According to the Scripps News ServiceÂ Â it’s a “sure bet” thatÂ
“anything written by the big guns – on the level of, say, Larry McMurtry, Janet Evanovich, Alexander McCall Smith, Tess Gerritsen – will find a home on bestseller lists.”Â
And several news services have listed THE MEPHISTO CLUB as one of the fall’s anticiipated “big books.”
If that were all true, you’d think that I’d be far more relaxedÂ about my upcoming book releases.Â (VANISH comes out in paperback this coming Tuesday.Â And THE MEPHISTO CLUB goes on sale two weeks later.)Â I’ve been in this business for twenty years, andÂ in recent years, I’ve pretty consistently hit the bestseller lists.Â So I should be feeling utterly confident, right?Â Â Â
You wanna know the truth?Â At the moment, I’m aÂ blubbering nervous wreck.
It happens every year, when I have a new book out, either in paperback or hardcover.Â First come the tense weeks leading upÂ to the on-sale date, when I incessantly check my stubbornly Â immovable sales index on Amazon.com, and start to feel ever more desperate because no one seems to be pre-ordering.Â Â
When the on-sale date arrives, and IÂ can’t stop myself from peeking into bookstores, to see if my book is actually on display.Â And all too often, I’m plunged intoÂ gloom because the book’s nowhere in sight.Â Or there are piles of them, and they don’t seem to be selling. Â I’mÂ likeÂ one of those doomed sailors drawn inexorablyÂ by the song of the Sirens, only to dash himself to death on the rocks.Â Â I can’t stop myself from checking every store, every grocery shelf, every drugstore, even though I know that the chances are, I’ll walk away depressed.Â Â Please, will someoneÂ protect me from myself andÂ lash me to the closest ship’s mast?
Then there are all the other things that can — and too often do — go wrong.Â In 1997, two weeks before my medical thriller LIFE SUPPORT was scheduled for release, UPS went on strike.Â Boxes and boxes of my books ended up sitting in a warehouse somewhere.Â I went on book tour as scheduled, only to find that in store after store, my books hadn’t even arrived.Â There’s nothing like a protractedÂ two-month laydown date to kill your chances on the bestseller list.
In 2001, my book THE SURGEON went on sale … two weeks before September 11.Â When the Twin Towers went down, I was in an airport in Seattle, waiting to catch a flight to continue my book tour.Â Needless to say, after that morning, I had no desire to continue the tour.Â I just wanted to go home and be with my loved ones.Â I couldn’t even think about bookselling — and neither could anyone else.
In the days afterÂ my newÂ book is released, I’ll start to get phone calls from my agent and editor, with news about how the book’s doing.Â Of course you want to hear anÂ ecstatic: Â “these numbers are amazing!”Â Â What you dread hearing is: “we just don’t understand why this campaignÂ isn’t working.”Â That’s the kind of call that will cause me to go catatonic on the couchÂ while I ponder what otherÂ occupation I should fall back on, since my writing career is so obviously doomed.Â The only treatment for such catatonia is a good stiff drink, plusÂ endless re-runs of Harry Potter movies.
I do believe in the healing properties of Harry Potter.
Maybe I’mÂ just more neurotic than other authors, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop doubting my abilities as an author, or the durability of my career.Â Â With every new book I write,Â I feel as if I’mÂ trying to prove myself all over again.Â There’s a lot of reality behind those doubts.Â This is a tough business, and it doesn’t takeÂ much to transformÂ an author’s promising future into a death spiral.Â Â That’s the hard truth.Â So my anxiety isn’t completely unfounded.
The only wayÂ I canÂ deal with the uncertainties of this business is to remind myself whyÂ I got into this job in the first place:Â becauseÂ I love to tell stories.Â It’s not about the sales or the reviews or the money.Â
Well okay, the money is pretty darn important, because it’s what allows me to keep doing what I’m doing.Â
But even if I never again got paid for this, I’d probably still be writing … because I can’t help myself.Â And because there’s no better job in the world.Â