I tried not to show it, but I was absolutely terrified seven months ago when I launched my first Kindle book, Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong (and Why It Matters). What was I afraid of, exactly? Embarrassment, I suppose. The lingering shame of innocent hope followed by predictable failure. The apathy of my readers, the disappointment of my loved ones and friends: Levi doesn't know how to do this right.
I wasn't sure how to measure success in my first venture as an e-book publisher, but I'm always keenly aware of what failure looks like. I sent out press releases and personal notes about the book, and was pleased to see my book occupy and hold a mid-level position on the Amazon Philosophy and Politics/Ideology charts. I sold dozens of copies, then hundreds of copies. Sales never took off like a shot, but they grew at a slow and steady pace, and a variety of chatty positive/negative reviews began appearing on my Amazon page.
Why Ayn Rand is Wrong is not a success by the metrics of any major publisher. It still hasn't sold a thousand copies, though at this point I'm sure it'll reach that number soon. The best positive indication for me that the book may be a success after all is that I sold more copies in October than any month before, and that the book now comes up in the very first page -- the very first page! -- of search results when you search for "Ayn Rand" on your Kindle.
The main thing I learned is that, once I publish a book, the book won't sit still. It will cry for my attention. Friends will email me sugggestions and errors to fix. Potential customers will urge me to produce non-Kindle versions, or paperback editions. Marketing and publicity opportunities will beckon. My super-fast one-book-a-month pace was designed to keep my project moving, but I quickly began to realize I was defeating my own goals by obliging myself to be always working furiously on the next book to come, instead of nurturing and marketing the books that were already published to the maximum extent each one required.
My lesson has been learned, and I am now hitting the pause button on my one-book-a-month plan. I have two excellent new Kindle publications in progress, but the next one will not come out in August, and the following one will not come out in September. These two new books are the first stab at the second phase of the Literary Kicks publishing plan, which involves not only producing books from selected content originally published on this blog, but also producing new and innovative editions of classic public domain works related to some of the interest areas and obsessions featured here. The books I had planned for August and September are very exciting ones (I wish I could tell you more about them now, but it'll have to wait). I think both books will sell well if published properly, but they're less likely to reach their potential if I rush them out. This is why I've decided to cut the fast pace, put the new books on a slower track to launch, and devote my current efforts towards improving the four books that are currently out.
POLONIUS: What do you read, my lord?
HAMLET: Words, words, words.
POLONIUS: What is the matter, my lord?
HAMLET: Between who?
There's a whole lot of sarcasm in this 17-word exchange. The castle is in a crisis, the Prince's mental state is uncertain, and the King's elderly aide tries to calm the tension with a bit of small talk, querying the Prince about the book he's reading. When Polonius asks "What is the matter, my lord?" he's inquiring as to the plot of the book. But Hamlet pretends to misunderstand the question, and his cutting reply -- "Between who?" -- brings the conversation out of the ethereal realm of books and into the present moment. Where, of course, plenty is the matter.
"Take what you have gathered from coincidence," Bob Dylan sang. Sometimes I'm not sure what to take, and what to leave behind.
Two mathematically improbable coincidences haunted me this Saturday, both related to current events and to this website, Literary Kicks. First, I woke up early Saturday morning and spent a calm hour sipping coffee, eating blueberry Special K and browsing through my complete Plato, intent on finding a kick-ass philosophical quote to put up as the day's blog post. I finally picked a choice snatch of dialogue from the Meno, an old favorite.
Just as this blog post was going up, a brainy, deluded and possibly schizophrenic 22-year-old creep from Tuscon, Arizona named Jared Lee Loughner was shooting six people in a shopping center. Later that day an online list of Loughner's favorite books was revealed. I was shocked to see on the list, along with titles like The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf, an excellent novel by Ken Kesey and two by Plato: the Republic and ... you guessed it, the Meno.
LitKicks has been inviting poets -- that is, everyone -- to submit their work on this site for public review and response since 2001. Here, once again, is a randomized display of many favorite poems published here in 2010.
No "Philosophy Weekend" post today -- I'm not quite on a vacation, but my brain seems to need one. Back again in full force next weekend!
So I've pledged to begin a new weekend feature on "philosophy, ethics and practical debate" here on Litkicks, a series intending to offer something more substantial, unusual and potentially important every Saturday or Sunday than a weekly bitch session about literary criticism.
As I ponder several possible beginnings for this series, I am overwhelmed by the realization that I have chosen a Sisyphian task, and also a thankless one. My hope is to write lyric essays, polls and questions, book reviews and explorations in various formats that will engage difficult or controversial topics often in the context of various philosophical disciplines -- existentialism, epistemology, analytic philosophy, Platonism, etc.
It's time for something new.
I've been reviewing the New York Times Book Review every weekend for more than five years now, and even though I recently said I was planning to keep it going, some recent turns have caused me to reconsider. First, I had to skip the review twice in the last three weeks, and just found (somewhat to my surprise) that I didn't miss it very much. Also, I predicted four weeks ago that the Book Review would soon feature an affectionate cover piece on Christopher Hitchens's Hitch-22; not only have I hit that nail on the head, but I also find myself with no desire whatsoever to read the piece. My weekly blogging experiment is getting predictable, and that means it's run its course. I'll keep reading the New York Times Book Review -- I'm a captive fan for life -- but I'm going to start using this weekend spot to do something different, and hopefully more exciting and innovative, instead.