posted 2012-10-05 22:21:06

Working Towards Independence

Hunter student jumps into the publishing and writing industries 

Alexis Seigel

Contributing Writer

Image courtesy of Amazon
Publishing is a finicky realm where many quality books can remain in limbo for years on end. It’s a process defined by an endless source of aggravation, a lesson many grow to learn after college ends and real life begins. Despite unrelenting faith in his book The Five Elements of Humor (And 100 Joke Techniques That Go With Them), Zac Toa, a 21-year old Thomas Hunter Honors senior, has encountered those same difficulties in attempting to publish his work through traditional methods, and ultimately decided that publishing his own book was the best course of action.

Toa’s book is dedicated to the art of humor, which he believes is an oft-neglected subject. He expressed a desire for Hunter to create a class solely devoted to humor in order to highlight possibilities to students who would otherwise remain unexposed to its them. Since Hunter’s curriculum does not study humor’s prominent role throughout literature, Toa took it upon himself to learn about it in his spare time. Instructional humor books are available, but are a largely untapped resource for the masses. Toa believes this is due to their constant usage of indiscernible jargon, archaic references and a general refusal to appeal to the common reader. Toa asserts that the majority of books on humor simply emphasize generic writing rules like brevity. General writing information in lieu of concrete advice did not suffice for Toa.

Toa took advantage of these prevailing deficiencies in literature and wrote a book to satisfy this niche. He admitted to being greatly influenced by John Allen Paulos’ Mathematics and Humor, an insightful yet verbose book studying the parallels between mathematics and humor. In The Five Elements of Humor, Toa separates the eponymous elements into five categories: surprise, audacity, obsession, relief and ego. He expounds on these elements and further divides each, using examples from modern media along with real life events to explain each specific component. Toa cites popular television shows like The Office and South Park and hilarious, more underrated shows like Community and Arrested Development. He breaks down comedy concisely and clearly, avoiding ostentatious verbiage in favor of succinctness.

Despite the unique quality of his work, Toa has encountered many obstacles throughout the publishing process with advertising being the most formidable of barriers. He made the book available on the Amazon website in print and digitally. Toa then created a Facebook event and invited a small group of friends to introduce them to his book. The minimalist technique did not upstart sales immediately, and within three weeks he promoted his book to hundreds of people through a campaign of fliers, mass emails and mass Facebook invites. Though he only sold ten books during these three weeks, Toa continued to advertise to as many as people possible. He focused on the Hunter College community, disseminating information about his book through continued mass emails to his classes and fliers in the school. After his plateau period, Toa went on to sell 32 more books through both print and digital copies. More copies were also purchased through Amazon’s related books feature. Despite the initial rejection, Toa has continued to persevere and his sales figures have exceeded his original expectations.

Toa has only begun his trek across the rigid world of self-publishing. He aspires to publish more books in the future. Toa also plans on using his double major in English and Economics to create a bookstore where he will house his own books, in order to control every aspect of the publishing process.

“I can’t say I persevered through the rejection. Instead I’m focusing on my new long-term plan now, which is continue making good books, open a bookstore and get the recognition I think I’m capable of getting,” Toa said.

Toa’s path is not one taken by many, but as Toa says, “The people crazy enough to change the world are the ones that do.”