Lots of people want to become bestselling authors, but I learned recently about an entrepreneur who turned a prank into a bestselling book in a single day. His secrets? An ambitious joke, a well-timed Facebook post--and an enthusiastic audience of thousands.
Meet Mike Nemeth, a 2004 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who takes pride in pulling pranks at the expense of West Point's main rival, the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Until recently, his greatest triumph was probably issuing a fake press release proclaiming that the city of Annapolis was celebrating "Go Army, Beat Navy Day."
But then, last month, Nemeth "wrote" a book called Discipline: The Annapolis Way (Lessons From the Nation's 4th-Best Military Academy), and published it on Amazon.
- Spoiler alert no. 1: We say he "wrote" the book, in quotes, because the joke is that Discipline is actually 100 blank pages.
- Spoiler alert no. 2: Discipline: The Annapolis Way rocketed to the top tier on Amazon, peaking at bestseller number 45 overall. Nemeth says he banked about $5,000 on the project--not all the money in the world, but also not bad for a one-day project.
Here's how he made it happen, and how you can possibly duplicate his success and become a bestselling author quickly, too.
"Please share and order!"
Thousands of people upload books to Amazon every day. Most of them, unlike Nemeth, write books with actual words and stories written on their pages. So what gives?
In short, Nemeth used the power of Facebook to focus his fellow alumni's firepower on Amazon's algorithm. He did it with a post on a small West Point-related page on Facebook, which read in part:
Help me make [Discipline: the Annapolis Way] the #1 book about the Naval Academy on Amazon. I figure it will take about a month, so I'm launching it now and hope that it's at the top of the rankings by fall. ...
So - please share and order a copy! Write a review! Tell someone important to put it on their fall recommended reading list! Makes a great gift for any USNA or USMA grads you may work with.
The plan worked, honestly, much faster than Nemeth had hoped. The post went viral among West Point alumni and supporters. (The full Facebook post is at the end of this story.) And the results were astounding.
"This is absurd."
Within hours, orders started flooding in, and the nearly blank book became a bestseller. (We're talking about an Amazon bestseller here, not a New York Times bestseller, obviously. But as someone who owns a ghostwriting company, I can assure you that 90 percent of readers don't know the difference anyway.)
"I got the screenshot when it was in the 40s, and I couldn't stop laughing," Nemeth told me. "That book, alongside Fahrenheit 451 and The Great Gatsby? I'm like, this is absurd. It was selling more than a copy a minute for a full day."
Two weeks later, its star has fallen a bit, but it's still the number 1-ranked book about Annapolis, with 231 reviews, of which 96 percent are five-star. Some of those reviews are quite funny--especially if you're in on the joke that the book is basically 100 blank pages.
"Opened it as soon as it arrived, and didn't put it down until I read the whole thing," wrote one reviewer.
And, at least one Naval Academy graduate appreciated the humor:
Nemeth is a genius for concocting one of the best Academy pranks ever! I cannot say enough about how much I laughed...as long as you can have a sense of humor. USNA '84 Go Navy
In fact, some people have been buying the book on Amazon only so they can take their copies to Annapolis and leave them on the shelf in the Naval Academy's bookstore (and of course post photos on social media). In some ways, that's an even bigger win for Nemeth, at least as far as the prank goes.
"The audio version."
To duplicate Nemeth's success here, you'd want to leverage a similarly enthusiastic and sizable group of fans--and preferably, to be a member of that group. Of course, all of this hardcore pranking between West Point and Annapolis, and to a lesser extent the Air Force Academy, is all in good fun, and involves some very devoted members of an exclusive club.
Nemeth was an Army intelligence officer, but an injury cut his military career short. This isn't his first book; in 2013 he ran a Kickstarter project to finance Six Word War, which as it sounds was a collection of short memoirs by veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As for Discipline: The Annapolis Way, Nemeth said he's both amazed and thrilled at how well it turned out.
"I'm really happy to see so many people enjoying the joke," he said, "and I know I'll smile when I update my Linkedin profile with '#1 bestselling author.' But first I'm working on the audiobook version."
(An audiobook version of a book full of blank pages. Got it.) Anyway, here's the FB post that started it all: