The Onion interviews Dave Eggers (only it’s a serious interview), the man behind McSweeney’s and author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. After that book exploded, Eggers wanted to tone things back for his next book, You Shall Know Our Velocity, which made for an interesting publishing story:
O: The decision to initially market You Shall Know Our Velocity solely through your website and through independent bookstores caused a significant ripple in the publishing industry. What are your thoughts now about how that situation played out?
DE: We thought it was great. I wanted to write and publish a book, but I didn’t want any of the hoopla that came with the first book. I didn’t do any interviews, but I did tour. I was like, “Is it possible to write a book without everything else that comes with it? Can I just go out and meet my peers, sign books, and go home?” So we printed 50,000 copies and gave them to the independent bookstores that we worked with, to reward the indies and keep the whole process under control. And we think it worked really well. We sold all the copies, and the bookstores were very happy, because it drew in new customers.
O: Do you think that you hurt sales in the long run? Would you have sold more copies if you’d gone with the big chains in the first place?
DE: Oh, sure.
O: And that was never a consideration?
DE: No, I don’t think we even went back to press on it. Well, maybe for a few thousand copies. It melted people’s brains at the time, but we really wanted to limit the sales, and I never wanted to be on a bestseller list. When I was on the bestseller list with the first book, everyone who knows me knows that every week it continued to be on the list was a very dark week for me. Everyone knows that all I wanted was to be off that list.
DE: Because of everything that comes with it. I never wanted that kind of attention. I’m not good at that kind of thing. I had come from Might magazine, which had 10,000 readers, tops, any given month, and that was very nice and comfortable for me. This sort of mainstream-whatever is really uncomfortable, and I didn’t realize what it would do. All I wanted was to return to life before, and it started with getting off that damn list. So with Velocity, we sort of engineered it well so that there was no way that we could get on this list. I know it sounds really weird, because everybody assumes that everybody wants to be a bestseller or whatever. But the way that McSweeney’s is run is, “Can there be a way that what they call mid-list authors, people who don’t sell in the Danielle Steel category, can still have an audience and still make a living?” McSweeney’s has very little overhead, to the degree that we can sell 6,000 copies of somebody’s book, and he can still get a decent amount of money, because he’s getting more per book because of the low overhead. That’s still our goal. I was just sort of going along with the same business model, like, “If we sell 50,000 copies, then everyone will do fine, and life will stay quiet.”