October 12, 2021 marked the official launch of The King’s Anatomist into the literary world – a very big and crowded world, as it turns out. Estimates vary for many reasons, but if that day was a typical one in the publishing industry, about 2,000 American titles – 2,000! – elbowed their way into a vast global marketplace teeming with books old and new. Is it any wonder that the average new title is lucky to sell 500 copies in the first year, or even luckier to sell 1,000 copies, ever? Nonfiction titles dominate the market these days, so the prospects for works of fiction are even dimmer. You can find the rare exceptions on the New York Times bestseller list, where books generally sell at a baseline rate of 5000 copies per week.
So, if you’ve been checking the bestseller lists for The King’s Anatomist, let me save you some time. From October, 2021 through June, 2022 about 1,200 copies have been sold, either as a hardcover, paperback, or eBook. That comes out to about 32 copies per week, but after the first few months, sales have settled down to a steady trickle. I’m not holding my breath for a sudden outpouring of interest in Andreas Vesalius, as compelling a guy as he is. But compared to the average title, it’s a respectable showing.
The hard truth is that new and unknown authors face repeated soul-crushing rejections. They might not ever find a publisher – which makes me grateful beyond measure that the independent press History Through Fiction chose to publish The King’s Anatomist. The founder, Colin Mustful, risked his time and treasure to edit, design, and promote it. I try to hold up my end through book fairs, interviews, signings, and book clubs. I have a website, a Facebook page, and even a business card on which I call myself an author.
If the book does well enough to justify Colin’s decision to print it, I’ll be thrilled. Colin has a noble commitment to historical fiction, but he’s also running a business. At my stage in life, though, I’m not looking to make a living as a writer. That’s a good thing, because as of this writing I’ve cleared just enough to cover a few trips to the supermarket and a pair of sneakers.
It’s true that not all writers write to earn a living. Most diaries, journals, and even some memoirs are private and stay that way. And I’m guessing that there are short stories and novels that are kept under wraps by choice. For me, writing The King’s Anatomist was at heart a very personal creative challenge. And yet, on October 12, 2021, along with 2,000 other authors, I released it to the reading public. Speaking for myself, I did not see it as a finished creation until I shared it. Revealing my book, so much a part of me, meant revealing myself. The “imposter syndrome” is real; the presumption that I wrote something of value came with considerable risk to my standing as a debut author. But it came also with the possibility of validation.
Sales is one way to measure validation. It’s for this reason that I look ahead to the semiannual sales figures. It’s why, despite myself, I check on the book’s Amazon rankings (a previous blog exposes their shortcomings). But what has sustained me are the positive comments that have come my way from various sources. For example, as of this writing 87 readers have posted ratings on Amazon, and many have posted comments. It’s on the shelves of at least several libraries around the country. With a little poking around on foreign Amazon websites, I found that The King’s Anatomist has readers in Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany.
Happy Birthday, TKA. It’s been real. And thanks once more to the people who provided invaluable support in getting TKA ready for takeoff. You know who you are.