Writer in Residence

My One Week on the Bestseller List

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On Saturday, June 21, 2014 I opened the Globe and Mail to the books section (back in the time when newspapers had book sections) and after reading the reviews I began to idly scan the bestseller list.

            And there was my name.

            What the…?

            My Life Among the Apes by Cary Fagan was number 6 on the fiction list, above Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy.  My book?  Of short stories?  Which had been published two years previously?

            This made no sense.  I felt as if I were dreaming, or caught in an episode of The Twilight Zone

I looked down the page to the Canadian Fiction list.  My Life Among the Apes was number one.  That’s right, the number one Canadian bestselling fiction.  Above Joseph Boyden, Terry Fallis, Wayne Johnston, and Miriam Toews. 

When I was a very young man, I never hoped to one day be on the bestseller list.   I hoped to one day find some small, independent publisher that liked my work enough to actually want to put their name on it.  It took me ten years but I did find such a publisher, or rather a series of them since I’ve never managed to stay with the same house for more than one or two books.  Even so, I feel lucky to have had fine editors and good houses, good reviews (most of the time) and some award nominations.  But what I’ve never had are big sales.

I should add that I’m not someone who turns his nose up at the lists.  In the United States, the fiction list is usually filled with highly commercial romances, thrillers, horror novels, and books that have been recently made into movies.  But here in Canada a lot of fine novels make the list, although perhaps not story collections now that the magnificent Alice Munro has retired.  But I’m well aware that my own books of fiction are smaller-scale works on the quiet side and not likely to have that sort of wide appeal.  Hey, that’s fine.  Writers find their readers one at a time, no matter how big or small.

So how did my story collection end up on the list?  Was it some sort of accounting error?  (The bestseller lists have often been accused of inaccuracy in the past.)  It took me a beat or two to figure it out.  Of course!  My book was on the list because of a bulk sale.  Wilfred Laurier University had chosen it to give to every new first-year arts student.  That was 1,500 copies.  Later they would bring me to the campus for a couple of days to give a talk and visit some classes, a wonderfully energizing experience.  Those copies—no doubt counted as individual sales—were enough to vault me onto the lists.  That might not seem like a lot, but in Canada—especially out of the Christmas season—it was more than enough.

Naturally when Saturday came around again I immediately turned to the bestseller lists. My book was nowhere to be found.  It had appeared like a phantom, only to vanish again.  Had anyone even noticed?  Possibly not. But I knew.  I knew that I was now and forever Cary Fagan, bestselling author.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.