Tamara gave me a naked picture of herself. “It’s a gift,” she said. Our yoga instructor, a pretty blonde girl, was also in the picture. Naked. To be fair they were surrounded by about thirty other naked people. To this day I don’t know where to hang it up in my house. Tamara wanted to set me up with the yoga instructor after class. We asked her out to dinner but she said she was busy. “Another time.” It was the first yoga class I had ever gone to.
The photograph was taken by my favorite photographer, Spencer Tunick. I wanted to be like Spencer Tunick. Not because he was such a great photographer (although he is). I figured that was a skill that I could learn. But his ability to get thousands of people to take their clothes off for him seemed like a power only a God could give someone. I wanted that power. It was like he could just walk up to someone and say “take your clothes off!” and they would. And he could do that to thousands of people at the same time. He had a pact with Satan. It’s hard enough for me to get one girl to take off her clothes.
Tamara and I went to dinner with him. “What’s the key to success to being a great artist?” I asked him. And I wasn’t pandering. I had done his website a decade earlier when he did a documentary for HBO. I was a huge fan.
“You have to know a lot of people,” he said. “And network very well. You have to hustle to get your work shown.”
The answer disappointed me then. I thought he was going to tell me something about art. Or photography. Or his mutant powers to control naked women. Like what the keyword was. You say, “Myztplyk and they just take their clothes off”. But it was all about who you knew, how you networked with them, and who blessed you from above.
Just like in any other industry.
“You could be the best artist in the world,” he said, “but if you don’t know anyone then nobody will know you.”
A few weeks ago, VC/writer Brad Feld asked on his blog what the best science fiction books of all time were. I noticed many of the answers were books that most of the commenters probably read when they were kids. Books by Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Roger Zelazny, and Orson Scott Card were the top mentions. Very few mentions of books written since 1990 and only one mention of a book written since 2000. In fact, it was written in the past two years.
I happened to meet the author, Hugh Howey, at a dinner Amazon held for self-published authors in Santa Monica the week of the announcement of their latest Kindle release. At the table was a woman who had written and self-published over 100 books. Sitting next to me was Raymond Bean, who had written a bestselling collection of children’s books beginning with “Sweet Farts”. Hugh was sitting across from me. He was happy. It was almost as if he couldn’t believe his own success.
Just a few months earlier he had worked as a clerk in a bookstore. Now he was being flown all over the place by Amazon. Wool, books 1-5 were all in the top 10 on Amazon’s best selling Sci-Fi titles. Since then, #6 and #7 came out. After the trip I read all the Wool books. I also read Hugh’s book “The Plagiarist” and “The Hurricane”. Ridley Scott has since bought the rights to Wool, the movie, and Random House bought the rights to the hardcover Wool.
The Wool series is the best science fiction I’ve read. It came out of the self-published world. Just like “50 Shades of Grey” did. I had a chance to meet all of the kindle and createspace people on that trip. They were smart, they were preparing for the future, they were creating the future so authors like Hugh and EL James could start their publishing careers. Nothing like this has happened since the invention of the printing press. That sounds like exaggeration but if you look at the growing numbers of self-published books out there it would astonish you.
“Yeah, but there is still a stigma to being self-published,” two people have said to me recently. One was a NYT bestselling author. The other was an editor of books published by mainstream editors.
I doubt that Hugh Howey cares about any stigma. I’ve had 10 books out. 5 by main stream publishers and 5 self-published. Three observations.
A) My bestselling books were my self-published ones.
B) I’ve made more money on my self-published books. One of my friends who recently self-published told me he’s making a living from his one book. He wrote and published his book in the space of two weeks. With a mainstream publisher it will take you two years.
C) The quality (as measured by the reviews on Amazon) is higher on my self-published books.
D) NOBODY has ever asked me, “who is your publisher?” on any of my books. Nobody cares. The only people who care are the ones who benefit from the continuation of an antique industry. It’s’ like someone from Harvard Law School asking you where you went to law school. It’s important to him that he think he’s better than you. But it’s not important to anyone else.
Louis CK was talking in his latest standup about how “Women get to look elegant in sex” whereas men just climb on top and “ride the dick train”. CK is just a non-stop list of truths reeling off for an hour. “When I was 35,” he said, “A woman blew me and two years later she hung herself. That’s an interesting story.” Another line, “Staying married for the sake of the kids is like holding in a giant shit for your entire life.”
So he put it all together and instead of waiting for HBO or some other guys in suits to pay him for his Tao-like wisdom, he sold his hour for $5. “Everyone thought people were going to steal,” he told Jimmy Fallon, “so I wrote a note and said please don’t do that.” A day later he had an extra million dollars in his pocket. “I never had a million dollars before.”
Louis CK has been in “business” for 25 years. Now he has a million dollars. Or more. Whatever he has. But he got it via self-publishing his work. Nobody in corporate America wanted to give it to him. They wanted him to be their slave. To slowly lose his color over the years until he was a ghost, hanging onto them for scraps of life. But he didn’t wait for that. He chose himself.
It’s very exciting now. Figure out who you are. Be honest about it. Become effective at communicating whatever your “truth” is.
Then you create, you network, you hustle, you price, you sell, you execute. There is nothing else. Underemployment (where people are either unemployed or hired at jobs they are unhappy with) is over 20% and it’s going higher and higher. This is not a fault of the economy. It’s because innovations and outsourcing are replacing the entire middle class.
Here’s some excuses:
“But I’m not an artist”
“But I’m not an entrepreneur. Not everyone is an entrepreneur”.
“It’s not all about money, you know.”
“I’m too old”.
“I’m too young”
“I’m safe in my current job”
“There’s a stigma when you leave (mainstream blah blah blah)”
“Not everyone can do what YOU can do”. (I wish someone can tell me what it is I do and how I did it. Because it’s taken me 25 years and I’m still trying to figure it out).
“I’m sick of you talking about this already.”
“I don’t have technical skills”
“I tried but I can’t do it.”
“I need money NOW. I can’t put in the work.”
“I don’t have TIME”.
You can hold onto all of those excuses if you want. or pick your favorite and make it your very own. Dress it up for the holidays. Put a little chocolate nose on it. Make the excuse with a smile. I’ve used most of those excuses also. But all of those excuses can be overcome. Right now you might have the luxury of deciding which excuse you will use. Tomorrow you will have the luxury of using an excuse to explain why the first excuse didn’t save you. But pretty soon there will be no excuses.
When I tell the first story to people, the one about the yoga instructor, people ask me, “well, did you ever go out with her? ” I have seen her naked after all. And she was pretty. I mean, she was a yoga instructor. So why not? But why does that have to be the first thing people ask? The answer is, no, I did not go out with her. I went out with and married a different yoga instructor instead.