Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Strong Medicine For Novelists: Pinch Nostrils--Open Wide

...And Down The Hatch

Okay folks, for those of you who’ve been wandering around the planet, in a bubble of utter confusion, like the zombies from Night of the Living Dead, trying to figure out what it takes to succeed as a novelist, here’s my one-of-a-kind ProseFreak spin:

Which of these two books would you be inclined to buy?

Joe Pantoliano’s Memoir, or Frank Sinatra’s Unauthorized Bio?

See what I'm getting at? But let’s expand this ridiculous comparison even further and have some fun. Shall we? Hey, unless you had plans to finally isolate that pesky MD Strain in the next 15 minutes or anything remotely similar to that, I’d read on.

Hang on, this is a strange elixir indeed my friends. Here’s your spoonful:

For starters, who the fuck is Joe Pantoliano? That of course, is a fair question, and here’s the answer: Remember the movie From Here To Eternity? No, not the one Frank Sinatra starred in, the other one. Right, the one with Maggio. Yeah, that one in the photo. That’s Joe Pantoliano, otherwise known as Ralph Cifaretto in HBO’s, The Sopranos. Now you know who I’m talking about. Well, it turns out that all three of us: Frank Sinatra, Joe Pantoliano, and yours truly, Alberto Rios, are from Hoboken NJ. Notice the descending lineup and name recognition. From megastar, to the actor whose name you can never place, to a complete, obscure and unknown I hesitate to even mention in the same group. (I can take it.)

SO NOW whose memoir would you rather buy? You see that? Is selling millions of books really all about celebrity status though? Uhh…YES! Of course. That’s the way the world works. What else did you expect? Hell, if a good actor like Pantoliano can’t sell his memoir (I checked it out at Barnes & Noble last year. I read the back cover and quickly tossed it back into the pile of bargain books for a buck.) Get the picture? Hey, if you’re not following any of this by now, schedule an emergency session with your shrink and ask him to help you decipher it and suck it up. On second thought, never mind. All he’s going to do is keep looking at his watch anyway.

So the next logical question comes to mind: Is there any hope in God’s green universe of me ever selling my memoir, or my novel, unless I’m someone like Frank Sinatra? Hmm…very good question. I could end this right here, wooosh down a whole bottle of Percocet with some Aquafina and call it a day, or a life, but that would be no fun at all. I haven’t gotten to the best part yet. (I’ll leave the pills for later.)

Uh…where was I? Oh, right, the Frank Sinatra thing. Okay, so if that’s the case, how did first-time novelist Wroblewski (That’s the Edgar Sawtelle guy.) wind up on the bestseller list? Trust me this guy’s no Frank Sinatra. Doesn’t even look like Frankie. Matter of fact, throw a curly wig on him and slap a ruffled collar around his neck and you’ve got a modern-day version of Shakespeare. Come on now, that was a good one folks, and more importantly to Wroblewski, it ties in with his story, so I doubt he’ll be offended by a little humor as long as it helps promote his book. Believe me this guy knows good publicity when he sees it. BTW, I’m going to bestow him with my Medal of Sheer Marketing Genius Award which he so deserves. Shakespeare, dogs, and a murder mystery? Now that’s brilliant. Forget the story, all the marketing is built right in. That’s all you need. I think he started a whole new genre all by hiself. (This typo was due to my cheap-ass Gateway keyboard, and left-in as an ode to Cormac McCarthy, but I digress.)

Okay, so now things are starting to look my way. Maybe there is hope for my novel after all. Marketing huh…positioning in the marketplace, an author’s platform, planting marketable ideas, and themes inside my novel as a way to help promote it. Wow! Why didn’t I think of this before? (Okay calm down, it’s been around since Aristotle’s Poetics.)

Great you say, but doesn’t all that built-in marketing dilute and commercialize my story? Not if you gracefully weave in your relevant themes with a little misdirection. Hey, you want the low-down dirty truth or not? This is a brave new world when it comes publishing. Anything goes. Unless you want to settle for the labyrinth of POD’s out there, parading as real publishing houses, I’m sure you want to attract the big guys, like: Harper Collins, Little Brown & Company, Random House and all their imprints. Or maybe you’d be happy with a smaller publisher: A University Press, for instance. Whatever’s your fancy.

So many choices, so little time. And, if you’re like me, and you’re not Frank Sinatra, or even look like him, you’ve got your work cut out my friend.

Unless you work on YOU first, building yourself as a Name Brand and transferring all that wonderful charisma onto the page and into your wonderful tomes, you’ll always be at a loss. Not just in the business of writing and publishing, but in life in general. You need to be recognized. You need to be liked. You need a plan.

NOBODY buys from a NOBODY. (Not in mass quantities anyway. Write this down folks, you don’t hear quotes like this every day. Hell, my own momma probably won’t even want to read my novel. In fact, she’s already told me she won’t. Oh…the trauma—the trauma.)

That’s the lesson folks. I warned you there was going to be some unsavory stuff. But here’s another spoonful. Come on, open wide. All that celebrity stuff is just the tip of the ice cube folks. Lots of tiny ice cubes that make up this gigantic literary iceberg.


Let’s not forget some of the golden rules of marketing, advertising, and sales that always apply, regardless of who you are: You think your publisher is gonna invest marketing dollars in you? (Belly-ache, side-splitting, roll-over-the-parquet-floor laughter right here.)


  1. It helps to be well-known, not as a celebrity, but as someone likable, especially because of controversy, but not always the case.
  2. Professional and Academic credentials help.
  3. Champion a social cause or develop a Platform around your subject or expertise.
  4. Write a good, short, sales pitch for the back cover, a.k.a., a Book Blurb. (Maybe the subject of my next post.)
  5. Try and promote your book during relevant events.
  6. Come up with a great title, or maybe steal one from the KJV version of the Bible, just like Hemingway used to do. (Don’t blame me if God never forgives you.)
  7. Write a great Press Release, and submit it to places like: http://www.PressReleases.com, or PRnewswire.com, many others.

  1. Identify your target audience and make sure they find and understand the book you’re offering. Answer their question: What’s in it for me? (with banner, text, or print ads)
  2. Research your market and experiment with different book covers to see which one gets more attention, responses, interest. Design intriguing covers that stimulate curiosity.
  3. Make sure you put together an irresistible offer that will encourage prospective readers to buy your book.
  4. For example: Buy now, pay later. (That’s one of the best offers of all time.) Get this book at 25% off until (date here), etc.
  5. Here’s a statement that will throw you. “People don’t buy products or services. They buy benefits and offers.” That’s a proven fact. I didn’t make it up, ask any advertising rep.
  6. You can literally sell ice to an Eskimo with this approach. It works every time, although it depends on other factors too. (Hey, what can I say, this supposed to be a short a blog post, but turning into the GB Address)


In your world, there is one seller, YOU, but many potential buyers. That means many kinds of buyers with different levels of desire and motivation to buy a given product at any given time. Hopefully your book, but maybe they have too many obstacles in their way.

  1. Your page-rank on Google is in the cellar. You need to be on the first page, at least not passed the 3rd. Fine-tune your META TAGS. Consider buying Google AdWords.
  2. The price of your book may seem too high to many buyers.
  3. Buyers don’t trust you. You must convert all prospective buyers into first-time customers with persuasive copy. Then, if they order and you deliver what they consider a good and valuable product, you’ll get repeat business, but only if you repeat the right offers. You must build trust in your sales copy. (Another lesson.)
  4. Your website sucks. It looks cheap and unreliable, reflecting the assumed poor quality of your book to the reader. Learn HTML or hire a web designer.
  5. Your shopping cart sucks. It’s confusing and time-consuming and most orders are dropped because people become impatient, flinging their laptops down the stairs.
  6. Your sales copy is pushy and arrogant. Here’s a tip: Don’t sell—Present and display your product with quality graphics, and state the facts in an interesting way with a kick-ass offer. Then shut the Fuck up! (Ahhh…shades of Julianne Moore.)
  7. Your ex just wiped out your bank account. (Call the cops.)
  8. You get the idea folks, everything has to line up with all the planets and the godforsaken moon has to rise under the seventh house. Something like that.
  9. Here’s the tortilla Wrap:
  10. Put together a great book that people will want to read from cover to cover, over and over. Nothing else will do.
  11. Make your book available at the most visited and accessible sources: Scour the www.
  12. Put together a great offer. Everyone loves a bargain.

Any questions?

Good. Now, apply these sacred principles, wait a while, sit back and watch your bank account swell practically overnight into 6 figures. And remember, I also have a beautiful bridge in New York I'd like to sell you.

Yeah, the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a bargain. I bought it off a famous New Yorker years ago--for a song.

Yeah…from him, that’s the one.

Spontaneous Rant: Now, if only I can get a damn role in the next production of “From Here to Eternity”…