“How I sold 20,000 copies of my book in a month!”
Have you ever seen a YouTube video or blog post titled in a way similar to the sentence quoted above? Such statements reflect a distorted view of reality, which I would like to discuss in this blog post.
When a person is in a bookstore, or browsing the virtual shelves of Amazon, and they make a decision to purchase a book, to what extent is the author of the book responsible for that purchasing decision? And when the popularity of a book skyrockets, what is the reason for this?
We can look at this in a few different ways.
An author might feel that their book was purchased because the content is great. There may have been a big marketing budget behind the book, causing it to be seen in many places. There might be a cover which is alluring. There might have been a great deal of word of mouth praise surrounding the book. All of the above would be reasons that are commonly understood to have contributed to a reader’s purchasing decision.
However, we can look at things in a slightly different way, with reference to the nature of God.
Let us take the example of advertising. What is it that causes an advertisement to have an influence on an individual? After I spent some time investigating the nature of human perception, I came to understand that God is in control of the way we perceive things. As I argued in this video, it is God who causes thoughts to arise in our minds, and it is also God who causes our emotional reactions to the things we see and hear, as well as our memories.
What I have said in the preceding paragraph is one aspect of an understanding I have developed which is that God is in control of our lives in their entirety. Rather than creation unfolding as a series of causes and effects, I believe all that exists in reality is an ‘eternal now’, which is not ontologically distinct from God. Now is all that exists, and God is all that exists, and on an absolute level, there is no distinction between the two. This being so, the truth is that creation is contained within God, and therefore everything that exists is a part of God, and under God’s control.
The boast I described at the top of this article would only make sense if an author was responsible for everything that led to a purchasing decision. If this is not the case, then to say ‘I’ sold 20,000 books is disingenuous. It would be more correct to say, ‘God caused 20,000 people to buy the book that He wrote through me”.
Seeing the purchasing decision as a result of promotional activity is one way of looking at things. But consider this. Isn’t it the case that what caused someone to buy a copy of your book was that they got out of bed at a certain time, had enough breakfast for them to have the energy to go out, had a phone call from a friend who said they should read more, finished work early so they had time to go to the bookstore, etc. All of these things can be seen to have contributed to a single purchasing decision.
So really, your book sales are never in your hands. If we look at the purchasing decision being a result of causes and effects (a kind of deterministic view), then there is no end to the things which we could say contributed to it. There are literally an infinite number of things that could be said to have contributed to any single event.
Does this mean that crafting a great book and promoting it is irrelevant?
Well, it might be true that one of the ways in which God operates is in a ‘you get out what you put in’ kind of way. So, if an author has laboured over their work, and if a big team of people has been working on every aspect of the book release process, God may cause the book to have more success for these reasons. Maybe, but not necessarily.
The real truth is that anything that contributed to your reader’s purchasing decision was under God’s direct control, as God (who I describe as the cosmic animator) is in control of everything we ever do. No matter how much an author attempts to figure out or boast about what made their book sell so many copies, they are merely fabricating; they should really just give up and thank God, for God is the only true cause of their success.
This post is part of my Praise and Prose series, which looks at the way we use language, especially in matters of faith and spirituality, and whether we could change our language in order to be more truthful. To follow this series, please consider subscribing. Thank you for reading!