Yesterday I accompanied the Darling Wife on one of her (many, many) charity endeavors. She takes an elderly gentleman to Walmart to shop for his groceries, and it’s a testament to her unfailing moral compass that she smiled serenely and nodded through his rather salty (read: wildly inappropriate) jokes and comments while also suffering crippling prenatal nausea. The fact that she does this every two weeks is totally amazing to me. She is Best Thing.
I was there mostly to be a pack mule, as it’s very difficult to haul the gentleman’s groceries up the five floors of his government-supplied housing to his apartment. However, I did have a minor, selfish, ulterior motive in accompanying the DW to Walmart, and I was able to act on it when we got in the very long line to check out.
I meandered over to the book section and glanced over the titles there. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, since I’d heard about this, but hearing about something is very different from realizing it is true. I didn’t see anything in the fantasy section, nor in the “new arrivals” section. But when I went over to the thrillers section, chock-full of Janet Evanovich, Clive Cussler, and James Patterson, I found this:
(You will see it in the very middle, with the big red symbol on the front.)
This is something I had known was coming, a little. The fact that it was coming at all was very unexpected, however.
Now, as you can guess, very few novels appear in supermarket bookshelves. They are almost always highly commercial novels, the kind of books whose numbers require powerful calculators and big, expansive spreadsheets. They are sports car novels. Corvette novels. Porsche novels. Novels that appear on many lists, often in the top spot.
And now, sitting next to them, is my ugly little duckling.
I don’t know what kind of car it is. The metaphor utterly fails when it gets to Mr. Shivers.
When I wrote Mr. Shivers, I did not think it commercial in any way. It was a weird, audaciously dark novel with a magical realist/fantastical/horror/whatever-the-reviewer-wants-to-call-it-that-day plot and some very slight literary aspirations. These sorts of things hardly make a blip on anyone’s radar. If they are lucky, they’re admired by a few, and then retreat into the shadows. If they are not lucky, then they are instantaneously forgotten.
When Orbit showed interest in the book, and later began to publicize it with the sort of confidence one gives to sure-fire-hits, I was very grateful, but also confused and doubtful. “Really?” I would say when I heard their predictions for the novel’s performance. I suppose it now needs to be said that I am, regrettably, a constant Doubting Thomas. Each day I am surprised that the sun has come up, and then again when it manages to navigate its way back down.
So, needless to say, the book section at Walmart was not a place I ever expected to find Mr. Shivers. I even took the front copy and flipped through it in disbelief.
Some of you are probably wondering why it is there. Is Mr. Shivers a huge, mammoth, James-Cameron-style blockbuster hit? I’ll be honest with you, and say that no, it is not. I don’t have any definite sales yet (those take ages to produce), but I’ve heard that it’s selling well for a debut. But “well for a debut” does not exactly mean offshore-Caribbean-account-type sales. Not nearly the sort of sales that the novels below and above and to either side of Mr. Shivers in the picture above rack up. And really, if those sales had indeed been netted, don’t you think I would have told you about it? Probably in all caps, with far too many exclamation points?
So if Mr. Shivers is not an unstoppable juggernaut of a smash hit, why is it there? From what I can understand, the reason is simply that someone at Walmart liked it. As always in the publishing industry, sometimes that’s all it takes. If someone likes a story enough, they may do some very unusual things for it. Sometimes they agent it. Sometimes they publish it. Sometimes they get all their friends to read it. And sometimes they stock it next to all the other international bestsellers like it’s the most normal thing in the world.
Now, a second question – does merely stocking Mr. Shivers at Walmart guarantee its success? Is this the touch of Midas himself that we’re witnessing? To use some colloquial phrasing, has daddy done made it rain for the fledgling Bennett household?
The answer is a resounding no, no, a thousand times no. Nothing, nothing, nothing is guaranteed in the publishing industry. There is no Midas touch, no sure-fire guarantee, no Lehman-Brothers-style return on our investment. The book still needs a lot of fan support, word of mouth (this would be where you come in, dear reader, as well as myself), and a hell of a lot of luck for it to be an undeniable hit.
But this development is very nice. It is a Good Thing. And it will help.
So what will happen? What does this really mean, overall? I don’t know. I’m not yet sure if this will mean anything, in the long run. As always, the writer’s position is far more distant and detached than anyone would care to admit.
So I’ll put my ear to the ground from time to time and to try and catch any distant rumblings, and I’ll report them here as best I can. And for now I’ll ruminate on how very odd this whole trip has been so far, and how many odd places it has taken us, and wonder where it might be taking us next.