Along with the story of my book sales suddenly going viral goes the question of my reaction to the events. Honestly? I experienced equal parts of excitement, greed, disbelief, and sheer panic. I went into the experiment not really believing anything would happen. And when Smashwords distributed only 41 copies of the book before going dead again, I was sure the whole idea was ridiculous. I checked several times, and found that Amazon had not lowered my price. Meh!
Then I opened my KDP Reports page one day-- and refused to believe what I saw. It was noon on a Tuesday, and it was showing the sale of over 4000 books that day. I remember pointing it out to my husband and saying, "It's a mistake. It has to be. Selling that many books would be disastrous for our income tax." Well, yes and no. The figures were NOT a mistake, but the price was $0.00 -- so no tax problems to worry about.
I got nothing done the rest of the week. I was mesmerized and immobilized by watching the numbers climb. Periodically I took a screen picture of the Kindle Best-sellers list, just so I could prove that it all really happened. About mid-week, I started putting the bestseller figures on my website, figuring that I needed to take advantage of the momentum. Then I took them down again because I didn't want to brag. Then I put them up again -- back and forth, with no idea how to leverage what was happening into a long-term marketing tool.
Around noon the following Monday, when I was at the top of the bestseller lists, the numbers did a hiccup. No copies distributed for 30 minutes or so. I checked the Amazon listing, and sure enough, the Kindle price was once again $2.99. When sales started again, they were much slower, and those wonderful numbers started to fall. No, they plummeted. Within hours, I had fallen from the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon. So much for fame and fortune.
So what did I learn from the experience?
1. There may be no limits to human greed and no top limit to "enough." When I sold 4,000 copies, I wanted to reach 5,000, then 6,00, then 7,000. When I was # 15 on the Amazon Bestseller list, I wanted a place in the top ten. And when I was #4, I scowled at the first 3 and wondered what it would take to topple them off their perches. (Never mind that the other three were hardback bestsellers on the NYTimes lists and backed by big-name publishing houses, while my little paperback was self-published.) I had never thought of becoming a "bestseller", but once there, I didn't want to give it up.
2. All success is relative (in other words, it's all in your mind!). In May, I was thrilled to sell 8 books in a single week; in August, I was disappointed and discouraged when sales fell from 5,000 a day to 700 a day -- and then from 700 a day to 75 a day. What would have been wild success in May felt like total failure in August. Even now, I'm embarrassed by that reaction.
3. Everything comes with a price. The sudden realization that I had thousands of dollars coming in as royalties meant potential disaster for our family finances. Off we went -- first to a financial advisor to look at what the income changes meant in terms of our overall financial picture -- then to hire an accountant who could take over a suddenly-complicated income tax situation -- and finally to the bank to open a separate business account and apply for a business credit card to keep book money separate from everyday living expenses. Like it or not, I had to quit gloating over my "literary" success and start thinking like a hard-hearted business woman, even if that meant laying out more money to pay for expert assistance.
The changes scared me. They still do. I have long quoted the advice, "Be careful what you wish for." No matter, I was totally unprepared for this, and my initial reactions were not among my finest moments. I hope I've learned enough from the experience to keep from repeating my self-absorption and greediness.
At least now, I am back at work on the new book, finances in better shape than they were a month ago, and able at last to take real satisfaction in knowing that the book has brought reading pleasure to others. Those are important benefits, ones that last longer than book rankings or royalty payments.