Anyone looking for a self-publishing success story doesn’t need to look far. The examples of newly minted millionaires (like Amanda Hocking and E.L. James) are highly Google-able.
But that’s not why I decided to strike out on my own. No, if I have to point to one inspiration, it would probably be comedian and podcaster Marc Maron. Who is not a self-published author at all. The inspiration comes from something else altogether…
Maron had a decent career as a comedian without ever quite making it. Lots of appearances on Conan. None on the Tonight Show. Cameos in movies, no starring roles. Somewhere along the way he battled drug and alcohol addiction. Somewhere along the way he turned 40. He went through his second divorce. He was fired several times. He became known for lashing out at younger comics.
Meanwhile he watched contemporaries like Jon Stewart (a rival) and Louis C.K. (a friend) find success. His own efforts at sitcoms, movies, development deals, and radio-hosting gigs all fizzled out. With nothing left to lose, he started interviewing comedians and releasing them as a podcast. For free.
I won’t talk about his WTF podcast (other than to say you should listen to it) or make a prediction for his future (I have a horrible feeling he’s headed for some kind of self-inflicted disaster, as he himself often seems to foreshadow).
Instead I want to talk about the success of the podcast. A “success” that defied expectations (and definitions).
He himself has delivered the best description of what the podcast did for him:
Broke, defeated and career-less, I started doing a podcast in that very garage where I was planning my own demise. I started talking about myself on the mic with no one telling me what I could or couldn’t say. I started to reach out to comics. I needed help. Personal help. Professional help. Help. I needed to talk. So, I reached out to my peers and talked to them. I started to feel better about life, comedy, creativity, community. I started to understand who I was by talking to other comics and sharing it with you. I started to laugh at things again. I was excited to be alive. Doing the podcast and listening to comics was saving my life. I realized that is what comedy can do for people.
But apart from the self-help aspects of the podcast, it was the career shift that struck me the most. The way the new medium transformed his career. In Maron’s words (speaking in 2011):
I do this podcast out of my garage that has had over 20 million downloads in less than two years. It is critically acclaimed. I have interviewed over 200 comics, created live shows, I am writing a book, I have a loyal borderline-obsessive fan base who bring me baked goods and artwork, I have evolved as a person and a performer, I am at the top of my game and no one can tell me what to do—I built it myself, I work for myself, I have full creative freedom.
I am the future of show business. Not your show business, my show business….
Elsewhere he describes how his success came out of podcasting, which no one in the industry supported or even understood:
You know what the industry had to do with that?
When I played an early episode for my now former manager in his office thinking that I was turning a career corner and we finally had something he listened for 3 minutes and said, “I don’t get it.”
I don’t blame him. Why would he? It wasn’t on his radar or in his wheel house. There’s no package deal, no episode commitment, no theaters to sell out. He had no idea what it was or how to extract money from it AND I did it from my garage. Perfect. It took me 25 years to do the best thing I had ever done and there was no clear way to monetize it.
I’m ahead of the game.
He did figure out how to monetize it through selling merchandise, making his back catalog available only to subscribers, and so forth. It also led to a television show, increased ticket sales, and other opportunities. He’s on the rise, both as a person and a professional (and hopefully it lasts!).
I’m not a comedian. I’m not a podcaster. But to me the inspiration for self-publishing was this: you can just do this. On your own. With no one telling you it won’t work.
Those of us who live our lives according to rules and paychecks and mortgages and healthcare panic – and who then, in our own small way, find some means of expressing ourselves, know what this can feel like. It’s like starting over. It’s like feeling young again.
Sell a million copies? We can always hope for that. But are sales necessary as a measure of success? No.
Success may find you in other ways. It may come in some way that isn’t even what you set out to accomplish.
Because the point of self-publishing isn’t that you’re on your way to achieving some goal. The point is that you’re setting out at all.
Image Credit: sinistergirlz.com / Photo by Dmitri von Klein courtesy of Marc Maron.