In Which I Now Reveal a Secret

In e-mail, a request:

Share something with us that you’ve never shared here before.

Well, see. Typically if I’m not sharing something, it’s because I have a reason for not sharing it, like: I signed an NDA. Or: It’s none of your business. Or: I’m not ready to tell you yet. Or: It’s something so boring that you would fall asleep as I told you. And in all those cases I’m perfectly fine not telling you those things. I think you’d appreciate my restraint.

But, fine. I racked my brain for something I haven’t talked about here before, and I think I’ve come up with it. Here’s today’s secret:

I am a secret best-selling poet.

Shut up, I totally am. The secret best-selling work of poetry in question? This:

True fact: The Sagan Diary was composed entirely in free verse. Then, when I was done writing the whole thing, I went back and formatted it into traditionally formed sentences and paragraphs, so as not to scare away the sort of reader who freaks out when presented with poetry not in the form of song lyrics. Be that as it may, The Sagan Diary is a poem, and when you read it knowing that, this fact becomes fairly obvious.

Since TSD came out, about four years ago now, it’s sold about 8,000 copies. This a very healthy amount for a 12,000-word novelette in hardcover format, but it’s also a fairly impressive amount for a modern book of original poetry aimed at adults. Or would be, had I claimed it as poetry before this moment, which I have not (well, I’ve mentioned it to people before, but haven’t written about it). So, big “secret” reveal aside, I don’t make any real claim to being a best-selling poet.

And to be clear, even if I had claimed it as poetry, this would not be dispositive regarding the quality of TSD as poetry. When one remembers that one of the most successful modern books of poetry, sales-wise, erupted forth from Jewel, one remembers that sales do not directly equate with quality. I think TSD works perfectly well as a piece of writing, myself, and writing it in that format got me into an “internal monologue” mindset, which is what the story needed to have. Does it work as poetry? It’s an interesting question and I’ll let other people answer it.

So that’s today’s big secret.

39 Comments on “In Which I Now Reveal a Secret”

  1. Also, the person or people who leaves a comment along the lines of “you were a poet and didn’t even know it!” or ANY variation thereof will get a visit in the night from the vengeful poetry ninjas. That is all.

  2. True fact: The Sagan Diary was composed entirely in free verse.

    Can you prove that?

    (I don’t mean to be rude — which, I admit, is not the same as being not-rude — but I am curious. Is there a manuscript page you could share with us, for instance?)

  3. Wow. That is such a cool secret!
    Now I will have to read it.

    So…8000 copies makes it a best seller?
    What are the general guidelines for what is a best seller in long form novels, novelettes, poetry. I’ve always asuumed 100,000+. An assumption made on absolutely no foundation.

  4. Sara:

    In the realm of poetry, yes, 8,000 copies of a work sold would be a significant amount. To give to some perspective, of the books which won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in the last five years, at least two of them sold less than that amount.


    “Can you prove that?”

    I have the original document file, yes.

  5. in an absolute complete waste of time, i achieved prestige 10, and am very near level 70, in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2.

    for those unfamiliar with CODMW2, that reflects a stupid number of hours playing the game.


    i generally don’t tell people about it because of how insane it is.

  6. You have the original, just think of how much you’ll make releasing the book in original poem form. Then you can train badgers to read it at selected zoos. yeah…OK, you don’t have to have the badgers reciting the poem, but it’d be Really Cool!

  7. John;

    Have you considered releasing it at some point in its original form? Perhaps as an ebook only?

  8. I’d love to see the Sagan Diaries in poetic form. I could totally see myself assigning both versions (or sections of both versions) in one of the classes I teach.

  9. Huh. I know I knew this before I read it, but that’s entirely possible because we had lunch together at ConDFW the day that I bought it and it might have come up then. Or in the Q&A that day, I really can’t recall.

  10. alkali@3: Not that he needs me to, but I can vouch for it. I visited Scalzi in December of 2006 to interview him for a national magazine, and nascent TSD was there (on his then brand new portrait-oriented 24″ monitor what blew up a few weeks ago) in all its versified and enjambmentated glory. Also, his toe hurt.

  11. That sounds like it was a lot of work to write. Would really like to read the free verse version of TSD.

  12. …(must)…



    (Good heavens, woman! There are poetry ninjas out there! Have you no sense?)

    …(cannot … stop … self)…

    But your feet show it!
    They’re Longfellows!

    (TK collapses under a swarm of ninjas.)

  13. I can understand why you would. The only thing in recent memory that was reasonably successful was Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow and I was only able to get one person to read it.

  14. Sort of not a secret to me. I have it, I read it, and it tripped the poetry alert in my brain. But I like poetry so all I thought was, “Neat!”

  15. Oooo, I love poetry. So add my vote to your fans who wish to read the original free verse version. Only make it a treebook. I hate reading digital books.

  16. I thought of it as poetry in prose, like Oscar Wilde’s parable-like little stories, only longer and less pretentious-sounding, but just as lovely to hear in my head while reading it. Nicely done.

    (You can read those Wilde poems in prose here: )

    And I am now impressed at the percentage of sales of TSD that our wedding was responsible for. Cool. :)

  17. Haven’t read it, but have listened to the free audio book and sections did indeed come across a free form poetry. And it’s an interesting look at the inner thoughts of Jane.

  18. I agree with others. There was something about the audio version that sounded different. At the time, I chalked it up to your effort to write a story from a woman’s point of view. Did writing the story as poetry help you find the female voice you were looking for?

  19. Um…actually, you did tell us that it was free verse before we recorded.

    I’ll just say that the prologue, which was not written in free verse, was substantially harder to read than the other chapters.

  20. I bow to your memory of the event, Mary. I don’t doubt your memory of it is better than mine. And once again I’ll note the fabulous job every did, but you in particular, in reading the piece.

  21. I have reformatted the poem that was on your computer and which you were probably saving to publish as an obscure chapbook Forgive me it was marketable so readable and so good

  22. I do this all the time and nobody ever notices, not even when it rhymes and scans.

    Now I know you do it too, I will define it as a perfectly normal thing that lots of people do!

  23. After seeing a reference to “Old Man’s War” on Neal Asher’s blog and thinking that it sounded like something I’d enjoy, I’ve read the whole sequence in the past few weeks, finishing up today with “The Sagan Diary.” I’ve tremendously enjoyed the series, and look forward to reading your other books (“The Android’s Dream” is waiting on my kitchen table).

    I was profoundly moved by “The Sagan Diary,” and to be honest that’s not what I was expecting when I picked up the book. I find it easy to believe that it was conceived in verse rather than prose. Thank you for this beautiful piece.