I have heard this week that my book, Praying for Dear Life, is a worst-seller, meaning that it is not selling at all. NavPress has a policy that if anyone buys one of their books and does not like it, they can fill-out and return a coupon in the back for a full refund. Keep the book itself but get back their money. Apparently, 437 coupons were returned last quarter and it is "not likely, unless something dramatic happens with this book," that I will ever receive a bit of royalty beyond my advance.
I guess I am not surprised. Heartbroken, but not surprised. The book is a real hybrid--a "sepia toned memoir," according to the publisher's own marketing materials, but dressed in bluebird colors. PDL is a book on the hours of prayer published by a very conservative evangelical house. I am certain the sales people did not know how to pitch it. In addition, there was a major shuffle in marketing and other turnover in the house. The book is, admittedly, too sacramental for evangelicals (not a "how to" that would lead one to sleep outside in bad pajamas and jump on a bed as if it were a trampoline--that is a description of the cover), and at the same time too evangelical in both appearance/publisher for the mainline. The book fits nowhere.
I had good endorsements--from Buechner, Lauren Winner, Tom Long. But NavPress, when they finally did run an ad for it in Christian Century, did not include the blurbs and so no one took much notice. I have had a couple of nice emails from people who have read it. A few friends have commented that it was meaningful for them. I got a five star review on Amazon from one reader and a reviewer calledit "one of the four or five best books...of the last four or five years" on Goodpreacher.com. Perhaps if I can get an invitation or two to speak here or there things will pick up--maybe something dramatic will happen. I have a new book coming out in a couple of months, more traditional but not nearly so heart-felt. Maybe if it gets noticed a little it will throw a little light on the first one.
It is hard, though--putting yourself so out there in a way and to be so thoroughly ignored. "Love me, please"--that is what every memoirist is asking: know me and love me. Alas. My good friend and editor, Liz, says that I need to take comfort from the fact that it is a good book and that some have been blessed by it--that most books do not, in fact, sell very well. I guess.
With my self-esteem shattered the other night, my amazing son said, "How are you doing, Dad?" Okay, I told him. I am doing okay. He said, "It's all right if you aren't." I started crying, lamenting that it feels, feels, as if I am one of those guys who can work and work, try and try, and never catch much of a break. He says, "Yeah, but lots of folks can't even say they have had a book published, much less four." I do remember, God knows, the ache of wanting to publish a real book, the joy of seeing it happen...but as Stephen Donaldson says, the only way to hurt someone who has lost everything is to give a part of it back to him, broken. I have part of what I had thought I'd lost, but it is broken somehow.
Few care. But a few do. No one is buying the book, many are returning the ones they have bought, but some have been blessed. A few sentences of the first chapter formed the conclusion to a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day sermon by an Episcopalian priest in Washington, DC. That is huge, at least to me. To be mentioned in the same context as Preacher King is an incredible notion unto itself. The priest, a black woman, said mine was her "new favorite book."
Pieces. Pieces of satisfaction. Bits of significance. I will have to content myself with that. And wait patiently for the purposes of God to enfold.
I said long ago that if this book were to be published, God would have to help make that happen. The confluences of absurdity above seem to have God's fingerprints all over it. I also said that if the book were ever to have an audience, God would have to do something about that too. The harried and confused sales people at NavPress might ask the same. Will I write more? Publish more? I would like to think so, that, as Frederick Buechner has pronounced on my upcoming work, I "know how to read and know how to write," but I will have to wait. Just wait to see if God has further work for me to do, given that I obviously don't know how to sell.