If you visit my Amazon author page, home of Bafflegab Books, you’ll see some pretty crazy titles in my indy-pub product line. Decide to Play Drunk Poker… A Million Random Words… I’ve gone to some lengths to extend the whimsical end of my brand, because there’s no telling what nonsense I might like to publish later, and I want there to be an established place for it in my oeuvre. The silly books sell almost not at all, but that’s okay because they defend that end of my brand and, more crucially, my precedent right to throw anything out the window and see if it lands.

My writing books sell best. Always have, always will. We’ll get to why that breaks my heart in a minute, but first let’s look at which ones are my workhorses and why. The two strongest sellers in the Bafflegab line are, far and away, the little book of SITCOM and Comedy Writing 4 Life. Like their granddaddy, The Comic Toolbox, they’re the right book at the right time for comedy writers (or any writers) at a certain stage of their development. Since there are always writers passing through stages, there’s an ongoing market for those books.

These are not big books, nor are they expensive. I make them short and I price them attractively for three reasons. First, I want to make it easy for any reader to discover my brand. Second, writers don’t often have a ton of money, and I don’t want to price-gouge. Third, it fulfills my deep purpose to be read by readers all around the world; more readers buying more books for less money is of greater value to me than fewer readers buying fewer books, even for more money.

To tell you the truth, I have no way of knowing if I’m maximizing my earn on these earners. Probably not. I sell through Amazon and Amazon only, and I know I can do better than that. But my hustle – getting the books where people can see them – well, that’s not a strength of my game. I need readers to find their way to my books because I’m just never going to be their broadcasting agent as I should be.

So I don’t price my products scientifically and I don’t market them strategically. Yet I seem to be doing okay. Every month, Amazon sends me money – some hundreds of dollars if I may be frank – and it’s money I don’t have to work for: The writing is long done, and the bookkeeping is Amazon’s hassle. The key to my (modest) success has been building a (modest) catalog in which no one title is more than a revenue trickle, but taken all together they add up to a revenue stream. That’s why I keep writing new books. That’s why I keep throwing them out the window to see if they land. Because one under-performing book isn’t such a much, but ten under-performing books is a product line.

That’s why I keep throwing them out the window to see if they land. Because one under-performing book isn’t such a much, but ten under-performing books is a product line.

I’m smiling. I can hear me smiling from here.

In fact, my how-to books don’t under-perform at all. They perform quite well. They drive the non-fiction side of my brand, and – in a perfect world – introduce readers to my fiction by the back door. For me that’s the point of the whole enterprise: to bring people to my novels, for that’s where my heart lies. And that’s why my heart breaks when the world, in general, pays more attention to the how-to side of my brand.
I get it, of course. I understand why. How-to-books contain information people need. Novels contain information they just want. Buyers of how-to books are strongly motivated to gain information that will help them achieve their goals (like becoming a comedy writer). Buyers of novels, reading solely for enjoyment, can be more diffident; they can afford not to buy. So there it is: my how-to books sell themselves; my novels struggle to cut through the clutter. Yet if you asked me, I’d say that every one of my novels is better than every one of my how-to books. But that’s just a proud papa’s prejudice, I think.

My reputation in this world is that Comic Toolbox guy. That’s fine, that’s great. I’d rather have that reputation than none. I own it and honor it, but in my heart of hearts I’d rather that my novels be my legacy. Lately I’ve devised a new strategy for advancing that cause. I’m going to try converging my brands.

The next title on the non-fiction side of my brand will be another how-to book (called how 2 live life, ’cause ain’t it about time I started ‘splainin’ all that?) My next novel release will be Poole’s Paradise, which speaks to the same issue: how to live life (if, as in this case, you’re a clueless college student and it’s 1974). By these means, I will place front and center what’s most important to me right now as a writer (helping people live effective, keenly visualized lives) both on the non-fiction and on the fiction side of my brand. I’m hoping that the thematic connection between the two will make it easier for readers to move back and forth between my fiction and non-fiction across a big, obvious bridge. We’ll see how that works out.

But I would like to say, you know, so far so good. It’s only been a couple of years since I decided to make the most of the opportunity that indy-pub offered me. I thought that my big tent-pole novels would be my sales drivers and that the small how-to books in between would just fatten my catalog. It seems to be the other way around right now, but it’s all good. I know what my next step is to be, and I’m taking it fearlessly and without expectation. If all goes according to plan, my brands will converge, to the benefit of my profile as a purveyor of fine fiction.

A Million Random Words, though? Nah. There still won’t be more than five people who’ve ever read that.

Given that how-to books sell so well – they sell their ass off – what title could you generate, now, today, with your existing knowledge that would help someone out there tangibly approach their goals? By such means, it seems to me, you not only earn, but serve.


About John Vorhaus

John Vorhaus has written seven novels, including Lucy in the Sky, The California Roll, The Albuquerque Turkey and The Texas Twist, plus the Killer Poker series and (with Annie Duke) Decide to Play Great Poker. His books on writing include The Comic Toolbox, How to Write Good and Creativity Rules!