I don’t wish to be too vulgar. I don’t mind being a bit vulgar. I find it quite amusing, even if nobody else does. But I know I lack judgement in these things and it’s all too easy for tastelessness, however minutely studied, to become tiresome. Nonetheless, I must admit that (this is it, by the way, this is the vulgar bit looming into view, so if you’re sensitive to these things, look away now) I’ve always been a little alarmed when I log into Red Room and they show a hyperlink in the column on the right that they claim connects to ‘My Member Profile’. For the life of me, I don’t remember giving them a profile of my member, and I think it’s the sort of thing I would remember. It is just conceivable that somebody might forget that drunken moment at the office party when they wittily photocopied their pudenda than stapled the duplicate to the tail end of their boss’ best suit, but I generally contrive to be sober when I’m at my desk, and I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have signed up for anything so ribald as a facsimile of my generative equipment. Happily, it’s the least visited section of my page, which may not be very promising for any lingering aspirations I have to be an Alpha male, but at least suggests that the people who follow my blog have better taste than I do. This is a great comfort.
My thoughts were drawn to this not because, like many middle-aged men, I’m suddenly waking up to waning virility and a nagging sense of where-the-hell-did-all-that-go-to-then, but because my member profile is part of ‘My Page Views’, and a few weeks back I passed a bit of a milestone in my page views. After twelve months on Red Room and fifty odd blogs (some of them were downright peculiar), I’m told that my page has had 10,000 hits. I don’t doubt for a moment that this is utterly risible in the general cyberspatial scheme of things and probably looks pretty silly even within the more limited context of Red Room itself, but even so, at first sight it is quite gratifying.
I’ve sold a little over twenty thousand books in the last eight years, or at least the publishers have sold them for me, which doesn’t look too bad until you think that the sum is spread over some sixteen titles, whereupon a job stacking supermarket shelves starts to look like a highly remunerative career move. Of course, I’ve only got myself to blame. My talent is modest, I’m not very dynamic in the marketing department, and whenever anyone suggests I ought to find myself a bigger publisher, I can get quite heated in my defense of fidelity and the advantages of small, independent outfits. I have embraced obscurity and I am very happy with it. Nonetheless, it would be nice to be both obscure and widely read, which is where the numbers game comes in.
Apparently, this obsession with numbers is one shared by writers far more successful than myself. I’ve read interviews with reasonably well known novelists bleating on about their Amazon ranking (no, I haven’t bothered looking at mine, always presuming it exists, which I rather doubt) and others who were over the moon to see that their book had clawed its way onto a national hardback bestseller list, only to make the disappointing discovery that this actually meant they’d shifted a massive hundred-and-twenty copies that week. At the other end of the scale, I was delighted to discover that three of the last decade’s best-selling novelists, Ian Rankin (14 million books sold), Alexander McCall Smith (20 million), and J. K. Rowling (400 million!), all live within a stone’s throw of one another. You can imagine the baffled rubbing of eyes when they get together for a biscuit and a cup of tea – or, at least, I hope that’s how it is.
As for my dix milles coups, well . . .
Film buffs will know that this is an allusion to François Truffaut’s first film, Les Quatre Cents Coups, the story of a turbulent teenager who ends up in a centre for juvenile delinquents despite being full of good intentions. French speakers will know that the phrase faire les quatre cents coups means to display a fine disregard for convention, notably in the course of a hell-raising adolescence, and may have heard that it comes from the unrestrained bombing of a bunch of refractory Protestant rebels in Montauban in 1621, which was battered by four hundred cannon shot in a single night.
So what am I to make of my 10,000 coups? First, I should point out that it’s entirely possible, likely even, that they came from people looking for Charles Davis the jazz saxophonist, or Charles Davis the football player, or even the Charles Davis who isn’t me but who had the poor taste to publish his first novel at about the same time as I did mine (worse, it is said to be rather good). But even supposing that everyone who has logged on here was really looking for me and that they weren’t being strongarmed into doing so by my sisters, I have to conclude that this little enterprise is not going to make sufficient difference to sales of my third novel to ensure that there will be a fourth. Broken down, the 10,000 coups is actually something in the order of 200 general hits a week and a hundred following the blog, so even if they all went out and bought a book, it wouldn’t exactly have the publisher skipping about the room gaily tossing contracts for new volumes in my general direction. That said, it might make a sizable percentage difference to sales of Walking The Dog. Ahem.
I clearly haven’t got the hang of this self-promotion business yet. And when well-meaning souls suggest I start tweeting to get people reading the blog to get people reading the books, I begin to wonder where it’s all going to end, as this essentially means I’d be promoting my promotional material. I did sign on for the weekly tip-from-the-top by celebrated book-marketing guru John Kremer, but as far as I can see, he just wants me to give him some money, and even when he doesn’t, often as not I literally don’t understand what he’s talking about. Mind you, that’s not his fault. On the rare occasions when I watch telly, I usually don’t know what the ads are advertizing until the company’s logo comes up on the screen at the end, sometimes not even then.
I can only conclude that my dix-milles-coups is closer in spirit to the quatre-cents-coups than I’d like to think, a sorry symptom of marketing immaturity. When it comes to selling stuff, I’m still stuck in my adolescence, despite the fact that I’ll be fifty in a few months time, not fifty in blogs, but fifty in years. It’s not a pretty sight, a fifty year old adolescent.
Perhaps I should move to Edinburgh, get lodgings next door to Messrs. Rankin, McCall Smith, and Rowling. Do you think that would do the trick?
No, I see what you mean.
Psst! Wanna buy a book? Very cheap. I sell you my sister. You like little boys?
Causes Charles Davis Supports
Oxfam, Amnesty International, Greenpeace