Simon Rich and How Many Books You Need to Sell to be a Success


Gawker’s Richard Lawson wrote today about being against being oh-so-outraged by nepotism, triggered by the longstanding freefloating ire among some folks regarding Simon Rich. (Unfamiliar? Simon Rich was born in 1984, to Times columnist Frank Rich, went to Dalton, was Harvard ’07, edited the Lampoon, is published in the New Yorker, writes for “Saturday Night Live,” is cute and shaggy and just sold the rights to his first novel (and his third book!) to director Jason Reitman. Sure! It’s like a recipe for resentment!) Lawson concludes: “It’s not that they got the wonderful opportunity, the secret passage through the back door. It’s that we didn’t. And that just makes us seem a little petty and insecure and, in a strange way, vain. It sort of implies that the only thing standing in our way is a lack of access.” That may be true though! Lack of access is the number one path to failure. (That’s why people move to New York.)

Okay, sure, young Mr. Rich has a pretty successful resume. But he’s working in a very competitive field and it’s gotta be stressful. I couldn’t do the things he does (up to and including graduating from Harvard; no way would I have made it through that).

And let’s look at the nitty-gritty. Playing the “he sold x many books” game is always a fool’s errand, we should first acknowledge. There is only one reason we’re indulging in it here: the point being that there is nothing to be jealous of when someone sells or publishes a book. The publishing industry is very wacky! All kinds of crazy people sell books! You too can be one. And publishing a book is often a terrible, ugly process, and after all that, you are forcibly reminded that nearly no one buys books.

But people get a little crazy also anyway when someone publishes or sells a book. Because we’re people who like books, really like them, sometimes we get confused, and start thinking this means that the book-selling person is elevated in some way or has arrived or is famous. That is incorrect.

So. According to Nielsen BookScan, which disclaims always that it reports about 75% of book sales (because it excludes WalMart and Sam’s Club), Simon Rich’s first collection, Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations, from 2007, sold 21,000 copies, which is pretty amazing! [N.B.: This originally said 25,000 copies, which was a typo; the actual figure is 21,000.]

His second collection, Free-Range Chickens, from 2009, sold 2000 in paperback and 4000 in hardcover.

And his novel, Elliot Allagash, the one that he just sold to Reitman and which was published in hardcover this May, has sold 1000 copies.

You can go to a Kinko’s today and publish your book and get a thousand people to pay you for it. Except you’ll make money per copy! Because you won’t be paying back an advance! And you won’t have to go to marketing meetings! You’ll just start a Tumblr or something! Resent not. Go have some fun. Finish your stupid novel tonight!

Photo of Simon Rich by Adrian Kinloch.