Shel Horowitz – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet (co-authored with Jay Conrad Levinson) is the most exciting, by far, of the eight books I’ve done. My hope is that this book will actually reshape the business community, much as books like The Peter Principle, the One-Minute Manager, and In Search of Excellence have done.

The short version: it shows how to succeed, wildly, by incorporating Green and ethical principles into your business. In other words, you do these things because they’re the right thing to do, but also because they lead to greater profits, a better-defined and more appreciative market, opportunities to let others open up new markets for you, and all sorts of other good stuff. And all this happens while lowering your cost, increasing your standing in the community, and creating deep loyalists among customers, suppliers, and even competitors.

It was released in January 2010 by John Wiley & Sons–which means it’s the first book I’ve done with a big publisher since 1993 and Marketing Without Megabucks. Most of the ones in between were self-published, though I did one book (Grassroots Marketing) with a wonderful small press, Chelsea Green.

Tell us something about yourself.

Growing up as a non-sports kid in the Bronx, I found many of my friends in books. I was an avid reader and would often go downstairs with a pile of books on a weekend day, and just sit on the stoop reading for hours. I began writing as a teenager, and published some articles in a high school alternative paper at age 15. In college, I got serious about journalism, and then shortly after college, when I was working as a manuscript reader for a literary agent, he threw me the assignment to rewrite an old book he’d done on nuclear power. This was just after Three Mile Island, and he knew of my strong opposition to nuclear power–which stemmed from a class I’d taken in college, where I researched the subject and got scared. Interestingly, one of the books I read at that time was the very book I later updated. So my very first book was on an environmental issue, and then five of the next six were on marketing.

And now this New York City boy lives in a village of about 200 people, on a working dairy farm, nestled between a mountain and a river. A year after I moved here, 2I started an organization to defeat a really inappropriate mountaintop housing development, when all the experts told us “this is terrible, but there’s nothing we can do.” We stopped the project flat in just 13 months. I even have rough notes and an outline for a book called “Oh Yes, There’s Something We Can Do,” about that experience.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been an environmental and social activist since about age 12, and I was always looking for ways to synthesize my activism with my writing–for example, in having a sustainability section, for years, on my business webzine. This new book is the perfect synthesis.

How did you publish this book? Why did you decide on that publisher?

In 2003, I self-published a book called Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First. At that time, I had the idea that I would publish it for a while and then sell out to a larger publisher (something I’ve actually done a couple of times). Many of the ideas in Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green originated in Principled Profit.

Meanwhile, around 2004, I happened to fill an order for my e-book on having fun cheaply, and I recognized the name as a very prominent Internet marketer. I filled his order but included a note saying I’d like to send him a gift copy of Principled Profit because I thought it would resonate with him. That began an online friendship and a few collaborations. He asked me for an essay for one of his books, which I cheerfully provided (and which actually paid off in exposure, unlike most such opportunities). And then one day out of the blue he e-mailed me and asked if I’d like the contact information for his editor at Wiley. Well yes, actually, and thank you very much! So I sent them a proposal, and waited a long time for an answer. While I was waiting, I had the bright idea that if Wiley said no, I should ask Jay Levinson to be a part of this project. His Guerrilla Marketing series is enormously well branded, and it would make it much easier to find another publisher–and I knew from other things Jay had written that the book was compatible with his philosophy. But Wiley actually said yes, and I thought, duh, it makes just as much sense to have Jay participate even if we already have a publisher.

So Wiley bought the rights, I brought in Jay–which was a huge win, as Wiley paid about twice what they would have likely paid for me alone (which we split), and I got both of the benefit of Jay’s enormous marketing machine and to be treated as a much more important book. And then I spent an entire year updating the whole thing. I wrote huge new sections, changed the focus much more toward environmental issues, and added about 24,000 words of new content.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

Although I’d dabbled in writing in high school, I entered college with the idea that I wanted to be a social-justice lawyer. But by my second semester, I was already writing for the school paper, and got hooked. I also started writing poetry around the same time, and through poetry, I met my wife, the novelist D. Dina Friedman. We were both reading at the same open reading in Greenwich Village! And now we’ve been a couple for 30 years.

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

You’ll laugh–for me, the hardest part is physical fatigue at the computer. I have generally not had a problem with writer’s block, maybe because I make my living as a commercial writer-for-hire, doing book cover copy, marketing plans, press releases, web content, and so forth. so when I sit down to write something, I just do it. But I may have to stop because of eyestrain, aching hands, or headaches. So my pattern is to work in short bursts all day long, anywhere from 20-90 minutes, starting at 6 or 6:30 a.m. and continuing, with lots of long breaks, through 10 or 11 p.m.

And I do wish I could figure out a way to manage the e-mail deluge. I average 300 new messages a day, and I can comfortably keep up with 100-200. so I end up deleting a lot unread and feeling guilty, or worse, missing important mails and finding them later.

How do you do research for your books?

For several of my books, I used the reference librarians in my local library so heavily that they got acknowledged by name. Later, it became easy enough to find the information I needed online, and I could do almost all of it myself. For Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green, I actually found more good sources by following leads on Twitter than anywhere else other than the Principled Profit Update file I started as soon as Principled Profit went to press. What an amazing resource Twitter is!

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

1. If you come into the deal from a position of strength, it is still possible to have a good experience with a mainstream publishing house (my previous time, in 1993, was not such a happy experience).

2. The ideas I’ve been advocating for years are becoming much more mainstream, and I like to think I had something to do with that. There’s a lot more consciousness about the importance of ethics, about the dangers of climate change, and all the rest of it–and about the idea that you can harness those issues as a success strategy. When Principled Profit was published, it was considered very “out there”–in fact, I deliberately hired a cover designer who specialized in science fiction because I wanted an “edgy” look to match the edgy content. Now, no one questions anymore that it’s possible to succeed by doing the right thing. Now, they want a roadmap, and I’ve given one.

What are you reading now?

I’m usually in various stages of a dozen or so books. I just finished the manuscript of my wife’s latest novel, have Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father for the exercise bike, a Dave Barry collection my mom just gave me in one bathroom, a book on ordinary people who chose to be Green innovators that I plan to review in my next column, Chris Rohmann’s A World of Ideas in another bathroom, 1001 Places to See Before You Die on the bed table, audio of Hunchback of Notre Dame in the car, various others.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I’m very eclectic. I read business books, women’s fiction, philosophical fiction, biography, memoir, juvenile, humor, arts, politics, science fiction, cartoons, weird trivia like Bathroom Reader, the occasional book about writing or publishing, classic literature, eclectic magazines including Utne and AARP (I love it that all my childhood heroes are being featured there lately–they just did a huge spread on Springsteen! This is NOT the AARP of my days as a community organizer working with an elders’ rights group)…my big complaint is that there’s far more to read than I’ll ever get around to.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

I have research folders that I keep for years, with possible future projects. I’ve got about six or seven candidates, but since Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green has been out for all of a week (I’m writing this on January 30), it’ll be a while before I start one.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Make the time. You can steal snatches of time. When my daughter was a baby, she would take a nap on the porch and I’d be out there with my primitive laptop (this was 1989), banging out a book section for 15 or 20 minutes until she woke up. Ten years later, when I was driving her to drama classes, I had an hour to wait and I wrote on a PDA. A big section of Principled Profit was written on the deck of a cruise ship, on sea-travel days.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

Since one of the principles in the book is getting in front of new markets by creating partnerships, I did some creative partnering. I solicited Internet newsletter publishers and bloggers to spread the word, offer a bonus, and earn commissions on a membership-based learning community that launched in conjunction with the book. So we launched with about $2600 in bonuses at And a lot of these partners have been Tweeting the launch (we put up a page of sample Tweets), mentioning on their blogs, etc.

I also partnered with a charity organization, Green America, which is closely aligned with the values of the book. We’re donating a portion of the January sales, and they put us in front of their 94,000 subscribers. And of course the partnership with Jay puts me in front of his 84,000 subscribers.

Oh yes, and I and Wiley each sent out hundreds of press releases, I got over 50 endorsements and a foreword by Stephen M.R. Covey, we’re getting reviews…I do know a thing or two about book promotion, seeing as my seventh book is Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers and I’ve made my primary living as a marketing consultant and copywriter with a largely author/small publisher clientele. Wiley even let me write the back cover, which I think is very storng.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

The new book has its own website, You can see all my marketing books at – and since I have about 14 websites, I’ve made a portal to them all at (connections to social media profiles there, also).