A decade ago this week I published my first major book, Porn & Pong: How Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider & Other Sexy Games Changed Our Culture. The tech and intimacy discussion was particularly controversial at the time - my book actually got banned in at least one Middle-Eastern country. However, the lessons learned from the modest success enabled me to have a few best-sellers since.

From that original experience, here are three secrets to making an impact with your book.

You're bootstrapping

This is your show. It doesn't matter if you have a small book deal with an independent publisher, if you have a major book deal with a so-called industry leader, or if you self-publish, as I did with my best-seller The Bite-Sized Entrepreneur and the recent The Passive Writer.

Publishers don't know your audience as well as you do. That's why you're writing the book, not them. Therefore, it is up to you to figure out the best way to reach them.

I financed my own book tour for the indie book Porn & Pong, which meant visiting all the places I'd lived in America (about six states and a couple dozen cities at the time) with some serious frequent flyer points and couch surfing. I also knew my former cities would have a least a small contingent of people who would be happy to come out, support and buy the book. 

But even if the publisher financially for the book tour, I would still be bootstrapping physically and emotionally. My behind would be on the road. In this case, I spent most of Fall 2008 away from my home.

I love Gary Vaynerchuk's analogy comparing book advances to VCs investing: They are investing in you with the expectation not just of a return, but a profit. The question becomes if you're willing to part with that "equity" - in this case, getting 6 to 10 percent of the cover price versus up to 70 percent of the cover price - for the security of an advance.

Again, though, no matter the paycheck, it's ultimately your book. It's up to you to get it to the people.

You're building momentum

In my case, the bootstrapped bookstore helped me establish my name in tech culture discussions. It lead to other books, including my one with the late Hugh Hefner, as well as the following that helped make my second startup, the intimacy-fueled app Cuddlr, into a success.

In other words, view the book as the foundation to your next act. The book itself could be a flop, a best-seller or, more likely, on the spectrum in between. The ultimate success, however, is using it as a springboard into the next big idea, whether it be another book or an entirely different arena.

Take this mindset and you will not only enjoy the book publishing process more, but you'll make smart strategic decisions. For instance, I had quite a few tough experiences on book tour, from the venue forgetting to bring my books (!) to literally no one showing up for a highly-publicized signing. I made the best out of both examples, turning waiting for the delayed books into an impromptu Q & A session and doing a quasi-book reading for the manager of the empty venue.

That commitment to both the people who show up, the customers, and the people who are making a home for me, the clients, would only be possible by focusing on long-term relationship, not short-term revenue. And I didn't even know I would be asking these same people for support years later when I self-published the best-selling The Bite-Sized Entrepreneur and even when I became a bootstrapping entrepreneur reaching out to the same audiences.

You're making a business card

As I shared a while back in this column:

Entrepreneur Tara Gentile has been saying it for a while. Entrepreneur and author James Altucher shouted it years ago. I've been telling people I mentor for more than a decade. How can you quickly convey what you stand for? Tell people the name of your book. Even better if they can read it and it is actually clearly written. It is an incredibly efficient elevator pitch.

When I speak to a new client, I usually send them a copy of Our Virtual ShadowPorn & Pong and Playboy's Greatest Covers (and, now, The Bite-Sized Entrepreneur). First, they know I'm not afraid to push boundaries in my work. Second, they understand that I can explore controversial, complex topics in a mainstream way.  It conveys my strengths way better than I could argue in a face-to-face conversation.

The best way to build your tribe is to declare what you stand for. A book is still one of the smartest, accessible ways to do so. Focus on the connection - the audience building, the momentum creating and the bootstrapping dedication - and the impact will be felt well beyond any best-sellers list could create.

Published on: Sep 27, 2018