows that he doesn't care about the readers. Um, I'm not sure how that follows, exactly. But I read it on the internet. From what I've seen, publishers of books do tend to focus on the readers of those books. And the last I heard, Rector was still writing. And editing.
What's interesting to me isn't making fun of that post (well, maybe a teensy-weensy bit). Rather, what interests me is how we define success. And how others try to define it for us.
For the author of that blog post pointing to Rector's 'mistake,' success is clearly being a "Top 100 Kindle Store Author." William Shakespeare is a Top 100 on the Kindle list, probably because he offers his books for free. James Patterson, whose books aren't free, is also a Top 100 Kindle Store Author, meaning he is successful.
Let me check THE WOLVES OF FAIRMOUNT PARK, our DSD Book Group read. Hmm. Seems that Dennis Tafoya's excellent novel is #135,270 Paid in Kindle Store. Damn. Poor guy. And I liked that book, too.
Dennis Lehane's MOONLIGHT MILE? 1,090.
And speaking of Noircon:
Laura Lippman's GIRL IN THE GREEN RAINCOAT? 4,473.
George Pelecanos's SHAME THE DEVIL? 12,883.
And speaking of Do Some Damage, how about Friend of the Blog Brad Parks. He won the Shamus and the Nero for the same book, right? Let's see how his newest is doing.
EYES OF THE INNOCENT: 25,329.
Oh. My Gracious.
And here I thought these people were successful authors.
I suppose John Rector will just have to console himself with the thought that some pretty damn good career-novelists have made the same 'mistake' he did.
Let's see if I have this right -- If you sign the deal with The Publisher, then you don't focus on the readers and you fall down the Kindle Top Authors list.
As I understand it, when you sign with Macmillan or Penguin or FSG to print your book, one of the things they do, and I'm no expert here, but one of the things they do is that they, under most circumstances, print your book. Which means people sell them in stores. And, again, I'm not an expert in anything but mediocre whiskey and quantum mechanics, this means that those sales do not count in your Kindle sales.
So it seems odd to me to judge an author by Kindle sales when that author's books are available a thousand other places. Rector's books are available in print and he's selling fewer Kindle copies. Seems to me like that is sorta how it's supposed to happen.
It's kinda like using the Gran Turismo video game as proof that the Ferrari 458 Italia is a better-selling automobile than the Honda Accord.
Not that THE COLD KISS is a Honda Accord. Hell, Rector's writing is more like a tricked-out herse, corpse-full and flame-spewing.
So it seems to me that if you want to list authors who sell on the Kindle, well, make a list. But being on that list isn't a measure of success for most authors. Or it isn't the only one.
Rector's "mistake" would be publishing a book that doesn't kick as much ass as his first two have. That would mean he's no longer focused on the readers. Not being on the Top 100 Kindle Authors list just means he isn't focused on that list. Other than that, it doesn't mean much.
Unless you're the kind of person who judges the quality of an author by whether he/she is on a list. In that case, the list probably means a great deal to you. Too bad the books themselves don't.