This morning, I am obsessing about the number “1.”  That’s the number of returns I’ve had for The Slaves Have Names.  Actually, I’m obsessing about two “1”s – one refund for an ebook and one for a print copy.   6011310674

I know that Amazon has a liberal return policy – 7 days for any reason – and I know some people might return the book because they accidentally bought it.  I can tell myself all the rational reasons I want, but still, I come back to the idea that someone didn’t like my book.

It’s sad really.

I also check the rankings on Amazon pretty regularly – as in every hour, at least – and get a little jolt when the ranking goes down.  (If it drops below 100,000, I may do a little dance of joy).  I check my blog stats, too, to see who might have visited to learn more.

Numbers are useful, but they are a terrible way of measuring the value of my work.  They’re too fickle, and they’re beyond my control.

They make a nasty lover.

Instead, I keep reminding myself that it’s the work that matters – that it’s how people come to know Primus and Minerva, Cato and Dilcey that matters.  I remember that the writing itself was important – a journey of growth and insight for me, even if no one else sees the book.  I remember that the practice, the discipline of the task was good and wholesome for me.  I remember that if only one person finds something about their ancestors or learns one way to find those people, I have done good work.

I write these things out here – and in notebooks on my desk – to remember – for the writing makes it more real.

More real than rankings or refund numbers. More real than sales or royalty reports.  The people – the ones in the pages, the ones who walked this earth before me, the ones who read – they are my focus.  Always.

Even as I resist the urge to check those rankings just one more time.

What about you? Do you get obsessed with the numbers related to your writing? How do you battle that focus?


I’ll be hosting a Google Hangout this Friday, December 6th at Noon to chat about slavery, genealogy research, and the amazing people who inspired my book The Slaves Have Names.  Please join me by RSVPing at this link. Hope to see you there.