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30Jun/112

Posting a Book Review on Amazon is a Pain in the Ass – A Small Way Amazon Hurts Authors and Readers

It is a pain in the ass to post a book review on Amazon!

This is not a piece I ever wanted to write.

But after months of Googling the topic and waiting for someone else to write it, I decided I had no choice but to do it myself now.  This is a service to fellow authors and fellow readers (or, at least, the fellow readers that are big enough nerds to post reviews on Amazon. And, as an author, I say God bless you, nerds. Unless you gave me a shitty review.)

It would seem posting a review on Amazon would be easy.  It isn't.

It would seem it would be as simple as posting a review on any of the other user review websites from IMDB to Yelp to Goodreads and so on.  It's not.

You see, Amazon has certain policies.  The only problem is, they don't really tell you these fucking policies.  And, thus, when you type up a review and hit POST, you really have no clue if it's going to post.

Until it doesn't.

I've written countless reviews for fellow authors...that have never appeared.

I've had countless friends and fans of mine tell me they wrote reviews for me...that never appeared.

 

So, what's the problem?

 

As far as can tell, there are two biggies:

1.  No cursing.

Fair enough, but Amazon considers "curse" words such mild stuff as 'ass' and 'pussy.'

(Why I feel the need to use 'ass' and 'pussy' in certain book reviews is my own damn business.)

I don't have a master list of profanities that Amazon will not accept, but I sure wish I did.  Based on personal experience, they aren't exactly Carlin's Seven Dirty Words.  More like Amazon's 235 Mildly Risque Terms.

So, when in doubt, make the PG-13 rating into a G in your own reviews.

2.  No self-promotion.

But seriously, why else would I be reviewing other people's books?!

All kidding aside, if you're an author yourself, and you mention in any way being an author yourself, or having a book, your review will never get past the Amazon censors.

This was something I suspected but didn't fully know until I wrote a review of my friend Phil Simon's book "The New Small" in which I mentioned my own book.  I'd posted the review three times without it appearing on site, when I finally got an e-mail from "Jeff" at Amazon customer service spelling things out for me.  (For the record, the first e-mail I'd ever received from them post-posting an unacceptable review.)

This e-mail linked to Amazon's policy, hidden in the deep recesses of their website, on what isn't acceptable for reviews to contain, printed below:

 

Amazon Review Guidelines

Objectionable material:
• Obscene or distasteful content
• Profanity or spiteful remarks
• Promotion of illegal or immoral conduct

Promotional content:
• Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively
• Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)
• Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product
• Solicitations for helpful votes

Inappropriate content:
• Crucial plot elements (unless you offer a clear "spoiler alert")
• Other people's material (this includes excessive quoting)
• Phone numbers, postal mailing addresses, and URLs external to Amazon.com
• Details about availability or alternate ordering/shipping
• Videos with watermarks
• Comments on other reviews visible on the page (because page visibility is subject to change without notice)
• Foreign language content (unless there is a clear connection to the product)

 

Besides the fact that "How to Fail" is an entire book with obscene or distasteful content, profanity or spiteful remarks, and promotion of illegal or immoral conduct, it's nice that some policy was finally spelled out to me.  Sorta.  Policy of the highly-ambiguous type.  Nearly everything above could be debated as to what is and what isn't.

I mean, look, I don't have any issues with company policy and certainly not Amazon's, I just wish Amazon would more clearly spell out their policy when one reviews and, if a review doesn't immediately fit in with said policy, give us a heads up, like when you forget to add your zip code or fuck-up the CAPTCHA on an online form.

I wish a red flag would appear immediately after you hit post:

*Review unable to be posted due to the following profanities:
cocksucker
twat

*Review unable to be posted due to the following acts of self-promotion:

I don't mean to rip Amazon.  I love Amazon.  I, and a lot of other indie authors, owe parts of our careers to Amazon.  But, part of what we owe is based on one major commodity that Amazon provides:  user reviews and word of mouth.

My books of obscene and distasteful content don't get reviewed by the NYT or on "Good Morning America," I need word of mouth straight from the people's mouth.  And, the current draconian nature of the Amazon review system makes it damn tough for me and my fellow writers to load up on reviews.

And, makes it damn annoying for readers who want to post something about a book they loved...or, hated.

So, fair reader, my advice would be that if you post a review that doesn't appear immediately, first, hit the "back" button and copy and paste your content into a clipboard, then wait until Amazon gives you a chance to review again--usually a few hours--then scour your previous review for any of the above issues.

Or better yet, keep it simple stupid.  The shorter the review, the less chance you have of fucking up and breaking Amazon's policy.

I'm not exactly sure why Amazon wants to encourage writing smaller reviews over the larger and more in-depth, but this is what they are doing with this current system.

Yet, I still love 'em.

GIVE ME NON-CURSEY, NON-SELF-PROMOTEY, REVIEWS HERE:

How to Fail:  The Self-Hurt Guide

The Cheat Sheet

29Jun/110

Read “Anything You Want” Even if You’re Ostriched

The first time I ever spoke to Derek Sivers, I accused him of ripping me off.

I had seen his great TEDx video called "Why You Need to Fail" and I wrote him to complain.  (Jokingly of course.)

I told him "I wrote THE book on failing."

Derek gives his e-mail address on his website and he couldn't have responded quicker or have been nicer (or have used a more amusing adverb to explain why he hadn't heard of my book) :

"Holy crap!  That's awesome.  Wow.  I'm sorry I didn't know about this.  Oh, I see it's only been a few months since it came out and I've been quite ostriched lately..."

Soon, we were talking about books.  Or, rather, he was asking me about them, telling me he was considering writing one himself.

"It's a lot of fucking work writing a book, though, isn't it?  Why do you do it?  Not for the money, right?  Bigger speaking fees afterwards?  Side-effect for consulting?" (this conversation here)

Little did I know, he was already working on his own book.  That sneaky guy!

So, when he was done, and he wanted several sets of eyes to give it a quick read through, I was more than happy to.

I'm not sure if I helped improve even a single letter in the book--it was pretty much "there" when I read it--but he thanked me on the inside cover nonetheless.  My first career thank you and THE first thank you in the book!  (I'm glad Derek alphabetizes by first name.)

I respect Derek because, unlike so many others, he's a self-helper that's actually done something in his life.

Derek writes like a guy you'd immediately want to be your friend, your co-worker, your employee...your boss.

(I really don't like audio books, but I implore you to listen to Derek speak to get his cadence and voice running through your head.  It truly makes his text pop more.)

"Anything You Want" is THE greatest manual for running a business.  For creating your own Utopian business world that will make both you and your employees happy.  It's not about making money, or growing larger, or conquering the world, it's simply about filling a need that makes both you and your customers happy.  It's simple, but genius.

The book tells the story of how Derek's "little hobby"--CD Baby, a company; no, not even a company, a website created to sell his musician friends' CDs--became a big business.  It was all an accident.

Why?  Because Derek was filling a need for others.

If you're filling a need for the world, and making yourself happy, that's all you need in life says Derek.  In many way, "Anything You Want" reminded me of a more streamlined version of Tony Hseih's "Delivering Happiness," also recommended.  The crux of Tony's business plan is to "WOW" customers.  Derek would agree with that sentiment as "Anything You Want" tells wonderful stories of all the little things he encouraged his employees to do to make customers happy (a story involving a frozen squid is a major highlight.)

"But please know that it's often the tiny details that really thrill people enough to make them tell all their friends about you."

There is seemingly so many things to worry about in life.  Even more if you're running a business.  But, that doesn't need to be the case.  Derek says:

"Are you helping people?  Are they happy?  Are you happy?  Are you profitable?  Isn't that enough?"

BUY: "Anything You Want"

 

27Jun/110

People Whose Dream in Life is to Talk about Their Dream in Life

I watched the final Oprah show and she spent the entire hour spewing platitudes like:

"To live from the heart of yourself...You also have to know what sparks the light in you so that you, in your own way, can illuminate the world."

Gag.  At least she's rich and friends with Will Smith, so I'll somewhat respect the ambiguously dull things she says.  But these other people out there?!

Self-help gurus have always existed--it's one reason I wanted to bash the concept via HOW TO FAIL--but today's world is filled with some even worse breeds.  Self-help gurus for the bulk of time have had to at least write a trite book, at least give a few hackneyed speeches, at least prepare a snoozerific church sermon every Sunday while the rest of us were watching football...but not any more.

Now, with the internet, this new breed of self-helpers simply needs to have a WordPress blog and a Twitter account.  (And know a shit ton of buzz words.)

Here are a few of this new breed I'm detesting at the moment:

 

1.  People Whose Dream in Life is to Talk about Their Dream in Life

 

"You're not rich, famous, successful yet?  Well you could be--if you just did a better job of dreaming about it.  You ask why I'm not rich, famous, and successful myself?  Because I don't want to be.  My dream in life is to talk about my dreams in life.  And to help you realize your dreams in life...."

 

2.  "Coaches"

 

"Let me help you, become YOU..."

You're stuck.

You're missing purpose.

You need to define your core values.

You need to develop a personal mission statement

You need some clarity.

Coaches are essentially saying, "Look, you're a lazy, unfocused, unsuccessful piece of shit.  You know it.  And now I know it."

We need some "sessions"--buzz word for the hour we drink coffee together that costs you $500, or worse, the thirty minutes we Skype together during which I wear pajamas and which costs you $250--at least once a week, to help you become YOU.

Of course, most of your success comes from you (I mean, YOU), when you're without me, so while I do promise I will help you dream...I don't promise you will actually accomplish these stupid, stupid dreams.

 

3.  Experts

 

There's no way to quickly determine who is an expert.

But, there is a quick way to determine everyone who isn't one.

Just identify people that identify themselves as "experts."

 

4.  Productivity Gurus


"OK, here's what you need to do to start getting some work done..."

Quit looking at e-mail, checking Twitter and Facebook every five seconds, monitoring your Amazon ranking, watching reality TV, eating snacks, masturbating, having friends, going outside....

Wow.

You don't say.

*

It gets to the point where you start to go, "Hey wait a second, if the entire world consisted of these kinds of people, then we would have no novels, no movies, no pop music, and no art.

We would just have a mass of people telling people to seize the day and live their dreams and shoot for the stars and quit their day jobs.

I was talking to James Altucher about this concept and why the internet is flooded with these kinds of charlatans and he had one simple explanation:

"Because they haven't done anything in life."

Just do something in life.  That's the only advice you need.  You don't need coaches or experts to tell you that.  Spoiler alert:  You don't even need to dream about it.

You just need to do something.

(Now give me $500 for that hour of my time.)

RELATED POSTS:

Non-Motivational Speaking Tips

How to Make God Hate You - DELETED SCENE

25Jun/115

Non-Motivational Speaking Tips

I spoke Thursday night as part of Gelf's Non-Motivational Speakers Series.  The self-hurt guide author as non-motivational speaker.  Clearly a match made in heaven.  It took place at the Pacific Standard, a prototypical Brooklyn bar full of great craft beer and skinny, bearded, asshole bartenders (Spuyten Duyvil is the gold standard of this genre).  Of course I'd be invited to give a speech at a bar.  I write books in bars, sell them there too, constantly dream of opening my own, and now I give speeches in them.

It feels funny to call something in a bar a "speech," even if there was a microphone present.  Speeches are what Lincoln gave.  So we'll say what I did was a "talk."

It felt like the first talk I'd given in my entire life.  Then again, Bill Russell threw up before every single basketball game he ever played.  Then again, Bill Russell probably didn't pound a few Flower Powers before tip-off.

I've actually spoken plenty of times in my life.

I've spoken in front of college classes, classes where I'm the curriculum.

I've spoken in front of groups pimping my book.

I've even been on TV, radio, and lengthy podcasts where they almost had to tell me to shut the fuck up and that they were done speaking to me.

I've even given a few best man speeches in my life.

Weddings are always a tough crowd to speak in front of.  Everyone is itching to eat, to hit the bar again for a Scotch refill ("Seriously, Chivas is all you have?!"), to start dancing.  No one wants to hear from some asshole in a rented Men's Warehouse tux who they don't even know.  No one is enjoyable to listen give a wedding speech, but I've twice killed it.

Two tips:  be short, be funny.

Legendary comedians like Chris Rock and Louis C.K. can barely hold an eager crowd's attention for ten straight minutes, yet you think you'll be able to?  You won't.  Two to three minutes and out.  If you're not funny, or you're the bride's dad, or a female...feel free to be sentimental.  Get a few "awwwwwws" from the crowd and then be done.  Otherwise, you best be funny.

I was asked to speak for 15 minutes Thursday night which already forced me to break my "be short" rule.  I was nervous about that.  It was the longest scripted and memorized talk I'd given in my life.

I asked my buddy Phil Simon what his number one tip for giving a good speech is.

"Don't use slides," he said.

Which is odd because another friend, James Altucher (who wrote a great piece on public speaking), really likes using funny slides.  I wasn't even allowed to use slides if I had wanted to.  Which is good because I would have been too lazy to cull them together, any ways.

I studied some more of James's tips for some additional pointers.  I liked his ones about starting with a joke (obvious), being self-deprecating (not too tough when I'm already being called "non-motivational"), and shocking them with each and every point.

Opening with a joke seems self-evident and I opened with a series of them.  First, a casual faux-impromptu joke as I approached the mic:

"I've always wanted to give a TED Talk but they don't let you drink at those, so this'll have to do..."

As I took a sip from my beer while they laughed.  Then, I shocked them with my opening line:

"On my birthday this year, I got sued..."

And it was off from there.

Most comedians like to close a show, but I like to open.  Gives me a chance to kill early and get drunk late.  I hate sitting around waiting to speak and accidentally getting too drunk, forgetting what I have to say, other people already setting a high standard of speaking ahead of me.  Truth be told, the second and third slots were the best slots Thursday night.  They had the largest crowd and the most slightly buzzed and really engaged people.  But, I still liked opening.

The Non-Motivational Speaker series was an apt pairing for me.  The other three speakers all gave talks that included tales of lawsuits, hare-brained schemes, substance abuse, and barely eking out a living chasing their own dreams.  Of course, the other three speakers dreams were, respectively, to open a Big Lebowski store, hold the world's biggest jerk-off, and be allowed to legally ride a unicycle on New York City sidewalks.

I was torn.  I felt both honored and utterly ashamed to be a part of this foursome.  Alas.

I thought I gave a pretty good speech.  I was impressed I could go for fifteen minutes and keep the crowd engaged and laughing.

There's currently a big debate going on over at Slate about the new practice of charging for author talks.  I've long been saying that the modern author is going to have to learn to "play live music." Yes, agreed, typical author events ARE really boring.  That's why I had my book tour in bars right from the get-go.

It's tough, though.  We're writers that now also need to be performers.  I did pretty well, I thought, got quite a bit of laughs, but was it stand-up quality?  Not even close.  Maybe in a few years I'll be stand-up good, but not yet.  My material is good, but delivery is more important than I would have thought.  That's going to take a lot more practice.  Simply having good jokes and saying them doesn't quite get the laughs and merit shelling out big bucks to hear me speak.

Then again, plenty shelled out bucks to buy some of my books afterward.  And, that's what matters most to me.

22Jun/114

It Doesn’t Matter — Why There’s No Silver Bullet for Selling Your Books

Yesterday, there was a nice interview with me on Scoutmob, a New York City "daily deals" website, sent to over 200,000 e-mail accounts.  I was incredibly excited for the attention.

You know how many books that sold me?

ZERO.

It doesn't matter.

I've been on television to pimp my book.

It doesn't matter.

I've gone on countless morning radio shows.

It doesn't matter.

I've been on podcast after podcast after podcast, many of them notable.

IT DOESN'T MATTER.

I was talking to an author much more famous than me the other day (you'd recognize his name and his books) about this subject.

I told him that I was thinking of finally going with a major publisher for my next book just because I've always had the bizarre dream of seeing my books for sale in the airport.

"My books have been in the airport," he told me.

It didn't matter.

He'd appeared on Larry King.

It didn't matter.

He's regularly written about in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

It doesn't matter.

The other day I saw an even bigger celebrity than him, one with 2 million-plus followers, beloved by all!, Tweet about how much she liked his new book.

Wow, what a plug I thought!

I'm guessing it didn't matter.

Nothing matters if you look at things in a "silver bullet" way. If you try to bank on each little TV appearance and interview and blog mention to be the one thing that sells a fat stack of books for you. That's called playing the lottery. And it doesn't work. It doesn't matter.

As William Goldman said, "Nobody knows anything."

You can never know what or why your books will sell, so quit worrying about it.

One more story:  I sold about 50 books DURING the Super Bowl this year.  Odd.  Someone must have taken out a commercial I missed.

Something might have mattered that day.

But you know what really matters?

Just writing the stuff you enjoy writing.

RELATED POSTS:

The Five Things GO THE FUCK TO SLEEP Can Teach Us About the Future of Books

21Jun/113

“The Writer’s Manifesto” and a Fruitless Labor

I've only known Jeff Goins (and his blog) for a brief time, but I've quickly fallen for it.  His intoxicating, no-nonsense posts are always helpful for discussing, in layman's terms, complex things I really care about:  marketing, increasing one's online presence, and, yes, writing.  Today he released a "one-sitter" manifesto on the latter subject, and I really enjoyed reading it.  I think you might too.  It's short, just 1000 words, but it really got me thinking.  I might write more words ON his manifesto than he wrote IN it.

The crux of his manifesto is a point I too have found consuming me lately:

"I could say that I love to write, but, really, I like to be read."

"The Writer's Manifesto" is about rediscovering a pure passion for the art of writing.  About reminding me to be more like six-year-old Aaron, when I was writing fairy tales about baseball players just for the pure joy of writing them.  And, because 1st grade was really fucking boring too.

A fellow idol of ours, Steven Pressfield, quoted an idol of his the other day, Krishna, who said:

"We have a right to our labor, but not to the fruits of our labor."

If you're not enjoying the process, why are you participating in it?

To all those hacks out there trying to write the next big alien movie, or procedural TV show about cops, or genre legal thrillers...if you're not enjoying it, why are you doing it?  Is there enough money in the world to make this toil worthwhile?  (OK, yes, maybe if you're James Patterson.)  As for me, I've garnered some decent fruits from my labor (money, press, a whole lotta free beers), but none of them have brought me more happiness than actually having written "How to Fail."

We have to accept that this thinking about writing for pleasure means we might not become rich from our writing.  Fine.  But would you rather write stuff that makes you happy, or stuff that makes you rich?

(What if you only had one choice:  writing stuff that makes you miserable AND makes your rich; or writing stuff that makes you happy AND NEVER makes you rich?)

"The Writer's Manifesto" is about Jeff rediscovering his love affair with writing, and it's inspired me to do the same thing.

I never actually lost my love of writing.  I still LOOOOOVE writing, it's just, I also love wasting time thinking about making my writing more "successful."  Thinking about the fruits of my labors.  Thinking about it being more well-read.  But, I need to quit wasting time worrying about how I'm going to market my next book, how I'm going get everyone on Twitter and Facebook talking about it, how I need to better optimize my online presence.  I need to quit worrying about whether my next book hits the 5 major keys for successful book-selling in the future.

Instead, I need to just fucking write those books (or movies, or blog posts) that I need to write.

Jeff says it's about eliminating "the tension between creativity and congratulations."

Real writers
do not begin the day with aspirations
of seeing their words in print.
Nor do they dream of being stopped on the street
to be congratulated for their genius.

Jeff feels that the need for attention from writing corrupts the art.  Imagine writing something of pure honesty, with no care what people will say about it.  Imagine publishing your diary or journal.  How embarrassing!  But how raw.  We most admire the writers that write the most honest stuff.  They don't seem to even care about their audience, about what people think.  And we love them for that.

As we disabuse ourselves
of the desire to entertain,
we writers discover something.
That this fasting from acclaim
liberates us to create
remarkable works of art.

It's like:  the less you care about impressing women, the more they are impressed by you.

But you can't fake it.

You can only write what you must write.

Get a free copy of Jeff Goins's "The Writer's Manifesto" here: http://goinswriter.com/writers-manifesto/

20Jun/110

The Future is About…Making Connections?

I met my girlfriend at a bar.

This is considered weird nowadays.

You don't meet people at bars.  You meet them online.

Just ten years ago people would gloss over the fact they had met their current partner on JDate or Match or Ashley Madison.  That was weird.  But not any more.  Now it's weird to have met someone at a bar, like in the "olden days."

Survey your friends.  I guarantee the majority of them met their current partner at:

A)  Work
B)  Online

But not at a bar.

The 140 Character Conference was last week.  It's yet another social media conference.  Seems like there's one every single week.  Just an excuse for social media types to get to skip work yet again to watch more important social media types speak about stuff everyone already kinda knows while they sit in the audience tweeting everything that is being said as if it's pure brilliance (while adding the conference hashtag).

#boring

My Tweetdeck feed was clogged all week with reports from #140conf.  (Yes, ironic that I too follow countless social media types).

One thing that kept appearing in my feed was people saying things like:

"The future is about making connections!"

I don't know how many fucking times I've heard that in the last few years but especially the last few days.  Like it's revelatory.

Guess what?

The past was about making connections too.  You were just too chickenshit to make them without the protection of your computer.

It's ALWAYS been about making connections.

Due to my minor minor minor modicum of fame, I occasionally get invited to events that are attended by people I only know online.  Some of these folks I would even call "friends."  You spend years Tweeting with and e-mailing with and exchanging links with someone, and it starts to not matter whether you've ever even been in a room with them.

I have so many people I know only online, yet who I talk to every single day.  Likewise, my "IRL" friends, I might see once a month.  Who is the better friend?  It's hard to say nowadays.

One such event I got invited to last year I was so stoked to attend.  There was going to be a few dozen longtime e-friends attending and I was excited to finally put faces with names, hear their voices.

And then I arrived and met a group of dweebs too scared to look me in the eye, too nervous to even speak to me.

You think I'm being harsh, but I'm not.

These people couldn't live offline.

At first I thought they were disappointed in me.  "That's him?!"  But, later, I realized they were just scared of real, in-person social interaction.  Because, the second we parted ways, my e-friends went back to being chatterboxes (online chatterboxes that is), emailing me, and posting stuff, and Tweeting about the great time they had with @aarongoldfarb.

It was a bit of a revelation.

Some relationships nowadays can only be e-relationships.  Should only be online relationships.

And there's nothing wrong with that.

(Then again, I also have friends I ONLY want to deal with in person.  (Too many emoticons online))

So, this is a long-winded way of saying:

However you make connections, it matters.  It's important.

The ability to make connections from the protection of a computer has just given more nerdy chickenshits a voice.

And, I can't believe I'm saying this:

But that's a good thing.

RELATED POST:

How to Waste Your Life Worrying About Optimizing Your Online Presence

17Jun/11128

The 5 Things GO THE FUCK TO SLEEP Can Teach us About the Future of Books

I wanted to hate it.

I wanted it to only be a stupid gimmick.

But, I don't and it's not.  Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes's "Go the Fuck to Sleep" is already a massive hit, achieving the #1 spot on Amazon before it was even released and currently residing at #1 on the NYT's Bestseller List.

This is great!  Authors like me shouldn't be jealous, we should pay attention and learn a few things.

"Go the Fuck to Sleep" was released by a small Brooklyn publisher and has become a hit because it deserves to be one.

In fact, more than any other recent book, the success of "Go the Fuck to Sleep" can teach us the five important lessons for the future of books.

 

1.  HIGH CONCEPT

The "Fuck" in the title cheaply draws you in, sure.  The idea of an adult children's book quickly intrigues you.  Curse-titled books and children's book spoofs have existed before, but there haven't been too many.  Being high concept isn't about being the first of its kind.  It's about being easily describable.  You hear "Go the Fuck to Sleep" and go, "Ah...I get it."

(Likewise, I wanted you to hear "How to Fail:  The Self-Hurt Guide," the world's first self-hurt guide, the opposite of a self-help guide, and also immediately "get it.")

 

2.  FEW WORDS

I seriously do not snark when I say that.

People do not read any more.  And by that, I mean they don't read long things any more.  You know it, and I know it.  You've probably already started skipping ahead in this blog post--which I'm guessing, actually will end up having more total words in it than "Go the Fuck to Sleep."

Nowadays a writer needs to quickly entertain, and then get the fuck out.  "Go the Fuck to Sleep" does that.

If you keep something to a minimal amount of words, everyone can enjoy it and everyone is willing to give it a try.  If not, you've already lost.

There surely must be a formula that can predict for every 1000 words added how much in percentage your potential audience decreases.  It's larger than you'd think.  Shit, by the time you get to the 1000 pages category, perhaps only 1% of people in the world will even dare attempt your book.

Do you really want to cut your potential audience (customers) so dramatically just because you "need" that much content?

(With "How to Fail" I tried to write it in a way so that each chapter and footchapter were short enough, and insular enough, to enjoy on a quick subway ride or during a 10 minute break while waiting for a friend.)

 

3.  EASY TO DISCUSS

One of the toughest things about books is that they aren't as easily spreadable as other media.  When you finish a great book, how do you LIKE it or Tweet it, without physically typing "u shuld really read this book" into Twitter or on Facebook?  How do you "share" it without, uh, walking up to a friend and literally putting it in his hand?  How do you quickly tell a friend to read Jonathan Franzen or Jennifer Egan's new book.  "Uh...you should read this.  It's good."

That's about the best you can do.

But a high-concept, short work like "Go the Fuck to Sleep" is easy spreadable.  Almost like an epic poem.  Shit, I could nearly recite the entire book to you from memory (in fact, my friend Jenn was telling me about another iconic children's book a few months ago, which she did by reciting from memory the entire thing.  I was sold!).

It also doesn't hurt that "Go the Fuck to Sleep" is available in other media that are far more spreadable (more on this in a second.)  And, interestingly, "Go the Fuck to Sleep" started as a Facebook post!

 

4.  A KEEPSAKE WANTED

It seems that everyone in the world had already read (via piracy) or heard (via Sam Jackson's unsurprisingly brilliant audio-recording here) "Go the Fuck to Sleep" in its entirety before the book had even been released this week.  And, now, any one could easily walk into Barnes & Noble and read the book in about three minutes while standing up.  Yet it still hit #1 on Amazon in preorders.

It doesn't matter.  This is still a book that people want to OWN.  It's a great gift.  Perfect for a baby shower, new parents, as a gag.  It's a funny thing to have around the house to show to guests.  Or, to save to give to your own annoying baby once he or she grows up.  The same isn't true for most other books, though Seth Godin is releasing limited deluxe editions for the Domino Project and I believe McSweeney's also does a brilliant job of making physical books that people want to actually own.  Curiously, "Go the Fuck to Sleep" is selling pretty well on Kindle--though not as well--currently nestled at #12.

(Here's where "How to Fail"...uh...fails.  Though I do think my design by Sarah Vendittelli is quite beautiful, I'm not sure that any one just "has" to own a copy)

 

5.  "LIVE MUSIC"

I've often wondered what is going to be the "live music" for authors in the future?  When people quit buying CDs, musicians were forced to change their revenue making abilities and focus more on live shows which, of course, can't really be pirated (you can't just search for a free Lady Gaga torrent and then magically have her standing in front of you in your living room--though don't we wish!).  But what about authors?  What's the "live music" for us?

"Go the Fuck to Sleep" has solved this brilliantly by creating a work that demands live performance, and by wacky celebrities such as Werner Herzog no less.  People actually paid $15-25 the other night to hear the legendary director read a book that they could have bought for cheaper than that!

(And here's where I've utterly failed.  I haven't made a lot of "live music."  Though I do have a fun speaking gig next week.)

 

BONUS:  CHILDREN INVOLVED!

You release a new book, announce it on your Twitter feed, and get a few LIKES and some stray comments.  Your old buddy from high school status updates about their child finally taking a shit in an adult toilet and the internet nearly blows up.  I tried to shamelessly integrate kids into my marketing campaign, but it was phony so it didn't work.

I didn't have a children's book.  Mansbach and Cortes do.  Perfect.  Boom:

One final thing...all of this shit would be negated if "Go the Fuck to Sleep" wasn't actually a clever, brilliant, and well-written work.  It truly is.  I dare you to listen to the Sam Jackson audiobook and not laugh at least once.  You will.  It's very funny.  It's very catchy.  It'll be stuck in your head for the rest of the day like a bad 80's pop song.

And that's how you create a book that rocks the zeitgeist and makes you a very rich man.

Easy, right?

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16Jun/112

Watching Other Couples Fight – Murray, Hillary, and the Bed & Breakfast

For a writer, being in love is the death knell for producing quality content.  Lust is the most important topic of writing.  It has been since whomever was the person that wrote about a man named Adam so horny for a girl named Eve that he'd depart with a bone in order that he could give her a boning (I may have gotten that story wrong).

A single man, a NOT in love man, can write great tales of romantic failures, of attempted seductions and liaisons, and about lots and lots and lots of mischievous sex.  A man IN love can't.  Especially after the first few months when it becomes rote.  The better your relationship, the less you have to say.  Inverse proportion.

So what to write about?  To reappropriate that famous line from Anna Karenina:

Happy couples are all the same; every unhappy couple is unhappy in its own way.

Ah...yes.  I could detail all the unhappy couples my girlfriend and I have encountered in the past year.

Murray and Hillary

Last summer, my girlfriend decided to treat me to a weekend getaway to celebrate me signing a contract for "How to Fail."

In a bit of spontaneous whimsy you typically only see in Drew Barrymore movies, she refused to tell me where we were going.  Still, I knew it would no doubt be a a) quick drive and be b) somewhat drinking related.

Because:  a) we were leaving Friday after work and wouldn't have much time to get anywhere further than a 4 hour radius and b) that's one of the major interests of my life.

We set out in the late afternoon headed uptown and once she took the turn onto the Triboro it was obvious we were off to Long Island.  My extended family is actually from Long Island, though I don't know much about it.  I've long bashed the Hamptons--not that I've ever really explored them, I bash them more in theory, though I do love Southampton beer--so I figured we weren't going there.  It's not really her scene either.

Deep into the island, at Riverhead, we took the North Fork and soon were driving through wine country.  The Long Island North Fork has some fifty wineries and the town at the end of the line, Greenport, where we we ultimately stopped, has a little brewery I'd always wanted to visit.

Even better, we were literally staying next door to the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company.

Even worse, we were staying at a bed & breakfast.

The B&B

We're wafflers and procrastinators and planning commitment-phobes, so my girlfriend had been late in planning our trip out to Greenport and, thus, there were no hotel rooms by the time she booked.  Not that the area has many hotels.  A few, and numerous "inns" I suppose, but the majority of weekend vacationers stay at bed & breakfasts.  That's where we were going to be staying.  In literally the last room available in all of town.

So, if you're scoring at home, we were staying at supposedly the worst room at supposedly the worst bed & breakfast in town.  Splendid.

My girlfriend didn't tell me any of these pertinent facts, though, until she had literally parked the car in front of Ruby's Cove and we were walking the fifteen feet from tucked-away neighborhood street to gigantic white mansion (pictured above).

Just like the Hamptons, I'd always been a big bed & breakfast basher even though I'd never been to one and quite frankly didn't know much about them, other than from the scenes in "Groundhog Day." A lot of sitting around with old people seemed likely.

In fact, my biggest fear in bed & breakfasting was forced consorting with my fellow B&Bers.

Good lord, as I get older, I (regretfully) barely take the time to hang out with my real friends, with the people I've spent 32 years of my life vetting, but being forced to hang out with lonely old farts sounded like the worst.

As I mentioned, our bedroom (named "The Divine") was the last bedroom in town.  It was actually a very nice room with a massive bed and some of the most luxurious Egyptian cotton sheets I've ever laid on.  There was only one little problem:  our bathroom was across the hall (this point will become pertinent in a bit, so take a note...)

Yes, just like college kids in a dorm, we would have to throw on a bathrobe (admittedly, a most comfy plush one which was provided on the doorback) any time we wanted to walk to our private bathroom.

Four bedrooms meant three fellow couples.  Our opponents:

*Two rubes from Connecticut who had come to Greenport via ferry.  These were the kinds of ill-dressed middle-class suburbanites who may or may not have incorporated visors, fanny packs, and Teva sandals (with socks?) into all their daily outfits, but I certainly recall them to have.  Old enough to have been married awhile and have kids (being watched by "nana"?), young enough to think we were old enough to be just as lame as them.  We weren't.  We aren't.  Extremely boring to consort with.

*One of those couples that behaved elderly so you assumed they were in their 70s, but when you started analyzing them you realized they were only like 55.  Bed & breakfast lifers, these were the kinds of folks that rack up B&B visits across the country like a frat boy racks up slut lays (come to think of it, B&Bs and frat houses look fairly similar on the outside:  old wood and brick mansions with countless rooms, sloping roofs, and couches on the porch).  The man of this couple was celebrating his birthday and kept mentioning this fact every few minutes ("If I haven't mentioned it yet, today is m' birthday.")  A few well-placed curse words in my first casual conversation with them was enough to get these huckleberries to leave me alone.

*Murray and Hillary.

Now Murray and Hillary weren't there real names.  I'm not sure if we ever secured their real names.  They could have been Andy and Sarah or Josh and Rebecca or Brad and Chelsea.  Surely something Biblical or close enough.  Shit, they truly could have been Murray and Hillary.  But, whatever the case, they were Murray and Hillary in my head from the second we saw them.

They were classic Murray Hill dwellers.

Him:

A lithe Jew with Pete Sampras curly hair tamed only by a close-cropping, vibrant Polo shirts, pleated shorts, and overly hair legs trunked into sockless loafers.  No doubt worked in banking, perhaps investment banking, no doubt attended Penn or Cornell at best, Michigan or Syracuse likely, Florida at worse.

Her:

Pencil thin with a big ass and formerly big nose now turned into an alcoholic-red button.  Hair that was once brown and curly turned straight and dirty blond by hundred of dollars per month of hair services.  Giant doe eyes with raccoon eye make-up.

He was:

Kind of a dick in that way that can be amusing to fellow men.  Even as you realize he's a real dick and a terrible boyfriend and that you hate him and that you're going to get in trouble with your own girlfriend for laughing at his belittling jokes toward his girlfriend and females in general, you can't help yourself.

She was:

Obsequious to him in a pathetic milquetoast way.  Kind of attractive if you only looked at her using your peripheral vision.  A lot of JAPs are really good at creating a verisimilitude of attractiveness by wearing nice clothes, funny fedoras, and large sunglasses.  Such was the case here.

The B&B was run by a sweetheart of a pot-smoking hippie named Donna.  I'm not quite sure how she ran the day-to-day activities of a massive mansion all by her lonesome, in between bong hits (this is all hearsay), but she managed.  She also managed to always keep a nice spread of munchies out, along with growlers of Greenport Harbor beer and plenty of local wine.

Our first morning of B (that's the second B), I took a seat on the far corner of the porch and shrouded my face with some internet printouts (what I call actual newspapers nowadays).  I was trying to make it clear to the other couples to leave me the fuck alone with all of yesterday's news that someone still thinks fit to print and my massive frittata.  Neverthless, the old man came by to tell me there was some Red Velvet birthday cake in the communal fridge if I wanted to help him celebrate his birthday, the rubes came by to ask if we wanted to walk the beach with them (a resounding "NO"), and Murray and Hillary came by to say hello and ask about our plans for the day.

We told them, they told us, and after breakfast, from there, we went on our separate ways:  my girlfriend and I to the North Fork Craft Beer, BBQ, and Wine Festival, Murray and Hillary on a chaffeured limo tour of the North Fork's finest vineyards.  (The rubes went to the aforementioned beach and the old farts went to tell more people about his birthday.)

How a B&B is like a Frat House

Now would be a fine time to tell you single men, you non-B&Bers, about B&Bs.  This is the only B&B I've ever been to so user experiences may vary.  Firstly, the door is always unlocked.  A many million dollar mansion and the door is always unlocked.  Then again, B&Bs aren't exactly in the kinds of places ruffians congregate.

I actually didn't realize how apt that previous comparison to a frat house is.  You ever just stumble into one on a college campus?  You can pretty much walk around the place, use the facilities, drink the beers, even talk to people...and not once will someone go:

"Uh, excuse me, who are you?"

Eventually, after a long while, one drunk brother who has had a few too many will give you the protruding crazy eyes and shout out:

"Who the fuck are you?!"

Less because he cares who you are and suspects you snuck into the house, but more because he's just looking to fight people and "Who the fuck are you?!" is oddly enough fighting words no matter the situation or location.  You could say that exact line to your father, inside your childhood house, and it still would lead to a throw-down.

Bed and breakfasts are actually kind of amazing ecosystems.  You're free to come and go as you wish, Donna flat-out told us to "make ourselves at home," and what a home it is.  Countless living rooms and seating areas to cozy up with a book or internet printouts, to read, relax, nap, or just think.  A great place to get lost, I'm surprised there hasn't been a reality show about a B&B yet.  (Has there?)

Meanwhile, the festival was a blast and I'd recommend it to any one.  A giant field with hundreds of unlimited free samples of beer and my girlfriend acting as my designated driver (and walker, and converser, etc).

That Night

Actually, late in the afternoon, after our beer festival, we returned to town to enjoy the rest of the day, me through a slight haze.  There, we encountered the much drunker Murray and Hillary returning from their limoed wine tours.  They clearly wanted to be our friends, and suggested we join them next door at the brewery for a few pints before dinner time.  Sign me up.

We continued drinking and they continued drinking, and Murray was getting pretty loaded, and Hillary was getting really loaded, and Murray was being more and more insulting to Hillary who was just taking his shit.  The drunker she got the even more silenter she got to the point that she was became almost invisible.

Once the brewery closed for the afternoon, Murray and Hillary invited us to join them for dinner at a nearby restaurant but we were tired so we passed and retreated to our bedroom where we passed out...

Several hours later we awoke to the sounds of a woman clomping up the stairs followed a half minute later by a man clomping up the stairs.  Wooden sandals then leather loafers.

Murray and Hillary had returned.

And, they were arguing right outside our door.

And, I needed to go to the bathroom so bad.

At first it was funny.

*"You always get so drunk!"

*"Because you're so boring!"

It was childishly amusing to put our ears to the door and hear their arguments:

*"You were flirting with the waitress!"

*"She was the only person talking to me!"

We jumped back into bed and snickered like little kids, trying to muffle the noise in the fluffy pillows.

Eventually, though, the argument just got sad.

*"I only married you because you were rich!"

*"I've never loved you!"

Then boring.

*"I hate you!"

*"I hate you!"

Then it was magically over.

The calm after the storm.

My bladder had been ravaged.

I finally went to pee, exiting our room to find Murray and Hillary nowhere in sight.

The next morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, my girlfriend and I went downstairs to grab some internet printouts and retreat to the porch for our final B of the weekend.

No other couples were there.  It was eerie.

Donna approached us.

"Did you guys hear anything last night?"

"What do you mean?"

"Murray and Hillary packed up and left in the middle of the night."

"They did?!"

"They hopped in the car and tore out of here."

They were so drunk, I couldn't imagine them driving.

"They hadn't even paid yet!"  Donna added.

Ruby's Cove was so quaint it didn't accept online pre-payment with credit cards.

"Well, I'm sure they'll contact you," I tried to comfort her.

"What a mess...."

"Tell us about it."

Donna just shook her head.

"And to think...this was their one-year anniversary too..."

I'd like to say our jaws dropped, but they didn't.   We just took Donna's amazing maple bourbon-glazed french toast with peach compote to the porch and ate it alone, the only couple still remaining.

Bed and Breakfasts are FUCKING AWESOME.

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15Jun/110

“I read your book. It’s…gross.”

I walked up to the father of the bride and offered my hand.

"Mazel tov."

He looked at me curiously.

"Thank you."

He smiled oddly.

 

"I read your book.  It's...gross."

 

He'd clearly racked his brain for the most fitting, yet kind word he could come up with, and "gross" was sadly it.

My girlfriend was mortified.

A beautiful occasion for her family, and her sweet uncle was wasting it telling me he thought my book was...gross.

She couldn't believe he'd even read it.

I couldn't have care less that he thought it gross.

The thing is, he SHOULD think my book is gross.  He's a sixty-something Jew retired to the South who spends his days golfing and following college football recruiting in the SEC.

Clearly, not my audience.

 

Find Your Audience

 

Wouldn't it be more odd if my book had really resonated with him?

A guy who typically reads David McCullough doorstops?

When you write a book for everyone, you write it for no one (unless you're Stieg Larsson--everyone loves his shit).

Certain people should hate your art.

Certain people should not "get" your work.

And, yes, certain people should perhaps even find your work...gross.

 

What did he expect?

 

It's not like I set any false expectations.

In fact, I tried to write one of the most expectation-fulfilling books ever.

It's the world's first self-hurt guide, the opposite of a self-help guide.  Clearly, it's going to be satirical and foul-mouthed and mocking and naughty.

There are no less than three mentions of bodily functions on the front cover, with "How to Masturbate at Work" prominently featured below the subtitle.  Not to mention, there's a massive back cover blurb that infers one might urinate in one's pants should they read "How to Fail."

So it's not like I'm baiting and switching someone into thinking they're getting Mitch Albom, his giant ears, and his earnest feel-goodiness.

I've set the caveat emptor of...

This book will almost certainly be...gross.  To some.

 

Then Again, You Never Exactly Know Your Audience

 

But that's not to say people there aren't some atypical types that love "How to Fail":

*An 80-something (?) female college professor adored my work (she's actually a noted sexologist)

*Several very religious people dig its inspiration (though they too hate the "grossness" and curse words)

*Even teachers and professors love it (and let me speak to impressionable youths about it!)

Now that I think about it, my girlfriend's uncle may have called my book gross, but he still read it.  All of it.  He still read all 372 pages, so I must have done something right.  At the least, I wrote a very readable book.  And, I'd wager, he may have even secretly enjoyed it.  Grossness and all.

Maybe I should ask him to blurb the next edition.

"It was...gross" --Uncle Larry

To my fans who love "How to Fail," do me this favor:

Recommend the book this week to someone in your life who seems completely atypical to the intended audience of "How to Fail."  Buy them a copy, gift them a Kindle edition (only $2.99!), or lend them yours--it doesn't matter--just get it in their hands.  And then tell me if they think it's...GROSS.


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