Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood

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Everyone knows about the writerly obsession of checking your Amazon ranking on an hourly basis. Luckily, I don't have to go to the trouble of doing that anymore -- of actually opening up my browser and checking to see what my Amazon rank is -- because a kind and enabling friend built me a Konfabulator widget* that does the dirty work for me. It sits on my desktop, impassively displaying my Amazon rank number, which it automatically updates every 15 minutes. You know, just in case.

Still, sometimes I do like to visit my book on Amazon, just to check in and see how it's going, whether or not anyone's written a mean-spirited personal attack on me in the guise of a customer review, that sort of thing. The last time I checked in I discovered the SIP feature -- "Statistically Improbable Phrases" -- which seems to serve no purpose in terms of author obsession, though I guess now I can fret about how to raise the bar and come up with better SIPs for the next book (surely I can top grubby living! And our piano? Please! A baby could come up with something more statistically improbable!)

Yesterday I checked in and discovered that not only has Amazon revamped the page design for information on individual books, they've added some other interesting and/or meaningless features -- Concordance and Text Stats. Now when you check out a book's page, you can not only learn what so-called Statistically Improbable Phrases the book contains, you can also find out what its Flesch-Kincaid Index is and what the top 100 most frequently used words in the book happen to be. The Concordance and Text Stats for my book reveal that I used the word "mother" 305 times ("baby" came in second at 235 – not "shock," as you might expect, which had only 113 instances -- and Emi will be happy to know that her name shows up 60 times). I also learned the book sports a respectable Flesch Index of 57.9 and a Flesch-Kincaid Index of 10.4, though its Fog Index of 12.4 is troubling, as that indicates the book might be "difficult to read." Still, the manuscript appears to be only 10% dominated by complex words, and I'm sure readers will be reassured to learn that despite the fact that my average sentence contains 20.9 words, most of them are no longer than 1.5 syllables.

Why is Amazon doing this? To give authors more to obsess about? Would anyone other than a book's author care about its Fog Index or percentage of word complexity? It's a bit odd to see my book dissected like this. I mean, sure, the word count game is one I played daily as I worked on the book – yippee! I broke the 30K mark! Wait, no, I edited a bunch of stuff out, now it's back to 25K! Damn! But seeing it there in black and white – "Sentences: 2,606" – is a strange thing. Really? Mother Shock is only 2,606 sentences? Somehow it felt longer. 2,606 sentences just doesn't sound like a whole lot. Is it? Does her book have more sentences than mine? Does that make hers better? Wait, quick, what's my ranking again?

But even more meaningless and intriguing than those statistics are the "Fun Stats," which report that my book contains 5,344 words per dollar, and that it's 5,392 words to the ounce.

Crap. I weigh about a million words.

* If you are an author with steely self-control, whose worth as a person is not tied in any way to your Amazon ranking, and you are interested in having one of these widgets for yourself, give me a holler. I'll hook you up!

Andrea J. Buchanan is a writer living in Philadelphia. In addition to her latest book, The Double-Daring Book For Girls (HarperCollins), she is the author of the New York Times bestselling The Daring Book For Girls, The Pocket Daring Book For Girls: Things To Do, and The Pocket Daring Book For Girls: Wisdom and Wonder along with Miriam Peskowitz. She is also the author of Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It (Seal Press) and the editor of three anthologies: It’s a Boy: Women Writers on Raising Sons; Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined; and It’s a Girl: Women Writers on Raising Daughters (all from Seal Press). Before becoming a writer, Andi was a classical pianist; she studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music, where she earned her bachelor of music degree, and continued her graduate studies at the San Francisco Conservatory, earning a master’s degree in piano performance. Her last recital was at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. She is the mother of a daughter and a son, both of whom are equally daring.

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I discovered the Concordance on Amazon yesterday. It is rather addictive, not just for one's own work (my top words are SAID and EDWARD, and reading grade level is 6.4--embarrassingly low), but for others' books as well. I spent a good hour looking up all my favorite books plus a number of classics. I'm analyzing all the data to see what makes a bestseller. Not really. It's all quite Derrida, non?
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