I do not like being a self-promoting whore. In fact, one of the reasons I became a writer was to avoid being a businessman, and one of the reasons I didn’t want to be a businessman was because I didn’t want to deal with sales. That was before I knew that every job, everywhere, largely consists of being a salesperson.
Still, I hate all my friends who email me to come see their band, their play, their art opening, or their book reading. The point is: I have a lot of cool friends. Also, that when I finally wrote my own book—Man Made: A Stupid Quest For Masculinity, which you can find here, here and here—I didn’t want to tell people to buy it. I wanted my publisher to do that, and for me to show up on talk shows and be clever and have the host mention my book at the end as I objected to the plug.
But I also didn’t want to fail.
So I did some things I knew were obnoxious. I emailed everyone I sort of knew who hosted a TV show, or worked at a TV show that had guests. Basically, if you once stupidly gave me your email I bothered you. Bill Maher put me on his TV show; Kurt Andersen put me on his radio show. Smarter people pretended they didn’t get the email. If I’d ever been on your show before, you got an email from me, suggesting a guest, who was also me.
If you’d ever sent me an email saying you liked one of my columns in the last ten years, you got not just one shameful, apologetic email asking you to buy my book, but, two weeks later, another one. If you responded to that Time column I wrote asking people to send me mail to help save the postal service, you got a postcard about my book in your mailbox. I was so annoying that, in several cases, people who once wrote me fan email now write me hate email. Also, one person said he was reporting me to the FTC.
My friend Andy Borowitz, who’s a pretty good self-promoting whore himself—you can buy his book here (how did he just do that??)—told me that people are surprisingly generous with their Twitter feeds. So I wrote to just about everyone I knew who had more than 1,000 followers and asked them to tweet about my book, providing four somewhat clever pre-written tweets.
To my shock, people I barely knew or met once did it: Jason Bateman, Neil Patrick Harris, Tom Colicchio, Alison Brie, Judd Apatow, Meghan McCain, Adam Scott, Fred Savage, Henry Winkler, Ed Begley Jr., Marilu Henner, Dan Savage, Michael Showalter, Paul Scheer, Nick Kroll, Neil Strauss, AJ Jacobs, Grant Achatz and, of course, Andy Borowitz. The odds of someone saying yes was about 90 percent. I can’t imagine what it would be if I were selling something that wasn’t incredibly stupid.
Also, about 90 percent of them used the pre-written tweets. The main barrier, it seemed, wasn’t annoying their followers, as much as the energy to come up with something reasonably clever.
Though I found getting on television and print to be much harder than I figured, considering I’d gone on the Today Show at the last minute, for instance, many of times when they needed me. It all went through the woman who books authors, and I don’t know her—companies, like this one, were much more generous with their websites, either running my first chapter or a Q&A. More shocking was the fact that people were wiling to shoot and be in videos with me about my book. I’m shooting something for Major League Baseball with a Hall of Famer next week, who will teach me how to argue with an ump. Warren Sapp, who taught me how to watch football in my book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest For Masculinity—which you can buy here, here, and here—was willing to shoot a video. When I contacted Funny Or Die, they scheduled a meeting with me to brainstorm videos they could shoot about my book.
Having grown up in front of a TV in the 1970s, I believe everything needs a theme song, so I asked my friend Scott Brown to write one and when he was time-crunched, I got my friend Koool G Murder to produce it. I should have shot more video during my man adventures, but I had enough footage of me getting beaten up by UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture and enduring three days of boot camp at the Army to come up with this, the greatest book theme song every written. Sure, it’s the only one, but I believe if Homer had gotten one for The Odyssey, mine would still be better. Production values sucked in ancient Greece.
I’m a bad networker in person, but I can hide behind a computer screen and do a bunch of it.
Publicity, of course, begets more publicity. If someone on twitter sees that Judd Apatow knows about your book, than that person, who works at Fast Company, emails you asking you to write about it. I’ve gone from promoting the things I write to writing promotional copy. I should have just become a salesman.
—Author Joel Stein is, in case you hadn't noticed, the author of Man Made: A Stupid Quest For Masculinity.