From Street Selling to a Publishing Deal

It goes like this: Wake up at 5 A.M. Coffee. Write. Bodega across the street raises steel gate. Supers start to sweep and hose. Bricks on the building across from me get a little bit of sun. Check ball scores from the night before. Finish coffee. Write some more. The sun reaches past the 3rd floor window. That means it's 7:00 A.M. Save everything.

Go to work.

Do what I need to do to fill the bank account. When everyone else at the office is on Facebook, I'm planning what I'm going to do when the book is finished. I know the real work is going to start then.

Lunch. Downstairs. Check out the millions of people moving on the concrete looking for something to be part of.

I knew that all I needed to do was finish the book, publish it, then get 10 of these people a day to buy a copy.

That's just what I did.

When I finished my novel, The Last Block in Harlem, I printed up 1,000 copies, walked them up four flights of stairs with the help of my amazing wife, left my job, hit the streets of New York City, walked up to everyone I saw and presented my novel to them. What did I tell them?

Pretty much the same story I just told you.

Today I hear much about the death of publishing and the eradication of literature - but that's not what I see. I see authors with a chance to create a brand for themselves by becoming valuable and developing a following. What's needed is the passion and hustle to do for yourself what you'd expect a publicist or marketing person to do for you. Be the effort you wish for.

One of the people on the street who bought my book knew a writer at Publishers Weekly. She had never met anyone selling their novel this way, so she sent a picture of me to her contact and, a few days later, the journalist called for an interview and wrote a story about what I was doing. A week after the story came out, Terry Goodman, a senior acquisitions editor for Amazon Encore, a new publishing venture from Amazon, called me. Said he got himself a copy of the book, read it, and wanted to offer me a publishing deal. A few months later, the contract was signed.

The national release drops July 13th.

Last week, I was walking through those same New York streets to a dinner being hosted by the marketing and publicity people of Amazon Encore for a few of the authors. As I walked, I couldn't help but smile at the fact that I'd been selling books outside, hand to hand, pretty much a year ago to the day, on the very same block as the restaurant.

The point?

Make yourself valuable.

Don't hate on the publishing companies for not taking your unsolicited manuscripts. In this era of making yourself known, MAKE yourself known. Draw people to you. Create a following, but first create a belief in yourself. When I was walking the streets selling, I knew I had gold in my hand. I felt bad for anyone who didn't buy the book because I knew they were missing out.

Go out and get yours.

Exhaust yourself in your belief and follow a plan that works for you. Personally, I enjoy walking up to total strangers and talking them about literature. Some people like to get up in front of groups and read. Some folks hide in bathrooms of popular restaurants, wait for editors to come out of the stall, and hand them a manuscript.

There is no formula for success. Find inspiration in the journey of getting your work out there. Do what it takes to get people to read what you wrote.

I'm going to say one more thing and then let you be. Energy is huge. Support local artists, from break-dancers on the train to that guy playing a guitar or singing with his hat on the sidewalk. The city is always alive, and you need to feed it - be part of its breath - if you want it to do anything for you.