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."
Every year we hear an athlete with such youthful enthusiasm--a Kevin Durant or Lionel Messi for example--say they love their sport so much they'd play it for free.
Of course, in the off-season, that athlete's "bad cop" agent goes out and gets them a $160 million dollar contract, but the sentiment remains.
When an athlete says he'd play for free, he's saying he has such a love for the game, that he'd do it no matter what.
Everyone should have professions where they enjoy their labor without concern for the fruits of their labor.
But, of course, you can't pay rent with professional self-satisfaction. (Though some charlatans think you can.)
It gets even trickier when you try to figure out what something is worth to you that you'd do for free.
A personal example: in the coming weeks I will be hopefully negotiating a deal on something I really want to do.
Now, in my mind, if I was a passive observer, I'd say this is something worth tens of thousands of dollars.
But, as me, the writer that loves to write, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I wouldn't want to squander.
I would do it for free!
So how do you go to the negotiating table knowing in your mind that you will allow them to continually lowball you to nothing?
Does it become a thing of respect?
Does it become a thing of, "If you won't pay me what I'm worth--I'll find someone else"?
How do you negotiate things you'd do for free?
Should you just do them for free?
It is a pain in the ass to post a book review on Amazon!
This is not a piece I ever wanted to write.
But after months of Googling the topic and waiting for someone else to write it, I decided I had no choice but to do it myself now. This is a service to fellow authors and fellow readers (or, at least, the fellow readers that are big enough nerds to post reviews on Amazon. And, as an author, I say God bless you, nerds. Unless you gave me a shitty review.)
It would seem posting a review on Amazon would be easy. It isn't.
It would seem it would be as simple as posting a review on any of the other user review websites from IMDB to Yelp to Goodreads and so on. It's not.
You see, Amazon has certain policies. The only problem is, they don't really tell you these fucking policies. And, thus, when you type up a review and hit POST, you really have no clue if it's going to post.
Until it doesn't.
I've written countless reviews for fellow authors...that have never appeared.
I've had countless friends and fans of mine tell me they wrote reviews for me...that never appeared.
So, what's the problem?
As far as can tell, there are two biggies:
1. No cursing.
Fair enough, but Amazon considers "curse" words such mild stuff as 'ass' and 'pussy.'
(Why I feel the need to use 'ass' and 'pussy' in certain book reviews is my own damn business.)
I don't have a master list of profanities that Amazon will not accept, but I sure wish I did. Based on personal experience, they aren't exactly Carlin's Seven Dirty Words. More like Amazon's 235 Mildly Risque Terms.
So, when in doubt, make the PG-13 rating into a G in your own reviews.
2. No self-promotion.
But seriously, why else would I be reviewing other people's books?!
All kidding aside, if you're an author yourself, and you mention in any way being an author yourself, or having a book, your review will never get past the Amazon censors.
This was something I suspected but didn't fully know until I wrote a review of my friend Phil Simon's book "The New Small" in which I mentioned my own book. I'd posted the review three times without it appearing on site, when I finally got an e-mail from "Jeff" at Amazon customer service spelling things out for me. (For the record, the first e-mail I'd ever received from them post-posting an unacceptable review.)
This e-mail linked to Amazon's policy, hidden in the deep recesses of their website, on what isn't acceptable for reviews to contain, printed below:
Amazon Review Guidelines
• Obscene or distasteful content
• Profanity or spiteful remarks
• Promotion of illegal or immoral conduct
• Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively
• Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)
• Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product
• Solicitations for helpful votes
• Crucial plot elements (unless you offer a clear "spoiler alert")
• Other people's material (this includes excessive quoting)
• Phone numbers, postal mailing addresses, and URLs external to Amazon.com
• Details about availability or alternate ordering/shipping
• Videos with watermarks
• Comments on other reviews visible on the page (because page visibility is subject to change without notice)
• Foreign language content (unless there is a clear connection to the product)
Besides the fact that "How to Fail" is an entire book with obscene or distasteful content, profanity or spiteful remarks, and promotion of illegal or immoral conduct, it's nice that some policy was finally spelled out to me. Sorta. Policy of the highly-ambiguous type. Nearly everything above could be debated as to what is and what isn't.
I mean, look, I don't have any issues with company policy and certainly not Amazon's, I just wish Amazon would more clearly spell out their policy when one reviews and, if a review doesn't immediately fit in with said policy, give us a heads up, like when you forget to add your zip code or fuck-up the CAPTCHA on an online form.
I wish a red flag would appear immediately after you hit post:
*Review unable to be posted due to the following profanities:
*Review unable to be posted due to the following acts of self-promotion:
I don't mean to rip Amazon. I love Amazon. I, and a lot of other indie authors, owe parts of our careers to Amazon. But, part of what we owe is based on one major commodity that Amazon provides: user reviews and word of mouth.
My books of obscene and distasteful content don't get reviewed by the NYT or on "Good Morning America," I need word of mouth straight from the people's mouth. And, the current draconian nature of the Amazon review system makes it damn tough for me and my fellow writers to load up on reviews.
And, makes it damn annoying for readers who want to post something about a book they loved...or, hated.
So, fair reader, my advice would be that if you post a review that doesn't appear immediately, first, hit the "back" button and copy and paste your content into a clipboard, then wait until Amazon gives you a chance to review again--usually a few hours--then scour your previous review for any of the above issues.
Or better yet, keep it simple stupid. The shorter the review, the less chance you have of fucking up and breaking Amazon's policy.
I'm not exactly sure why Amazon wants to encourage writing smaller reviews over the larger and more in-depth, but this is what they are doing with this current system.
Yet, I still love 'em.
GIVE ME NON-CURSEY, NON-SELF-PROMOTEY, REVIEWS HERE:
The first time I ever spoke to Derek Sivers, I accused him of ripping me off.
I had seen his great TEDx video called "Why You Need to Fail" and I wrote him to complain. (Jokingly of course.)
I told him "I wrote THE book on failing."
Derek gives his e-mail address on his website and he couldn't have responded quicker or have been nicer (or have used a more amusing adverb to explain why he hadn't heard of my book) :
"Holy crap! That's awesome. Wow. I'm sorry I didn't know about this. Oh, I see it's only been a few months since it came out and I've been quite ostriched lately..."
Soon, we were talking about books. Or, rather, he was asking me about them, telling me he was considering writing one himself.
"It's a lot of fucking work writing a book, though, isn't it? Why do you do it? Not for the money, right? Bigger speaking fees afterwards? Side-effect for consulting?" (this conversation here)
Little did I know, he was already working on his own book. That sneaky guy!
So, when he was done, and he wanted several sets of eyes to give it a quick read through, I was more than happy to.
I'm not sure if I helped improve even a single letter in the book--it was pretty much "there" when I read it--but he thanked me on the inside cover nonetheless. My first career thank you and THE first thank you in the book! (I'm glad Derek alphabetizes by first name.)
I respect Derek because, unlike so many others, he's a self-helper that's actually done something in his life.
Derek writes like a guy you'd immediately want to be your friend, your co-worker, your employee...your boss.
(I really don't like audio books, but I implore you to listen to Derek speak to get his cadence and voice running through your head. It truly makes his text pop more.)
"Anything You Want" is THE greatest manual for running a business. For creating your own Utopian business world that will make both you and your employees happy. It's not about making money, or growing larger, or conquering the world, it's simply about filling a need that makes both you and your customers happy. It's simple, but genius.
The book tells the story of how Derek's "little hobby"--CD Baby, a company; no, not even a company, a website created to sell his musician friends' CDs--became a big business. It was all an accident.
Why? Because Derek was filling a need for others.
If you're filling a need for the world, and making yourself happy, that's all you need in life says Derek. In many way, "Anything You Want" reminded me of a more streamlined version of Tony Hseih's "Delivering Happiness," also recommended. The crux of Tony's business plan is to "WOW" customers. Derek would agree with that sentiment as "Anything You Want" tells wonderful stories of all the little things he encouraged his employees to do to make customers happy (a story involving a frozen squid is a major highlight.)
"But please know that it's often the tiny details that really thrill people enough to make them tell all their friends about you."
There is seemingly so many things to worry about in life. Even more if you're running a business. But, that doesn't need to be the case. Derek says:
"Are you helping people? Are they happy? Are you happy? Are you profitable? Isn't that enough?"
BUY: "Anything You Want"
I watched the final Oprah show and she spent the entire hour spewing platitudes like:
"To live from the heart of yourself...You also have to know what sparks the light in you so that you, in your own way, can illuminate the world."
Gag. At least she's rich and friends with Will Smith, so I'll somewhat respect the ambiguously dull things she says. But these other people out there?!
Self-help gurus have always existed--it's one reason I wanted to bash the concept via HOW TO FAIL--but today's world is filled with some even worse breeds. Self-help gurus for the bulk of time have had to at least write a trite book, at least give a few hackneyed speeches, at least prepare a snoozerific church sermon every Sunday while the rest of us were watching football...but not any more.
Now, with the internet, this new breed of self-helpers simply needs to have a WordPress blog and a Twitter account. (And know a shit ton of buzz words.)
Here are a few of this new breed I'm detesting at the moment:
1. People Whose Dream in Life is to Talk about Their Dream in Life
"You're not rich, famous, successful yet? Well you could be--if you just did a better job of dreaming about it. You ask why I'm not rich, famous, and successful myself? Because I don't want to be. My dream in life is to talk about my dreams in life. And to help you realize your dreams in life...."
"Let me help you, become YOU..."
You're missing purpose.
You need to define your core values.
You need to develop a personal mission statement
You need some clarity.
Coaches are essentially saying, "Look, you're a lazy, unfocused, unsuccessful piece of shit. You know it. And now I know it."
We need some "sessions"--buzz word for the hour we drink coffee together that costs you $500, or worse, the thirty minutes we Skype together during which I wear pajamas and which costs you $250--at least once a week, to help you become YOU.
Of course, most of your success comes from you (I mean, YOU), when you're without me, so while I do promise I will help you dream...I don't promise you will actually accomplish these stupid, stupid dreams.
4. Productivity Gurus
"OK, here's what you need to do to start getting some work done..."
Quit looking at e-mail, checking Twitter and Facebook every five seconds, monitoring your Amazon ranking, watching reality TV, eating snacks, masturbating, having friends, going outside....
You don't say.
It gets to the point where you start to go, "Hey wait a second, if the entire world consisted of these kinds of people, then we would have no novels, no movies, no pop music, and no art.
We would just have a mass of people telling people to seize the day and live their dreams and shoot for the stars and quit their day jobs.
I was talking to James Altucher about this concept and why the internet is flooded with these kinds of charlatans and he had one simple explanation:
"Because they haven't done anything in life."
Just do something in life. That's the only advice you need. You don't need coaches or experts to tell you that. Spoiler alert: You don't even need to dream about it.
You just need to do something.
(Now give me $500 for that hour of my time.)
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.
Yesterday, there was a nice interview with me on Scoutmob, a New York City "daily deals" website, sent to over 200,000 e-mail accounts. I was incredibly excited for the attention.
You know how many books that sold me?
It doesn't matter.
I've been on television to pimp my book.
It doesn't matter.
I've gone on countless morning radio shows.
It doesn't matter.
I've been on podcast after podcast after podcast, many of them notable.
IT DOESN'T MATTER.
I was talking to an author much more famous than me the other day (you'd recognize his name and his books) about this subject.
I told him that I was thinking of finally going with a major publisher for my next book just because I've always had the bizarre dream of seeing my books for sale in the airport.
"My books have been in the airport," he told me.
It didn't matter.
He'd appeared on Larry King.
It didn't matter.
He's regularly written about in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
It doesn't matter.
The other day I saw an even bigger celebrity than him, one with 2 million-plus followers, beloved by all!, Tweet about how much she liked his new book.
Wow, what a plug I thought!
I'm guessing it didn't matter.
Nothing matters if you look at things in a "silver bullet" way. If you try to bank on each little TV appearance and interview and blog mention to be the one thing that sells a fat stack of books for you. That's called playing the lottery. And it doesn't work. It doesn't matter.
As William Goldman said, "Nobody knows anything."
You can never know what or why your books will sell, so quit worrying about it.
One more story: I sold about 50 books DURING the Super Bowl this year. Odd. Someone must have taken out a commercial I missed.
Something might have mattered that day.
But you know what really matters?
I've only known Jeff Goins (and his blog) for a brief time, but I've quickly fallen for it. His intoxicating, no-nonsense posts are always helpful for discussing, in layman's terms, complex things I really care about: marketing, increasing one's online presence, and, yes, writing. Today he released a "one-sitter" manifesto on the latter subject, and I really enjoyed reading it. I think you might too. It's short, just 1000 words, but it really got me thinking. I might write more words ON his manifesto than he wrote IN it.
The crux of his manifesto is a point I too have found consuming me lately:
"I could say that I love to write, but, really, I like to be read."
"The Writer's Manifesto" is about rediscovering a pure passion for the art of writing. About reminding me to be more like six-year-old Aaron, when I was writing fairy tales about baseball players just for the pure joy of writing them. And, because 1st grade was really fucking boring too.
A fellow idol of ours, Steven Pressfield, quoted an idol of his the other day, Krishna, who said:
"We have a right to our labor, but not to the fruits of our labor."
If you're not enjoying the process, why are you participating in it?
To all those hacks out there trying to write the next big alien movie, or procedural TV show about cops, or genre legal thrillers...if you're not enjoying it, why are you doing it? Is there enough money in the world to make this toil worthwhile? (OK, yes, maybe if you're James Patterson.) As for me, I've garnered some decent fruits from my labor (money, press, a whole lotta free beers), but none of them have brought me more happiness than actually having written "How to Fail."
We have to accept that this thinking about writing for pleasure means we might not become rich from our writing. Fine. But would you rather write stuff that makes you happy, or stuff that makes you rich?
(What if you only had one choice: writing stuff that makes you miserable AND makes your rich; or writing stuff that makes you happy AND NEVER makes you rich?)
"The Writer's Manifesto" is about Jeff rediscovering his love affair with writing, and it's inspired me to do the same thing.
I never actually lost my love of writing. I still LOOOOOVE writing, it's just, I also love wasting time thinking about making my writing more "successful." Thinking about the fruits of my labors. Thinking about it being more well-read. But, I need to quit wasting time worrying about how I'm going to market my next book, how I'm going get everyone on Twitter and Facebook talking about it, how I need to better optimize my online presence. I need to quit worrying about whether my next book hits the 5 major keys for successful book-selling in the future.
Instead, I need to just fucking write those books (or movies, or blog posts) that I need to write.
Jeff says it's about eliminating "the tension between creativity and congratulations."
do not begin the day with aspirations
of seeing their words in print.
Nor do they dream of being stopped on the street
to be congratulated for their genius.
Jeff feels that the need for attention from writing corrupts the art. Imagine writing something of pure honesty, with no care what people will say about it. Imagine publishing your diary or journal. How embarrassing! But how raw. We most admire the writers that write the most honest stuff. They don't seem to even care about their audience, about what people think. And we love them for that.
As we disabuse ourselves
of the desire to entertain,
we writers discover something.
That this fasting from acclaim
liberates us to create
remarkable works of art.
It's like: the less you care about impressing women, the more they are impressed by you.
But you can't fake it.
You can only write what you must write.
Get a free copy of Jeff Goins's "The Writer's Manifesto" here: http://goinswriter.com/writers-manifesto/
I met my girlfriend at a bar.
This is considered weird nowadays.
You don't meet people at bars. You meet them online.
Just ten years ago people would gloss over the fact they had met their current partner on JDate or Match or Ashley Madison. That was weird. But not any more. Now it's weird to have met someone at a bar, like in the "olden days."
Survey your friends. I guarantee the majority of them met their current partner at:
But not at a bar.
The 140 Character Conference was last week. It's yet another social media conference. Seems like there's one every single week. Just an excuse for social media types to get to skip work yet again to watch more important social media types speak about stuff everyone already kinda knows while they sit in the audience tweeting everything that is being said as if it's pure brilliance (while adding the conference hashtag).
My Tweetdeck feed was clogged all week with reports from #140conf. (Yes, ironic that I too follow countless social media types).
One thing that kept appearing in my feed was people saying things like:
"The future is about making connections!"
I don't know how many fucking times I've heard that in the last few years but especially the last few days. Like it's revelatory.
The past was about making connections too. You were just too chickenshit to make them without the protection of your computer.
It's ALWAYS been about making connections.
Due to my minor minor minor modicum of fame, I occasionally get invited to events that are attended by people I only know online. Some of these folks I would even call "friends." You spend years Tweeting with and e-mailing with and exchanging links with someone, and it starts to not matter whether you've ever even been in a room with them.
I have so many people I know only online, yet who I talk to every single day. Likewise, my "IRL" friends, I might see once a month. Who is the better friend? It's hard to say nowadays.
One such event I got invited to last year I was so stoked to attend. There was going to be a few dozen longtime e-friends attending and I was excited to finally put faces with names, hear their voices.
And then I arrived and met a group of dweebs too scared to look me in the eye, too nervous to even speak to me.
You think I'm being harsh, but I'm not.
These people couldn't live offline.
At first I thought they were disappointed in me. "That's him?!" But, later, I realized they were just scared of real, in-person social interaction. Because, the second we parted ways, my e-friends went back to being chatterboxes (online chatterboxes that is), emailing me, and posting stuff, and Tweeting about the great time they had with @aarongoldfarb.
It was a bit of a revelation.
Some relationships nowadays can only be e-relationships. Should only be online relationships.
And there's nothing wrong with that.
(Then again, I also have friends I ONLY want to deal with in person. (Too many emoticons online))
So, this is a long-winded way of saying:
However you make connections, it matters. It's important.
The ability to make connections from the protection of a computer has just given more nerdy chickenshits a voice.
And, I can't believe I'm saying this:
But that's a good thing.
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.