10/11/2004

Last week I started feeling ready to keel over and decided to take a week's holiday - my first in, oh, two and a half years. I'm still writing, however, though not to quite the same degree as I was last week, so in that sense you could call it something of a working holiday. The only drawback is I realise now that the excessive fatigue I felt last week was simply the precursor to a bad headcold which has now swamped me. Fortunately these things rarely affect me more than a day, so I'm hoping I get back on track tomorrow. I have a first chapter for 'Things Unseen' ready, plus an outline of how I'm expecting it to go. These are going to my agent sometime this week. Apart from that, I forced myself to take it easy over the weekend, most of which was spent either hanging with friends, with MJ, or playing the xbox.

Cold or not, I dragged myself out this weekend to see Iain Banks read from and speak about his new book The Algebraist at Glasgow's Waterstone's earlier this evening. At one point he mentioned having written a vast, sprawling action scene, which his editor subsequently reduced to something like 'he tied himself to the railing' and I thought, nice, so it's not just my editor that does stuff like that, then.

I've become marginally obsessed with Amazon Sales Ranking. This is the number you see that tells you your sales figures within the website (which, by the way, many people don't realise isn't specific to books: that number also represents everything from ipods to cd's).

This is useful, but at times confusing, partly because it's a trade secret: Amazon aren't telling how it works. But I've done a little internet research, and it's possible to make some reasonable guesses according to those who have an interest in these things. What it comes down to is: if you're in top ten thousand, your sales are recalculated every hour. Between ten thousand and a hundred thousand, your sales are calculated by the day. Between a hundred thousand and, say, two million, it gets calculated somewhere between once a week and never.

Also, sometimes your sales will spike suddenly, and can drop and fall according to predictable fluctuations in sales. For instance, it's the new academic year in the UK, and as a result sales figures are artificially pushed down as the number of textbooks sold over Amazon goes up. In other words, a (non-textbook) book might look like it's selling less well, but this isn't actually the case. I've seen Angel Stations bounce ridiculously high at some points, before falling back to a decent but sustainable average.

I heard a story recently that someone, somewhere, supposedly figured out that Amazon sales are measured according to books ordered, not necessarily books sold: this means even if you order a book and then decide not to buy it, it still gets counted. Supposedly (and I suspect this is highly apocryphal, but you never know) some writer out there got all his (or her) mates to order dozens of copies of their book, and then cancel the orders. As a result, the book bounced up into the top ten for a weekend - which pretty much guarantees your being featured on the Amazon front page (as was recently the case with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell).

Supposedly. Of course, there's only one way to tell, and that's ... no, no, forget I said anything, all right? Let's just, I don't know, move on swiftly ...

... to a funny experience I had in Borders the other night, wandering around the music department in the late evening, while MJ browsed through the anthropology books looking for stuff she needs for her studies. I heard this terrific record, and couldn't figure out who it was. I thought maybe one of those bands who're in the middle period of their career, they're all thirty or forty something, not too concerned with commercial considerations, like a smaller version of REM or The Eels, or someone like that. The kind of band who aren't afraid to innovate.

So of course I had to ask the girl at the counter who it was, and blow me away if it wasn't ... now, prepare yourself for this, I'm not kidding, it really was pretty decent sounding - it was William Shatner.

Now, I'd heard rumours Shatner had actually recorded a good album, but how do you take a statement like that? With more than a pinch of salt. It's simply not the kind of statement you can take seriously, right? But the point is, when I heard it, I had no idea who it was, and so couldn't apply any preformed opinions to someone who is, rightfully, acknowledged as the creator of some of the most truly dire music of all history. But somehow things have turned round, and the monkey's gone and written Hamlet after all. Of course, it helps once you know that the album was produced, arranged and co-written by Ben Folds of Ben Folds Five; and all the pieces suddenly fall into place.

I'm going to say it again. I only heard three tracks before I could find a reason to decide it was bad, but instead it's good. Really.
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