I was feeling serious rock overkill yesterday. My family has been vacationing in Arizona and New Mexico for over a week, and we’ve seen and hiked through some of the most breathtaking rock formations on the planet: The Grand Canyon, Sedona, Tent Rocks, and various others. So as we drove from Flagstaff to Albuquerque, I almost suggested to my husband that we skip the Petrified Forest. Maybe we needed a day off.
There was also part of me that wanted to get to the hotel in Albuquerque as quickly as possible, so I could find a quiet spot to sit with my laptop. I’ve got two novels currently published and am hoping to send a third manuscript to my wonderful editor in a week or so. Therefore, I was itching to get some work done. Like almost all writers, I’m conscious of book sales, and would like mine to be higher. I’ve also heard plenty of people say that the more books an author has available, the better their overall sales will be. Meaning that the sooner that third book gets published….
Anyway, that’s where my mind was as we pulled up to the Visitor Center at the Petrified Forest. We’ll look at some trees that are now rock, then get back on the road, I thought. But when I actually saw the amazing, colored crystals that had formed inside trees that died and decayed 225 million years ago, I began to view the whole “book sales” issue in a different light.
You see, the Petrified Forest consists of thousands of dead trees that fell into river channels during the Mesozoic Era. Over time, the insides of the trees decayed, but they retained their external structures, and those structures were filled with silica from volcanic ash and dead organisms, which crystalized into various masterpieces of natural artwork.
At first, I was simply stunned by the beauty. But then, I began to think about all the components of those crystals. The plants, the birds, the dinosaurs, who’d unwittingly lent themselves to the spectacle. None of them is individually “famous,” but they’re now blended together in unimaginably gorgeous structures they had no idea they were creating.
And that reminded me of classes I’ve taken over the years about periods of art in history. I recalled how teachers—pressed for time—would focus on the “stars” of various periods: DaVinci, Michangelo, and Raphael during the Renaissance; Monet, Renoir, and Manet during the Impressionist period, etc. But what about all the other artists that teachers seldom have time to focus on? Would those art movements have made the impact they did on society if there hadn’t been hundreds—even thousands—of other people painting in similar styles? Of course not.
Which brings me back to the topic of book sales. Because I honestly don’t know any writer—famous, just starting out, traditionally published, self-published, hybrid published—who doesn’t wish he or she were selling more books. But stepping back and looking at those crystallized trees, I realized that even though many authors won’t become “stars,” we’re all part of something too. And some day—long after we’re gone—people will look back on the books of the twenty-first century and classify them in some way.
So don’t let lagging book sales frustrate you! As you keep writing, try to remember that you’re contributing to a movement, to a period in history. It would be pretty presumptuous to try and figure out exactly how this period will be remembered, but like those creatures whose remains created the wonder of the Petrified Forest, we’re components of something much bigger than we can understand.