A little over a month ago Belle and I published the new edition of Reason and Persuasion, our Plato book. (She did the translations of three dialogues; I provided the commentary, illustrations and bookmaking.) Ta-DA! Well, actually it was more what one calls a soft launch. Since then I’ve got all the publication outlets squared away for the time being. You can get it on Amazon, in paper or in Kindle format. Making a workable Kindle version was an education in itself. Reflowable text and approximately 500 spot illustrations is a tough combo. It’s like practicing the fine art of flower arrangement in a sloshing bucket. It’s like trying to arrange all the little marshmallows inside the jell-o. But enough about my lifestyle choices. I set up Kindle matchbook so this thing that almost overwhelmed me is free if you buy the modestly-priced paper version. Good deal! I think the nicest-looking edition may actually be the fixed layout iBooks version (same as the GooglePlay and Kobo versions, if that’s how you like to play it.) Graphics are all very crisp.
As I was saying: we launched, and, since our lawyers told us we couldn’t use Harry Potter in the title, sales have been … modest. (Hey, it’s the fourth edition of a Plato book that is also available as free PDF’s. Did I mention: free PDFs?) We’ve been bobbing along in the low 6-digits, sales-wise, on Amazon. Checking Amazon rankings more than once a month is a thoroughly unhealthy form of fetish worship. Yet I confess to a moment of depression when we slipped below the 1,000,000-mark, albeit only briefly. Would it be too much to ask for the world to acknowledge that there are maybe not a million books better than mine? But then I checked Amazon UK and, like Spinal Tap in that scene in the film, was cheered to see we were charting! (Presumably 2 people bought the book in a matter of hours, producing this anomaly.) I screencapped, in case glory never came again:
Also, this, along a different selling axis:
You see, it’s not just that Wittgenstein is a genius name. When I was in grad school, reading Ray Monk’s biography, The Duty of Genius, together with Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was an intensely intellectually transformative experience for me. My dissertation came out of that. More generally, it was one of those rare moments when some thinker or work or idea or argument you are quite familiar with – which never meant much to you before – suddenly opens out as an intensely wonderful and interesting prospect. I had always liked the later Wittgenstein, but I just didn’t get the Tractatus. Then, suddenly, I did. Has that happened to you? Not just that you found something new. We’ve all been there, I trust. Rather, something old, familiar, tossed carelessly to the back of the lumber room of your mind – something that seems a waste of space, even if you can’t bear to permanently discard what is, after all, a valuable antique – is suddenly radically reassessed? You get it! It’s solving problems, opening doors! Well, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus was all that, for me. For a time. And that experience was even the seed of our Plato book (well, my portion of it.) I never liked Plato as an undergraduate. To tell you the truth, he almost prevented me from being a philosophy major. Plato just seemed dumb. Then later, thanks to getting it about the Tractatus, Plato finally made sense, after all those years. He grew on me, and I was teaching him to undergraduates, and then I wrote a very weird book about it, with cartoons.
So it was nice to see my book in honorable proximity to the early Wittgenstein and Ray Monk, if only in UK sales, if only for a day or even just an hour.
And if you, too, are an author who suffers less than sterling Amazon sales ranking, I recommend the following illogical procedure. Keep going down the lists until you find a book that is much better than yours, which has an even lousier ranking. The implicit injustice you are perpetrating on that superior soul shall be a balm to the injustice worse authors are inflicting on you! (The ridiculousness of this thought is, in its way, very Wittgensteinian. The desire to be a genius, experienced as something between duty and a daydream, getting wires crossed with the vain desire to be recognized alongside genius, though you know you are anything but.)
Possibly you will also want to reread the opening to Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety:
Concerning my own humble person, I frankly confess that as an author I am a king without a country and also, in fear and much trembling, an author without any claims … When it comes to human authority, I am a fetish worshipper and will worship anyone with equal piety, but with one proviso, that it be made sufficiently clear by a beating of drums that he is the one I must worship and that it is he who is the authority and Imrimatur for the current year. The decision is beyond my understanding, whether it takes place by lottery or balloting, or whether the honor is passed around so that each individual has his turn as authority, like a representative of the burghers on the board of arbitration.