Authority Secrets Tips

When giving your book to readers for feedback, make sure you give it to your IDEAL reader.

With the book I'm currently writing (shout out to you folks who are signed up to receive progress reports on it), I decided to follow previous podcast guest Rob Fitzpatrick's advice and get beta readers to give feedback as I write. I even bought his software for it and signed up for his community.

When it came time to get beta readers, I was reticent to ask the sort of people I wrote the book for: successful, realistic entrepreneurs with abundant mentalities. I figured they were too busy. So I asked people in my community (like you guys!) To round it out, I asked some of the other members of Rob's community: people who have never published a book before, probably aren't going to build big businesses from their book and don't know much about publishing.

And the two people from there who read it TORE IT TO SHREDS. Told me it was trite and disjointed—and those were the NICER things.

I'll be honest: it tore me up. In my decades as a writer, I'd never gotten feedback like that. Could my book about how successful entrepreneurs can build huge careers from their books have triggered them or was my book, I wondered, simply that bad? Had I lost the proverbial "it" after eight books?

But it got me to do something I'd been scared to do: ask the people I want as readers to read my book.

I asked four of my ideal readers. Even though they're all ridiculously busy, they all immediately wrote back with variations on the theme that they would be honored to do it.

They are loving the book.

Oyyyy could I have saved myself some sadness over people's cruelty if I'd just gotten over my fear and asked them in the first place!!

So please learn from my mistake, don't do that and save yourself the misery.

When writing, lean into your you-ness.

I've been thinking about this in light of the bad beta reader experience I told you about last week.

It made me realize that that aphorism I'm always quoting—that when your book is for everyone, it's for no one—is something I need to be focusing on even more.

How? By doing something weird, something no one else does. I'm thinking about how (previous podcast guest) Nicole Cole started his first book, Confessions of a Teenage Gamer, with an Acknowledgments section that primarily acknowledged what it took for him to write the book. (How memorable was that? I still remember it years after reading the book; you can read it by just using the Look Inside feature on Amazon here.) I'm thinking about how James Altucher put at the beginning of Choose Yourself that he would give anyone who could prove they'd read the book their money back. (Again, I read this many years ago and still remember it. And again, since it's at the beginning of the book, you can check it out by using the Look Inside feature here.)

So I challenge you to think about what you can do that's 100% fully, originally you.

It doesn't have to go at the beginning of your book but it could.

Don't focus on only one social media platform.

For years, the advice has been "find your outlet and double down." I disagree. Algorithms change, platforms become uncool, accounts get cancelled, the richest man in the world buys a platform and changes everything, and all that work you put in just went to waste. I say dabble in all of them and just make a little bit of progress every day. Forget the numbers. Ignore those TikTokers and IGers gathering thousands of likes as they hawk products and remember this: a small, interactive audience is worth more than the masses every day. So just do a little bit consistently (even if that's posting once a week on Instagram, then the next week on YouTube, the next on LinkedIn and so on). In other words, don't focus on growth so much as just keeping yourself relevant.

Keep going.

If that sounds like a rather simplistic tip...it is! But I was really impacted by this Substack I read which noted that there are now seven YouTube channels with more than 100 million subscribers and that, by comparison, the New York Times has nine million subscribers.

Yeah, of course I know YouTube and all the other platforms are huge and I know who Mr. Beast is (I live in LA, where you pass "YouTube houses" where it's a bunch of kids in a mansion who do things like throw water on each other every day; TRUTH.)

But when I saw those YouTube numbers side by side with the numbers for the PAPER OF RECORD, I couldn't help but be astounded by how much we—yes us, even those of us without the 100 million subscribers—are taking over.

It truly is our world for the taking. BYE GATEKEEPERS, HOPE YOU HAD FUN!

My point: I've always been ambitious but this article made me realize that truly anything is possible and just maybe I've been thinking too small.

And it's just possible you have been too.

Embrace failure.

Cliché alert! I know.

But this has been on my mind because I've been working on upping my public speaking game and an agent I know recommended I study what Ryan Leak has done. The guy is a gifted speaker and his main message is that we should embrace failure because it's what brings us to success. I know—Captain Obvious, right? Well, watch him speak and I'm willing to bet my public speaking career on the fact that you'll love him.

This same idea is woven throughout this post by a writer named Anna Stephens. It's one of those pieces of writing that talks about the reality of traditional publishing in a way that rips rose-colored glasses off. Anna is a writer who gave up her job to become a full-time writer in 2017 and is now going back to full-time work. Does she feel like a failure? As she so articulately explains, no. But, as she writes here, "Do I wish that the publishing world had been more open about what to expect? Yes."

It's a great piece, not only because it ends with her best friend's comment that "I would have loved to have accomplished your list of failures" but because the F-word is inevitable for all of us. Cliché alert again but clichés are clichés because they are true: it's those of us who keep getting up after each failure who succeed.

Work through your sh*t before writing about it.

There's an expression about how writers get to "punish through the pen" and take it from someone who's done it: it always backfires.

It doesn't only backfire because trying to punish is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die; it backfires because it makes you, the writer, unreadable.

Have you ever read something where the writer clearly hadn't done the work to understand their part in something and so, even though they're writing about a situation where they weren't treated well, they just sound so victim-y that you lose all sympathy for them?

It happens in pop culture all the time...like when Kevin Federline tried to out Britney for being a bad mom (in the process just revealing himself to be a bad dad) or the kid who tried to jump on the anti-Ellen bandwagon by blaming her for the fact that he didn't become the next Justin Bieber).

Don't do it. Do the work instead. How do you know if you've done the work? If you get that little feeling of "that'll show him" when fantasizing about that person reading it, you're in dangerous territory. Step away and then rewrite when you've looked at your part (as Aristotle said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." My amendment is "The unexamined life is not worth writing about.")

Think about your network long before you launch your book. 

My new friend Amber Vilhauer really blew my mind when she walked me through how she helps her clients prep for their book launches.

Amber made me realize how early on in the book launch journey you should be thinking about who can support your launch and how the key elements are organization and working through the discomfort of asking for support.

So, no matter where you are in the book launch process (even if you're only now just thinking about writing a book), I want you to open up a doc and start making a list of people you know who can support your book launch. Maybe they can send an email to their newsletter list. Maybe they can post about your book on social media. Maybe they can connect you to someone who can do those things. Maybe they can help you get booked to speak or connect you to an organization who can bulk order your book. 

Bonus: include people on you list that you think you can help, too.

Don't worry if you're not sure they'll say yes or you don't even know what they may be able to do.

Just make the list and get comfortable with the idea of reaching out. (Unless you're coming up on your book launch, in which case I say REACH OUT NOW.)

Also, if you want to be connected to Amber to hire her company to help you, let me know!

Start planning how you're going to pitch media now.

This piece by the ever prolific Tim Ferriss is old AF (2011! A mention of Borders #RIP!) but it's amazing how much the advice is still relevant.

Don't obsess over the bestseller lists.

In a shocking development, USA Today rather suddenly got rid of their bestseller list. This Twitter thread broke down the news quite well (better than any news story I read).

This news came out around the same time as an Esquire story about the "murky path" to becoming a New York Times bestselling author.

The Esquire story highlights a company I recently heard about that helps people hit the NYT list, called, interestingly, Book Highlight. Also interestingly, Esquire left out a lot of what I shared in my podcast episode about the Times list (namely, how William Blatty's lawsuit about the list got Times reps to admit in court that the list isn't based solely on sales).

But the point is this: publishing is changing as fast as any industry around. I know entrepreneurs whose entire businesses are based around getting authors on the USA Today bestseller list and other authors who have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get on the NYT list.

Amazon bestseller lists aren't going anywhere anytime soon so I say stay focused on those.

Forget the lists! (And this is coming from someone who had a book hit the NYT list!)

Yes, it's wonderful to hit a list like that. But those lists are always changing, iterating, favoring and going away. They're not only gatekeepers; they're gatekeepers who arbitrarily change the rules every second!

You know what doesn't do that? Your business. The one you're bringing people to with your book.

So focus on that and not the lists. K?

Consider the fact that you may be making this harder than it is.

Bad metaphor alert: if I asked you if you could run a marathon, you would—unless you were a marathon runner—tell me no.

If I asked if you could run down the street, you would probably say yes.

So why not think of your book that way?

Forget "I'm writing a book." Just write today.

I know that the only reason I was able to write my first book is that I was newly sober and fully immersed in one-day-at-a-time ethos.

No, I can't write a book, I remember thinking. But I can write a page today.

300 of those pages and I had a book.

So just think about it like running down the street today.

Know your why.

I wrote my second book, a novel called Bought, because I had a resentment.

Long story short: the book was a fictionalized account of a story I’d written for a magazine about hookers that had gotten edited down so much that all my amazing reporting was cut. I was pissed. 

And so, during a meeting with my HarperCollins editor shortly after, I pitched a book about the world of high-class prostitution in LA and said I could fictionalize it. I figured sex sells and this book could be a crazy hit. 

There was a problem: I’m thoroughly bored by the world of hookers. I have no judgment about prostitution; I simply don’t care about it. And so, for months, I tried to imagine and create a story around a world I didn’t care about. I hated the book, no matter how many times I rewrote it.

And so I had to promote a book I hated that I also happened to have written. It felt awful.

To make it all slightly worse, many people who read Bought asked me if I had based it on my own experience. I was completely broke at the time so if I had been a hooker, I would have surely been one of the least successful ones of all time.

But in a way, I was prostituting myself. I was writing a book about a topic I didn’t care about because I had this vague idea that sex would sell. I never bothered to find out if anyone would actually be interested in this book. But most significantly, I never thought about my why.

If I had, I would have discovered that I didn’t have one. Don't make that mistake.

Write a press release about yourself and use Send2Press to get it out there.

Does writing a press release about you and your book sound obnoxious?

Maybe.

Will it get picked up by major outlets?

Doubtful.

But can it help you?

Absolutely.

Here's why: if you're not "out there" as an author (maybe your web presence touts you as a corporate executive or dog trainer or masseuse or I don't know), a press release circulated by a service to numerous outlets can change your online presence overnight.

That's because many of these sites simply put that release up on their site so that when people search you, they quickly discover that you're an author with a book they need to read (and then only later learn that you're a dog trainer).

My favorite of these release-circulating sites is Send2Press, which charges $200 to send the release to 6000 outlets.

(If you use Send2Press, tell Chris I sent you!)

Define what success means for you and your book.

This is a fascinating post about how 10,000 copies is considered the magic number of book sales for a book to be considered really successful but what stood out to me the most is the subheading "It’s Hard To Define Success When You Launch A Book."

I talk about this a lot but one of the horrific aspects of traditional publishing is that your publishers don't give you any sense of what "success" means while nevertheless infusing you with an overwhelming sense that you're not experiencing it.

The reason my re-launch of Party Girl was a success when the HarperCollins one in 2007 wasn't has nothing to do with number of books sold.

I don't even look at the number of book sales because that's something I can't control and I've stopped putting my hopes and dreams into things I have no control over.

It was a success because I decided it would be a success. I knew I had the cover of my dreams. I knew I would have fun with the launch. I knew I would get buzz going about the movie going again (and it worked! The movie is scheduled to be shot this year.)

I've said this before but I would rather sell 100 copies of my book to people whose lives are changed and who perhaps go on to hire my company to write and publish their books than 10,000 copies to people who don't care.

So figure out what success means to you. And I highly recommend NOT making that have anything to do with the number of books you sell.

Never forget your voice, even if what you're writing is serious.

I consider myself a "voice" person, not because I have a good singing voice (it's actually terrible) but because I have had many people tell me over the years that they could tell something was written by me because my "voice" is distinctive.

Yet it wasn't until I was reading Ann Handley's second edition of Everybody Writes (highly recommend!) that I realized the book I'm just wrapping up doesn't have as much of my voice in it as it could.

It's all about building authority through a book and quotes Biggies like Robert Greene and I think I started to forget while writing it that I'm! A! Funny! Person! I think I thought, "Well, you can't really be funny when you're writing about this."

Then I picked up Everybody Writes and—spoiler alert—Ann Handley is funny. Even when writing about grammar.

So I did something that's far more common in the film business than the publishing one: I did what's known as a "humor pass" on my own book.

In other words, I went through it and made the language more "me." It's far easier to be funny in a book like Party Girl or Make Your Mess but perhaps the real skill comes in being funny in material that inherently isn't. (You can say a lot of things about Robert Greene but I don't think any of them would be "He's such a funny guy.")

So learn from my recent experience and—if you have a distinctive voice, and I hope you do—get that voice in there while you're writing so you don't have to go back and do a "humor pass" later.

Get your first line right.

Now obviously you should be getting all your lines right but the first line is the most important one of all.

Think "It's a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife."

Not to dip into English high school paper territory but the first line of Pride and Prejudice is captivating. And it shows voice. It makes you go, "Wait, what? Something is universally acknowledged? I better keep reading this sentence so I don't look stupid not knowing it."

Then you keep reading and go, "Wait, what? Isn't that backwards? Isn't a wife in want of a single man in possession of a large fortune?"

And then, "Ah, I get it. She's being ironic. Kinda punk rock for the 19th century!" 

And you're hooked.

Or you're not.

But either way, you read it.

I'm writing this in the airport on the way back from a business conference that focused a lot on copywriting. And I was told: "The purpose of a headline is to get you read the first sentence. And the purpose of the first sentence is to get you to read the second sentence."

The same is true for your book.

So get that opening line right.

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