We begin with a depressing piece, from last August, for the methodical book-buyer. Title and link appear below, but here are the guts of David Streitfeld's article:

<< Consumer reviews are powerful because, unlike old-style advertising and marketing, they offer the illusion of truth. They purport to be testimonials of real people, even though some are bought and sold just like everything else on the commercial Internet. Mr. [Bing] Liu [a data-mining expert at the University of Illinois] estimates that about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake. Yet it is all but impossible to tell when reviews were written by the marketers or retailers ... by customers ... or by a hired third-party service. >>


by David Streitfeld -- New York Times 8/25/2012




Many thanks to David Streitfeld. And you should absorb his entire article -- which provides the set-up for this commentary…


I stopped using Amazon “reviews” at least 10 years ago and, mostly, just go to the library and flip through any new nonfiction book that looks interesting.

Endorsements on the back are moderately helpful but -- believe it or not -- the "validation" I most value in a nonfiction book is how many pages of footnotes it has. (That's the quickest way to see how much real work and thought have gone into a new book.)


As for the writing style, it can be checked very quickly in a library, and sometimes that part of the decision -- "will I be happy reading this?" -- is also check-able online, thanks to digital chapter sampling.

If you are a new author, though, and don't have the Random House PR machine behind you, how do you get past the wall of skepticism? How can you self-promote while avoiding all flim-flam?

First, do what Hartley Goldstone of Denver (a friend and recent client) is doing with TrustWorthy -- obtain a blizzard of testimonials, from key players in your sector or specialty, and use them to lead the book.


Second, abandon the notion that your book can pay for itself directly.

Note how everyone in that New York Times piece is trying to make money selling books, including by paying others to generate phony "reviews." The latter practice is corrupt, and the former goal is almost always a fantasy.


As this site confirms, I have no experience with novels. I do believe that -- given the hundreds of hours that go into generating even a semi-serious nonfiction work -- you will be lucky if the direct revenues coming back factor out to minimum wage for all the time and energy you put in.

What's the alternative? Use your first and second nonfiction books to help you sell yourself and your services. Never think of yourself as "a writer," because all a writer does is serve "readers." Not focused enough.

Esther Dyson had the right strategy in 1996, just as digital duplication was threatening to unravel copyright protection for music and text. In a famous Wired magazine piece that used the Grateful Dead as an example, she advised: Get paid for performances. That means: A solid book gets you invited in -- to either talk about what you have written, or more likely to carry out (in a customized way, of course) some of what you covered in the book.

When it comes to self-employed craftspeople, what matters is the number of satisfied clients and credible endorsers. In fact -- if the preceding premise is right -- it makes more sense to design a book that serves your network, rather than aiming to persuade or entertain 50,000 nameless and faceless on-liners. That network will then be able help you "get paid for performances."


          Frank Gregorsky

          November 5, 2012



SOME BACKGROUND on Mr. Streitfeld (from Wikipedia, October 2012):


<< David Streitfeld is an American journalist. During his tenure as book reporter at the Washington Post, he definitively identified Joe Klein as the "Anonymous" author of the 1996 novel Primary Colors, upon which Klein admitted authorship, despite earlier denials. Streitfeld was book reporter at the Washington Post from 1987 until 1998, after which he switched beats and covered Silicon Valley and technology for the Post out of San Francisco... In 2007, Streitfeld joined the New York Times as Chicago business reporter. >>