Selling books isn’t easy. Selling songs isn’t easy. Selling snake oil isn’t easy. What you need is a formula, so they say. I submit that every successful salesperson or entrepreneur, be it an artist or an insurance agent, has discovered or followed a method that led them to their fortunate outcome. Make a certain number of contacts every day. Work 10 time harder than you think you should. Produce whatever the market is clamoring for, even if it’s offensive to you and whatever consumers do not want it.
But I’m a serious writer, not a scientist. What do I know from formulae? Sure, I know my word forms, but that doesn’t translate into anything meaningful when it comes to book sales. I believe I’ve come upon a better way. It occurred to me when I was reflecting back on an old TV show and one episode in particular.
The show is Taxi, a series many will remember from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Danny DeVito’s character, Louie, is involved in a short-lived relationship with Emily, played by Andrea Marcovicci. She has realized in therapy that the only way she will love Louie is if he leaves her. If he stays, she will despise him. Unable to grasp the logic in her thinking, he starts to walk out of her apartment. She finds her love for him expanding with each step, but assures him there’s no other way for her to love him. If he remains in the relationship, she says, he will be but a victim under her thumb. His dignity and desirability will blossom if he leaves and never returns. If she sends him letters, her love will remain intact only if he doesn’t answer any of them.
It is upon this premise that my theory of successful marketing is based. It’s about scarcity, the condition that makes gold more valuable than silver and platinum more valuable than gold. The less available a commodity is, the more people will pay for it…the more they want it…crave it. An exception to this rule may be porcelain, as dentists have proven with their sky high charges for dental fillings. But most products follow this pattern. When the apocalypse hits, take note how the street purveyors of toilet paper will become among the richest of the ragged royalty.
Now, what is it that is in constant violation of this supply and demand axiom? Many things come to mind, no doubt, but somewhere on the list must be books. It pains me to make that statement, especially in the sanctity of the written word, but the proof is everywhere. There are millions of books for sale on Amazon and I’m sure I’ve heard of only one percent of them at most. Think about it. For every million books, one percent is 10,000. I would be surprised if I’ve heard of 10,000 books in my entire life. If there are five million for sale on Amazon, I would have to have heard of 50,000 of them to reach one percent. That’s about as likely as me knowing 1000 people in the city of Erie, Pennsylvania, in the neighborhood of one percent of their population. Enough with the numbers, right? Let me make this clear with a quote from Mason Cooley.
“Artistic inspiration ignores the law of supply and demand.”
All those book bargain tables, all those 50 cent garage sale paperbacks, all those library cast-offs are a testament to that.
So, how do we writers solve the problem of low book sales? I would suggest book burning bonfires, but that’s far too political of a statement for me. Besides, what if we chose the wrong books? While dumping a box of Mein Kampfs into the flames, what would become of me if I accidentally mixed in a copy of Gems from Warren Buffett? No, I’m not going there. My answer is much simpler and less heartbreaking. I propose that we writers, artists and aspiring door-to-door salespersons make ourselves and our wares scarce. Taking a tip from Louie De Palma, we figuratively walk out and take our stuff with us. Announce it to the world, e.g. “There will be no more of my books available for the rest of time! I am withdrawing to the country where I will write only for myself and will erase all that I create.” It doesn’t matter if my posting goes viral or my announcement is picked up by all the networks. The Universe will know and will respond. As I have nothing to supply, the people of this world will know a hunger for my work. And as long I am not around to act like a victimized author, they will love me with all their collective hearts.