Many indie authors dream of turning their small businesses into lucrative cottage industries. In that respect, Alexandra Koumoundouros and Valerie Aiello are no different. They’d like for their music-minded self-help workbook, No One Gives a Shit About Your Band, to make the New York Times best-seller list, to be on everyone’s coffee table and to launch a successful series of No One Gives a Shit About… books. And they are taking a uniquely challenging road to get there.
Koumoundouros and Aiello published the book themselves, under their This Town Press imprint, and never thought about hiring an agent or a publicist. And they take an extreme hands-on approach to distribution, reaching out to individual stores by email and often in person. “We want to do it all ourselves, and we want to walk into stores, the stores that we want the book in, and we want to show them the book and talk to them,” says Koumoundouros. “Every store we’ve walked into, first they see the cover, they start laughing, they flip through the pages, they think it’s hilarious, they read a couple of pages, and the next thing you know, they’re taking the book in.”
The book takes musicians through a series of worksheets and informational sections to help them treat the project as a small business. It asks them to set goals large and small—release an album this year, use Twitter and Facebook five times a week, and play a gig a week, for example. It’s a fitting place to start for the authors, who met in 2004 when they both started work at a small record company in Los Angeles, Aiello as a graphic designer and Koumoundouros as a bookkeeper. They clicked immediately, eventually working on projects for the label and thinking they would create their own venture someday. They thought that might be a record label, but instead, they wound up creating This Town Press, which sells their books and line of T-shirts, and yes, their website includes a submission form for bands to be on their label.
At press time, the book was in four stores in Los Angeles and six in Austin (where the pair live), with plans to spread to Seattle, Portland, Chicago and New York. The authors have been reaching out to friends in other cities to find the best nonbookstore locations at which to sell the book. “You can be like, ‘Hey, help me out, you know this city, how could I get into this city?’ Being smart with what you have,” says Koumoundouros. The pair decided to byline the book as “anonymous” rather than with their own names because “that was part of the comedy, part of the bigger scheme of the joke” of writing “190 pages of comedy self-help.” If no one is going to give a shit about your band, why should they give a shit who wrote the book about it?
At a time when the industry has already adapted to e-books, Koumoundouros and Aiello are focusing on hard copies. The book is available digitally, but it is a workbook, after all. And to its creators, the book felt like it had to be something that could be picked up and seen and also given to others. “We kind of know that this is probably more a gift from a girlfriend or a mom, and bands might secretly go and buy it, but they’ll never admit that they need it,” says Aiello. “It kind of felt like more of a physical copy than a download.”
There are things the authors could have done to make it easier on themselves, established methods of hawking a book. But none of that sat well with what they wanted to accomplish. “We don’t want to hire the book marketing agency that knows how to sell a best-seller,” says Aiello. “We don’t care about being in bookstores, necessarily. That’s great and really supercool, but we want to be in record stores and instrument-selling stores, just different places like a Hot Topic or an Urban Outfitters. We want to reach a different audience than somebody who’s going in the ‘self-help’ section.”
“We think we can still be successful and kind of reinvent a new way,” adds Koumoundouros. “Not necessarily change the wheel, just make it cooler.”
They don’t want to be in huge retailers that might make them change their book title or their dark sense of humor, so they are working on smaller, hipper places. That might limit how quickly they can grow, but it preserves the spirit of their product and its mission. “It may not be the fast track to millions, and that’s OK, but what it does is it keeps the concept intact,” says Koumoundouros. “It keeps the brand intact and what we’re trying to accomplish intact. We want to maintain some integrity in what we’re doing. Not only do we stand behind the advice we’re giving, but we’re standing behind the comedy, too. And we’re standing behind the title, No One Gives a Shit About Your Band. It means something, and we don’t want to sacrifice that just to be on the shelves at Wal-Mart.”
That should help when it comes time to sell the other books in the series. They expect to release their next title, No One Gives a Shit About Your Small Business, sometime in August and have six more ideas in the pipeline. And they are working on all of this while learning how to sell the first book. “We’re trying to do things that are going to happen in sequence with the book,” says Koumoundouros. “There’s going to be offshoot projects, so we’re trying to work on all of them at the same time while we’re trying to get this book to be a New York Times best-seller.”
They follow all of their own non–band-specific advice to promote their book and approach the operation in much the same way they would counsel their readers to organize their music careers, as a small business. “We are selling this book like it was a band, because that’s all we know,” says Aiello. “We have the same growing pains that a band might have, where we’re trying to create all these creative products and market them at the same time.”
“Yeah, we’re totally following our own advice and working on it,” adds Koumoundouros, “because no one’s going to give a shit about our book if we don’t give a shit about it.”
Nick A. Zaino III is a freelance writer based in Boston covering the arts for Kirkus Reviews, the Boston Globe, BDCWire.com, TheSpitTake.com and other publications.