What’s in your wallet? – flash fiction

I asked the nurse to hand me my wallet. She fumbled it a little and a condom fell out. She kept a straight face, discretely picking it up and setting in on my blanket. Then she left the room, not wanting to burst out laughing in front of me.

Rocky, my roommate, grinned at me from his bed. He was 50 years older than me, with his scraggly beard and glassy eyes.

“Sorry about that,” I said.

Rocky chuckled. “I understand. I was a young buck once. You a college boy?”

“Yeah.”

“I never went to college, but I did have my fun.” He nodded at an inevitable transition. “Then I got married. Margie and me was married 40 years, and I liked that a whole hell of lot better than carrying one of them things in my wallet.” He gestured toward the condom I struggled to stuff back into its home.

“40 years? That’s awesome!” It seemed like the right thing to say.

“It was.” He sighed. “Except for the last few. She got Alzheimer’s. I carried her license in my wallet ‘cause she’d lose it otherwise. She’d lose anything you gave her.” He shook his head. “Then she’d snip at me about it. Finally I said, ‘Margie if this next 40 years don’t go no better, I’m calling it quits.’ That was the last joke I told her.” He frowned. “Not a very good joke.”

“I’m sorry.” I didn’t know what else to say.

“She passed almost two years ago.”

I didn’t want to say sorry again. “Do you still keep her license in your wallet?”

“No. I couldn’t look at it every time. It only reminded me of the past. But I guess she told the last joke. After all that time wedged in that little sleeve, it left a faint impression of her picture on the plastic, like a ghost staring up at me.”

“Did you get a new wallet?”

“Oh no. I don’t mind the ghost. It doesn’t give me bad memories; it says she’s still with me. And being how I already invested 40 years, I guess I’ll keep her.” He turned his wet eyes toward the window and spoke at the sky. “Yup, I guess I’ll keep her.”

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You have been culled

When it comes to book authorship, the stat that matters is sales. There are lots of other stats you can follow, but they don’t mean much if they don’t result in sales. Most of the stats you can watch don’t result in sales.

If you are an Indie/self-published author, and you don’t have lots of time or money to spend on promotion, you might not see much movement in your sales numbers.

There are many reason why you may not have time for promotion: you work a day job; you have multiple family obligations (e.g. children); you need your limited spare time to write more books.

Likewise, there are good reasons you may lack funds for promotion: your day job doesn’t pay well; your family obligations outgrow their shoes every three months; Uber passengers complained because you were typing at a keyboard while you’re driving in your spare time.

Sorry children. Daddy bought a banner ad instead. You’ll just have share the one pair until the sales start rolling in.

Everyone has their crosses to bear, and anemic book sales is one of yours. Compared to keeping your family obligations healthy and in fitting shoes, it’s not even a heavy one.

But it’s the reason you bother to look at other statistics.

Other statistics are less important, but they’re probably more interesting than the drying wall of paint that is your sales total. They can keep you engaged in your own writing career (using career loosely) until that future day when you actually develop a writing career.

Goodreads offers a full menu of ancillary stats. These stats don’t mean much in terms of charting success, but an author can move them without a huge investment of time or money.

It’s kind of an illusion to make you feel better.

If it makes you feel better, it’s a useful illusion.

The easiest feel-good illusion to create on Goodreads is the “to read” line. You can bump this by giving away a single book. When people enter the giveaway, a percentage of them neglect to uncheck the box that puts the book on their “to read” shelf, making it appear as if new readers are getting ready to read your book.

Like all temporary stupors, this Giveaway buzz comes with a hangover. Periodically, Goodreads readers realize their own mortalities, and that no one is likely to read 250,000 books in one lifetime. They turn to their “to read” lists and weed out some of the whims and un-won freebies. This is your book. You have been culled.

Being culled is somewhere below spilled milk on the list of things to cry over. Yes, a number related to your book has gone down, which isn’t good, but it’s a fantasy number. “To read” numbers rarely translate into “currently reading” numbers, which is the only stat in the same neighborhood as sales.

There is no shame in being culled. It means there was a person who at one time was willing to accept your book if it were totally free and delivered directly to their home, and that’s a start. That person has moved on, and so should you, because it’s time to take your family obligations shopping for shoes again.