Bestseller secrets unveiled: James Altucher and Mike Fishbein

James Altucher and Mike Fishbein disclose their marketing tips for growing your readership.

James Altucher is an American hedge fund manager, entrepreneur, bestselling author, and podcaster. He has founded or cofounded more than 20 companies, including Reset Inc. and StockPickr and Mike Fishbein is an inbound marketer and bestselling author. He writes about content marketing and personal development.

Sometimes You Have to Get Lucky

I’m again searching for another book idea but, who knows, it may, once again, come to me when I’m not looking.

Never been to Berlin. Did not speak more than a few words of German beyond the phrase made famous by John F. Kennedy: Ich bin ein Berliner. Didn’t know much, really, about escapes at the Berlin Wall in the 1960s, or the chain of events that led to its fall in 1988. So how did I end up spending more than two years digging under the Wall — that is, researching a book titled The Tunnels?

Since the early 1980s, I had written many books whose subjects were clearly chosen by design, sometimes years in the making or at least months marinating. But this one was different. I don’t know whether to be proud or embarrassed that it came about by pure chance, thanks to my daughter, and a sunny day.

Although I am, sadly, old enough to recall growing up in the 1950s and 1960s with Berlin as an almost daily hot topic in the news, I was never obsessed with the Wall. My generation, after all, had racial segregation, nuclear war, Vietnam, and Nixon to contend with here at home. This began to change for me just in the past decade. The German film, an Oscar winner, The Lives of Others, explored the horrors of living in East Berlin behind the Wall, focusing on the Stasi-enabled police state. It became one of my favorite movies of recent years. Then I co-produced an acclaimed film documentary, Following the Ninth, exploring the political and cultural impact of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. One of its five segments featured an appealing young woman who grew up in the shadow of the Wall.

So I might have been slightly primed, but while looking for a new book idea this never crossed my mind. What I needed was an intimate encounter. That came after my daughter, who had just gotten her Ph.D. in London, unexpectedly moved to Berlin with her husband and their three-year-old son. They happened to take a flat in the old East Berlin, near Alexanderplatz, about a mile from one of the most famous Wall neighborhoods along Bernauer Strasse. On our first ever visit to Berlin, however, my wife and I had trouble encountering any remnants or legacy of the Wall — the barrier was torn down so quickly and completely, and there is no major museum to visit.

On our final day, however, we decided to stroll to the most extensive Wall memorial site which runs for several blocks along Bernauer, even though it was barely mentioned in our guide book and very poorly described. Fortunately it was a bright, sunny, day in May and it did not rain — or my life might be quite different today.

Exploring that site, which includes patches of the Wall and the “death strip” that discouraged escapes, we agreed it was one of the most moving, tasteful, and overwhelming historical sites we had ever experienced. And I was most struck by the stories of attempted escapes by East Germans under the Wall, some successful, others ending in tragedy. What was most incredible about the tunnels was that, almost unique in history, they were dug not from imprisonment to freedom but in the opposite direction. — from west to east. Students in West Berlin excavated the caverns to spring friends, lovers, and family members, even strangers, from the East. Almost on the spot I decided to explore all types escapes, over a wider period, for a possible book, when I returned to New York.

When I did that, however, I found that chronicling the many attempted flights from the East would be daunting, especially from 4000 miles away, and with no German language skills to conduct interviews or read a single document. But I discovered something else: there was an amazing, long forgotten American media angle to this subject. And I had been a media writer for many years, along with serving as editor of Editor & Publisher for many years not long ago.

It seems that NBC had aired a film covering the digging of one particular tunnel in 1962 which sparked controversy but ended up winning three Emmys and now considered a landmark in television history. (I may have even watched it when I was in my early teens.) What few know today is that the Kennedy White House and State Department tried to bully NBC into canceling the show, for reasons still murky. They did succeed in causing a postponement. That got my attention, as well as offering an exciting American focus for my narrative.

Researching further, I found that NBC wasn’t alone in funding and attempting to film a dig under the Wall. CBS tried to do it a few weeks earlier, and the correspondent was none other than the legendary Daniel Schorr. His program never did make it on the air, killed by his boss under pressure from the Kennedy team. But why? State Department and CIA documents and cables had just been declassified — another lucky break for me — and they were riveting.

Suddenly my amorphous “Berlin Wall Escape” book had come into clear focus. I might be able to explore this deeply — with a sharp American angle — by organizing it around those two tunnels and those two controversial network projects. But how could I accomplish that from so far away, and as a non-German speaker? Would I be able to make substantial use of the Stasi archives and other sources in that country? Were any of the key tunnelers and escapees still alive and willing to talk?

Another lucky break: My daughter, like her dad, does not speak any Deutsch — but her husband, Stephane Henaut, is half-German and, of course, fluent. So over many months he was able to help set up meetings with the key tunnelers and escapees (another bit of luck: most were still alive and living in or near Berlin), accompany me on interviews to serve as interpreter, then translate the tapes at home. Just as important: he was able to provide translations of hundreds of pages of Stasi documents and chapters from German language books.

And that former East Berlin woman featured in my Beethoven documentary? Turns out she’s now living in Los Angeles — and she translated hundreds of other pages of Stasi docs and pages from books, conducted a couple of key interviews with Germans from afar, and provided almost daily fact-checking.

There’s the expression, it’s better to be lucky than good. I hope both may apply to The Tunnels. Now I’m again searching for another book idea but, who knows, it may, once again, come to me when I’m not looking.

Greg Mitchell’s THE TUNNELS: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill will be published by Crown on October 18.

This post is contributed as Guest post by Greg Mitchell

5 Books to Keep Close to Improve Your Writing

here are five books you will want to keep on hand, read, study, and reference. They will give you actionable information and tips on how to improve writing skills.

I want to write a book” is one of the most common statements made today. Everyone potentially has a book inside of them, of course. Our lives are a kaleidoscope of events, circumstances, and experiences. These can make great content for a book, fiction or non-fiction, but just “wanting” to write a book will not make that happen.

There is much more to being an author than ideas and experiences. There is actual writing to do, and that can take months of commitment and motivation.

The other thing it takes is exceptional writing skill – not just creativity of expression, but solid grammar and composition skills too. If you have reservations about your writing skills, here are five books you will want to keep on hand, read, study, and reference. They will give you actionable information and tips on how to improve writing skills.

Your Five Tools

Books on writing can be dry and dull. Everyone remembers Wariners’ Handbook of Grammar and Composition from school – dullsville! They are not like creative writing books that can have great, engaging examples and fun exercises.

But still, there are some that are better than others. Try these on for size.

  1. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

This may seem like an odd choice, but there is much to be learned from this little book you probably read in high school. The beauty of this book lies in its simplicity. Many of us, as authors, love our long complex sentences and our overuse of modifiers. Unless you are authoring a professional, scholarly piece, you can reduce these as you edit and polish your work.

Hemingway became so well known for his simplicity, in fact, that there is now a writing tool called Hemingway Editor. You can actually copy and paste your writing in, and it will do a bit of “cleaning up” for you.

  1. Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

Of all of the books on writing, this is a favorite of many. After all, who doesn’t find The Simpsons at least kind of funny. Norris points out errors in grammar in a comical way and will have you at least smiling, if not chuckling. But the writing tips are quite serious and will serve to improve your writing skills. It’s really a practical book, for all of its humor, and you should keep it handy as a reference tool. You will not be bored.

  1. The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier by Bonnie Trenge

While misplaced modifiers can be funny, it is one of the most common mistakes we all make. And misplaced phrases in sentences indicate someone who is not careful about his/her writing.

This little book is short – only 72 pages, but it will be a big help in getting your writing correct and clear. She provides numerous examples of misplaced modifiers (in case you forgot what they are) and provides “fixes,” often by dividing the thought into two sentences, much as Hemingway might have done.

  1. Conquer Essay Phobia: The Perfect Formula for a Good Grade

While this is a writing skill development e-book for students, there is an amazing number of great tips and examples for all types of writers. All of the most common structural, grammar and composition errors are covered, along with some great bonus tips. Get inspiration and great ideas, along with your skill development. Download it for free on any of four sites, including Amazon and iTunes.

  1. Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tricks for Better Writing, by Mignon Fogarty

Here is a unique way to remember grammar “rules.” Attach them to anecdotal stories. And this is exactly what Fogarty does in this book. She has identified the common grammar errors that all writers make, whether in business, as authors, or in their academic lives, and comes up with quirky and sometimes snarky anecdotes that will help you remember the errors. Fogarty is a firm believer that grammar can be fun. In her own words, in the preface to the book, she states,

“My philosophy is that learning about language should be fun. I’m not in this for the thrill of running a metaphorical red pen through email messages or blog posts. Although writing badly is like dressing in lime skorts and an orange plaid sweater – people notice – publicly correcting a stranger’s writing is as rude as asking someone with a fashion problem, ‘Did you think that looked good when you got dressed this morning?’ I would do neither. Instead, I hope to raise the waters of good writing by distributing quick and dirty tips as widely as possible. Really, I can’t resist: I get flashes of crazy memory tricks, funny phrases, and cartoons where Aardvark…and Squiggly…go on grammar adventures, and I love to share them all with you.”

You will enjoy this book, and you will definitely remember the stories and the grammar points.

None of these books will give you great plot lines, characters or themes. That kind of help writing a book must come from within. But your wonderful ideas must be translated into good reading material, and that means amazing writing skills.

POINTS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU SELF PUBLISH

If you are thinking about self publishing, you have to be prepared to sweat yourself.

Many had asked me on how to get the ball rolling to publish your own book. Self-publishing is a no joke business. You might get demotivated along the way. There are lots of hurdles that you have to overcome before you can see and touch your own book. That is why, I consider publishing my own book a personal triumph. I am going to write more about my own experiences in publishing my own books. In this article, I will outline to you the basic points that you need to know before you decide to self-publish your own book.

  1. A good manuscript

Even though you can write whatever you like because no one is going to reject your writing, you also need to gauge the interest of your readers. You have to know what is the genre that you want to get yourself into so that your books will sell. After all, this is an investment. You do not want to end up with stack of books lying around your bedroom, do you?

  1. Apply for ISBN

You can apply for ISBN number from the National Library of your country. For some countries, the application can be made online. They can also email you the ISBN number and bar code so that you do not have to pick them up. However, it is advisable for you to self pick-up the ISBN number and bar code because it is not that clear if it is scanned and email to you. A blurry image of the bar code will definitely affect your book. If you are planning to sell your books in the bookstores then they need to scan the bar code to keep it in their system. You really need a clear picture of the bar code.

  1. Proofreading service.

You need someone to check your writing. This is a must. If you give your manuscript to the publisher, they will help to find you one. But since you are self-publishing, then you need to find on your own. I just googled and found a few. You have a lot of choices online, so don’t worry. If you want to use the same proofreader as I did, just drop me an email (ziedanazri@gmail.com) and I will give you her contact. She did a terrific job with my manuscript. It was not that pricey and she even returned it back to me before the actual deadline. Very fast service!

  1. Professional designer.

A beautiful book cover is very important, as that is the first thing that the readers will be attracted to. Initially, I bought a software to make our own cover, but it did not turn out well. After I had converted my drawings into the software, we showed it to my families and friends. They thought that it was a cover design for children’s colouring book! I had to engage a professional service to do the cover design. And I think it is worth every penny that I paid for the service. You can see it for yourself now. I am very, very proud of the cover design. You too, can upgrade from something that looks like a children’s colouring book to a professionally drawn cover design.

  1. Printing.

This is one of the mistakes that I had made. Prior to printing the books, I received so many negative comments about my book that I was afraid to print many copies. So I go for digital printing. That’s the only place that accepts small scale book printing. I printed 200 copies at first and 80 copies were already sold after 2 days! If only I had known, I would have gone for off-set printing from the start. The minimum order for off-set printing is 1000 copies. So because of all the negative remarks, I decided to go for digital printing which costs me half of the sold price. If I had used off-set printing then the cost is way more cheaper and I might spend more on promoting the books as well as gaining access to local major book stores. Well, I learned from this mistake, and I will definitely go for off-set printing after this. But, if you are not sure and want to test the market before you start selling, then maybe you want to set aside some money for digital printing. The minimum order is 20 copies. Try printing 20 copies first and then if you feel that the readers are attracted to it, you can go for off-set printing after that.

  1. Added value.

My books have bookmarks attached to them. It was my idea to add value to the book. Of course there was cost involved. But I think the books look prettier with the bookmarks, so I decided to amortize the cost. You can do a lot of other things too to add value to the book. Maybe a calendar, a small notebook or a pen… bearing the same design as your book cover.

  1. Where do you sell?

I think this is the most difficult part. I am lucky that I have many students who are also excited to read my writings. Thank you guys! And I had to thank my hardworking Marketing Officer, my self-appointed husband, who would go out of his way just to promote my book. Seriously, I am too shy to be in front promoting the books. The way I see it, you really have to be brave and confident. For someone shy like me, it’s a big NO for marketing. So I have to think of other ways. Most writers are introverts so we do find it difficult to be in front even if it is to promote our own books.

  1. You must have some savings.

Without some savings, you will not go anywhere. Remember you are a self-publishing entity and that means no one is helping you in the process. You need money to pay for proofreading, designer, printing and promoting your books. You will only earn after your books start selling but how do you market your book if you do not have any money to start with?

  1. Do not listen to people.

There will be haters, there will be non-believers, and it is time for you to prove them wrong. It is because that I listened to all the critics that I made mistakes while printing. And I had to bear all the costs. So just believe in yourself. Do what your heart told you and pray. Everything will turn out fine. Put the critics behind you. That is where they are supposed to be, behind you. You are not one of them, so stay put and accept the challenges!


This post is contributed as Guest post by NURNAZIDA NAZRI.
Nurnazida Nazri used to teach law at the university for more than 10 years. She had self-published 3 books which are available at Amazon, Payhip and E-Sentral. Teaching and writing have always been her passion and she would be clueless if she missed them even for one day.
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The Surprising Success Secret to Making it Big as a Writer

15 percent of your success comes from your technical skill. The other 85% comes from how well you deal with people.

Do you know the most powerful success secret to making it big as a writer?

Is it:

  • Natural talent?
  • An English degree?
  • How many awards you’ve won?

Dale Carnegie said this back in 1937:

15 percent of your success comes from your technical skill. The other 85% comes from how well you deal with people.

If you think

that’s outdated, check this out.

Google did a survey of managers in 2009 called Project Oxygen. The researchers wanted to know:

  • if managers matter
  • if so, then why do they matter
  • what skills are responsible for their success

Here are so

me of those skills:

  1. Be a good coach.
  2. Empower; don’t micromanage.
  3. Be interested in direct reports, success and well-being.
  4. Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented.
  5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.
  6. Help your employees with career development.
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.
  8. Have key technical skills so you can advise the team.

Do you see a theme running through these?

Every one of these skills involves dealing with people.

“Your success as a writer depends more on your people skills than your talent.”  Frank McKinley

Success Secret #1 – You need other people.

Success doesn’t depend much on genius. It does depend heavily on how well you know and relate to other people.

Here are some quick and easy ways to supercharge your human relations IQ.

  • Be courteous. Say thank you when others do you a favor.
  • Do favors for other people. Don’t come asking first. Give if you want to receive.
  • Ask for what you want – and frame it so the other person comes out a winner.

The bottom line is this: treat people as well or better than you want them to treat you. When you do this, you’ll set the standard for how you’re treated.

Success Secret #2 – Don’t wait for people to come to you.

Four years ago, my son and I visited a new church.

Here’s how I got him ready.

“Drew, there are probably a lot of nice people in there. Some of them may come up to you and introduce themselves. But there’s no guarantee of that. Don’t wait around. You introduce yourself to people first and good things will happen.”

I thought he’d just nod his head and do nothing.

Before I even got a seat, Drew introduced me to 4 or 5 people he’d already met!

After church, the same thing happened.

If you want friends, be one. Make the first move. Invite people to chat, spend time with you, and work together. You’ll be amazed at what might happen!

Here’s what happened when I made the first move this year:

  • I’ve done 5 expert interviews
  • I’ve been invited to speak on a webinar and a podcast
  • I have written for two other blogs
  • I’ll be doing a Q&A this fall at the popular Tribe Conference

If you want things to happen, do what my friend Anne Peterson told me:

Always be networking.

Success Secret #3 – Always give people a reason to continue with you.

If you struggle with making people connections, let me recommend a book I’m reading called the Improv Manifesto.

If you’ve ever seen the show Whose Line is it Anyway, you’ve seen improv at its best. I’m not asking you to become a standup comedian. Neither am I asking you to become an actor. The point is there is a lot you can learn from this acting if you want to succeed as a writer.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • Make offers. In other words, give them a reason to say or do something. Think in terms of what they want, not what you want.
  • Start off strong. The first impression you make will last, so make it count.
  • Go for it. Reach out and make that connection now. Do the best you can and remember you’ve got nothing to lose.

“You’ll get what you want when you ask for it.”

Frank McKinley

Now Do This

This week set a networking goal.

Here are some suggestions.

  • Contact an expert and ask for an interview.
  • Do a book review and send a Tweet to the author.
  • Offer to write about something your favorite Blogger’s audience needs but hasn’t gotten yet.

“You can get everything in life you want when you help enough other people get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar

Have a fantastic week! I can’t wait to hear how this works for you.

  • Share your story in the comments.
  • Feel free to ask me for help if you’re getting stuck.
  • Want more tips? Subscribe for a new one every week!
Frank McKinley
I help writers engage readers, sell their ideas, and build their tribes.