So I’ve finally released an eBook that’s gaining some modest traction. It’s called the little book of SITCOM, and since you’ve been looking over my shoulder for the past year or so as I’ve tried to start a fire in this little self-publishing model of mine, I thought I’d share both the story of how it came about and a couple of key lessons we can take away.
Years ago, as some of you know, I wrote a book called The Comic Toolbox: How To Be Funny Even If You’re Not. It was, and remains, a steady seller because it makes the inviting promise to new writers (both of comedy and not) that, hey, this is easy and you can do it, too. Well, the book came to the attention of some guys in London who were writing a book about writing situation comedy, and wanted to borrow a concept or two from my work. Of course I was flattered, and agreeable, but when I took a look at their manuscript, I realized that there was much more to say on the subject of sitcom than they had addressed in their slender (15,000 word) effort. So I proposed to write a “companion” to their book, of roughly the same length, amplifying and expanding upon their themes by sharing some of the tricks and tips I’ve accumulated in two decades of writing situation comedy and teaching others to do the same. For a percentage of their royalties, I would let them exploit my content in the United Kingdom, while reserving the right to publish it myself here at home. Of course the concepts of “there” and “here” are a bit murky on this globalized globe of ours, but in practical terms it came down to this: they got Amazon.co.uk and I got Amazon.com.
I sat down and whipped out the text in two weeks. It came in at 22,000 words, and I purposely put the word “little” in the title, so that buyers would know that they were getting a small, modestly priced workbook, and not some giant tome. Well, almost from the moment I released it, and without much marketing muscle from me, the book has turned into a steady seller. I think there are a few reasons for this.
- It’s a book that helps people achieve a specific goal. Those who are motivated to do so know exactly how to find such resources: they Google them or search for them on Amazon.
- It makes the same seductive promise as The Comic Toolbox, that the thing you want to do can be easy and fun if you just follow some simple steps and adopt a playful mindset.
- It’s attractively priced at just $5.99.
- With all due false modesty, it’s pretty darn good. It delivers on its promise of “rules, tools, and a good, swift kick in the motivation.” After all these years, it turns out I know a thing or two about writing sitcom, and can communicate these things effectively.
- It’s precisely targeted. It knows what its market is, and speaks to that market, which means that my efforts to promote it can be selective, effective and efficient.
Of these take-aways, I think the most important one is the first one, that it helps people achieve a goal. There is a difference between a book one wants and a book one needs. If this is a book someone needs, they’re going to buy it without a second thought. If it’s just a book they want, they can always go away now and come back later… or maybe not come back at all.
On a personal level, this is the first book I have e-published where I don’t feel the slightest stigma of “vanity press.” In the little book of SITCOM, I have simply found the best way to bring a product to market, easily and inexpensively. I only mention this because I do still feel self-conscious about, say, self-publishing my novels, even though I know I shouldn’t, and in this space I always try to be emotionally honest with myself and with you.
I foresee great things for this book. Since there will always be new writers coming along, the market for it will constantly refresh itself. As these will be young writers, they’ll be at home in the eBook realm, digital natives as opposed to digital immigrants like me. And there will be synergy. Those who like my voice in SITCOM will find their way to my other writing books and, some of them at least, to my novels.
What made the whole thing possible, of course, was that I actually sat down and wrote the darn book – a constant stumbling block for some people and a sometime stumbling block for me. What I like most about it is that it represents a refinement of my business model. I didn’t just “throw it out the window to see if it lands.” I conceived of a book and a market and a way to bring those two together. It seems like a repeatable formula, one I’m going to school on and one I hope you can profit from, too.
To that end, ask yourself this question: What do you know that others would like to know? Can you crank out 15,000 or 20,000 words on the subject? If so, you’re just a few weeks’ labor and some cover art away from having a book that you can actually sell and make some money on. That’s a pretty exciting prospect, no? So sit down and do some brainstorming and problem-solving now. You may find, as I have found, that you’re a lot closer to a strong seller than you thought.
Two final bits of business, one serious and one whimsical. First, the serious one: There’s much more to this new model of mine than I’ve been able to convey in this column. If you’d like to know more, contact me by email; perhaps we can make common cause.
Now the whimsy: In the name of making my reality everyone’s reality, I have decided to call 2012 “the Twelve,” as in “have a great Twelve” or, more forcefully, “Rock the Twelve!” Can I enlist you in this conspiracy? Tell everyone you know that this year is “officially” called the Twelve. Well, since it’s “official,” they’ll have to sign on, and then pretty soon “the Twelve” will be part of our lingua franca. At that point, you and I can all take pride in making the world play according to our arbitrary and mischievously applied rules. So join me, won’t you? The least we can do here in the Twelve is to try and have some fun.
Image by *hardmoppy.