[More thoughts from The Hughbook etc.]
FAME IS OVERRATED
If you’re a business owner hoping to increase awareness, what’s the best marketing you can get for the money?
Short answer: Writing a book. Particularly a book that other people actually want to read.
One that tells your story. One that explains to people what you’ve done and why it matters. One that really captures the zeitgeist that you occupy.
Makes sense, right? Especially of your book becomes a bestseller. Suddenly you’re taken more seriously by the people who matter, suddenly all sort of doors open for you.
A couple of years ago, my friend, Tucker Max was looking for something to do.
He had just spent the first half of his career being a famous reprobate, after writing a couple of notorious bestsellers, including “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell”, and was looking for a new gig.
The thing is, Tucker hated being famous.
Sure, being famous is good for business and all, but it has serious downsides. Not being able to go get a cup of coffee or stand in line at the cinema without somebody bothering you, for one thing.
Secondly, if you get famous, then suddenly you have this big public persona to keep up, which gets really tedious after about a week. Having to be “Interesting” for a living sucks for most normal people, especially once they settle down and start a family (like Tucker did), but that is what you have to do, to stay big in the public eye.
So Tucker had this brilliant idea. Instead of milking the famous-author-persona thing himself (something was already sick of), he’d start a business that would use what he had learned the hard way, to help other people become famous instead… or at least, help them get a book written and published, the way he had, in the most pain-free way possible.
Et Voila! Scribe Media (f.k.a. “Book In A Box”) was born.
I just love this idea. As someone who’s been in and out of the business book business for a while now, I know so many entrepreneurs who could use having their own book in print.
But because the process is so long, tedious, complicated and painful, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should.
So here’s Tucker with a great idea (and execution) that totally narrows the gap. Brilliant. I love it. For its simplicity, its audacity and yes, its ability to address an actual, real business problem without having to do the fame-nightmare thing. Rock on.
[More thoughts from the #hughbook etc.]
THE DAY I REALIZED I WAS IN THE WRONG BUSINESS
Spring, 1998. West Village. Manhattan.
At the time I working as a mid-tier copywriter at a mid-tier ad agency working on mid-tier accounts and not doing too badly. I wasn’t setting the world on fire or anything, but I liked the job, I liked the people and the work wasn’t too odious. Plus there was the added benefit of living in New York, a city I adore.
“It’ll do for now”, as they say.
But then suddenly I did some rough math in my head.
I figured that after all my expenses- New York rents, New York taxes, New York suits and ties, New York shoes, New York gym memberships, New York cocktails, just New York everything- at the end of the day I was taking home about a hundred dollars.
One hundred dollars. All those late nights and weekends at the office, all those insanely long meetings talking about nothing, all that business travel and Powerpoint presentations and stress and noise and rushing around…
And all for a lousy hundred.
Then I looked at the little doodles I’d been drawing…
“I bet I could get someone to give me $100 for one of these, instead,” I said to myself.
And that is kinda what happened, in a roundabout way. I gave up advertising to become an artist.
Right then and there. I remember it clear as day, my so-called illustrious advertising career just up and went, vacating my body, like a ghostly spirit.
The rest is history.
No, the art thing did not happen overnight. Yes, there were many stumbles along the way. Yes, a lot of people thought I was crazy at first, myself included. No, it didn’t play out quite the way I thought it would. Yes, I had to pivot many, many times. Yes, there are many other wonderful people involved, yes, it’s still playing out and yes, I’m still constantly pivoting and no, I don’t expect that to change any time soon.
Yes, I could have stayed in New York, could have hung on to the advertising gig, hoping to get the big break, hoping for some kind of New York career miracle to happen.
The kind of miracle that a lot of people I knew back then are *still* waiting for…
[More thoughts from the #hughbook etc.]
I remember the day, back in the early 1990s, when I first came across the great business writer, Tom Peters. Most TV shows are forgotten within hours of watching, but this one still stays with me, over two decades later.
Tom was doing a PBS program on the Mittelstand, those amazingly plucky, medium-sized German companies that somehow manage to compete successfully on a global level, in spite of their relatively small size.
Tom was interviewing Horst Brandstätter, the owner and CEO of Playmobil, the famous German toy company.
And this is the part I REALLY remember– to paraphrase:
TOM: Hmmm… These Playmobil toys of yours… they do amazingly well, all over the world. So what’s their secret? What do they do that’s so interesting?
HORST: It’s not what the toy does that’s interesting. It’s what the child does with the toy that’s interesting.
BOOM! A moment of clarity. One that sticks with me, like I said, twenty five years later.
What Horst said is true, whether you’re running a small mom n’ pop cheese emporium in Greenwich Village, or a multibillion titan like Intel or General Motors: To borrow heavily from Kathy Sierra, the product doesn’t get to be kick-ass until the user kicks ass first.
Don’t talk about yourself. Talk about something else. Aim for something higher. Talk about the user. Remember Playmobil. Never forget the child playing with it.
In 2004, I wrote a blog post about how artists and creative types should hang on to their day job:
The post was titled, “The Sex & Cash Theory”:
THE SEX & CASH THEORY: “The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task in hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.”
The blog post ended up being read by literally millions of people (six million, the last time anyone counted); it ended up being a chapter in my 2009 bestseller, “Ignore Everybody”.
Looking back, it’s probably the passage in the book that people mention the most, when they send me fan mail. I guess it really hit a nerve.
Here’s the rest of it it. It’s thankfully not very long:
A good example is Phil, a NY photographer friend of mine. He does really wild stuff for the indie magazines- it pays nothing, but it allows him to build his portfolio. Then he’ll go off and shoot some catalogues for a while. Nothing too exciting, but it pays the bills.
Another example is somebody like Martin Amis. He writes “serious” novels, but he has to supplement his income by writing the occasional newspaper article for the London papers (novel royalties are bloody pathetic- even bestsellers like Amis aren’t immune).
Or actors. One year John Travolta will be in an ultra-hip flick like Pulp Fiction (“Sex”), the next he’ll be in some dumb spy thriller (“Cash”).
Or painters. You spend one month painting blue pictures because that’s the color the celebrity collectors are buying this season (“Cash”), you spend the next month painting red pictures because secretly you despise the color blue and love the color red (“Sex”).
Or geeks. You spend your weekdays writing code for a faceless corporation (“Cash”), then you spend your evening and weekends writing anarchic, weird computer games to amuse your techie friends with (“Sex”).
It’s balancing the need to make a good living while still maintaining one’s creative sovereignty. My M.O. is my cartooning (“Sex”), coupled with my day job (“Cash”).
I’m thinking about the young writer who has to wait tables to pay the bills, in spite of her writing appearing in all the cool and hip magazines…. who dreams of one day of not having her life divided so harshly.
Well, over time the ‘harshly’ bit might go away, but not the ‘divided’.
“This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.”
As soon as you accept this, I mean really accept this, for some reason your career starts moving ahead faster. I don’t know why this happens. It’s the people who refuse to cleave their lives this way- who just want to start Day One by quitting their current crappy day job and moving straight on over to best-selling author… Well, they never make it.
Anyway, it’s called “The Sex & Cash Theory”. Keep it under your pillow.
Considering it’s almost 15 years old, the post hasn’t dated too badly. Martin Amis and John Travolta may have greyed a little, but the points made are still perfectly valid. The “tense duality” between art and commerce still remains and, like I said, it will never be transcended.
Looking back on three decades in the Creative game (Cartooning, fine art, advertising, film, TV, book authoring, marketing, publishing, corporate consulting… you name it, I’ve done it), it seems to me that managing The Sex & Cash Theory is the hardest part of the game.
The external stuff- making the work, finding collaborators, raising the production funds, learning how to market oneself, finding customers, learning about running the business- that’s all pretty easy in comparison.
Embracing The Sex & Cash Theory, managing the “tense duality” is the real killer…