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When The Shack was first published in 2007, it didn’t have a whole lot going for it. For one thing, it was written by a guy with no platform and no name. William P. Young was a hotel night clerk and office manager in Oregon. For another thing, it was self-published. It boasted a cheap website, plenty of typos, controversial theology, and virtually zero marketing.
It sold a million self-published copies.
It’s still huge. It’s the kind of success story that drives writers like me crazy.
Why did The Shack succeed? Several reasons, but the primary one is this: it told such a compelling story that people couldn’t help but talk about it, recommend it, and buy it for friends. People wouldn’t shut up about The Shack. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, just in regular conversation, whether or not I’ve read it. Out of the blue. I first heard about it in early 2008 from an old family friend — the lady who cuts my wife’s hair. She’d heard about it from her brother, who’d purchased a case of the books and was giving them away like day-old funnel cakes at the fair.
“Jason, you have to read this book,” she told me. “You absolutely have to. It’ll change your life.”
That was when I was in the middle of Pocket Guide writing and simply couldn’t carve out time to read The Shack, despite its apparent life-changing qualities. But every time I’ve seen this friend since, she’s asked me if I’ve read it. Two years later she’s still a Shack advocate. A Shackvocate.
(Confession: I still haven’t read it. At this point, I’m holding out just to be contrary. In the same way I still have never watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” or an episode of “American Idol.”)
Anyway, I tell you all this for the most self-serving of purposes. Advertising and marketing are great. An author’s blog and twitter account are fine. Speaking gigs and magazine articles are important. But nothing is more important for a book’s success than word-of-mouth. Nothing creates buzz like passionate consumer advocates.
I know there are some who read this blog or my other articles but have never picked up a Pocket Guide. And that’s fine. I love you guys anyway. But there are others who really are passionate about the humor or snark or educational value of my Pocket Guide books. If that’s you, I am indebted to you already. But even so, I have another request: don’t just be a Pocket Guide fan. Become an advocate. Spread the word. Be my personal buzz-builders.
1. Tell your friends about your favorite Pocket Guide book. Blog, tweet, pass it around in the back of your class, read aloud from it on your next road trip.
2. Post a review of one of the books to Amazon. These reviews are super-important for publishers, writers, and book-buyers. If you’ve read any of my books and enjoyed them, please consider posting a brief review. If you do, let me know and I’ll thank you personally and mention you on my blog. (Big thanks to frequent commenter Dromedary Hump for a great review of Pocket Guide to Sainthood.)
3. If you have any old covers of The Shack lying around, take them to your nearest bookstore and wrap them around selected Pocket Guide books. You might need scissors to trim off the excess. Cross your fingers and hope no one will know the difference. Also, what are you doing with all those extra Shack covers anyway? No offense, but that’s weird.
4. Buy a case of Pocket Guide books and distribute them to everyone you know, including well-connected hairdressers. This may be asking a lot, I realize. But Pocket Guides make a great gift. And they’re cheap, too. Can’t afford a box? Buy one book and give it away.
5. Tell people that, in all Pocket Guide books, the Almighty is depicted as a black woman. It worked for The Shack.
6. Tell the producers of Oprah that the Pocket Guide black woman deity is modeled after her.
7. Get a Pocket Guide for yourself. Order my books from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Look for Pocket Guide books at your local bookstore. If you can’t find one, ask the kindly salespeople to order one. Spread the word.
Can my Pocket Guide series be the buzzworthy sequel to The Shack? Um, no. Probably not. But I’m convinced there’s an audience for small, entertaining bathroom books about religious topics. And I need your help to make sure that audience is aware they exist.
Advocate away, friends. I appreciate it.