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.
This year, I wanted to offer personally autographed copies of HOW TO FAIL and THE CHEAT SHEET to the FIRST 25 people interested in each. Order by December 15 and I'll guarantee them by Christmas. I'll sign them to whomever and write anything you want.
FREE shipping in North America. (If you want it shipped elsewhere, send me an email email@example.com to discuss)
HOW TO FAIL: THE SELF-HURT GUIDE
THE CHEAT SHEET
both autographed, $50
As I said, I'll write whatever nasty (or friendly) note you want inside of the books. Want to zing your boss, blast an ex, tell mom to suck it? Just tell me what you want me in the "special instructions" area on check-out. Like this girl, who wanted me to call a slutty friend of hers a slut:
I also still have some sordid HOW TO FAIL t-shirts available, perfect if you don't have a gift for mom or dad yet:
Sorry Jews. Just realized Hanukkah starts this weekend. SHIT.
I respond to pretty much every single person that writes me (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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.
Exactly 366 days ago, I was just another schlub. The next day my first novel "How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide" was released and my life completely changed. I've learned so much these past 365 days, like:
1. It's always better to tell people you're an "author" as opposed to a "writer." Everyone is a "writer" in this day and age, but few people are "authors."
2. The book industry is fucked.
3. It's still much better than the film industry though.
4. And, most of the people I've met in the book industry are really awesome.
7. And for the few people that do read them, it's like pulling teeth trying to talk them into leaving an Amazon review for your book.
8. By my math, and who knows if I'm right, 20% of book purchasers actually read the book, and less than 1% of that leave a review on Amazon.
10. Amazon also really fucking hates curse words, unless they're in the title of a bestseller.
12. Don't wear a hooded sweatshirt to an author event either--you'll look like a real asshole. Or Mark Zuckerberg. Or both I guess.
15. There's no shame in selling your ebook for a mere $.99 even.
16. Shame is having a book no one wants to read, even if it was free.
17. Formatting your book for Kindle and epub is a piece of cake, even if you aren't a computer whiz. And what an incredibly powerful skill for a writer to have. If you're an author and you're not learning how to get your books online, you're making a critical mistake. (I taught myself using Joshua Tallent's great book.)
18. It's actually really easy to get a pretty good ranking on Amazon. At least for awhile.
19. Especially within genre top 100 lists.
20. Especially if the genre is really niche, like "women's lit" which is where Canadian Amazon files "How to Fail" for some reason.
20B. Who knew there was a Canadian Amazon?! (Whatever the case, my women's lit book is sold out there.)
21. It's almost shameful how few books you actually have to sell to get a good Amazon ranking--but, authors, don't let the public know this on the day you sell a mere 50 total copies and crack the overall top 1000.
24. Bookstores are dead. Bars will never be.
25. There is no glamour in being on a book tour. It's a lot of constant travel, lugging heavy shit, being shit on by strangers, staying in roach motels, and eating at Waffle Houses and reststop Roy Rogers at 4 in the morning.
27. Being in love while on the road and away from my girlfriend for 30 days was like the toughest thing in the world.
28. Especially when I was spending most nights sleeping in cramped h/motel beds with my manager (below).
29. But it also kept me focused.
33. Authors get tons of free shit.
35. Your dedication page is a great way to truly touch people in your life with just a few keystrokes of thought and effort. (But NEVER tell your dedicatees that.)
38. The best self-promotion is producing good content.
39. But never be afraid to tell people what you want them to do, buy, retweet, and attend.
40. Just don't do it too much or people will quit listening.
41. There's no better calling card than a book.
42. A book also becomes your resume, and perhaps you should bring it to job interviews.
43. You better look more handsome than you've ever looked before for your official author's photo because you're gonna have to stare at that stupid thing for a long, long time.
45. Yet, twice in the past week, random people have told me I look like Dexter in my author's photo.
48. It's weird having people ask for your autograph. Though fun to sign your name like you actually are someone important.
49. You aren't though. Or, actually, you are, you're just no more important than you were before you'd had your book published and were a "nobody."
50. You're still a nobody to the world at large. 99.9% of authors are.
51. And if you sell just 1000 copies of your book, your book has sold better than 99% of books ever released.
52. That fact is sad, but you'll still tout that percentile in interviews.
53. It's much easier to get important people to take your call, answer your email, and meet with you when you have a book.
54. You now have the same profession as Stephen King, JK Rowling, and Jonathan Franzen. How cool is that?!
55. You absolutely have to become a renaissance man, or an "author-preneur." You must be a designer, a marketer, a publicist, a "personality," a speaker, a salesman, and about a zillion other professions that have nothing to do with writing.
56. Don't be too excited by the good reviews, nor too upset by the bad reviews.
57. Those average reviews will leave you wondering though. Average reviews will make you feel like you didn't push the envelope enough.
59. There will always be shittier books than yours that sell much better.
60. Sales have nothing to do with the quality of your writing.
61. They most significantly have to do with a mix of marketing, luck, spending money, and paid placement. (Although there's really no silver bullet.)
62. Publishers pay lots of money for "placement" at the front of bookstores and in airports, it has nothing to do with quality.
63. And we wonder why the NYT Bestseller list is littered with such shit.
66. People from your hometown you deserted long ago will now think you a celebrity, and treat you accordingly on your rare prodigal son returns.
67. Friends will assume you're now much richer than you truly are.
68. Your parents will finally be proud of you.
69. Women will want to sleep with you, even if they haven't read your book.
70. Even if they've never heard of it. Or you.
71. Kissinger was right--being a "published author" is a great aphrodisiac.
74. Being mentioned on Olivia Munn's Wikipedia page has led to nothing.
76. Having a Wikipedia page impresses people--even though any one can have one.
77. You can't use your Wikipedia page (mobile) as a "form of picture ID" to get into a bar.
78. Once you're a published author, talking someone into interviewing you is very easy.
80. Having a lawyer on retainer is so much more expensive than you'd ever imagine.
81. There's no excuse for how slow the publishing industry is with everything.
82. Getting a book into the marketplace is much cheaper than you'd expect.
83. Drinking every night is now considered part of my job. Or, at least my quasi-celebrity lifestyle.
84. Goddamn, I'm a good drinker.
85. Most people that buy your book won't read it.
86. That includes your friends.
87. You'll be shocked to learn that even after a year of release, some of your best friends haven't even read your book. Better not to ask so as to not embarrass yourself.
88. I really like public speaking now. Especially if I'm speaking about myself.
89. "The Art of Fielding" is the best novel I've read in the last year, maybe even several years.
94. Teaching at your alma mater is an amazing feeling. And makes you feel old.
95. Even though they're adults, technically, once you're the teacher, they're just college "kids."
96. Quit worrying about optimizing your online presence and just fucking create your art. "Ship" as Seth Godin says.
98. No Shabels. Not a one.
99. For better or for worse, "How to Fail" will be a part of me for the rest of my life. I think.
101. I think it's about time for me to come out with my second novel. Look for it in 2012.
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?
I spoke Thursday night as part of Gelf's Non-Motivational Speakers Series. The self-hurt guide author as non-motivational speaker. Clearly a match made in heaven. It took place at the Pacific Standard, a prototypical Brooklyn bar full of great craft beer and skinny, bearded, asshole bartenders (Spuyten Duyvil is the gold standard of this genre). Of course I'd be invited to give a speech at a bar. I write books in bars, sell them there too, constantly dream of opening my own, and now I give speeches in them.
It feels funny to call something in a bar a "speech," even if there was a microphone present. Speeches are what Lincoln gave. So we'll say what I did was a "talk."
It felt like the first talk I'd given in my entire life. Then again, Bill Russell threw up before every single basketball game he ever played. Then again, Bill Russell probably didn't pound a few Flower Powers before tip-off.
I've actually spoken plenty of times in my life.
I've spoken in front of college classes, classes where I'm the curriculum.
I've spoken in front of groups pimping my book.
I've even been on TV, radio, and lengthy podcasts where they almost had to tell me to shut the fuck up and that they were done speaking to me.
I've even given a few best man speeches in my life.
Weddings are always a tough crowd to speak in front of. Everyone is itching to eat, to hit the bar again for a Scotch refill ("Seriously, Chivas is all you have?!"), to start dancing. No one wants to hear from some asshole in a rented Men's Warehouse tux who they don't even know. No one is enjoyable to listen give a wedding speech, but I've twice killed it.
Two tips: be short, be funny.
Legendary comedians like Chris Rock and Louis C.K. can barely hold an eager crowd's attention for ten straight minutes, yet you think you'll be able to? You won't. Two to three minutes and out. If you're not funny, or you're the bride's dad, or a female...feel free to be sentimental. Get a few "awwwwwws" from the crowd and then be done. Otherwise, you best be funny.
I was asked to speak for 15 minutes Thursday night which already forced me to break my "be short" rule. I was nervous about that. It was the longest scripted and memorized talk I'd given in my life.
I asked my buddy Phil Simon what his number one tip for giving a good speech is.
"Don't use slides," he said.
Which is odd because another friend, James Altucher (who wrote a great piece on public speaking), really likes using funny slides. I wasn't even allowed to use slides if I had wanted to. Which is good because I would have been too lazy to cull them together, any ways.
I studied some more of James's tips for some additional pointers. I liked his ones about starting with a joke (obvious), being self-deprecating (not too tough when I'm already being called "non-motivational"), and shocking them with each and every point.
Opening with a joke seems self-evident and I opened with a series of them. First, a casual faux-impromptu joke as I approached the mic:
"I've always wanted to give a TED Talk but they don't let you drink at those, so this'll have to do..."
As I took a sip from my beer while they laughed. Then, I shocked them with my opening line:
"On my birthday this year, I got sued..."
And it was off from there.
Most comedians like to close a show, but I like to open. Gives me a chance to kill early and get drunk late. I hate sitting around waiting to speak and accidentally getting too drunk, forgetting what I have to say, other people already setting a high standard of speaking ahead of me. Truth be told, the second and third slots were the best slots Thursday night. They had the largest crowd and the most slightly buzzed and really engaged people. But, I still liked opening.
The Non-Motivational Speaker series was an apt pairing for me. The other three speakers all gave talks that included tales of lawsuits, hare-brained schemes, substance abuse, and barely eking out a living chasing their own dreams. Of course, the other three speakers dreams were, respectively, to open a Big Lebowski store, hold the world's biggest jerk-off, and be allowed to legally ride a unicycle on New York City sidewalks.
I was torn. I felt both honored and utterly ashamed to be a part of this foursome. Alas.
I thought I gave a pretty good speech. I was impressed I could go for fifteen minutes and keep the crowd engaged and laughing.
There's currently a big debate going on over at Slate about the new practice of charging for author talks. I've long been saying that the modern author is going to have to learn to "play live music." Yes, agreed, typical author events ARE really boring. That's why I had my book tour in bars right from the get-go.
It's tough, though. We're writers that now also need to be performers. I did pretty well, I thought, got quite a bit of laughs, but was it stand-up quality? Not even close. Maybe in a few years I'll be stand-up good, but not yet. My material is good, but delivery is more important than I would have thought. That's going to take a lot more practice. Simply having good jokes and saying them doesn't quite get the laughs and merit shelling out big bucks to hear me speak.
Then again, plenty shelled out bucks to buy some of my books afterward. And, that's what matters most to me.
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.
I walked up to the father of the bride and offered my hand.
He looked at me curiously.
He smiled oddly.
"I read your book. It's...gross."
He'd clearly racked his brain for the most fitting, yet kind word he could come up with, and "gross" was sadly it.
My girlfriend was mortified.
A beautiful occasion for her family, and her sweet uncle was wasting it telling me he thought my book was...gross.
She couldn't believe he'd even read it.
I couldn't have care less that he thought it gross.
The thing is, he SHOULD think my book is gross. He's a sixty-something Jew retired to the South who spends his days golfing and following college football recruiting in the SEC.
Clearly, not my audience.
Find Your Audience
Wouldn't it be more odd if my book had really resonated with him?
A guy who typically reads David McCullough doorstops?
When you write a book for everyone, you write it for no one (unless you're Stieg Larsson--everyone loves his shit).
Certain people should hate your art.
Certain people should not "get" your work.
And, yes, certain people should perhaps even find your work...gross.
What did he expect?
It's not like I set any false expectations.
In fact, I tried to write one of the most expectation-fulfilling books ever.
It's the world's first self-hurt guide, the opposite of a self-help guide. Clearly, it's going to be satirical and foul-mouthed and mocking and naughty.
There are no less than three mentions of bodily functions on the front cover, with "How to Masturbate at Work" prominently featured below the subtitle. Not to mention, there's a massive back cover blurb that infers one might urinate in one's pants should they read "How to Fail."
So it's not like I'm baiting and switching someone into thinking they're getting Mitch Albom, his giant ears, and his earnest feel-goodiness.
I've set the caveat emptor of...
This book will almost certainly be...gross. To some.
Then Again, You Never Exactly Know Your Audience
But that's not to say people there aren't some atypical types that love "How to Fail":
*An 80-something (?) female college professor adored my work (she's actually a noted sexologist)
*Several very religious people dig its inspiration (though they too hate the "grossness" and curse words)
*Even teachers and professors love it (and let me speak to impressionable youths about it!)
Now that I think about it, my girlfriend's uncle may have called my book gross, but he still read it. All of it. He still read all 372 pages, so I must have done something right. At the least, I wrote a very readable book. And, I'd wager, he may have even secretly enjoyed it. Grossness and all.
Maybe I should ask him to blurb the next edition.
"It was...gross" --Uncle Larry
To my fans who love "How to Fail," do me this favor:
Recommend the book this week to someone in your life who seems completely atypical to the intended audience of "How to Fail." Buy them a copy, gift them a Kindle edition (only $2.99!), or lend them yours--it doesn't matter--just get it in their hands. And then tell me if they think it's...GROSS.
This passage was originally the ending to HOW TO FAIL's Footchapter 2: "How to Go Insane and Garner Voices in Your Head." It would have picked up on page 41 of the paperback edition.
I was starving. I kinda wished my girlfriend was here so we could be starving.
I turned around having not noticed what had been behind me the whole time on the other side of the road. A little quaint restaurant. The View Diner.
Seemingly no one in the place. No diners, no cooks, no maitre d's (ha!), no hosts, no nothing.
By the end of 2009 the International Labour Organization had estimated that there had been twenty million lost jobs due to the global economic crisis. Over 10% of the western world was unemployed. Probably more in places like this.
Was that why no one was in this diner?
No expendable income for flapjacks?
What time was it?
I wouldn't have looked at getting laid off as a crisis. I would look at it as...awesome! I wanted to get laid off from my crummy job.
But I didn't have anyone or thing to support.
Simple people that lived out here surely did.
I felt sorry for them. I never felt sorry for any one but myself.
"Someone'll be with ya' in a sec, fella."
I turned to notice a man I hadn't noticed before. Well-dressed and well-kempt in what we in the big city would call "business casual," he sat in the large corner booth in the back drinking a cup of coffee and staring at his laptop screen. I assumed he was the owner of this joint. He smiled at me.
"Beautiful sunrise this morning, huh?"
"Yes. The best I've ever seen."
"Certainly made my top 365 for the year."
I nodded. Clever fella.
A waitress came and sat me in a small booth, a few down from the owner.
She slapped a menu in front of me. No-frills. Just crinkled laminated paper with a brief tale about how the diner came into existence ("One man had a dream...good food at a reasonable price...EST. 1964), food listings, no descriptions. I studied it.
What was the difference between a Denver omelet and a Western? They were the same, right? I liked foods with fun names. Clams Casino. What was that? I was just supposed to know?
"Originally from Narragansett, Rhode Island, the succulent cherrystone crabs are breaded and served on the..."
The old man owner was punching something into his computer as he talked aloud to no one in particular.
"...halfshell with a generous heaping of delectable smoked bacon and a brackish melody of seasonings and flavors including but not limited to: butter, pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, white wine, and shallots. A magisterial tub of Tabasco, trademark, served on the side."
The old man look up and smiled at me. "Perfect."
He went back to typing. "Grandmama's Meatloaf. Hmmmm..."
I persued my menu.
"A dish dating back to ancient Roman origins, we use a tantalizing combination of ground beef mixed with lamb and pork, bound with eggs and red-wine-soaked bread before being cooked in a loaf pan and topped with our ineffably tangy homemade tomato sauce."
He looked at his computer screen. "Not bad. Could use an edit or two and I don't like that ambiguous use of 'ineffably.' But not bad."
It had never occurred to me that effort was actually put into composing restaurant menus. I mean, yeah, I suppose at fine French restaurants or something. But here, at a podunk diner in the Poconos?
And Chaucer continued.
"Country fried steak. Similar to the classic...no...classically toothsome Viennese schnitzel, we start with tenderized cube steak coated with a breaded shell before being pan-fried to create a sublime taste sensation. Slathered in an ambrosial peppered milk gravy."
Are the hicks that live around here really going to be impressed with his florid food language? Will they really want to have to employ a condensed OED to know whether they want the ambrosial gravy or the brackish seasoning melody or not?
And this went on and on as I drank my coffee, tried to enjoy my Belgian waffles.
"Yeast-levened batter ironed into the..."
It was annoying me.
"Creamy ricotta and ragu spread between sheets..."
Why did he have to talk so loud to himself?
"You know what the B stands for. And the L and T and we slap that between..."
Fucking old people.
"Cubed chunks of fresh white meat mixed with curry mayo..."
Then the craziest thing happened and I began to admire a guy for taking his job and his life so seriously. So concerned with self-improvement. Why couldn't I be like that?! So focused, so motivated, so hard-working? I sat back and watched him with great admiration, like a one-man stage show, as he off the top of his head composed each new menu item.
By the time he got to desserts...
"...and coated with a cumulo-nimbusly fluffy meringue"
...I had been in the diner for over an hour, had had nearly a whole pot of "artisanal" Fair Trade freshly-ground Jamaican coffee. I needed to go. Get on with life. Back to the cabin, back to New York, I wasn't sure. But back somewhere.
I was happy, content.
I was inspired!
I walked to the register to pay the meager bill.
"Wow. Great deal."
"You're obviously not from around here, are ya'?"
"No, just passing through and enjoying the view and the View."
The waitress noticed me looking over toward the owner.
"Oh don't mind him honey. He comes in every single day and we can't get him to leave. He's crazy. Touched. Got voices in his head."
Check out these other Director's Commentary and Deleted Scenes:
#1 -- "FUCK YOUS" (dedication page)
#2 -- "QUOTING BIGGIE SMALLS" (including famous quotes)
#3 -- "BLURBS" (cover blurbs)
#4 -- "CHAPTER ONE" (genesis of HTF idea)
#5 -- "THE FAILURE INTERVENTION" (deleted scene)
#6 -- "I'VE NEVER BEEN HAPPIER" (deleted scene)
#7 -- "HOW TO FAIL ON A DATE" (deleted chapter)
#8 -- "HOW TO MAKE GOD HATE YOU" (deleted chapter)
#9 -- "BENDERS" -- (deleted scene)
#10 -- "HATING NORA EPHRON" (deleted scene)
#11 -- "HOW TO PICK A BAD COLLEGE MAJOR" (deleted chapter)
I can't monitor my second-by-second paperback sales, but because of Amazon's great Kindle Direct Publishing system, I can--if I'm crazy enough (I am)--monitor my second-by-second Kindle sales. They intrigue me.
It makes a ton sense that when I'm interviewed on the radio or TV, or appear on a podcast, or do a guest post for some popular blog, or even just get a mention on a website or a well-followed Twitter feed, that I'd sell a few books for the day.
It makes even more sense to me that I'd sell zero books for any given day.
But, what always leaves me curious is when I sell just one book for the day.
Who bought that one book? Why did they buy it? Why now?
Why would any one buy my book?
I think of all the times I've bought semi-obscure books. (Yes, sadly, HOW TO FAIL is still semi-obscure. So are most books. Then again, it's much less obscure than 99% of books so that's not bad.) Why did I buy them? Did the author know? Was the author curious? Do I have a fan somewhere who has been saving up to buy it? Was it just his or her payday (the Kindle edition IS only $2.99)? Or, perhaps I finally had a blog post that touched them so much they thought, "OK, time to finally pony up for this joker's costly content."
Or, maybe this mysterious buyer is like me and every time he or she hears about a book that might interest them, they throw it onto their Amazon wish list, thinking, "One day I'll read them all."
Yeah, one day.
I currently have 337 books on my wish list, some added as far back as 2004. When exactly am I gonna get to those?
It even gets crazier being that I can monitor Amazon UK and Amazon DE (Germany) sales. Who exactly is buying my book in England? I don't know any one there. And, Germany? How in the world did an English-language-speaking German hear about my book and then decide he had to have it?!
Whatever the case, I'd like to figure out how to make a few hundred thousand more Germans decide that.