It’s been three months since my non-fiction book about Plotinus, a 3rd century Greek philosopher, was published. So I thought I’d catch up with myself and provide an exclusive update to my HinesSight weblog readership about what is happening with “Return to the One.” I found Brian outside, enjoying an unusually warm October Oregon day on his deck.
Me: Thanks for taking the time for this interview.
Brian: No problem. I’ve managed to fit you in between reading the Oregonian sports page and taking my Sunday afternoon nap. Always got time for someone I’m so close to and admire so much. Fire away.
Me: Well, let’s start with how book sales are going. Are they meeting your expectations?
Brian: I’ll put it this way. “Return to the One” is a wonderfully-written, extensively-researched, skillfully-edited book about a philosopher who is recognized as one of the greatest mystics and metaphysical thinkers in Western history. My book is inspiring, profound, and easier to read than any other book about Plotinus. It describes a highly persuasive, scientifically compatible, non-religious system that is as close to a universal spirituality as you’ll find anywhere.
Me: So, book sales must be…
Brian: Absolutely awful, naturally. The book is staying on the downhill side of Amazon’s million ranking, but not by much. Embarrassingly, according to Amazon my out-of-print book, “God’s Whisper, Creation’s Thunder,” is selling better than “Return to the One.” And I note that Mitch Albom’s “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” is #24, while my book is, well, it’s too depressing to say. That’s one difference between the Albom book and my book. Another difference is that I can pretty much guarantee that none of us really is going to meet five people in heaven, while I am quite confident that we are indeed going to encounter the One after death, because the One is what is really real.
Me: Are you surprised by how poorly your book is selling?
Brian: No. As I say in the book, most people don’t want to know the truth about what lies beyond the world that we know now. They want to remain with their own comfortable beliefs about what happens after death, what “heaven” and “God” are like, all that stuff. So religious writings that reinforce existing beliefs naturally are going to be more popular than mystical writings that say, “You’ve got to find out the truth for yourself.”
My intuitive pre-publication projection was that maybe 5% of readers are interested in mysticism, and maybe 1% in Greek philosophy. Since my book is billed on the back cover as “Greek Philosophy/Mysticism,” I multiplied 100 million potential readers by 5% and got 5 million. Then I multiplied 5 million by 1% and got 50,000 possible sales to aficionados of mysticism and Greek philosophy. But somewhere along the mathematical line I must have omitted a zero multiplicative term, because zero is much closer to actual sales than 50,000.
Me: How much publicity has the book gotten? Maybe that is the problem.
Brian: “Maybe”? For sure. The publisher and I have sent pre-and-post publication copies out to lots of reviewers. So far, nada, nothing. I do feel, however, that I’m able to track the review copies through used bookstores that have “Return to the One” for sale. For example, if I send a book to a reviewer with an address on Broadway in New York City, a few weeks later a used book will pop up for sale—guess where!—at a bookstore near Broadway in New York. I like to fantasize that the clerk from the New York Times Book Review glances at my book before she plops it down on the store’s used book buying desk and says to herself, “This looks pretty interesting.”
Me: It doesn’t sound like reviewers have been very kind to you.
Brian: They haven’t been kind, and they haven’t been unkind. The nastiest thing about book reviewers is that often you don’t even get a rejection letter. They just ignore you, which is the cruelest cut of all. I did hear back from the “New Age Retailer” folks, though. They said in an email: “This is to let you know the reviewer who read ‘Return to the One’ by Brian Hines decided not to review the book. He found the book a bit dry, not relevant to today's issues. I regret to say we will not publish a review on this title.” I loved the “not relevant to today’s issues” comment. Hey! Understanding the nature of reality is relevant to today’s issues, New Age Retailer!
Me: You seem bitter. Does it bother you that reviewers aren’t giving your book the attention you feel it deserves?
Brian: No, not exactly. It bothers me that reviewers and publishers didn’t give my book the attention it deserved. If I had been able to get “Return to the One” published by a more mainstream publisher, maybe my sales wouldn’t be languishing. But I’m not alone in having such a “are all you guys idiots?” attitude toward book publishers. A friend recently turned me on to a great web site by Ashland author Gerard Jones. It’s amazing. And often hilarious. He includes actual email correspondence between he and countless agents and publishers. This is one of the publisher pages. Scroll down and you’ll have some good laughs, especially if you’re a writer. Take a look at his agent pages and you’ll learn why it’s so important for a writer to have a good vocabulary: you need to have a wide variety of swear words at your command to be able to respond appropriately to the fools who, sadly, so often end up evaluating book proposals at publishing houses.
Well, it’s almost nap time.
Me: OK. Let’s end with a quick peek at your next book project.
Brian: Given my experience so far with “Return to the One” I’m strongly leaning toward something with more popular appeal. “The Five Pets You Will Meet in Heaven” is my working title. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?