Let’s talk about a question that makes even the most seasoned author wince: "So, how many books have you sold?" Why is it that this question feels about as welcome as a laptop crash the day before your manuscript's due? For starters, it's incredibly personal. It's akin to someone asking about your salary. Worse still, it's loaded with assumptions about the quality of your work and even your success as an author. Newsflash, folks: success in publishing isn't always a 'JK Rowling-level' sales game.
So how do you juggle this awkward question without dropping the ball or coming off as rude? Here are seven responses authors have shared with me in the Savvy Writers' Snug I run on Facebook:
The Vague Delighter: "Well, it's selling well." This is as generic as it gets. No figures, no commitments. You're not lying, you're just... summarising. Let them interpret that as they wish, right?
The Overachiever: "A lot more than the average published book." Now, this may sound a bit on the nose, but sometimes you need a tiny sprinkle of arrogance to keep the conversation light and vague.
The Evasive Jester: "More than you have! Burn!" If you're known for your humor, this playful jab can work wonders. But remember, use it judiciously and only with folks who appreciate your banter.
The Humble Jokester: "Enough to afford cheese on my beans!" Light-hearted humor might defuse the tension and steer the conversation onto a more pleasant path. Plus, who doesn't love cheese on beans?
The Statistician: "Did you know that 90% of books sell less than 2,000 copies? But I'm doing better than that!" A mini trivia moment can divert attention and wow them with your industry knowledge.
The Deflector: "I leave that side of things to my agent/accountant." This creates a sort of invisible barrier, reminding the asker that there's a professional system at work behind the scenes, one that you're not obligated to disclose.
The Opportunist: “Hardly any. You should buy one and tell your friends to buy one too. In fact, they make great Christmas presents…” With this response, you're turning a potentially awkward conversation into a sales pitch. Cheeky, yes, but hey, every sale counts!
So, the next time someone lobs this question your way, remember these responses, keep your cool, and remind yourself: your worth as an author isn't defined by a number (kind of).