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. email@example.com. 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.
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.
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 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.)
I won't hide my bias, I love ebooks.
I love my Kindle, I love my Kindle app for iPhone, and I now hate paper books. I'm not being funny, I really fucking hate dealing with books. "Physical" books us ereader enthusiasts call them with scorn.
I simply do not understand why there are booklovers out there that aren't using ereaders. Oddly, most people not using ereaders are actually anti- them. Often times, virulently so.
But, after reading this Complaint Box piece in yesterday's New York Times (good thing I still had "clicks" this month)--"How EReaders Destroyed My Love Life"--I've now realize that when someone is vocally anti- ebooks, they're usually saying more about themselves than they are about this great technology.
Below, the four most common (and lamest) reasons people are anti- ebooks, and my quickie solutions.
1. "I like knowing what people are reading."
In the aforementioned Times piece, a woman talks about how the rise of ereaders have hindered her chances at soliciting dates because she no longer has her go-to pick-up line: "I love that book." She mentions how she once fell for a man because she saw him reading a book she loved, "Portnoy's Complaint," on the subway. With ereaders, her amazing opportunity to beguile New York City men has been lost!
Solution: Just go fucking talk to the men, you dweeb. It's not that hard. Even based on the carefully curated pictures you provide on your blog, you are certainly cute enough to probably land some dates regardless of what "pick-up line" you use while annoying a man who is trying to lose himself in a book.
Solution #2: Also, you might not still be single if you actually judged men on things more important than their reading preferences, such as "Portnoy's" which is essentially a book about a lazy Jew that masturbates too much (a better book on the topic: here). Some better suggestions for things to judge potential romantic partners on: total number of fingers, whether they actually grip the subway pole, dick size.
(My reading LIKES to judge me on.)
2. "I like the smell of books!"
I can't believe how often I hear this weird one. Like books have some unique aroma. Oh right, they actually do. New ones smell like pulp and cheap glue, old ones and library books smell like the homeless. People actually like this?!
Solution: Let a small baby or gutter bum play with your ereader for a solid week before you retrieve it.
3. "I like displaying books in my home!"
Move just one single time in New York City and you won't give a shit what is "displayed" in your home, as long as it's light. Unless you're the kind of sad person who has a strong need to display to people how "smart" and "educated" you are.
Solution: Print out a list of books you own to hand to house guests once they arrive at your apartment so they'll be impressed by your amazing ability to purchase important books (many of which, let's be honest, you've never read).
4. "I like the feel of a book in my hands!"
People that actually enjoy holding books are like people that actually enjoy anal sex. To most of us, we simply have no idea how you find it comfortable and hope to never have to participate in such a thing again. I don't know about you, but I always hated having to hold a heavy block of paper and cardboard just to get knowledge in my brain. Reading a hardcover while tired in bed? No thank you. While forced to stand on a packed subway? Impossible. Paperbacks are a little better, but still generally necessitate two hands and a folded back cover. With my Kindle, I just need a flat surface and a single finger to turn the page. I can read a book on my iPhone while walking the street.
Solution: Strap weights to the bottom of Kindle or Nook.
There are a few legitimate complaints, I suppose, for sticking with "real" books: price, artistry, and note-taking abilities. I'll quickly dismiss these.
Price: The Kindle App is free for your smart phone and both Kindle and Nooks are down to about $100 a piece. With ebooks anywhere from cheap to free nowadays, if you're even just a semi-regular reader, after a few months you'll be saving tons of money by going "e."
(By the way, "How to Fail" on Kindle, currently only 99 CENTS!)
Artistry: I get this one, ebooks are boring to look at. Kindle and Nook books are designed in no-frills HTML style courtesy of bland e-ink. Every book looks the same. But, as my friend Alex Miles Younger wrote in a great piece two weeks ago, shifting technologies actually mean that (e)books necessitate great, iconic design more than ever.
Note-taking: This is the only issue I have with ebooks at the moment. I used to be obsessed with underlining and notetaking while reading, especially with non-fiction works. I used to fill the margins of my books with about as many scribbled words discussing the material as there was actual text in the book. But, notetaking is tough with an ereader. On my Kindle it takes forever to type up a note on the clunky keyboard. So, for now, I mainly utilize the Kindle's underlining capabilities (quite useful), while taking notes in a separate Moleskine. I'm taking less notes, but at least I'm reading more books.
Get an ereader. By the end of your first book you'll be in love. You'll be obsessed. You'll be so focused on reading that you'll no longer be looking around your subway car for a man, any man, reading a dirty paperback so you can tell him:
"I love that book."
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.
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.
That's a nice (but not really) way of calling something self-published.
It's a euphemism for what you really want to say:
"Oh, that's cute, no 'real' publishing house wanted your shit so you self-published it, huh?"
As in, the only people with the nerve to self-publish are those not skilled enough to write something commercially worthwhile yet too vain to realize that.
This might have been true years ago, but no longer.
In fact, self-publishing is anything but vanity nowadays. Self-published authors are typically some of the most interesting, hard-working, boot-strapping artists out there. From having to find editors, to designing a cover and interior, to acquiring copyrights and ISBNS, to getting the book up for sale online and in stores, to figuring out how to market the work and perhaps even sell a few copies. Investing their own money and working without the net known as an advance. And I haven't even discussed the actual writing of the damn thing.
Self-publishing isn't vanity, it's a labor of love. It's done by people that truly have something to say and would die inside if they weren't allowed to say it! Even if they don't expect to make a buck or garner any fame doing it. Is that vain? I sure wouldn't say so.
You want to discuss "vanity"? How about Gallery publishing a book penned by Snooki. St. Martin's publishing books by the Kardashian sisters. Or pretty much every "important" publisher under the sun releasing ghostwritten books for Donald Trump over the years. These aren't worthwhile books, they're nothing more than commercial packages "written by" vain people to further their fame, published by publishing houses to make an easy buck.
(If the person that "wrote" the book is pictured on the front of the book, it's usually a true vanity project. Think of the book as a mirror, with Snooki or Khloe Kardasian or Donald Trump holding it up to their face, admiring the cover of something they'll never even read.)
Snooki, the Kardashians, Donald Trump, none of them would ever have the balls or chutzpah to self-publish. They wouldn't even know where to start. If we can even assume they could come up with a unique idea then hole themselves up for a few years to write the damn thing, it would still be hard to believe they'd figure out how to accomplish everything else to get the book to market.
But for them to get a book out there from a major publishing house, all that involves is them signing their name to a contract (or writing an X in Snooki's case), smiling wide for the cameras at a few signing events, and letting a huge team of people at the publishing house do all the rest of the work.
Now how vain is that?
My "vanity" work:
With the current online hullabaloo over self-publishing (Amanda Hocking going traditional for big bucks; Barry Eisler ditching traditional and big bucks), people have started asking me my thoughts on it all.
Since I'm lazy, I wrote this so I can just start linking to myself any time someone emails me. If I write enough blog posts, soon I'll never have to have real conversations, I can just have dialogues totally in link. It's a great age we live in.
No matter what they say, the pro-traditional publishing camp (both writers and the people that actually work in it) seem to mostly have their visceral hatred of self-publishing shrouding their unexpressed fears of:
1. Self-published authors infringing on their territory via their own control of low, low, low prices.
2. Self-published authors not having been properly "vetted" like they were or like they do.
The first point is lame and usually shows how little the typical English major know about economics. The second point is the more interesting one to me.* You see, what the pro-traditional publishing camp seems to think is that any one that self-published HAD to self-publish because they were vetted--either by an agent or publisher--and turned down. That couldn't be further from the truth.
For most of the 2000s I would have loved to have been vetted. By anybody. I wasn't getting turned down by the people at the top (whether film producers or agents or publishers), I couldn't even get them to read my stuff!
Even to have had someone say, "You know, I really enjoyed your book/script, but I just didn't feel it was quite good enough for us to pursue," would have felt amazing. Instead I got nothing. Phone calls unreturned, emails unanswered, scripts and manuscripts unread.
Luckily, I had confidence in my work, and knew that when people read my stuff, they would like if not love my stuff, and I guarantee you said stuff hasn't gotten that much better in the last few years.
Finally, I caught a few breaks, actually did get some publishers to read HOW TO FAIL, got a few offers, and chose a small indie publisher. I didn't self-publish, but I could have. I was only "vetted" by 2 or 3 more people than any self-published author.**
Now that HOW TO FAIL has been a success--a major success I would say considering the handicap of indie publishing and its oftentimes inability to get shelf space and cheap attention--traditional publishing is finally willing to vet my stuff. And, they like it. Again, though, it's no better nor worse than it was when they refused to read it just a half-decade ago. Sometimes, it's the exact same stuff.
Even still, most of these people in traditional publishing are too damn slow, or too damn busy, to give me the time of day. Or, the time of the day at the speed of life I so desire. I had one woman at a Big Six publisher contact me on the heels of the HOW TO FAIL tour, asking if I'd be interested in having my next book potentially be with her company. Sure, I was willing to talk. Two months later, we still haven't talked. I don't have time for that shit, and neither should you.
Don't let overly busy--or lazy--men and women be the arbiters of your success. Don't sit around hoping and praying that someone will vet you and then choose you to be published. Believe me, it's not an accomplishment. Writing a good book, and selling copies, is an accomplishment (so is getting people to like your book), but just having a publisher say: "Yes, we will publish that!" is not an accomplishment. It's a phony validation at worst, and, at best, it's just a step. A step you now have the power to cut out of your life.
So, if you're not pleased that traditional publishing is ignoring you. If you're not pleased that traditional publishing won't even give you the time of day to reject you. If you're tired of sitting around in limbo for months, or years: self-publish. Don't continue being the girl that met the guy at the bar, really "hit it off," gave him her number, and now has sat by the phone for the last week awaiting his call.
I was so exhausted with the "real" publishing of HOW TO FAIL, I wasn't in the mood to go through it again with THE CHEAT SHEET. So I self-published. Cost me hardly any time and barely any money. People love it. And no one gives a damn who published it.
Read HOW TO FAIL to see what my published work is like.
Read THE CHEAT SHEET to see what my self-published work is like.
*And, I won't even discuss the point that quite a few "vetted" books suck hardcore. Nor will I be fair and discuss the people in the traditional world that "get it," though there are plenty.
**In fact, if you throw in all the friends and family and writing buddies and creative types that all of us writers let read our stuff before it gets sent out into the world, then you could actually say that most all writers--published or self-published--have been equally vetted.