Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Shack, from Self-Published to 15 Million Copies Sold!

While browsing through the list of best-selling books of all time I came across a title that has sold 15 million copies since 2007, a title and author that I was unfamiliar with.  Then I read that 26 publishers had turned it down, mostly for religious concerns I believe, so the author and two friends formed a publishing company, Windblown Media to sell this one book.  That makes it a self-published book, whereby they invested a mere $200-300 to promote it via a website, and then, after a predicable slow start, the book took off by word of mouth, got picked up by a major publisher/distributer, and became the best-selling book of 2008 and one of the biggest best-selling books ever, and it’s just getting started.  (Give it another ten, twenty years and it’s going to double, maybe triple that amount).

The book is The Shack by William Paul Young.  To put this into perspective, the sales in four years are half of those for such behemoths as Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, published in 1936; Diary of Anne Frank, published in 1947; and one of my all time favorites Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which was published in 1960, over 50 years ago!  I wonder how The Shack will fair in fifty years?  At the rate that it’s going, and the controversy surrounding it—some are calling it heresay and already there are a couple of lawsuits between the author and its original publisher—it could even pull a Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, which has sold an incredible 80 million copies in less than 10 years. Having a big court case that involves a book about some thorny religious issues always helps…

Intrigued, I went to the website, read about the author, who had never really published anything before, though he always saw himself as a writer, and had written stuff on his own, including short stories.  In fact, he wrote The Shack not for publication but for his children (and a few close friends), at the urging of his wife (after the accidental shooting death of the counselor who turned the author’s life around).  He only made 15 copies.

Intrigued, I immediately read the forward from the website  and right away I knew that I was about to read something special.  It also posted the first chapter and I felt blown away by the writing, by its sense of being, sense of place; here I am in the tropics on the island of Borneo and I haven’t felt that bitter coldness since I left Madison, Wisconsin and it all came back in a flash.  It was that palpable, and reminded me once again why I moved here.

Although I found the print hard to read on my computer, the typeface so small and faint, I was too caught up in the story.  I was hooked.  My mind was immediately made up to buy this book this weekend; I was even tempted to order it on line, something I’ve never done before, or hop into my car and track it down today (I haven’t ruled this out).  I’m that eager to read the rest of the story.

For those who write, the publisher, Windblown Media, offers some advice to writers—this is from someone who walked their talk, took a self-published book to number one on the New York Times bestseller list.  So follow their advice; I am.  But do put all publishing agreements, even among friends, in writing.

I admit, while reading the opening to this book that I felt like I should throw in the towel as a writer.  I know I can’t touch this.  But then an hour later I got an email from my French publisher about the ongoing post-translation corrections, and I thought, well yes, I too am a writer.  Plus one of my own novels, The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady, just did pretty good in the Faulkner-Wisdom Novel contest, thus proving, once again, at least to myself, that I can write novels.  My novel also tackles some thorny religious issues, like the resurrection, though maybe not in the edgy, hard hitting fashion of The Shack.  Perhaps in the two follow up books, I should make them edgier and make them controversial, too.  There is still a lot I need to learn, one of the reasons I'm so keen to read The Shack.

I know, as a writer, I may never have a book that will break out on the scale of The Shack or have the impact of To Kill a Mockingbird, but then so few writers have—see the above list for yourself!  In fact, many of the best-selling books and best-selling series of books (see further down the list) are children’s book!  Not great literature by any means (especially books for pre-schoolers like Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, which I love.  Yet there is no denying that these powerful so-called children stories will enchant and excite a child’s heart, generation after generation, and show them what’s possible in the world, and also show them that the real key to life is in their own hands, the gift of reading and the flight of imagination. 

We as mere mortals, whether we are writing for children, writing for adults, writing for our own family and friends, or just blogging, must continue to do so, or how will be ever know if we can impact the world with our very own words?  Who knows what will be in our future?  There’s no harm in trying, either.  For me, The Shack gives me hope as a writer, and hope is always a good thing to have.  

***Here the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.


sintaicharles said...

I bought the novel after reading your blog. Will read it after finish reading Virginia Woolf's 'To The Lighthouse.'

sintaicharles said...

I look forward to reading your novel.

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Thanks. Hope you enjoy it, and mine too!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks for the introduction. Will go buy a copy and read it...

Borneo Expat Writer said...

I picked up a copy while in Penang and finished it yesterday. Powerful book, insightful. He asks all the right questions, but its the answers that astound. A good story, good ending; ties up all loose ends. Strongly recommend it.