shea serrano-jonah keri

Shea Serrano is not quite like anyone else on Twitter. Serrano, a staff writer for The Ringer, tweets dumb jokes and NBA commentary, but he also cultivates a community he calls the FOH Army that shares with him intimate details of their lives and buys his books like their digital lives depend on it.

Serrano recently published his third book, “Basketball (And Other Things),” and he appeared on the podcast of his former Grantland colleague Jonah Keri this week to discuss it. Keri asked Serrano about the success of his 2015 book, “The Rap Year Book,” and two wound up talking about how a former teacher from San Antonio became a New York Times bestselling author.

What makes Serrano’s story different from that of every other unlikely bestseller is how he mobilized Twitter to move books. Basically, he politely asked his followers (over and over again) to buy “The Rap Year Book” and they gleefully complied. The type of self-promotion that evokes eye rolls when some writers try it was greeted with enthusiasm in Serrano’s case. Here’s how he explained it to Keri:

All that time is spent building up equity, basically, with these people because we’re on Twitter together, we’re making jokes, we’re feeling friendly and we’re talking. We’re buddies now. So of course if I have a book right now and you’re my buddy, you’re gonna go by the book. … So if you’re on Twitter and enough people feel like you’re their guy, we’re sort of in it together.

Serrano also described the intimate relationship he has with his Twitter followers:

There are just so many of them that come in that I think more than any of them we have that reputation that we can all celebrate together. So if someone takes a picture and they send it to me, that’s cool that they’re letting me be a part of that or if they get into graduate school. If they send me a picture, that means that when they got into graduate school, at some point along the way, they were like, ‘Ooh, I’m going to send this to Shea.’ And that’s very meaningful that they would let me be a part of that.

And here’s Serrano telling the somewhat-convoluted story of how he found out “The Rap Year Book” had earned a spot on the bestseller list:

I was in L.A. when it happened, because I was out pushing the book. I had a book-signing out there. And I was actually at the Grantland office, and we were waiting to find out because what ended up happening was, the book took off and nobody expected it to. It just started selling like crazy, and the publishers were not prepared for it. So we sold maybe like 8,500 copies the first week. They were expecting like 1,000 copies, we did 8,500. They just didn’t have enough to ship to everybody, so you only get credit for books if somebody buys them in the store, or if somebody buys them online you only get credit once they ship. So we had sold several thousand through Amazon, like seven [thousand] of the 8,500 or something through Amazon, but they only had shipped like 4 or 5,000 copies. So we didn’t get credit for all of them. So it became a thing like, ‘We’re probably not going to make the list, but it was going to be because of this stupid reason. So I was already mad, and the publishers were trying to apologize. But again, it wasn’t their fault, it just all happened out of nowhere. 

And then I got the phone call from my editor, Samantha, and I was sitting in the office at Grantland, and I knew it was either going to be very good news or very bad news, and when I answered, she said, ‘Can I speak with the New York Times best-selling author Shea Serrano?” Very smooth news like that. I made this very loud grunting noise and then did like when Michael Jordan hit the shot over Craig Ehlo and he did the pump, I did the fist pump like that. Because I knew once that happened, for the rest of my life they’re gonna have to say that before my name.

Serrano has an unusual — maybe unique — ability to make random strangers on the internet feel invested in him. He has used that power to become a bestselling author and also to raise thousands of dollars for various causes, from Hurricane Harvey relief to women’s health. It’s pretty incredible.

Right on cue, hours after the podcast was published, news came back on Basketball (And Other Things), and…

Needless to say, Serrano was a bit excited.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

  • Xenuridesagain

    It’s been 2 weeks where’s the Katie Nolan will change media update?