In the last few months, I caved to a friend’s suggestion and got an account at Audible.com. Since then, pretty much every drive I take over five minutes long results in me turning off the radio and firing up a book. Here’s the thing though: I can’t listen to books that are novels or stories. I’ve already got enough characters bounding around and yelling in my head, adding the voices of others just gives me a migraine. Instead I tend to listen to biographies of people I enjoy, or who seem funny, or whose book just happens to be cheap.
Many of these are people in the arts: actors, writers, more often a combination of both. As I was listening to the books of these famous folk who entertained me, I began to notice a common thread running throughout almost every one of their tales on how they got into their respective industry.
Almost to a man (or woman) every one of them had chosen to skirt the established system of how one was supposed to climb the ladder and just create opportunities of their own. Bruce Campbell grew up making films with several friends, including Sam Raimi, which was what led them to create the first Evil Dead film on their own. Kevin Smith’s tale with Clerks is widely known, but the fact still remains that is an excellent example of someone just making something great without going through the industry. Mindy Kaling found no success at getting roles until she and friend wrote the successful play, Matt & Ben, and cast themselves in it.
I’m sure there are more examples, but I only get one free book credit a month so that list will have to suffice for now. The point is that it impressed me how many of these people whose work I enjoy or who I outright admire took one look at the established method of how one was supposed to succeed and simply said “Yeah, I think I’ll just do this shit on my own.” It’s impressive not only because they had the courage to buck the system and the willpower to make it happen, but more importantly because it worked. In some cases, it worked well enough to launch several careers.
Eventually this realization got me thinking about my own profession, both because I’m a narcissistic and because it’s good business policy to look for new ideas. In a way, Indie authors have definitely embraced that sort of spirit, cooking up our own novels and putting them out to be judged without the blessings on high from established publishers. But that’s a well-traveled road, one that many are pilgrimaging down even now. It doesn’t lend itself to sticking out, not by virtue of method alone.
Here’s the thing, I don’t have any great ideas to share with you folks about what would be cool ways to produce books. Everything I can think of: web-serials, e-books, print, signings, audiobooks (in production), and live-book events; I’m already doing all of it. As I hit on an idea, I implement it. Some work really well, others fall flat, but I’ve got nothing novel to share because I’ve put everyone on display.
The takeaway from this thought process is not a particular method or devise, but a mentality we should keep with us. Simply put: we should always be looking for new ideas or inspiration, and never be dissuaded by the fact that something hasn’t been done before. Original ideas will obviously not have been tested, and even ones that have been around and failed might see different outcomes if steered by new hands.
Art is a risky business. We all know that, whether we produce it or consume it. The starving artist, waitress/actress, and poor drunken writer are joke archetypes for a reason. Betting your income on art comes with very real risks. Where many of us, myself included, fail at times is that we tend to think of creating the art as the only risk to take. Once we’ve committed to it, we’re in the system; bound by the laws that determines success or failure. And that shit is crazy. Choosing to live off art is not the first, last, or only risk we should be taking in these fields. We should do projects that challenge us, events that inspires us, and yes, even occasionally do pieces with low-to-no chance of profit simply because they create opportunity.
Like I said earlier, I don’t have some great techniques to roll out and offer up. I was just struck by the amazing potential that comes from doing what you love, working hard at it, and not fretting so much about playing the same game with it that everyone else is. Be open to new ideas and keep your eyes peeled for opportunity. It may lead to great things for you.
Which would honestly be great, because I use a few more cool autobiographies to listen to as I drive.