Brian T. Shirley has a unique approach to moving his books: integrating them into his comedy routine and selling them after his shows. The author of Make Love Not Warts and Four Score and Seven Beers Ago discusses why he skipped traditional publishing and how he learned to do his own promotion work.
1. Tell me briefly about your books – what are they about and what motivated you to write them?
Both my books are comedy one-liners. I’ve taken old sayings and twisted them around to make some new ones. I also have added some sayings of my own and thrown in some insults for good measure. The second book is a bit different in that I’ve taken some popular song titles and made comedic sentences out of them. These comedic sentences are sprinkled throughout the book. I’d like to think the readers could make up a game of trying to name the music artists in the sentences. Some would be easy, others may take a while. There is also a funny poem at the end of the second book.
I was motivated to write these books when I was going over some old material I had that I was not using in my show. I had all these sayings and such laying around that I had written over the years that I did not know what to do with, then the idea of a book came to mind. Something someone could put in the bathroom or on the coffee table for a good laugh whenever they needed it. I added more lines when I started writing the first one and by the end of it, I decided to make a series of these books. Each one would be a little different, just to add some variety.
2. How have your sales been?
So far I have sold the most books after my performances. I’ve actually had more sales from the books than anything else (T-shirts, DVD’s) I’ve ever sold. Online sales are doing alright, getting the word out as a self-published author has been the biggest challenge. It takes a lot of money to do promotions so I’m doing the bulk of it myself online. Thank God for people like you.
3. One unique thing you’ve done is work your books into your routine. Tell me about that.
Most comedians these days try to sell merchandise after their show. You really have to, to make any money. It’s hard to live off just the money the club pays you. Once I got the idea to do the books it was really an easy decision to work them in. I still play with the lines I use and the way I bring them up, but basically it’s a funny commercial at the end of the show. The books really sell themselves once I bring them up. I also use the book titles in my intro and sometimes they get me a laugh before I even take the stage. They really have become a bonus to my show.
4. You decided not to pursue traditional publishing. Why?
I looked around a little bit for a publisher, but decided not to shop the book. First I printed a small version of the book and sold them after shows just to see what the sales would be like and they were good. Then it took me a few years to self-publish because I looked at different publishers and packages, and finally just bit the bullet and put out the money. I had enough confidence in the work that I could eventually make my money back and also have a different product to sell than other comedians.
5. Overall, how do you like self-publishing?
I like the freedom of doing what I want with the product. The downfall is my lack of capital and having someone to help with promotion without me having to put out more money every time I turn around. I’m self-published and from now on, self-promoted.
6. What sort of marketing techniques have you used to sell your book and which one’s have been the most successful?
Through my publisher I did an email campaign and a press release campaign. I’m not going to tell you the cost for both of these, but I would have done better standing on a street corner with my books in hand waving them around. Of course the publisher said these things take several tries before any success, but I really like to eat, so I’m doing the campaigns myself. I also tried explaining to the publisher that these was not typical books, there were no characters or plot, so it might help to take that into consideration when marketing them. Who knows if they listened, I just know the results were less than expected.
7. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
Promotion! You can have the best horror/autobiography/how-to/comedy book ever written, but if people don’t know about it, they can’t buy it. If you self-publish you either have to have a lot of money or be very creative, and even if you have both, you’d better have a lot of time. You can pay people to do the promotion for you, but that’s like paying someone to raise your kid full time. It’s your book, you know or should know how to best promote it. I found that getting on the Internet and building a following is important and pounding the pavement to get in bookstores and libraries is vital too.
8. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your book, what would it be?
I would have some illustrations in there. They are expensive, but I think worth it.
9. What projects are you currently working on?
I’m starting on the third book in this crazy series. I’m also writing some sketch comedy and working on my stand up. I have several gigs coming up before the end of the year and 2012 is starting off with a full month on the road. I’ve also got some scenes for a sitcom I need to work on, and I’m trying to get some short stories out there in the public.
10. If you could market your brand – not just one book, but your overall brand of writing – in one sentence, what would it be?
My writing is a bit of quirky, yet weirdly funny, with some touches of self-effacing elements and a bit of esoteric qualities thrown in to add the right touch.
11. How can readers learn more about your books?
The best way is to go to my website. There are excerpts from both books there, they can be bought there or you can find out where to get them, which is just about anywhere books are sold online. The readers can also see videos and read some of my short stories. Thanks so much!