So, over the weekend, I Hunt Killers landed on both the USAToday and New York Times Bestsellers Lists. This watershed (and really nice) moment in my life happened when I was sick as a dog, so while I — of course — BLogged and tweeted out the news, I haven’t had a chance to really absorb it until now.
I’m not sure why I’m BLogging about this, to be honest with you. It feels a little self-important to talk about it any further than saying that it happened. But people who visit the BLog often seem interested in the vagaries and behind-the-scenes junk that clutters the Writing Life, so here we go. I’ve decided to do this in a Q&A format…
What’s the big deal?
To you, it’s not a big deal at all. To me, it’s very, very cool and very much a big deal.
Why? You’ve been on the bestseller list before.
Er, no. I haven’t. (I mention this because for some reason a lot of people assume I’ve been on the list before. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been introduced as “bestselling author Barry Lyga.” It’s weird. And, until now, untrue.)
Oh. So, I ask again: What’s the big deal?
Look, I’m not gonna lie to you. It’s not like you hit the list and your life changes instantly. In my case, I was getting sick the day I was notified and I was even sicker by the time the lists were published. Yay, me.
But the “big deal” is this: I generally believe that awards and lists for art of any kind are sort of, well, silly. I don’t think art should be ranked and categorized. I don’t believe there is any system (or any person) on the planet capable of “ranking,” say The Perks of Being a Wallflower and A Christmas Story. Both were prose. Then both were movies. And both are brilliant in their own unique ways. But how do you compare two such different pieces of art and then decide “This one is better by X amount and in X ways.”1
Clearly, the Times and USAToday and other folks have decided on sheer sales volume. And as a society (and as a publishing industry), we’ve decided that this matters. We have a need — as individuals and as a cluster of individuals — to rank and sort things. When it comes to art, though, its subjective nature makes this difficult, so we tend to cling to whatever’s out there. If you look at this week’s Times list, you’ll see some fairly different types of books, even in the cloistered environs of the YA list. You can’t really compare a lot of these in any meaningful way, so you fall back on sales, which adds a layer of objectivity to what is a very subjective process: Opinions may vary, but numbers don’t. The book sells or it doesn’t. (Note that these lists aren’t called “Best Lists” — they’re bestseller lists.)
There are a plethora of methods we could use to judge an author’s relative success: book sales, quantity of reviews, quality of reviews, number of Twitter followers, size of royalty check, number of stars on GoodReads, etc. But for the most part, we as a culture have decided on book sales.2
It’s not so much about craving being on the list, as it’s that being on the list is the only thing to crave.
OK, that was a really wordy answer.
Sorry. What else did you expect?
So what does this mean to you?
Hey, just because I think the ranking of art is sort of silly at its core doesn’t mean that I’m not still thrilled to be ranked in that system! I chose to play this game, which means abiding by the rules, even the ones I don’t 100% agree with. If you play in the American League, you’re gonna play with a designated hitter, even if you think it’s an abomination, y’know? It’s the price of playing major league ball.
I mean, the Oscars are silly, but if I won one, I’d still be happy about it. Because it’s nice when people think well of you and your work, whether that approbation takes the form of an award or a fan letter or a signing line or people buying enough copies of your book to make it a bestseller.
How did you find out?
The way it’s supposed to work is that your publisher gets a heads-up a few days in advance and calls to tell you. In my case, a friend in the publishing biz saw the list and tweeted a congratulations to me about two minutes before my editor could call me. When I saw that tweet, at first I didn’t know what he was talking about, and then I absolutely assumed he was mistaken. When the phone rang and it was my editor on speakerphone with her assistant, though, I knew it was legit.
Yeah — I want to thank everyone at Little Brown who believed in this book and pushed the hell out of it for well over a year now. And I want to thank my readers, most especially. I want to thank the readers who’ve been with me for years now, and I want to thank the newcomers who just discovered me with this book. I write because I want to express myself, but it’s not half as much fun if there’s no one at the other end to read. So, thanks for sticking with me and/or coming on board.
One more thing: Does this mean you’re rich now?
Not even remotely.
- And can we talk for a second about those bizarre descriptions the Times uses for each book? John Green clearly has bribed someone ’cause his are good and reflective of the books’ content and compelling, but most of the rest — mine included — are hilariously bland. Poor Stephen Chbosky: His brave, heart wrenching The Perks of Being a Wallflower gets “What it’s like to grow up, from the perspective of a high school boy.” Really?↩
- With, of course, some prestigious awards in the mix.↩