Our Love Affair with Lists… and being number one

unnamedDavid Letterman understood our fascination with ordinal ranking and has made a late night institution out of his Top Ten list. We all grew up listening to songs on the charts, “And now the number one hit across the nation…” Does anybody watch the 239th Nielsen Rated TV show?

We love lists. They help us decide what we consume, buy or desire. From “the number one pain reliever…” to “don’t settle for second best…” lists guide us, inform us and allow us to not think too much because someone else has already vetted, evaluated, opted for, shown propensity for, or simply bought a truckload of X.

So it was with slight apprehension that I accepted the fact that my book, The Eighth Day, had achieved a number one ranking on The Nook One Hundred. When I first got the news there was no fanfare, no drum roll under an announcer barking, “And the number one bestselling book is…” Just a lovely, one line, “fragment” of an e-mail from my publisher, The Story Plant’s, Marketing Department:

#1 bestseller!

Longer accolades and sweet congratulatory notes followed, but that was the moment. I will admit that, having been raised on lists, at that instance I experienced weightlessness. Not quite an out-of-body transcendence, but a lightness of being akin to an endorphin high greeting me after this race to the top.

Then my analytical author’s psyche chimed in. As you know, part of what it is to write is to examine all the possibilities at every beat in the story and choose the best possible words, actions and emotions that will tell your tale the way you want it told. Here is my internal dialogue, which I am sure is the reason why many authors drink to excess: “Is this a victory for me or my publisher? Are readers buying my book, or the company’s placement, merchandising and marketing? Do they know my work or are they truly buying a book by its digitized cover? Was this a result of the publisher’s clout and high-voltage push or an actual desire for the mega-wattage power of my book? Would another piece of meat have benefited from the sizzle that was applied to my steak?”

That “glass is half full” line of plot analysis gave me the worst kind of writer’s block – blocking joy. My dear friends sent along “congrats,” “knew you could do it,” “whoo hooo!” and other forms of textural backslapping which feels great but – and again, here’s that author’s dark cloud – that is a friend’s natural and very sweet form of acknowledgement. BUT they’ve already read the book, or at least bought it, so they were responding to the “list” thing. However, when I started reading e-mails from people who are not so close to me, I discovered the reason why I am able to write this and not be in some drunken stupor at the moment… PEOPLE READ REVIEWS! Those e-mails contained sentiments like; “After I read all the great reviews, I bought the book…” Variations on that theme appeared in most of the other e-mails from the more distant reaches of my address book.

So it’s a split decision. The ranking and all the hoopla surrounding the marketing may have got the attention of folks, but they were sold by the performance of the book as related by “those what read it.”

The moral of my story: even though you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can judge a book by its coverage!

I feel better now. Hey did I mention my book is NUMBER ONE, BABY!!!!

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