The Sources of My Gratitude
Eight years ago I walked away from my fulfilling and safely remunerative career as a child welfare researcher in order to write full time. There has been nothing safe about this gambit, and more than a few of those years were not particularly lucrative. But it has been enormously fulfilling, particularly in recent years as my books have gotten out into the world, and basically the whole reason for this is you.
Writing is often wrongly described as a solitary pursuit. It's not. The first half of the process, writing, can feel a bit lonely. The second half of a book's life is in the hands of the reader and this is in many ways the most important half. Whatever meaning a book contains is determined by readers; they are always the final arbiter. For me, the reader is present in the writing process, there reading my words as I put them on paper. They are even more present afterward, when I hear what they thought of the book. For a writer--well, for me, anyway--the worst outcome is not that people will hate a book (though that's certainly not a good result), but that they won't read it at all. The death of a writer comes not at the hands of an angry public, but an indifferent one.
And yet indifference is exactly the response most books receive. In fact, had I known the stats, I would never have left that great job at Portland State. The vast majority of books never find a readership:
- In 2016, the average U.S. nonfiction book sold less than 250 copies per year and less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime.
- And despite the spike in new titles resulting from self-publishing, that figure hasn't much changed from 2006, when the average was 3,000.
- In fact, back in 2004, long before e-books and self-publishing, it was just as dismal. That year, "950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies." Writing books is clearly a very poor choice of professions.
So now we get to my gratitude. You all have been incredibly generous with your eyeballs. Publishers send out biannual sales reports, once in April, once in October. They lag the sales period significantly, so in October I learned how well my books had sold during the first half of the year. The Beer Bible continues to sell very well--across all formats, it's sold 67,000 copies. The Secrets of Master Brewers was an even bigger surprise. It was released in March, and for the 3.5 months it was available, it sold 3,700 copies. That was well higher than my secret highest expectations. Cider Made Simple is, unfortunately, one of those losers (though I continue to believe it's one of the best things I ever wrote)--but two out of three ain't bad.
So thanks to all of you. It is overwhelming to think of how many of you have gone out, spent your hard-earned dollars, and picked up a copy of one of these books. You have not only helped me beat the odds and eke out a life as a full-time writer, but you've been kind and generous with your feedback. I can't tell you how thankful I am for all of this.
I wish you all have a warm and happy Thanksgiving--