My Journey to the Top of the Best Seller List

An Exercise in Vanity and Hubris

If you are a reader or a writer you have come to the right place. If you like watching train wrecks you might want to stick around, as well. I have just published my first novel, The Guardian of Detritus. It is a comic crime novel set in Detroit, my twisted tribute to the coolest place on the planet. I will tell you more about the novel and how it came about in a later post, for now the only relevant information you need to know is that it is self-published.

If you are a self-published author the list of ways you can promote your book is as long as it is unrealistic and ineffectual. At or near the top of the list is “Issue a Press Release.” As a public relations professional, I can tell you that if your story is “I’m an self-published author who just wrote a book” you will have better luck putting a message in a bottle and tossing it in the ocean than issuing a press release. (That’s actually true for almost all press releases, but that’s another story.) Most of the other advice for new authors is Catch 22 in nature. Book signings and tours, TV and radio shows, public readings – they all will help you become a successful author, but no one wants to do them with you unless you already are a successful author. (I’m talking about fiction here; these things are easier to do if you are a non-fiction author with insider information or expertise.) Paid advertising is a different animal; I with share more about it when my experiments are complete.

That leaves the low-hanging fruit: make an author page and start a blog. I have completed my author page This is the start of my blog.

I will say up front that I doubt this will work, at least in the sense of selling more books. So why is the title of this blog “My Journey to the Top of the Best Seller List.” To begin with, if by some miracle The Guardian of Detritus does make it to the top of the bestseller list, I will be the Babe Ruth of self-published writers, pointing in advance to where I am going to hit it out of the park. Or, to use a more literary reference, I will be the Arne Saknussen of self-published writers – the Jules Verne character in Journey to the Center of the Earth who leaves behind a series of notes and clues so that others can find the way. More likely, as the sub-title “Vanity and Hubris” implies, I will crash and burn in a series of frustrating and humiliating setbacks. In that case, the title will attract more gawkers and make it much that much funnier when I fail.

You’re welcome.

Even without false bravado the journey of a self-published author is long and difficult. How difficult? Let’s run the numbers:

– There are 129 million published books in the world.

– Every year, between 600,000 and a million new books are published in the U.S. alone. Half of those books are self-published.

– To make it onto the New York Times best seller list a book has to sell somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 copies in a week.

– The average self-published book sells a total of 250 copies.

Like many writers, I’m not really a math person, but even I can tell these numbers do not add up to great odds. So why even try? Because it has been my experience in life that the things that are the most stupid and unproductive are also the most fun. And as a great friend of mine who passed away a few years ago used to say, “If you can’t have fun, what can you have?” I was never quite sure what Dave meant by that, but I always like to hear him say it.

Let’s have some fun.

Chuck Snearly




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