What Can We Steal From Adam Carolla?

Title of Work and its Form: Adam Carolla and The Adam Carolla Show and his multiple best-selling books and successful television shows…and everything else.
Author: Adam Carolla (on Twitter @adamcarolla)
Where the Work Can Be Found: Mr. Carolla’s many ventures can be found all over the place.  His program Catch a Contractor can be found on Spike TV.  His books are published by HarperCollins.  His podcast network, Carolla Digital, produces a number of great shows, including Penn’s Sunday School and This Week with Larry Miller.

Bonuses: Here is Mr. Carolla’s discussion with Artie Lange:

Here is an episode The Adam & Drew Show that begins with a fascinating monologue from Mr. Carolla:

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Having a Motor and Getting it On

Discussion:
I am well aware that Mr. Carolla may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  But that’s okay.  I am extremely grateful to live in a country in which the solution to rhetoric that we don’t like is simply more rhetoric.  And Mr. Carolla knows a thing or two about rhetoric.  His books hit the bestseller lists.  His Spike TV show is doing very well.  His podcast network churns out a couple dozen hours of free entertainment every week.  Even though Mr. Carolla will be the first to admit that he’s written more books than he’s read, the gentleman can teach us a great deal about building an audience and keeping them coming back for more.

I’ve been listening to Mr. Carolla’s podcast for a few years, and he always comes back to a few critical philosophies to which we should all adhere.

Here’s what we should steal from Adam Carolla:

  • Have a motor – Mr. Carolla points out that successful people tend to do a lot of things and are often itching to move onto their next projects.  We all went to high school with people who did NOT have a motor…those folks may not be doing very well at the moment.  In general, the people who were always doing SOMETHING ended up succeeding.
  • Give away 80% of your time and effort to make money with the other 20%.  Mr. Carolla gives away his podcasts for free.  Sure, he has advertisers, but I’m guessing that he makes most of his money through his other ventures.  He created his own brand of alcoholic beverage called “Mangria.”  He travels the country doing live shows.  He does TV shows and pilots.  Appearing on late-night shows and Dancing With the Stars doesn’t pay much, but these efforts give Mr. Carolla the audience he needs in order to make monty the other ways.
  • Offer your reader bang for their buck.  Mr. Carolla complains about it–complaining about everything is one of his funniest bits–but the gentleman goes the extra mile in treating his fans well and giving them extra time and energy.  He signs Mangria bottles and books after his shows.  He takes pictures with people even though he hates the passing-around-twenty-three-cameras thing.  Mr. Carolla even bought thousands of returned copies of his previous book and is selling sold copies at a low price to people who buy his new book.

I know what you’re thinking.  How Adam Carolla’s career relevant to that of a “writer” writer?  I don’t know about you, but I consider myself an entertainer.  When I sit down to write, I imagine that I’m sitting in front of a stranger and I’m saying, “Check it out: I have this great story to tell you.  You’re gonna love it.”

How can writers “have a motor?”

  • We can write every day.  I know it’s hard to sit down and to just pump out prose or lines of verse, but we really should work on something every day.
  • We can understand our ambitions and act accordingly.  If you never want to publish and only want to do one thing, that’s beautiful.  I’m guessing I’m not the only writer out there who wants to do a number of things.  I, for example, should do more GWS videos and finally start doing the podcast I’ve wanted to do for a while.

What about giving away our time and effort?  I like to think that I’ve really been doing this in spades.  I’ve written at least 200,000 words for GWS, all of them in the service of evangelizing for cool writing and cool writers.  I love that my essays are often at the top when people search for writers or books; I’m steering at least a few people to some really cool stuff!

I’m going to have to mention the “b word:” Branding.  I can’t imagine that most writers like to think about “branding” themselves, but it’s unavoidable to some extent.  After all, don’t you want a reader to check out one of your poems or stories and say, “Gee…I need to see more!”

Here are some of the things that I see successful writers doing to “give away” their time and effort in hopes of a better return:

  • “Selling” work for free.  This is the big one, I suppose.  Just like everyone else, I feel writers should be paid for their work.  And I’m also very frustrated that so many wildly profitable “news” organizations don’t pay writers.  Everyone BUT the writers are paid in some places.  We all need to have our own policies.  I am happy to give my work to publications that make no money.  Literary journals?  Most make zero money.  If that.  The vast majority of literary journal editors are doing out of love, so it only seems fair that they “pay” writers in love.
  • Granting interviews and the like.  I love doing my “Hey, Why’d You Do That” series because I get to give a cool writer a little attention, and the fans of that writer give me a little attention.  The writers I’ve featured have been very gracious, and I think that’s how we should all be, so long as we’re not asking for too much.  (I would never ask a writer for a 10,000-word essay about their theory regarding “place” in fiction.)
  • Reviewing the work of others.  I love NewPages and The Review ReviewKaren Carlson offers interesting thoughts on literature.

What’s the ultimate goal of giving away time and effort?  WE NEED TO CREATE MORE READERS.  Too many people think that reading literature is for fancy-pants people.  That poetry is only “when someone writes down their depressed feelings.”  While Mr. Carolla knows he’s not going to get EVERYONE who hears about him, he puts his message out in a number of ways and hopes some percentage of people start to support him.

How do we offer bang for a reader’s buck?

  • I’m really jealous of John Green for many reasons.  (Not the least of which is that I’m revising a YA novel and I’m hoping to end up with a zillionth of his audience.)  Mr. Green spends a lot of time posting videos that describe his writing process and stoke creativity in others:

Mr. Green also famously signed every copy of the first edition of The Fault in Our Stars.   Mr. Green doesn’t HAVE to do any of these things.  The added value, however, helps to build his audience and makes people like him all the more.  What’s wrong with that?

  • I’m often blown away by the generosity of many “real” writers.  (“Real” as in “not me.”)  T.C. Boyle is (obviously) a literary rock star, but he still spends time talking to readers on his web site’s message board.   I LOVE when a writer has a solid web site.  You know, they give a little bio, they give me links to find the rest of their work.  I was tickled when I found Aubrey Hirsch’s site and saw a fun photo essay-type thing that she added.  Again, I’m not being a zombie about “branding,” but isn’t it normal to like an entertainer who interacts a little with his or her audience?

I suppose it all boils down to the concept that Cathy Day codified as “Literary Citizenship.”  While Mr. Carolla may not primarily be a “literary” guy, he follows Ms. Day’s example in the context of his comedy/filmmaking world.  Within reason, Mr. Carolla does his best to truly understand the people with whom he speaks.  He rejects the sound-bite shallowness that literary folks must also reject.  His long-form discussions are often as illuminating as they are hilarious.

Doesn’t Mr. Carolla have what most of us want?  An audience whose devotion allows him to express himself in any creative avenue he likes?

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