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Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers January 2009

vol. 5, no. 1

What a year! Happily, the United States chose new leadership; sadly, the global economy neared collapse. Indeed, many scholars all over the world start the new year without secure jobs or any job at all. Those finishing their PhDs had particularly grim prospects. The US academic job market looked strong in September, but by December many jobs had evaporated, along with significant chunks of universities’ budgets. Even Harvard cancelled job searches.

Few can do well in such dire circumstances. But if I know anything about human nature, some Flourish readers blame themselves for not having jobs and, in particular, for not publishing more. Certainly, when the market is tight, those with publications tend to do better. But blaming yourself is not a productive way to motivate yourself. As I’ve said before, you can’t hate yourself into changing.

So, if you are one of those blaming yourself for not writing more, I want to suggest you take a radical step, here, at the beginning of a terrifying new year. Post a handwritten message on your computer that says “I like to write.” Nothing else. Then, every day, say the words out loud to yourself: “I like to write.”

Some of you may be protesting, “But, I don’t like to write, I hate everything about writing!” I happen to know that is not true, however. Everyone likes something about writing, even if it is just the feeling you get when done. So, see what happens if you change your relationship to writing by reframing it as a pleasure rather than a chore. Don’t say, “I have to write today,” say “I get to write today.”

Remind yourself that writing is one of the most amazing activities we have the privilege of performing. You have only to look at history to see how many have given their lives so that others could have to the right to write what they wanted. When I was a child growing up in Ethiopia, other children would come up to me and beg—not for money or food, but for pens. They were desperate to write. And if you suddenly were without writing tools, you would be, too. Communicating our ideas to others, changing the way that others think about the world, possibly even making the world a better place through writing—this is a privilege that billions have never had. When you sit down at your computer to write, you are committing one of the most revolutionary acts that human beings have ever invented. And it makes you permanent in a way that nothing else can.

So, you could dwell on the boring or frustrating parts of writing. They do exist. Or, you could imagine your life without writing and feel lucky, not burdened. You get to live the extraordinary promise of writing. Embrace this privilege.

Amazon Book Ranking

Ever since Amazon started ranking books by sales, authors have been obsessed with these rankings. Since I am encouraging my readers to buy my book direct from my publisher, my sales ranking at Amazon for Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks will probably not reflect the books’ overall success, but it’s still good to know how it works.

If your Amazon.com Sales Rank (listed in the publication details for each book) is 1,000,001, that means that a million other books are selling better than yours that month. Since Amazon has over 7 million books for sale, this also means that around 6 million books are selling worse than yours is. Not bad! Thus, the lower the number, the better the sales, with a number one book selling thousands of copies a day. When a book is selling well, the sales rank is updated every hour. When it is not selling well, it is updated once a month. If a book has sold no copies, no sales rank is listed.

Authors of new books have been known to spend all day refreshing the Amazon web page for their book to see whether it has gone up or down in rank. Most of the time, this just reminds authors that Harry Potter, Twilight vampires, and diet books will always best you by multiple digits. But some days the Booker prize winner is in the top fifty and some academic reference books do quite well. For instance, one day this past week, the social science APA Style Manual was ranked at a spectacular 24, the humanities MLA Handbook at 128, the ancient Elements of Style at 165, Turabian’s A Manual for Writers’ Manual at 177, and Hackers’ A Writers’ Reference at 183. These fabulous numbers may be due to students and professors ordering them for classes now, at the beginning of many terms. In June, you may see quite different numbers for these textbooks. In fact, observers recommend that you average a week’s or even month’s rankings before assuming anything about the success of a book.

Amazon never publishes the actual number of books you have sold, just these rankings. But, educated guesses suggest a book with a rank of 10,000 or higher is probably selling at least 20 books a day and should be considered a hugely successful book. Any book with a rank higher than 100,000 is doing great.

So, can we resist the temptation to check how my new book is doing so far on Amazon? Apparently not! I’ve seen it bounce around in the past week, from as low as 12,000 to as high as 80,000. Impressive! But, I’ve got to get back to work now, so if you happen to see it break into the four digits, let me know. And thanks for encouraging your friends to buy!

Now Available!

My book is now available for sale. Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success is available online at Sage or online book retailers and from some of your local bookstores.For more information, see the book's webpage. ISBN: 9781412957014

News from the Editor

I had a great holiday, spending time in Seattle with my family and then in Los Angeles with friends. My parents and I did a fun archival project together, going through all the old slides of our time in Ethiopia in the 1960s. I wanted to send the best to be digitized, since it is now getting cheap (one outfit promises to scan all the photos you can fit into a shoebox for $125). The slides reminded us of what an incredibly beautiful country Ethiopia is, with so many rich traditions.