What the work is really for

Going beyond the numbers

Ximena Vengoechea
6 min readSep 7, 2023

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person standing on brown sand under blue sky during daytime

Photo by Marcelo Novais on Unsplash

Hi friends,

I’m gearing up for my book launch (less than one month away!) and while I am excited, I am also starting to feel the pains of getting the publicity and marketing machines going.

I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to say that I’m grateful to have a book coming out soon, and keep beating that pre-order drum like it’s my only job. (You can pre-order here.) And it’s true — I am grateful. I am happy and delighted to get to share my work in this way. To get to take something from fuzzy idea to fully polished book.

But it’s around this time that an author has to start thinking about numbers. About how many copies of our book will be printed. About how many copies have been stocked by booksellers and retailers. About how many copies have been preordered. About how may copies we need to sell to earn out our advance. It’s a big change from being lost in our own thoughts, alone in our writing cave, a place that we have made our own for the better part of a year or more.

I was talking to a friend about this, explaining how this is the part of the process where an author turns into a marketer, a strategist, a sales person, and PR person all in one. And she simply stopped me and asked: but what if it weren’t about the numbers?

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What if it weren’t about the numbers, but about reaching the people who need this book most? What if it’s about enjoying this moment — a moment not everyone gets a chance to enjoy — and soaking it in for a moment? What if it’s about the words, instead of the numbers? What if it’s about quality, not quantity?

This conversation reminded me of another moment, way back in the depths of my memory, but which remains vivid to me. I am in 8th grade, at a pool party, and the host of the party, a pretty, friendly, but not queen-bee-popular girl we’ll call Lucy, is being coached (peer pressured?) by a friend. There is a boy at the party, presumably one Lucy invited, but maybe a friend of a friend, and he wants to kiss Lucy. But Lucy isn’t so sure. He has made his desires clear from the moment he arrived at the party — everybody knows that Adam wants to kiss Lucy. Lucy laughs when he suggests it, or changes the topic, noncommittal. But after an hour of this the Queen Bee swoops in. The girls are in Lucy’s room, toweling off, touching up their lip gloss. “Lucy,” QB says, “Do it for the numbers.” What she means is, “It’s not the kiss that counts. It’s the number of kisses that counts.” It’s about quantity, not quality. Later, in the pool, in front of all her friends, Lucy does it for the numbers.

I think we all have versions of these moments, as adults and children. Somewhere along the way, we forget why we’re doing the thing. We get stuck in the numbers. But the numbers aren’t why we’re here.

It makes sense that we focus on the numbers from time to time. If I want a sustainable career as an author, my books need to sell. Publishing is a business, after all. Like any author, I hope that my books reach as many readers as possible.

But it’s not what I’m here for — not really. More than anything, I hope it reaches the people who really need it, want it, feel it’s message in their bones. I hope it makes them feel seen and less alone. I hope it leaves them feeling ready for whatever comes next, with new tools to cope and connect and find peace in this wild world of ours. That’s my why.

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Why do you do the work, whatever yours is? For a paycheck, maybe. For the glory, maybe. But if you go beyond the number of zeroes in your salary or follower count, why else?

Every now and then, it’s good to remind ourselves of our why. To peel back external validators and set them aside. It’s what’s left behind that matters. That’s what’s going to get us through the hard parts of living, working, and creating.

🔗 Links I loved: Down the rabbit hole I went this week on all things books and technology. Here are a few highlights.

🎧 📚 What I’m reading: I usually read fiction in physical book form, but I’ve lately found a few audiobooks I loved — it’s all about the narrator.

  • I loved swimming in Ann Napolitan’s world for a few days in Hello Beautiful, a novel about family and the ties that bind as we grow up and apart. It captures beautifully the sort of casual cruelty one can only commit in deep relationships, and the tender push and pull of family over time. As one of four daughters myself, I loved reading about this family of four girls, which has been compared to a modern day Little Women. It certainly pays homage. Maura Tierney (of E.R. fame — remember that show?) narrates, and brings a steadiness to the book I found comforting.
  • Everything’s Fine, by Cecilia Rabess. It’s a coming-of-age story, but not quite. It’s a workplace novel, but not entirely. It’s a love story, but not a conventional romance novel. This book follows the messy relationship of Josh, a conservative white co-worker, and Jess, a liberal Black woman. It was subjected to review bombing before the book even came out (every author’s nightmare), which is too bad, because the writing is sharp, the pacing is good, the sense of place is strong, and the ending — well, I listened to that twice. Narrated by Denée Benton.

💸 Currently coveting:

  • This sweatshirt from Cos. I am not ready for sweater weather, but I am ready for comfy, casual sweatshirts.

💌 Thanks as always for reading along and supporting my work. If you like what you see, hit the heart button, drop a comment, or share this with someone you think will love it, too. You can pre-order my new book or book me for a speaking event here. 💌

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Ximena Vengoechea

Writer, UX Researcher, Author of The Life Audit ('24), Rest Easy ('23), Listen Like You Mean It ('21). ximenavengoechea.com/books