Actually, The World is Pretty Big

Laptop and earth.

At one time or another, every one of us have remarked how small the world is, usually caused by meeting someone by chance and finding out that you both know a certain person, or went to school with the person, are both reading the same books, are fans of the same team, etc.

But you might be surprised how a “small” view of the world can alter your entire perspective. I am not referring to a specific Christian faith issue, but I suppose a case could be made that this certain worldview has spiritual implications. God is certainly not limited by space, time, resources or physical strength the way we are, so taking our finite view of the world can bleed over to our view of God and be quite destructive.

I have regularly bumped into attitudes exhibited by people who look at the world and see limited opportunity rather than more of an open-ended proposition. In publishing it is evident when an author or publisher hesitates to give away fifty books to start marketing buzz, because that makes fifty fewer books to sell. That shows a limited-world view. There are a finite number of books to be sold, so make sure you make money on every one of them.

Now, just to be clear, the world is limited to an extent…once every person on the planet buys your book, sales will slow down.  But on the other hand, no book has ever sold seven billion copies, so we haven’t maximized a market yet!

I can understand a “limited world” view when it comes from people in certain countries that have a low-level economy with the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Their view of everything is like a pie…if your neighbor takes two slices, then there are only four slices left, etc. Everything is limited, from the amount of gas at the gas station that month, to how much food is available at the market. Their economies put limits on how far they think.

Consider this…of all books published by traditional publishers in the U.S., the average number of copies sold per title is about 4,000 copies.  If you include self-published books, the approximate copies per title sold drops quite a bit lower.

If you are just selling books in the United States, those four thousand copies could be sold if each bookstore in the country sold one copy of your book, period.

  • If you sell 50,000 copies of a book in the U.S., that amounts to one book sold to every 6,500 people…not exactly market saturation.
  • If you sell a million copies worldwide, you are considered an international phenomenon for reaching one in 7,000 people.

I hope you get my point.  Big sales numbers in our mind are rather small when viewed from a little higher perspective.

So what could this mean to you?

If you work for a publisher, considering the world from a big-world perspective might be rather liberating. Nothing feels better that to be released from the chains of limited worldviews where things are small and predictable. Think of a couple hundred million Christians who speak Spanish, a hundred million who speak Portuguese and another hundred million who speak Chinese.

If you write, think beyond your church, your town, your region, your country…there is a big world of seven billion people and if just one in 7,000 of them finds your work meaningful, it is an amazing feat.

Publishers and authors, unleash yourselves from small-world thinking and the limited expectations that go along with it.

13 Responses to Actually, The World is Pretty Big

  1. Tom Threadgill May 27, 2014 at 5:12 am #

    Great post! The title reminded me of a conversation I had a few years back. I was in a restaurant several hours away from my home, and learned that my waitress was from the town right next to my home. Her comment? “It’s a short world.” My response? “Yeah, but it sure is wide!” All I got was a blank stare. :)

    • Dan Balow May 27, 2014 at 6:15 am #

      I commend you for your reply…”It’s a short world” is one of those comments where I would think of a good comeback about an hour later.

  2. Jennifer Zarifeh Major May 27, 2014 at 6:25 am #

    In the early 1700′s, 2 brothers left Turkey for the bright lights of Palestine. One stayed in Gaza, the other went on to Alexandria, in Egypt. Before long they lost touch and their two families were lost to each other, seemingly forever.
    In 1992, a very white girl went to a church picnic in a small town in Ontario, Canada. She looked across the park at a family and said to her husband, “they’re Arabs”. He said “How do you know?” She gave him an eye roll. With a maiden name of Zarifeh, that girl knew an Arab when she saw one.
    The pastor, who’d been a missionary in Alexandria, in the same church the girl’s father attended while at university in Egypt, but not at the same time, came up to the young couple and said “Let me introduce you to some friends of mine.”
    “Okaaaaay…”
    The pastor took them over to the family and said “I have some new friends I’d like you to meet…”
    The family got up from the table and the pastor said “Elias and Elizabeth Zarifa, this is John and Jennifer Major.”
    ALL I managed to say was “WHAT?”
    Elias was visibly offended. “You have a problem with my name?”
    “No! My maiden name is Zarifeh!”
    To which he replied, “WHAAAAT?”

    I called my dad that night and told him the story, he got in touch with Elias and they compared notes.
    When my parents visited the following summer, Elias and my dad laid out the large charts diagramming their respective family trees, and BAM! Almost 300 years of searching was OVER.

    Elias’s ancestor? The brother who went to Alexandria, and my dad’s was the brother who stayed in Gaza.

    Yes, the world IS big, very big. But one story told to a pastor about a father who went to school in Egypt, was set aside for such a time as that. And then God used a second father and his adopted daughter to close a 300 year old mystery.

    And thus, the world became very very small.

    • Dan Balow May 27, 2014 at 6:38 am #

      Great story. Only God would do something like that!

    • Janet Ann Collins May 27, 2014 at 9:14 am #

      Jennifer, your story sent chills up my spine. God is amazing!

  3. Connie Almony May 27, 2014 at 6:31 am #

    I like your thinking, Dan!!!

  4. Jeanne Takenaka May 27, 2014 at 6:49 am #

    You always make me think, Dan. And I’m so glad. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in “small world” thinking. Your perspective makes a lot of sense. One thing that came to mind is a writer being able to have books published in other languages. How does that work?

    Do you have recommendations for how writers can be better “big world” thinkers? For example in the crafting of a story, or in the marketing aspect of selling books?

    • Dan Balow May 27, 2014 at 7:06 am #

      First, publishers have international rights people that sell translation rights to other publishers. We can do that as an agency as well, but publishers want to manage that and make it part of the literary deal.

      As far as how a writer than think broader, it is difficult for fiction since so much of it is cultural to the US and not all cultures like it the way we do. That said, there are genres that translate well (historicals, suspense, Biblical). Using western idioms (“she never got to first base with that idea”) creates problems for translation.

      Non-fiction is completely different. Publishers outside the US want strong Biblical teaching and help for families, churches and even business. Using strong Biblical themes and using examples and stories that are not all from the US is key.

      The final issue is length of content. The longer the book, the more expensive it is to trsnslate. Fiction up to 70,000 words and nonfiction maxes out at about 50,000 words.

      • Jeanne Takenaka May 27, 2014 at 7:39 am #

        This makes sense. Thanks for taking the time to explain the hurdles!

  5. Jim Lupis May 27, 2014 at 8:12 am #

    The push to expand our world is great, Dan. So many people are so focused on their own lives, that their own life become their world. As writers we have no limit to what we can write about. (Godly writing, of course). It’s refreshing to realized we can reach a worldwide audience, different cultures, and most importantly, more people to reach with the Christian message.

  6. Chris May 27, 2014 at 11:20 am #

    You make it sound so easy. Throw the bread upon the waters and watch what happens. I know you’re right. I’ve thrown it out and now I’m just waiting and watching. I see my writing as “time less” does that translate better into the international market?

  7. Pat Lee May 27, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

    Great post. I love the perspective.

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