Here’s my third and final check-in on the numbers behind the Primacy publishing project. They won’t be final, even on the hardcover, and they mercifully avoid returns season after the holidays (at which point this column will have ceased), which, believe me, won’t make things look any better.

When it was published in 1948, Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain became an immediate bestseller, despite the fact that the New York Times refused it a place on the bestseller list due to its religious subject matter. In my edition of the book, editor Robert Giroux wrote in the introduction:

Why did the success of the Mountain go so far beyond my expectations as an editor and a publisher? Why, despite being banned from the bestseller lists, did it sell so spectacularly? Publishers cannot create bestsellers, though few readers (and fewer authors) believe it. There is always an element of mystery when it happens why this book at this moment? I believe the most essential element is right timing, which usually cannot be foreseen. The Mountain appeared at a time of great disillusion: we had won World War II, but the Cold War had started and the public was depressed and disillusioned, looking for reassurance. Second, Merton’s story was unusual — a well-educated and articulate young man withdraws — why? — into a monastery. The tale was well told, with liveliness and eloquence. There were other reasons, no doubt, but for me this combination of the right subject at the right time presented in the right way accounts for the book’s initial success.

One day last month I checked in with BookScan via my Author Central account on Amazon and discovered that a copy of Primacy had been sold in Colorado Springs.

When I was a literary agent I once chased an author in Colorado Springs, a fine writer who worked at the university there but never produced enough words to fill a whole book for me. Nice guy, too, but I doubt he was the buyer.

This week, I participated in a reading in New York City’s West Village. All I knew when I entered was that I was going to a new “science fiction” bookstore. That turned out only to be partially true. Ed’s Martian Book is indeed new, but what it stocks is nonfiction, namely author Andrew Kessler’s debut book, Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission (Pegasus). There’s something extremely surreal about being in a store where shelf after shelf, case after case, table after table only have one title. Perhaps that is science fiction-like. It’s mesmerizing, and I kept being tempted to open the books to make sure they weren’t blank inside (I gave in to temptation and, in fact, they were not blank inside). I emailed Kessler to find out more about his mission to Mars and his “crazy” bookstore brainstorm.