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“How to Fail” Turns One: 101 Things I’ve Learned About Books in the Past Year

Portrait of the Artist One Year Ago

Exactly 366 days ago, I was just another schlub.  The next day my first novel "How to Fail:  The Self-Hurt Guide" was released and my life completely changed.  I've learned so much these past 365 days, like:

1.  It's always better to tell people you're an "author" as opposed to a "writer."  Everyone is a "writer" in this day and age, but few people are "authors."

2.  The book industry is fucked.

3.  It's still much better than the film industry though.

4.  And, most of the people I've met in the book industry are really awesome.

5.  I've made many friends in the industry this year, notably guys like Alex Miles Younger, Phil Simon, James Altucher, and so many others.

6.  No one reads books any more.

7.  And for the few people that do read them, it's like pulling teeth trying to talk them into leaving an Amazon review for your book.

8.  By my math, and who knows if I'm right, 20% of book purchasers actually read the book, and less than 1% of that leave a review on Amazon.

9.  Not to mention, Amazon makes it a real pain in the ass for people to post reviews.

10.  Amazon also really fucking hates curse words, unless they're in the title of a bestseller.

11.  Never go to a book festival in Collingswood, New Jersey, even if they make a massive sign with your handsome mug on it.

12.  Don't wear a hooded sweatshirt to an author event either--you'll look like a real asshole.  Or Mark Zuckerberg.  Or both I guess.

13.  Publishers say really stupid things.

14.  Ebooks should be extraordinarily cheap, in the $4.99 to $2.99 when new, even less when "old."

15.  There's no shame in selling your ebook for a mere $.99 even.

16.  Shame is having a book no one wants to read, even if it was free.

17.  Formatting your book for Kindle and epub is a piece of cake, even if you aren't a computer whiz.  And what an incredibly powerful skill for a writer to have.  If you're an author and you're not learning how to get your books online, you're making a critical mistake.  (I taught myself using Joshua Tallent's great book.)

18.  It's actually really easy to get a pretty good ranking on Amazon.  At least for awhile.

19.  Especially within genre top 100 lists.

20.  Especially if the genre is really niche, like "women's lit" which is where Canadian Amazon files "How to Fail" for some reason.
20B.  Who knew there was a Canadian Amazon?!  (Whatever the case, my women's lit book is sold out there.)

21.  It's almost shameful how few books you actually have to sell to get a good Amazon ranking--but, authors, don't let the public know this on the day you sell a mere 50 total copies and crack the overall top 1000.

22.  Nevertheless, you'll be obsessed with your ranking, checking Amazon and refreshing innumerable times per day, living and dying with every ranking movement.

23.  Having a tour at bars instead of bookstores was genius.

24.  Bookstores are dead.  Bars will never be.

25.  There is no glamour in being on a book tour.  It's a lot of constant travel, lugging heavy shit, being shit on by strangers, staying in roach motels, and eating at Waffle Houses and reststop Roy Rogers at 4 in the morning.

26.  You gotta make people want to "fuck the book."

27.  Being in love while on the road and away from my girlfriend for 30 days was like the toughest thing in the world.

28.  Especially when I was spending most nights sleeping in cramped h/motel beds with my manager (below).

29.  But it also kept me focused.

30.  Having a speciality cocktail named after your book is as cool as it gets.

31.  Dover, Delaware is like the worst place on earth.

32.  But Newark, Delaware is shockingly nice.

33.  Authors get tons of free shit.

34.  It's fun watching a book cover design come together.

35.  Your dedication page is a great way to truly touch people in your life with just a few keystrokes of thought and effort.  (But NEVER tell your dedicatees that.)

36.  I wrote the world's first "Fuck You" page and it really resonated with people.

37.  No one quite knows the legalities of including famous quotes from famous people in a book.

38.  The best self-promotion is producing good content.

39.  But never be afraid to tell people what you want them to do, buy, retweet, and attend.

40.  Just don't do it too much or people will quit listening.

41.  There's no better calling card than a book.

42.  A book also becomes your resume, and perhaps you should bring it to job interviews.

43.  You better look more handsome than you've ever looked before for your official author's photo because you're gonna have to stare at that stupid thing for a long, long time.

44.  It took about 500 photographs snapped of me before I felt "more handsome than I've ever looked before."

45.  Yet, twice in the past week, random people have told me I look like Dexter in my author's photo.

46.  Uh...thanks.

47.  Thinking of things to write in people's books is tough, especially when drunk.

48.  It's weird having people ask for your autograph.  Though fun to sign your name like you actually are someone important.

49.  You aren't though.  Or, actually, you are, you're just no more important than you were before you'd had your book published and were a "nobody."

50.  You're still a nobody to the world at large. 99.9% of authors are.

51.  And if you sell just 1000 copies of your book, your book has sold better than 99% of books ever released.

52.  That fact is sad, but you'll still tout that percentile in interviews.

53.  It's much easier to get important people to take your call, answer your email, and meet with you when you have a book.

54.  You now have the same profession as Stephen King, JK Rowling, and Jonathan Franzen. How cool is that?!

55.  You absolutely have to become a renaissance man, or an "author-preneur."  You must be a designer, a marketer, a publicist, a "personality," a speaker, a salesman, and about a zillion other professions that have nothing to do with writing.

56.  Don't be too excited by the good reviews, nor too upset by the bad reviews.

57.  Those average reviews will leave you wondering though. Average reviews will make you feel like you didn't push the envelope enough.

58.  Bar managers/owners are some of the nicest, smartest, savviest, hardest-working people you will ever meet in ANY industry.

59.  There will always be shittier books than yours that sell much better.

60.  Sales have nothing to do with the quality of your writing.

61.  They most significantly have to do with a mix of marketing, luck, spending money, and paid placement.  (Although there's really no silver bullet.)

62.  Publishers pay lots of money for "placement" at the front of bookstores and in airports, it has nothing to do with quality.

63.  And we wonder why the NYT Bestseller list is littered with such shit.

64.  There's less difference between published and self-published than you think.

65.  The only people who care who published your book are New York snobs--no one else in the world does.

66.  People from your hometown you deserted long ago will now think you a celebrity, and treat you accordingly on your rare prodigal son returns.

67.  Friends will assume you're now much richer than you truly are.

68.  Your parents will finally be proud of you.

The author's mother, improving his placement at BN

69.  Women will want to sleep with you, even if they haven't read your book.

70.  Even if they've never heard of it.  Or you.

71.  Kissinger was right--being a "published author" is a great aphrodisiac.

72.  It's better to be an "F" student than a "C" student.

73.  Blurbs are probably worthless.  Though I'm still proud I got one from The Philadelphia Lawyer (which actually did help me sell at least ONE book.)

74.  Being mentioned on Olivia Munn's Wikipedia page has led to nothing.

75.  I'm sure Olivia Munn would say the same thing about being mentioned on mine.

76.  Having a Wikipedia page impresses people--even though any one can have one.

77.  You can't use your Wikipedia page (mobile) as a "form of picture ID" to get into a bar.

78.  Once you're a published author, talking someone into interviewing you is very easy.

79.  Finding new and interesting answers to the same-old, same-old interview questions is very hard.

80.  Having a lawyer on retainer is so much more expensive than you'd ever imagine.

81.  There's no excuse for how slow the publishing industry is with everything.

82.  Getting a book into the marketplace is much cheaper than you'd expect.

83.  Drinking every night is now considered part of my job.  Or, at least my quasi-celebrity lifestyle.

84.  Goddamn, I'm a good drinker.

85.  Most people that buy your book won't read it.

86.  That includes your friends.

87.  You'll be shocked to learn that even after a year of release, some of your best friends haven't even read your book.  Better not to ask so as to not embarrass yourself.

88.  I really like public speaking now.  Especially if I'm speaking about myself.

89.  "The Art of Fielding" is the best novel I've read in the last year, maybe even several years.

90.  Seth Godin is usually right.  Especially about the publishing industry.

91.  There are few more important friends in life than your drinking buddies.

92.  You think no one reads books?!  Well NO ONE reads short stories.

93.  Seeing your words spoken by actors is very cool.

94.  Teaching at your alma mater is an amazing feeling.  And makes you feel old.

95.  Even though they're adults, technically, once you're the teacher, they're just college "kids."

96.  Quit worrying about optimizing your online presence and just fucking create your art.  "Ship" as Seth Godin says.

97.  Scientologists actually helped me sell "How to Fail" in a way.  Assuming they never sue me.

98.  No Shabels.  Not a one.

99.  For better or for worse, "How to Fail" will be a part of me for the rest of my life.  I think.

100.  Writing the second novel creates a whole new set of fears.

101.  I think it's about time for me to come out with my second novel.  Look for it in 2012.

BUY "HOW TO FAIL:  THE SELF-HURT GUIDE" -- currently 16 copies left in this printing

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Comments (8) Trackbacks (3)
  1. Agreed. And I clicked through on at least a dozen of those links along the way.

  2. Excellent. . .
    101 Reasons why you should keep writing, excuse me I meant to say authoring.
    As for continuing to drink. . . I don’t feel the need to do any arm twisting there. . .
    You should become proficient in that on your next book/bar tour. (great marketing tool)
    Good bars are the melting pots of communities and every now and then you even get to meet an author.

  3. You really should quit while you’re ahead. Or whatever you are.

  4. I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the
    page layout of your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect
    with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or 2 pictures.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

  5. Hello would you mind stating which blog platform you’re
    working with? I’m going to start my own blog sooon but I’m having a difficult time choosing between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m
    looking for something completely unique. P.S Apologies foor being off-topic but I had to ask!


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