As noted a few days ago, yesterday for 24 hours I offered the world free downloads of my old but re-issued book, Sweet Like Saltwater. This was in celebration of the fact that the book had gone out of print, and that I was giving it new life as a digital release.
A weird thing started happening when I started sharing the book’s free download status in the middle of the day yesterday. It started to rapidly climb the rankings among free downloads in Canada. I didn’t even know there was such a ranking!
When it hit #7, I was thrilled. I saw this as validation that a small press book that was written for specific literary purposes, and definitely not for market appeal, could find an audience in its new life.
Then it hit #2.
Suddenly, I began to fantasize. Could it happen again, a year to the date? Could a second self-published digital release reach #1 status in an Amazon category without me having planned any particularly clever marketing strategy? Well, I took to social media and tweeted the shit out of that thing.
My genuine gratitude goes out to all of you who took the time to download my book. The “sales” figures spiked unbelievably:
But you know, it’s not bad news. In the general literary category, the book peaked at the #15 spot, in such luminary company as Edgar Allan Poe, Jane Austen, Homer, Alexandre Dumas, and Charles Dickens:
In fact, the descending order was Dickens, Emily Bronte, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Tolstoy, Melville, Victor Hugo, Dickens (again), Oscar Wilde, Annie Katz, Dumas, Tolstoy (again), Jodi Picoult, Austen, Nathaniel Hawthorne, DEONANDAN, Homer, Swift, James Joyce, and Poe. With the three exceptions of myself, Picoult and Katz, that’s a tremendous list of literary heavyweights.
I know it means nothing. It means less than nothing. It’s a list of the most downloaded free ebooks on Amazon in Canada today. What can that possibly mean? If anything, it’s a measure of who’s got the most Facebook friends with Amazon accounts. By that measure, Dickens really is a wonder, for having topped the list without any Facebook friends at all!
But another way of looking at it –the way I choose to look at it– is that this is a vindication of sorts. Sweet Like Saltwater was published 16 years ago. It went out of print last year. Traditionally, that’s when books die. The remaining physical stock was mostly pulped, though I personally purchased a fair number of the remaindered books. It’s a new thing now for writers, upon receiving their publication rights back from the publisher, to be able to give their dead books new life. It’s the miracle of the Internet, of digital self-publishing.
So the fact that Sweet Like Saltwater could reach #2 on any list, a year after its death, is a triumph for me. Surely a handful among those who downloaded it will actually take the time to read it, and that’s all an author wants: to be read.
Also, Sweet Like Saltwater is very much a Caribbean literary book. That’s a specific niche that doesn’t get a lot of play in the mainstream literary world. In fact, when it first came out, bookstores would stock it in the “world literature” section, rather than on the main shelves or even with other Canadian literature books (even though I’m a Canadian writer and much of the book is set in Canada). It was always going to be marginalized.
So the fact that it almost toppled a very mainstream chicklit book from a national #1 spot, and the fact that it made it onto another list among genuine literary luminaries, are more reasons to celebrate. It’s a very very very small vindication for Caribbean literature. At least that’s the way I choose to see it.
I know, these rankings are mostly meaningless. They’re of free downloads, for Pete’s sake. What is that a measure of? Pretty much nothing. But we can choose to see nothing, or we can choose to see something. I choose to see something. And what I see, I like.
This is a good day.