When they say an author is "accessible," that usually means he's stupid enough to give out his contact information to anyone who would possibly want it. Like me. firstname.lastname@example.org. It's on my website, in my books, usually in the byline of freelance stuff I write, and probably even scrawled in some of New York's finer cocktail bar bathrooms. This means, I get a LOT of unsolicited emails.
Most of it is from nice, normal people who wants to offer a compliment, or a comment, or just shoot the shit. The shat is usually shot and I've even become friends with some of these people. Other emails are from crazy people. Those have their own special charm. But the email topic I get written to about most--aside from, "Honey, why don't you call your mother more often?"--is why I don't have an audiobook.
NOW I DO.
I never realized people listened to so many books. I suppose that makes sense considering my own little three-year experiment called "Trying to Sell Books You Have to Actually Read" has determined: no one really reads any more. Personally, I'd never listened to a single audiobook in my life, but if people wanted a "How to Fail" audiobook--and if that's what they were waiting for before they would finally "read" my book--I would give them one.
I obviously wanted to self-publish it, but that still brought forth two conundrums:
1. I'm a fine enough actor to narrate the book, but had no time nor energy to spend hours upon hours actually doing the recording.
2. Professional recordings can be expensive/at-home recordings amateur hour. I have a four-year-old macbook that constantly gives me the spinning rainbow of death and I live above the constant dynamite explosions of Second Avenue Subway construction. There was no I could record it at home. No way I was going to shell out an expected $2000-$5000 for professional recording time.
So I emailed Audible and asked them what the heck I should do.
And they pointed me toward ACX--one of the poorest promoted websites in the universe, but one of the most indispensable websites for authors.
[The rest of this post is going to read as if ACX paid me to promote them, but I swear they didn't. I simply had such a wonderful experience with the company that I want to reign down infinite hosannas on them...as well as let other authors know about this incredible (and incredibly poorly-promoted) website.]
ACX is essentially the Kindle Direct Publishing for audiobooks. It's even owned by Amazon, which makes it weird it's so poorly promoted. Oh well.
The steps in going from written book to audiobook are a breezy seven-fold:
1. Accept auditions
I uploaded the first chapter of "How to Fail" in late October just to see what would happen. My hopes were low, but within hours I was getting numerous auditions sent me. Human-beings across the world were actually recording Chapter One of my book, hoping I would select them to record the entire thing.
I got several dozen of these auditions within the first 48 hours. 100% of the auditions were "professional." Impressively so. Many didn't fit the bill whatsoever for the voice I had in mind. They were too gruff or too "old" or didn't quite hit the right cadences and notes of comedy for "How to Fail." A few men did really nail their auditions, though, and within days I picked one: Kevin Killavey.
2. Hire a guy
Kevin (and his sound engineer girlfriend) already had an impressive audiobook resume including a Phillip K. Dick work and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (which hit #1), so I knew I was getting some true pros.
Per ACX's contract, I could choose to either pay Kevin an hourly rate (usually in the $200/hour range), or simply give him 50% of future profits. Wanting to make him an invested partner--and not wanting to spend any of my own money--I chose the latter. This would also mean I gave all sales rights exclusively to Amazon, ACX, Audible, and iTunes for the next 7 years. That seemed fine to me considering there's really no other place to buy audiobooks nowadays (famous last words).
Before I fully hired Kevin, he had to submit the first fifteen minutes of the book to me in a timely fashion. He did, the recording was excellent, and we proceeded from there.
3. Hang out for a long time while said guy does all the work
I started this process in mid-November, and honestly wanted the audiobook to be ready for Christmas sales. Unfortunately, flawlessly recording and producing nine hours of material can take a damn long time. Fortunately, the author (me!) doesn't have to do anything during this process. I suppose you can crack an e-whip every so often, but Kevin's a busy guy (shooting zombie movies) and I wanted a quality audiobook produced more than I needed one quickly produced.
4. Listen to recording and offer edits
Sometime around early January, Kevin submitted to me his nine-ish hour cut of the entire book. Now was my turn to go to work. I carefully listened to the entire recording in whole, an open copy of "How to Fail" in front of me at all times. Truth be told, I was BLOWN AWAY at Kevin's comedy chops. All the comedic cadences, satire, and subtle ironic humor he NAILED. Just like it sounded in my head when I wrote the book. Even better, he was remarkable at shifting voice between characters (he could seriously pull off some Lennay Kekua shit if he wanted to). Though I assumed I would have done a fine job narrating my own book, I could have never done what he did. He truly made it come alive.
Throughout the entire nine hour recording, I only found 19 errors (mostly minor stuff, and much better than the number of errors in the paperback!). I submitted my error list back to Kevin, and then went back to sipping pina coladas on the beach.
5. Hang out for a shorter time
Within a few weeks, he re-submitted the recording to me. I checked to see if and how he had fixed all 19 errors--he had, nicely--and then I...
6. Approve book
Approved the book. Which involves clicking one button if I recall. Very simple. I also had to upload a cover JPEG. The rest of the meta-data of "How to Fail" was already re-appropriated from the book's Amazon profile.
Total hours personally invested: ~12 hours (9 of them listening to the audiobook)
Total dollars personally invested: $0
7. Sell book
Two weeks or so later, "How to Fail" the audiobook appeared on AUDIBLE.
A few days later, it appeared on both AMAZON and iTUNES.
And now, I ask that you please buy it. It's truly the best audiobook I have ever heard. If you hate reading, you'll love listening.
Listen to a free sample.
Any biography of me currently lists me as having written one to perhaps three things. Of course, that's hardly the truth. The other day I was thinking about how much stuff one has to actually write before they can produce work good enough that the world actually wants it. So, I decided to make a real bibliography and list every major thing I have ever written, the vast majority of which, you will see, have never seen the light of day.
Fort's Brain  -- (feature film screenplay) terrible college script.
Gatsby Returns  -- (feature film screenplay) slightly less terrible college script.
The Good Life  -- (feature film screenplay) co-written with Tim Calpin, named after a Weezer song. An American Pie rip-off written in 30 days. Landed us a manager (sort of) and then was optioned by an independent film producer who never paid us because he got divorced and his wife took him for a bath.
Cracker  -- (feature film screenplay) co-written with Tim Calpin. A comedic safecracking movie.
Dandy  -- (feature film screenplay) co-written with Tim Calpin. Dark comedy, won a Slamdance screenwriting award though I can't find any proof of that online.
How to Fail  -- (feature film screenplay) Based on a great idea I turned into a terrible screenplay. For the moment...
Without Men  -- (feature film screenplay) Dark comedy that posited a world in which all the men had died in wars and women were the only thing left.
Heroes & Villains  -- (novel) Action drama about a police strike in New York.
Heroes & Villains  -- (feature film screenplay) Written after I couldn't quite finish the novel and decided the concept might work better as a movie. It didn't.
A Better You!!!  -- (feature film screenplay) Comedy optioned several different times by several different people. Made me some money but was never produced. I still think it's a pretty viable property.
Jesse's Toy Box  -- (half-hour TV series) First four episodes and show bible written about a sex toys shop in bible belt Florida. Received a lot of interest and then Seth Rogen fucked up my shit. If I have a single "labor of love," it might be this. My favorite thing I've ever written and I still hope to make it one day.
Trophy Husbands -- (feature film screenplay) Optioned for a minimal amount by a man I'm pretty sure was a con artist. He now uses a different name online.
Proud Papa  -- (feature film screenplay) Comedy about the world's greatest (accidental) sperm donor.
Lied Life  -- (feature film screenplay) I can't even really remember what this was about, but I recall it was inspired by Michael Clayton and was probably pretty crappy.
Everybody's Famous  - (feature film screenplay) Dark comedy satire about a dystopian world where everyone is...famous.
Par for the Course  -- (half-hour TV series) Pilot episode and bible about life on a low-level pro golf tour.
Homeschool U  -- (feature film screenplay) Dark comedy about the most home-schooled children of all time.
[redacted]  -- (feature film screenplay) Comedy screenplay based on an idea by Craig T. Wood.
The Honey Trap  -- (stageplay) I don't even like attending plays, but I still tried to write one. Received decent attention and a reading was nearly put together. I can't recall why it fell apart.
How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide  -- (novel) FINALLY, the first major project of mine an Average Joe could actually consume!
The Cheat Sheet  -- (short story collection)
Drunk Drinking  -- (essay collection) Self-published.
[redacted]  -- (feature film screenplay) Co-written with Jake Hart. High-concept action movie. Currently making the rounds in Hollywood.
[redacted] [2013-2014] -- (novels) Three upcoming novels, manuscripts mostly finished.
Three Rings  -- (one-hour TV series) Co-created with a Brooklyn producer.
17 feature film screenplays
4 television series created
0 produced (as of right now)
7 books written
3 published (as of right now)
So there you have it. Wow, I can't even believe I've written so much stuff--that you can't ever read or see. Maybe 10% of work I've created has been released to the masses. That's kind of depressing.
I'd love my fellow writers out there to do likewise. Give it a try, and pass this along.
I respond to pretty much every single person that writes me (email@example.com), but I never debate the merits of my writing with any one...unless they're a maniac.
Everything below is clearly (sic) and *SPOILER ALERT* too:
On Sun, Jul 8, 2012 at 6:10 PM, [redacted] wrote:
Do you know the three attributes to keep you out of prison???
They are marital status, drug use, and education
Also the ending was weak. Not everybody can paint,by the way painting are ex cons favorite occupations. This ending was like I won the lottery,. No character development of partner alcohol and gf promblems disappear?? Have you read american pyscho that was I thought you were going
Hope this helps [redacted]
From: Aaron Goldfarb
Date: Jul 9, 2012 9:07 AM
Subject: Re: Review
Thanks for writing. I enjoyed reading your note. As you might guess, I get a lot of emails (I suppose that's what happens when you put your email address on your book cover!). I respond to most all of them, but I usually don't address critical takes on my book. But something about your email compelled me to...
Do you know the three attributes to keep you out of prison???
They are marital status, drug use, and education
Now Stu is certainly not married, but aside from beer and booze he doesn't really do any drugs, and as mentioned in Chapter 1 (pages 1 and 2) he has a pretty good educational background: ("...a high I.Q., honors classes, a high school class presidency, athletic skills and accomplishments, science fair awards, writing prizes, a happy disposition, a winning smile, 99th percentile SAT score, “Most Likely to Succeed” senior year, the love of family, the adoration of friends and the opposite sex, and scholarship acceptance to a top fifty American university. My success continued in college where I graduated magna cum laude (Latin for “only drinks five nights a week,” summa cum laude meaning “only drinks three nights a week”)...
The third one you never used and the other two you were guilty. Why didn't your character not end in prison.
As Stu says, again in Chapter 1 (pages 4 and 5): As a failure, things can’t get much worse. I’m not a ticking time bomb. There will be no climactic point at which said bomb explodes and I kill myself accidentally or get busted for shrooms at Newark International. I’m not Len Bias or Darryl Strawberry or Courtney Love or Keith Moon. I’m just your garden variety fuck up. I’m haunted by demons but they aren’t very potent demons. They’re lazy, failure demons just like their possessor. They stand on my left shoulder and goad me into drinking massive amounts of booze, stupidly spending my little money, falling ass backwards into unpleasant intercourse with fatties and uglies, screwing up job interviews, and calling the wrong kinds of people “douchebag.”
Also the ending was weak. Not everybody can paint,by the way painting are ex cons favorite occupations.
As Stu mentions in Chapter 4 (pages 76 and 77), he had spent a whole summer painting houses and really enjoyed it: The only job I've ever enjoyed was a blue collar one. Back in the summer between sophomore and junior year of college, Keith convinced me that instead of interning at some stuffy office, waitering, bagging groceries, we should get a house in South Carolina and golf every day. Our first day in North Myrtle Beach, we saw a rich local loading some day-laborers into a pickup truck and asked him about work, needing some coin to facilitate our golfing lifestyle. Mr. Showalter was having his gigantic guest house painted and was thrilled to have two English-speaking boys up for the low-paying job. Low-paying for a true adult, sure, but for us, ten dollars an hour was phenomenal.
This ending was like I won the lottery,. No character development of partner alcohol and gf promblems disappear??
I'm not quite sure how the ending was like him winning the lottery. He is still a drinker of alcohol (though, as he mentioned on page 359, he just has "a few beers"), his girlfriend problems have only disappeared in the sense that he doesn't think about Ash any more, but he STILL has no real money and STILL sleeps on a couch--just this time in an apartment he shares in Queens with a buddy. Doesn't seem like much of a "lottery win" to me. Though you might disagree.
However, one thing has changed: his mental outlook on life. Whereas before Stu was depressed about all the things he didn't have in life that a successful person (like his rich friends) would have, by the end of the book he's learned that success in life is just in being happy. And you can do that simply by changing your attitude and accepting yourself. Which he has done.
Have you read american pyscho that was I thought you were going
Hope this helps [redacted]
It did. Hope my replies helped.
Would love if you'd add your review to my Amazon page.
Aaron note: Tip for fellow authors, you always ask for an Amazon review.
On Tue, Jul 10, 2012 at 12:19 AM, [redacted] wrote:
Let me explain better the 3 attributes
Marital statue means your life as a child and life as an adult
You lost your job and you couldn't go tell your parents, so you have no support from them. Of course you aren't going to let a gf tell you what to do. I don't have to tell you a bunch of men would be dead or whatever if they didn't listen to women. That's marital status
Everybody works with stupid people, even though your character is highly educated, but he didn't use his schooling.another fact college graduates are about 4 percent.. you did a good job describing how miserable he was. That causes the drinking
Drinking makes you make bad decisions which your character did not. A lot of crappy things happen to him. What dumb things did he do????
Another fact. Do you know the highest group of people who commit suicide
They are homosexual teenagers, I thought it was interesting that you pick woman as your home saving for you rather than two men
One more thing I absolutely hated the chapter where everybody apologized. What did you learn, all of them were wrong where is the lesson on how to fail. Did you have a Holden moment or once everybody says sorry you are successful.
I have known many rich and smart people in prison. Its just that you hit all the danger points and managed to become successful
By doing what?????
I just was surprised by the ending.
Hope this help explain myself better [redacted]
On Wed, Jul 11, 2012 at 7:45 AM, Aaron Goldfarb wrote:
Thanks. I truly enjoyed reading that.
This piece was bought by a major publication back in January, but they were too scared to run it. So I decided to take it back and just run it myself unedited.
How Amazon Users Steal Books
The arrest of German-Finnish superhacker (and future Mike-Myers-in-makeup-and-a-fat-suit movie character) Kim Dotcom and the seizure of his website Megaupload has left college kids fuming and me concerned about one very important issue:
How will people continue stealing my books?
Back in 1970 Abbie Hoffman encouraged people to steal his book with a titular directive, but that old-fashioned way of illegally torrenting is not really practical any more. Mainly because you don’t see bookstores around and even if you do they’re now places for the homeless to hit the loo and wash up. Ditto with libraries, now mainly for the homeless to check their e-mail and look at porn. The death of paper is clearly going to have an apocalyptic effect on the homeless lifestyle more than the publishing industry.
Still, there are other ways to get books for free.
Some are legal like BookLending.com, Kindle’s own Lending Library (though you’ll need a $79/year Prime membership), and e-mailing authors with a sob story about how you love reading but can’t scrounge together a few bucks since you were an English major in college and now can’t get a job in this economy and therefore have to shamelessly beg for a free PDF.
Most others are illegal--depending who you ask!--with countless disreputable sites like Pirates Bay, Iso Hunt, and Torrent Room still yet to be shuttered by the U.S. Department of Justice. Have at it and I hope you (don’t) find the FBI knocking on your door while you’re in flagrante torrenting.
If stealing isn’t your thing yet you still have a total disinterest in spending even a nickle on reading material, you’ll need a little ingenuity and a lot of free time, but you can read entire books on your computer via Amazon’s “Search inside” or Google Books look-through functions. As a recent Emory grad who brought this method to my attention told me, “No one in college pays for books any more. We always figure out a way to read stuff for free.”
You say, but doesn’t “Search inside” only allow you to see a few sample pages? In theory but not function. When you begin a search, you will typically be allowed to view the cover, copyright info (ha!), table of contents, and a few introductory pages before the pages quit going in numerical order and start randomly jumping ahead. For my book How to Fail, that jump-ahead occurs after page five, sending you to page nine, and that’s fairly similar to other books.
At this point, you begin typing keyword guesses into the “Search Inside this Book” box on the left sidebar until you locate either the next page sequentially or one close to it. You have some wiggle room because every time you land on a new page via a keyword search you are afforded the ability to flip back and forth several pages from where you landed.
The key is figuring out words likely to appear on every single page. Amazon doesn’t index commonplace words like “a” or "the”--though it does allow “this,” “you,” and “I”--so you’ll have to focus on words commonplace to what you’re reading. A Harry Potter book and you might guess “Hogwarts.” The Steve Jobs biography and “Apple” or “asshole” might be good. My book and “failure” should get you all the pages you lack initially. With a +/- of a few pages granted for each search, for most books you’ll only need one or two keywords to read every single page. Stealing, sure, but at least you have to think up an “Open sesame!”-like password to gain access. Though I agree with poker player and author Rafe Furst, who has used this method since 2007, but notes, “Personally, I find it tedious and not that satisfying to read a book (via “Search Inside”) and end up buying the book if I'm at all interested.”
Still, there’s an even more ethically murky way Amazon users steal books that tops all the above. I discovered it recently when looking at back-end sales totals for Kindle copies of my books, noticing a column marked “Units Refunded.”
I was baffled at first, “Who would possibly return an ebook?!” Especially ones like mine usually priced less than $5. But, month after month, around 4.5% of buyers return my books for a refund. I asked other authors if they were encountering similar numbers. Ben Nesvig, author of First World Problems: 101 Reasons Why the Terrorists Hate Us, told me he averages about 5% returns for his book. Another friend, a popular technologies writer, told me likewise, as did nearly all authors I surveyed. I put a call into Amazon and though they wouldn’t give me any exact data, I’m guessing it would indeed hover at around 5%.
Now a normal person might assume these refunds were from people that accidentally bought a book, then returned it seconds later, like when you forget to ask for extra naan on a SeamlessWeb order and have to quickly edit it before the restaurant has begun fulfillment. But, I’m no normal person, I’m a money-grubbing author that never wants to have another day job. So I dug deeper and discovered something shocking:
(To return and refund, go to Manage Your Kindle, click the actions tab for the title you’d like to return, and select “Return for Refund.”)
Seven days? Who can’t read a book in seven days?!
There are people buying ebooks, reading them quickly, then returning them for a full refund, like stay-at-home mom Elisabeth Gilbert who told me, “I have literally never spent money on an ebook since getting an iPad.” Numerous other readers told me likewise. Though I didn’t ask, I’m sure they also tuck the tags when they buy new clothes for a date, then take them back to Banana Republic in the morning.
“Those are their rules,” explains Jon, a legal professional. “I don’t feel like I’m stealing anything since Amazon allows this.”
Maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe Amazon should only allot 24 hours to make a return. Or not allow a return once you’ve read past page 20 or so, something they have the ability to monitor.
It’s not like this is completely a modern technology problem, though modern technology makes it much easier to beat the system, and makes system-beaters far less guilt-ridden, especially during these tough economic times. “Why should I feel bad? I’m not stealing anything real,” is the thought common to serial refunders like a Seton Hall student I spoke to. There’s always been people who bought hardback books, quickly read them, then returned them, capitalizing on lax 30-day refund policies at most chains. Barnes & Noble even lowered their return time to 14-days back in 2008, sick of being used as a library. Bookstores average around a 1% return rate on paper books, but who knows how many of those were people just bummed out they were given Tom Brokaw’s new tome as a Hanukkah present. (Interestingly, bookstores themselves return anywhere from 25%-50% of unsold books back to the publishers for a full refund.)
Ebooks are returned at five times the rate of physical books, because returning physical books is simply tougher. A physical book has to stay crisp and clean and it’s a physical object you literally have to drive back to a physical location. Ebooks are frivolous possession-wise: a scroll of the mouse, a click of a button, zapped to your Kindle or iPad or iPhone in a matter of seconds, then returned six days later by reversing the steps. Stealing one isn’t even zero-sum, literally an infinite number exist.
Seth Godin once told me, for a young author like myself, I shouldn’t be worried about sales or even making money, I should be worried about building a “tribe” of fans, not coincidentally also the title of one of his best-selling (selling!) books. Likewise, Paolo Coehlo is a firm believer in simply getting his books out there electronically, going so far as to pirate his own work, which he feels has greatly contributed to the 65 million sales of The Alchemist alone. And, Cory Doctorow has famously said: “For pretty much every writer, the problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity.”
So I suppose I should be thankful I’m building a tribe and becoming a little less obscure through electronic theft.
Having said that, if you truly want to get an author’s book for free, there’s a better way. Derek Jeter can’t be the only person who gives his paramours personalized parting gifts.
For the longest time I didn't write books, I wrote screenplays. No, you've never seen any of these movies or TV shows because none of them were ever made (for a variety of reasons). Eventually, I got so fed up with writing stuff only read by my manager, my mom, and a few studio and network execs (or, more likely, their lowly assistants), that I decided to actually write something I knew the masses would get to enjoy. That was How to Fail.
Amazon now makes it very easy to share screenplays as part of their Amazon Studios, so I decided to dust off some old works and let you read these screenplays heretofore only read by manager, mom, and those lowly assistants.
Jesse's Toy Box was the first TV show I ever created and it's the rare labor of love I still hold onto in the hopes of getting it made one day. The premise: Ronnie Fish, a Brooklyn slacker, inherits a Christian bookstore in Florida when his uncle dies suddenly. However, upon arrival, Ronnie flips some letters on the marquee and converts Jesus’s Joy Box into Jesse’s Toy Box—Levy, Florida’s first and only sex toys shop.
I shopped this project around Hollywood for most of the late-2000s, getting plenty of interest, but constantly hearing the same refrain: "A sex toys sitcom would never work." One day, I awoke to news from Variety that Seth Rogen (he was uber-hot at the time and taking meetings left and right) had just sold a similar premise to Showtime based simply on the premise. Even worse, he was tabbing his personal assistant to script and produce it! Of course, no surprise, some four years later, Rogen's pseudo-project has never aired, never gone into production, never even been written for all I know. Mine has and here you can check out the pilot episode script and a 25-page "bible" which details how the show would develop over four seasons-plus. I still think it could be a huge winner.
Trophy Husbands was one of those high-concept Hollywood ideas in which you merely need a title to know all about the project. The logline: Everyone's heard of a "trophy wife," but in Silicon Valley a group of ambitious young men is trying to make a startup business out of being the opposite: handsome, young "trophy husbands" married to, and trying to dupe old, rich women out of their wealth. I knew it was a project I had to have circulating in Hollywood ASAP because it was such an easy idea. Of course, again, bigger people than me sold the premise but it's still listed as "in development" on IMDB. I'm guessing it'll also never get made. I still think my script is quite sharp, funny, and worth a read.
A Better You!!! was probably the first really good script I ever wrote: For decades we've been inundated with infomercials trying to sell us stuff. Workout DVDs, books that "teach" you French in a week, and CDs that show you how to speed read. Who actually buys this crap?! Dallas resident Batch Holt does, though he eventually comes to understand that it takes more than 6-pack abs, super speed-reading abilities, and the DVD advice of a geeky dating guru to become A BETTER YOU.
This script was actually optioned by an indie producer and for the longest time looked like it was going to go into production. But one quickly learns that movies are so much harder to get made than you'd ever think and the producer wasn't able to quite raise the funds needed to begin shooting. I took a lot of meetings, had my hopes constantly raised--then dashed, and made a few bucks for my troubles, but the public has never got a chance to enjoy A Better You!!! until now.
Let me know what you think. If people enjoy reading these I'm happy to post some other screenplays I've written.
And don't forget, the offer for a free copy of Drunk Drinking ends on Friday!
Last week I was invited to speak about using social media to promote your creative business.
I just thought I was. (I was actually invited to be one of five members of a panel discussion at Brooklyn Winery during which I drank too much and acted contrarian too often). Thus, I prepared a speech I never gave. I hate to waste "content," so here it is:
Any one who tells you they have the secret to helping you gain social media followers is a snake oil salesman.
You want to know the one BIG secret: be famous.
It doesn’t matter how shitty of Tweeter you are...if you’re famous, you’ll have followers. Think of the most famous person you can that doesn’t have a Twitter account. If they signed up tomorrow morning, they’d have several hundred thousand followers by the end of the day. Even if all their posts were about what hair products they’re currently using.
Lady Gaga can post about her lunch and Beiber can post about a shit he just took and they keep gaining followers. No one cares about their content. Even the famous people that are supposedly “quality” Tweeters--Ashton for instance--write absolute garbage (AUTHOR'S NOTE: I composed this piece before Ashton's major Twitter gaffe). My least interesting friends are far more interesting.
The only celebrities worth following are very good comedians and very uneducated professional athletes. Sometimes I think some of the athletes I follow are speaking another language. If this talk had slides, right now a slide would pop up that showed a Tweet from Antonio Cromartie.
For the rest of us, from the conditionally famous on down, we have to provide brief content that is interesting. There’s nothing more frivolous and unstable than social media followers. They are so fickle.
For instance, you all might be bored by me, or disgusted by me, or repulsed by me. But you paid $5 and you’re several subway stops from home and there’s free wine (AUTHOR'S NOTE: There actually wasn't. Not even for the "talent") so I’d really have to be boring or disgusting or repulsive to get you to stand up and leave. Not true on social media.
Write a boring or disgusting or repulsive thing on Twitter and there’s a certain kind of social media follower (a high percentage actually) that almost takes pride in UNFOLLOWING.
“I CANNOT believe he wrote two mildly unfunny Tweets in a row. Not only am I unfollowing--but I am going to @ him and tell him that I am unfollowing him.”
People on social media are fucking nuts. They demand a bizarre level of excellence for something that is FREE and easily ignorable.
But if that’s what they want, then that’s what you have to give them. I have lots of interests and I used to Tweet about lots of things. I’m a craft beer fan, I used to have a craft beer blog, so I used to occasionally Tweet about fancy beers I was drinking. And a small percentage of my followers loved to hear about that. But the VAST majority didn’t care. They knew me, and followed me, because I’m “Aaron Goldfarb,” the comedic and satirical novelist. So one Tweet about beer, or Syracuse basketball, and they held their mouse above the unfollow button. Two or three Tweets about that subject and “Unfollow.”
The same goes for self-promotion. One or two Tweets per week about what you’re doing, where you’re speaking, what Tumblrs read by only five people have an upcoming interview with you, and your followers can deal with it. Any more, and they will unfollow you with no prejudice.
So I actually like to think of the Twitter arena as the stage, just like I mentioned before. I sit here and I try to be interesting and informative and funny. I’m not sitting here spending the majority of the time talking about an article I was quoted in, or another interview I gave, or a book I have coming out next year. I’m not talking about a good beer I had yesterday or my thoughts on Syracuse basketball for the upcoming season (promising). If that was my brand, maybe--but for better or worse it’s not. Mine is to be funny and entertaining and when I am--and not TOO profane--I gain followers, I gain RTs, and I gain conversations and sharing. When I’m not, it’s at best a wall of silence, at worst followers start dumping me like a bad habit.
And that’s one final thing I’d advise--don’t pay attention to any of this. Sitting here, I can see who is listening to me. I can see who is laughing and who is twiddling their thumbs and what attractive women are beguiled. I can see if any one stands and walks out on this. And that would fuck me up if that happened. They might have gotten an emergency phone call, or drank too much free wine (AUTHOR'S NOTE: Impossible), I don’t know--but if they walk out on me, my head would be fucked with. And it’s easy for the same thing to happen on social media.
It’s easy to notice, “Holy shit, I lost 20 followers today!” and start wondering why and analyzing what you Tweeted and then trying to Tweet things more in line with what you think doesn’t lose followers. But don’t do that. Don’t pay attention to your number. Who cares why you lose fans? Just trust me that you will eventually, and at worst slowly but surely, gain fans if you just follow your focus--whether that’s being entertaining or being interesting or being perceptive or being news-breaking. Whatever your reason for being on Twitter and creating content is, be the best you can be at that, and don’t self-promote too much, and don’t talk about what you’re drinking too much, and for God’s sake don’t fucking Retweet Andy Borowitz too much--and you’ll do all right.
But what do I know? I barely have 2000 followers.
Lately, when writing friends speak to me for the first time in a while, they ask how my short story collection "The Cheat Sheet" is selling.
"Honestly...not great," I tell them.
"Oh, I'm sorry," they say, in the hushed tone usually reserved for news of a death in the family.
It's no big deal I tell them. I didn't expect it to sell well. I assumed it wouldn't sell well. Short story collections never sell well. People just aren't interested in them.
And there lies the paradox.
In a world where people seemingly crave shorter and shorter content, where attention spans for art and entertainment continue to diminish, where long novels and epic movies and four hour baseball games are being all but marginalized, if not avoided, for pithy Tweets and YouTube videos and Tumblr posts, where you are even getting sick of how long this sentence has been going on for...
You would think that the short story would conquer.
But, for some reason, it doesn't.
It's now been ten months since the release of "How to Fail," yet last month alone it still sold 3 times better than the brand-new release of "The Cheat Sheet" in paperback and nearly 50 TIMES better on Kindle where both are priced exactly the same (a mere 99 cents).
"How to Fail" gets generally great reviews so you'd think most people that read and enjoyed it would then pick up the, again, 99 CENT Kindle copy of "The Cheat Sheet," but the numbers simply don't bare that out.
Fine, I'm just one man, just one writer. Maybe "The Cheat Sheet" simply has content that doesn't interest people (are you scared of sex?), even "How to Fail" fans. So let's look at some other authors.
Turn to the "best sellers" in short story collections on Amazon and you're smacked in the face instantly with these depressing facts:
*The current #1 and #3 best-selling short story collection is "A Visit From the Goon Squad," an admittedly great book deserving of best-selling status, but very much not a short story collection (though it is short story collection-ish in it's unique style).
*#2 is the two-decades old classic "The Things They Carried" which, again, just like "Goon Squad" isn't exactly a short story collection.
*Soon we actually start getting to legitimate short story collections, but a lot of it is stuff you've never heard of, if not schlock you're not so sure you ever want to hear about again (see: "Hot and Steamy: Sizzling Sex Stories--OK, I guess some purchasers aren't scared of sex!). And all of it could hardly be called "best-selling," even in a world where no one reads books any more.
*The rest of the current top 100 best-selling short story collections is predominantly stuffed with old, surely public domain works from long-dead authors like Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, and Jack London. Not exactly the kind of trendy, state-of-the-art, modern works you find dominating the top 100 lists in other niches.
Does the collecting of many short stories into a larger volume negate the brevity that people crave?
Do people perhaps not crave paying for short content?
Perhaps it isn't that no one reads short story collections.
Perhaps it's that no one pays for short story collections.
People will read a story here or there, usually in a magazine, or free off the web, but few people seem to want to commit to an entire collection of stories, with rare exception (Tucker Max, David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley, Chelsea Handler...then again, notice those are all stories based on real-life).
Of course, there's the new "Kindle Singles" section where you can simply buy a single story for a buck or two, but even those don't seem to be selling all that great.
So what is it?
What do you think? Do you buy or read short story collections? Have you bought any Kindle singles? Why or why not?
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I watched "The Hangover." I fucking hated it. This is a movie 50 million people loved?!
I've tried to watch "Criminal Minds" and "Bones" and "NCIS" and "Big Bang Theory." I detest them. These are shows that get 10 million viewers per episode and dot the Neilsen ratings weekly top ten?!
I started "The Da Vinci Code." Quit after page 50. This is a book that has been read by zillions of people in 40 different languages?! I didn't even know there were 40 different languages.
I'm not a culture snob. I read, watch, and listen to everything. True, I pursue the best of the best, but I also read, watch, and listen to the most popular of the popular. Just to see "what it's all about." Just to try to understand the zeitgeist.
When it comes to books, I not so humbly think that my book "How to Fail" is vastly superior to most.
Based on sales alone, it is most certainly not.
And that's my point exactly.
Does the fact that I hate most all best-sellers yet think my book is better, doom me straight from the get go?
Does one have to generally like the most popular of popular culture to then produce his own super popular culture?
Did Spielberg have to like the American Hollywood hits of the 50s and 60s (as opposed to the more artsy European stuff) in order to become the definitive hit-maker of his era?
Did J.J. Abrams have to worship blockbuster artists like Speilberg--because we know he did--to become the most famous pop producer of his era?
Did J.K. Rowlings have to be inspired by the most famous piece of pop culture ever in order to create the most read book series ever?
(Maybe I should start going the initials route--A.M. Goldfarb. Yeah, that's the ticket.)
Would I write the kind of works that were not just liked, but were gulped up by the idiot masses if I was also a massive idiot that loved all the popular shit?
Or, maybe I just need a movie released to 3000 screens, a TV show aired on CBS, a book given front table placement at the airport newstand. Maybe I need to curse less.
Whatever the case, I'm about to start reading "The Hunger Games" to see what that shit's all about and why it sells like fucking crazy.
Then, I'll keep writing what I like to write.
Popular culture* of recent times I actually liked:
Every Pixar film
"The Dark Knight" & "Inception"
"The Blind Side"
The Millenium Trilogy
"Room" by Emma Donahue
NBC Thursday night comedies
"How I Met Your Mother"
*I defined this as blockbuster movies, highly-watched network TV shows, and best-selling books before any one argues.
I would never make a blanket statement that all publishers are idiots. They aren't. But a lot of the publishers I've worked with clearly are. With that, the six stupidest things these publishers have ever said.
(Names anonymous and quotes sometimes paraphrased)
1. "Call Google and tell them to remove that!"
My publisher noticed a blogger had offered a scorchingly harsh review of one of his many terrible titles. A review that was now appearing as the #1 returned search item when you Googled that very book's title. He told the office technological guru--really just the one fat, bearded nerd in the office--to do the above quote.
2. "Ask them why they aren't buying!"
Any time I returned from a book event--this publisher never attended--and I'd proudly tell him how many books were sold, he wouldn't pat me on the back and say, "Good job." He'd instead wonder why the book hadn't sold to other people. If 200 people were at the signing and 199 bought, he didn't care about those 199, he only cared about the one. And, what was I to do for that one non-customer? Why "Ask them why they aren't buying!" How he wanted me to do this I am not sure. I imagined jumping up from the table where dozens of people were waiting for my autograph and chasing down a guy I saw casually scoff and then exit. "Excuse me, sir, excuse me, sir. Can I ask you a question: why didn't you buy my book?"
3. "E-mail everyone and tell them to cancel their Amazon orders!"
This sounds too crazy to be true, but the first day my book went for pre-order sales on Amazon it immediately jumped from unranked to inside the Amazon top 5000. Not too shabby, I thought. Far too shabby, my publisher thought, apparently not pleased with Amazon getting 55% of his cut. So, he told me to e-mail any one that had already bought via Amazon--how would I possibly know such a thing?!--and get them to cancel their orders and instead buy my book from his terribly-designed, user-unfriendly company website where he would get 100% of the cut.
4. "NO NEED TO BUY FROM THE EXPENSIVE BIG BROTHER CAPITALISTIC AMAZON!!!"
Later, that same day, the aforementioned "office technological guru," e-mailed me (in ALL CAPS, natch), to further get me to try and push all future sales to the terribly-designed, user-unfriendly publishing company website by both denigrating the world's largest online retailer and bashing the very economic system that would hopefully make our book a bestseller.
5. "Blurbs sell books."
I'd always hated blurbs and thought they were a waste of time to acquire and, more importantly, didn't aid in the selling of books. My publisher disagreed and refused to go to press until I had some blurbs. "Blurbs sell books!" he constantly shouted. There's certainly some debate on the matter (which I discuss in video form here). Long story short: I was forced into getting blurbs. And, actually, my blurbs did help me sell some books, my publisher might have been right with this stupid statement.
6. "This 'Jersey Shore' show seems to be popular. How can we get you on the show to promote your book?"
This statement occurred after my publisher accidentally got sucked into a "Jersey Shore" marathon one weekend while his grandchildren were visiting. Considering Snooki and Sitch sold the fuck out of their books (sarcasm), maybe I should have stumbled over to Seaside Heights for a surprise walk-on.
I wish the above things had never been said to me, but they unfortunately were. Hopefully, with my next book, and next publisher, I will be the only one saying stupid things.
Authors--if you have the balls to reveal them in the comments (feel free to be anonymous):
What is the stupidest thing your publishers have ever said?
"Anyone can improve his ability to generate good ideas consistently, if willing to be a little more purposeful in how to approach the creative process."
More and more jobs nowadays call for the use of serious brain power and creativity. Even, the seemingly non-creative fields. Yet, so few workers seem to have "time" for just sitting down and having a good think. Todd Henry, author of "The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment's Notice," thinks this needs to change.
He tells the story of giving a talk at a conference and asking:
"How many of you would say that great ideas are critical to the future of your career or business."
Most hands go up. But when Todd asks how many people devote time in their day to idea generation, almost no hands remain.
"What am I supposed to do?! Just sit in my office thinking?!" are the typical complaints.
And, the answer is:
In Todd's mind, it's all about eliminating fake work from your life--mindless monitoring of e-mail for example--and doing real work. The truly tough work. The thinking work. As a creative worker, you're paid for the value you create, not how much time you spend on something, yet so many of us still insist on believing in the old 1950s model that working long hours equals doing good work. We're not factory workers, we're thinkers! All that matters is the work that has been created! Not how long it took.
"Because we tend to gravitate toward possibilities, many creative people wrestle with focus."
Todd is a firm believer in a strict scheduling of creativitiy. It seems silly at first, if not impossible, but I must admit by following his ways he's helped me become more creative in a short amount of time.
I've quickly begun utilizing Todd's "Big Three" to great effect. This calls for having a list of the three biggest "open loops" in your life which you are forced to stare at throughout the day. I've taken to writing out my Big Three (usually a new book I'm working on, a screenplay idea, maybe a freelance piece) at the start of the week and then carrying it around in my pocket at all times. And, you wouldn't believe how much this has helped my process. Now, almost through osmosis, I'm thinking about these creative problems even when I'm not thinking about them--walking the street, riding the subway, while working out, etc--and getting so much more thoughtful work accomplished. I come back from the gym or get off the subway and immediately sprint to my computer to write down everything I've thought of while "not working."
The Big Three technique sounds simple, and it is, but it's amazingly helpful at keeping your creative priorities always on your mind. I advise you do likewise.
Many artist types, especially us writers, seems to believe that we can't influence our own creativity, that it just arrives with the muse (or a few glasses of Scotch) and then the magic happens. Todd says not so and shows you why so in "The Accidental Creative."
In this way, Todd's book is similar to Steven Pressfield's great "The War of Art" and "Do the Work." If you dug those two books, you'll love this one. But, while Steven's books are more pithy and inspirational, "The Accidental Creative" is a straight-up guide book for making you productively and efficiently creative.
For making you able to "create on demand."
It doesn't seem possible, but Todd shows it is.
(Oh, yeah, I get free shit.)