The Books Sales Detective (part 1)


The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye hit the international shelves last week, and the biggest question on my mind was of course: is anyone out there going to buy this book?

It’d done really well in Singapore partly due to the hoohah over the NAC’s grant withdrawal, and the pre-release reviews had been excellent – but there were all sorts of obstacles in the way: (a) there was no way of knowing how much interest there would be in a book set entirely in Singapore and dealing in large part with its history and politics, and (b) I’m not JK Rowling.

As with The Shadow Hero, Amazon’s sales rankings seemed to be the easiest way to track sales, so I clicked on the book page every other day to see how things were going.

With more good reviews and previews from a couple of comics sites, the book seems to hover somewhere in the 20,000-40,000 range the first week. It’s not exactly a house on fire.

This feels like it could be a disaster. Like most cartoonists, I dream of having a Neil Gaimanesque career where we get to pursue personal projects that are somehow also commercially viable. Bills need paying, the future needs planning, and even if death consumes us all in the end, there is still the hope you can make a decent fist of this time you do have here. And having a book sell well means you get to go to the publishers with the next book you want to write/draw and ask for a bit more advance, get a better page rate. If the book sinks into semi-obscurity, then its maybe back to the drawing board. Everything is tied up in a bundle of hope, fear and anxiety, there’s really no escape, except maybe by replacing it with a different bundle of hope, fear and anxiety.


Then the NPR Fresh Air review goes on air.

Despite spending a couple of years in the US, I’ve never really listened to NPR (my staple media diet in the RISD art school days were late night reruns of Star Trek TNG and Buffy the Vampire Slayer), so don’t really have a clear sense of just how big a deal it is in the scheme of things.


As it turns out, lots of people listen to NPR Fresh Air, and the very kind review sends the book spiralling up the Amazon charts – at one point it maybe reaches #174.

The A.V. Club posts a positive review as well, and at this point the book is up there with the likes of Maus, Persepolis and Patience in the Literary GN category.


These things can be a bit misleading though, as this article recounts:

Behind the Scam: What Does It Take to Be a ‘Best-Selling Author’? $3 and 5 Minutes.

How many book you need to sell to get up the rankings seems to be a bit speculative, and being a nominal best seller doesn’t mean you can start buying Expensive Things.

So I’m not sure what exactly I’ve learnt so far in terms of actual books sales – that will have to wait till actual numbers come in from the publisher.

One thing I was curious about for now though: what were the actual best selling books out there at the moment on Amazon?


As it turns out, eating and dieting are a major preoccupation.

And everybody loves Harry Potter.

Now: is anyone out there going to read this post?

And so it begins again.











  1. I literally just bought your book. Like, right now. Just a second ago. I heard the review on fresh Air and went straight to Amazon and then searched the book title on twitter and then found you and then clicked on the link for this blog and then left this comment. So, yes…it seems that your book will be reaching many people, including new readers like me. Congratulations on the success. Can’t wait to read your book when it arrives.

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