At the stroke of midnight tonight, J.K. Rawling’s book Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince will go on sale.
We’re buying it. We’ll be waiting until Saturday morning, ready to pay $17.95 so we can find out what happens to Harry this time around.
And that is why J.K. Rawling is so outrageously wealthy. Because people like us, that is people who never buy books in hardback, will always buy the newest Harry Potter book as soon as it comes out.
That’s an astounding feat, considering how many books were published this year. And I’m just talking about the ones from the major houses. You know, your Random House, your Harper Collins, your Simon and Schuster, your St. Martins, your Scholastic Books and so on. These are the books with the reviews in The New York Times and the feature articles in Newsweek and the author appearances on the Today Show.
We don’t buy those books. We wait for them to come out in paperback. Or we buy them used from Amazon Marketplace. Or borrow them from the library. Or maybe we’re just not interested in reading them at all, no matter how much advance publicity or how many rave reviews the book has received. We just don’t care.
And therein lies the paradox for authors. Because, even though we know we don’t spend that much money on books ourselves, especially the brand new hardcover editions on display at Barnes & Noble’s, we believe that Other People will buy our book. All yet-to-be published authors are absolutely sure that once their books get into print, they will fly off the shelves. All published authors (except for J.K. Rawling, of course) can attest to the fact that this particular scenario isn’t going to happen without a lot of work.
There’s a huge difference between somebody showing interest in your book and actually shelling out the money to buy it.
Now I happen to be a published author of an obscure mystery called Caviar Dreams. (Aside from a place to vent, this blog is also a feeble attempt at self-promotion.) As you probably have noticed, I’m nowhere near the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. If you look me up on Amazon, my official Amazon.com Sales Rank is #1,523,225. (It would help if Amazon didn't take three months to send it out and charge extra because it's a "hard to get" book) My royalty check this year wasn’t enough to cover dinner for one at Longhorn Steakhouse.
If you judge me by my book sales, I’m a dismal failure. But it’s not about making money. I decided a long time ago that success as an author would be when people I don't even know read my book, and they write to tell me they enjoyed it. That’s happened. More than once. I have a real book out there, it was published by a real publisher and anyone who wants to pay $15.00 (a bit much, but I don’t get to set the prices) can buy it.
And even though it’s not flying off the shelves anywhere, it’s still pretty damn cool to have a book out.