I wanted to take a moment today to talk about In Search Of. Regular readers will have read my review of the show and know that I wasn’t too taken with the rebooted series’ approach to mysteries, or host Zachary Quinto’s off-brand Leonard Nimoy impression in a program that reinvents the old documentary series as a personality-focused reality show. But I was surprised to see that audiences seem to agree. Despite the massive promotion the History Channel gave the series, and a comfortable berth with an Ancient Aliens lead-in, the show seems to be performing modestly.
The Nielsen ratings for the limited series’ first two outings show that In Search Of is failing to keep its lead in’s audience. Consider this: While Ancient Aliens saw its audience grow slightly over the past two weeks, In Search Of has fallen, though this is to be expected with any new show as curious viewers discover they don’t like it. But In Search Of is fumbling more than 10% of the Ancient Aliens audience. The numbers below are in millions:
Ancient Aliens 1.136
In Search Of 1.083
Ancient Aliens 1.194
In Search Of 1.002
On the other hand, History is probably pleased that In Search Of has been a much larger draw than the series it replaced, The Tesla Files. That show, in its final original outing, attracted only 770,000 viewers. However, now that the curiosity value of In Search Of is fading, it will be interesting to see if the downward trend continues and the show falls beneath the million-viewer mark, which seems to be a benchmark for cancellation at History. While In Search Of is doing better than most shows History has tried to pair with Ancient Aliens, it remains to be seen whether the expense of a celebrity host is worth the modest ratings gains.
One sign that it might not be worth the money is that media coverage of the show died off within hours of its premiere. The newspapers and blogs offered splashy and fawning coverage of Quinto, who toured the late-night shows and did other media interviews to promote the series. It didn’t really work. The TV critics stopped talking about the show, and so far as I could find, there was very little, if any, online discussion of the series. A show that lacks audience engagement won’t go very far in the long run.
And since this is also going to be my least-read blog post of the week, due to my review of Ancient Aliens that will go up after the episode airs tonight, I also wanted to talk a little bit about my frustration with the process of trying to bring my new book on the myth of the Mound Builders to print.
(Commenters who are just going to post snarky comments about their hatred of me and my work can save their wrists the trouble; I will delete them.)
I have worked hard to get my book before the agents and editors who might help it find the right home, but I can’t get a response from them. Through my network of contacts, I got in touch with an editor at one of the big New York publishing houses, who liked my book and offered me a list of ten agents he works closely with who he felt would be a good fit. He told me to use his name in querying them. I was dumbfounded that of the entire list of agents, only one even bothered to respond after three months. Apparently, editors at the big publishers don’t carry the same weight that they used to. The agent who responded, incidentally, liked my writing and the book but told me that no publisher would ever touch the book because the public would never read a book about mounds. He must not have read much since it’s not about mounds. It’s about presidents and scientists and religious cranks and famous people. All the stuff that makes up the average publisher’s history list.
Similarly, I have also considered trying to place it with an academic press. They have been just as bad. Out of a dozen presses to which I have sent a proposal, I received one automated email response and one rejection. The other ten or so simply said nothing at all. (Publishers must subscribe to a form-letter writing service, since the automated rejection was nearly verbatim the same as automated rejections my earlier books received from other publishers.)
It is enormously frustrating to receive silence as a response. Even an automated rejection form letter is better than that. Surely, they have the technology to reply to email. You can even do it in bulk with a BCC to save your interns precious time!
The problem I am facing, though, is this: In the United States each year, traditional publishers put out a mind-boggling 300,000 unique titles, and self-publishing writers put out an ungodly 700,000 titles. That’s a million new book titles each year in a country where only 250 million new books are sold. (This doesn’t count sales of older titles, or secondhand sales.) That means that the average new book will sell fewer than 250 copies. Given that a handful of bestsellers make up the lion’s share of sales, selling millions apiece, the actual sales numbers for books lower down are far worse. According to a recent study, the average book sells fewer than 2,000 copies over its entire lifetime.
By contrast, anywhere from tens of thousands to a hundred thousand people read what I write here on this blog. It’s increasingly clear that it isn’t worth the trouble to put out books anymore, if my goal is to communicate information to the largest possible audience.
What, really, is the point of devoting months or years to writing a book if only a few hundred, or at best a couple of thousand, people will ever read it? It would take less time to call every one of them on the phone and tell them about it. It would take 8.6 days to have a 5-minute conversation with 2,500 interested readers, or 25.8 days if I slept 8 hours a day, compared to six months or more to write the book. That’s just bonkers. The disconnect between effort and result is ridiculous.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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