As a niche (I use the word niche here as a stand-in for what others have described as feminist or bad) Canadian novelist, I try not to have high (or any) expectations for the success of my books. Sales data feels nebulous and inaccessible and even when I made the jump from indie publishing to the “Big 5" where this information is shared openly through a portal, it remained difficult to comprehend that people I had never met were going into stores and buying my books. Even more disorienting is when I see it happen before my eyes. Here are five of the strangest places I’ve personally made book sales:
A flight (sale count: 1)
I have a lot of flying anxiety and was on a particularly turbulent flight home to Toronto in the days before I discovered airplane drugs. My seatmate, an older man reading Christine by Stephen King, sensed that I was panicking and put his book away. He turned out to be a retired pilot and explained every sound and movement to me, and asked if I wanted to hold his hand. I didn’t want to, but I did it to be socially gracious and because I was afraid I was going to die. At some point it came up that I am an author, and when we landed he turned his phone toward me, showing me that he'd just ordered one of my novels.
The mental hospital (sale count: 6)
Within the first two weeks I’d sold a copy to each of my roommates and one to a psychiatric nurse—the latter on her Kindle. When I told my friend Joe, he said, “That’s gold, Fawn. You can’t let that anecdote go to waste.” So here I am sharing it. The other 3 sales were two out-patients and a recreational therapist who used to sneak me out to coffee shops on my smoke breaks from the ward.
Somebody else’s family dinner (sale count: 2)
This one isn't as glamorous as the psych ward. Twice I've been at someone else's family gathering and had a relative order one of my books on their cell phone. I have to assume these copies don't get read.
A used car dealership (sales count: 1)
As touched on in my first example, I spent this past summer in a hospital in Halifax. This, to me, seemed like the perfect time to buy my first car. I scheduled a test drive during the longest of my breaks (of which I’d been granted more once I graduated to outpatient) and had the salesman meet me out front of the institution. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be looking for in a car so instead we talked about writing (he was working on a memoir about regular characters he observed in his local Tim Horton's). On our way back to the dealership he first drove me to a nearby Chapters and made me go in and watch him buy my book, and then take a photo with him, the car, and the novel.
In my house, selling artwork to a stranger (1)
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[Photo by Shauna Deathe]
For the past four or so years I've been experimenting with various flavours of unhealthy grieving, the most disruptive of which being hoarding my dead mother's possessions. This month I've been doing a sort of cleanse, selling away the bulk of it on Facebook Marketplace. While loading a series of four etchings into a buyer's trunk, he made reference to the cover of my most recent book (Soft Inheritance) and asked if I would sell him one.
If you take anything from this small and absurd sample, it's that anything is possible.
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.
Fawn Parker is a Giller-nominated author of five books including What We Both Know (M&S 2022), Soft Inheritance (Palimpsest 2023), and the forthcoming Hi, it's me (M&S 2024). Fiction and poetry have appeared in The Literary Review of Canada, The Walrus, and Maisonneuve. Fawn's official website has been surrendered to the great artificial intelligence and she is not in fact a gambling expert or addict.