JENNA McCARTHY: BESTSELLING AUTHOR
Jenna McCarthy is an internationally published writer, relationship expert, keynote speaker, former radio personality, wannabe-screenwriter and the author of more than a dozen humorous books for adults and children. Her work has appeared in more than 60 magazines, on countless websites and in several anthologies including the popular Chicken Soup series. Jenna’s TED Talk, “What You Don’t Know About Marriage,” has been viewed more than four million times.
JM I do luckily.
LR And so you spend your time writing.
You hear all the time about the starving artist, because artists like to create, and they tend to be introverted, which I am not, and they tend to put all of their energy into the creation and then cross their fingers and, "Well, I built it. Why aren't they coming? But I don't want to deal with that, so I'm going to go back into my cave and continue to create." I actually, not all the time, but most of the time, I get excited about the promotion part. I get excited about being able to interact with my readers and my customers, and having that feedback cycle and all that kind of stuff.
And I'm very, very conscious of the bottom line, because, well, I live in Santa Barbara. I have an astronomical mortgage that I have to pay. Writing isn't a luxury for me. It's a career, so I have to have that business brain, or I'd be in a trailer park in Santa Barbara.LR Which wouldn't be so bad.
I'm selling my voice. How do I do that? I tweet. I guest blog, however I can get myself in front of my potential customers. I almost feel like, in a way, what I do is easier to sell, because I could just guest blog on your site, and I don't have to be writing about writing, or writing about fiction, or writing about anything I write about, but I can sell my voice just through these words.
So, to that end, into the second question, what I think is working is the diversity. I'm a speaker. I'm a blogger. I'm a social media addict. I am. I'm that person who I can't even see out of my eye, and I'm already checking my Instagram, and my SnapChat, and all my feeds, so I think that integration of all those elements. When I'm giving a speech, at the end, I can say, "Hey, check out my books." On my website, I can promote my speaking engagements. In my books, I can promote my blog, and so they all work synergistically to promote the other things I do.LR Specifically, is there one thing that ... It all is an orchestra, right? But every once in a while, you have something that breaks through and is like, "Wow, that actually really worked. I'm going to do more of that." What is that thing?
But if you've ever been to a TED event, you know that you have to apply just to attend it. You have to fill out this laborious, fairly, application, and say who you are, and a little bit about yourself. I tried to be funny, and I wrote about my books. I had made a funny book trailer, like a little mini-movie for one of my books, so I included that. The organizer called me and said, "We think you should apply to speak," and I put on my Wonder Woman bracelets and started deflecting, and I said, "Oh, no, no. I'm not a speaker." They said, "Oh, we think you're funny," and I said, "Thank you. I'm funny sitting down. I'm not funny standing up. I'm a sit down comedian."
They just kept pushing, and they said, "Well, first of all, the E in TED stands for entertainment, and you're entertaining, and also we're not saying you're going to get it. We're just saying you should apply. You should audition." Then that was like, "Oh, you just threw down the gauntlet. Now I have to do this," and I did. It wound up launching a whole new arm of my career that I never would have considered. I never would have had the nerve to say, "I think I'm going to give a TED Talk." Never. I was going, "No, no, no. I can't. I can't. I couldn't possibly," and it was the best thing I ever did.LR The arm of your career is now the speaking part?
But it worked for whatever reason. If I could go back and change it, maybe I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today. For whatever reason, that was meant to be.LR Yeah. Four million views is a lot.
JM Yeah. A lot of people have seen it. I have had talent agents calling me saying, "Oh, we really like it." I've gotten a few interviews for TV shows. They're looking for a host, and they want someone in that space. None of those have panned out yet, but just to be considered, it wouldn't even happen had I not done that.
LR You said that launched your new career. Did that change your business model, because I think about the music industry. If you're a musician, it used to be that you would make an album, and then you would sell albums, and that's how you got paid. Nowadays, musicians don't make any money on albums. Even if you're a Radio Head, you don't make money on albums. You make money on ... Maybe Radio Head is a bad example, because they're independent. But they don't make money on the albums. They make money on the tours. The album has become almost like lead gen. It's your business card, and people get into it, and then they come to your shows, and that's the business model.
What is that today for authors? We're in a software and service. For us, people pay us every single month. The idea of trying to get a customer and get $12 out of them one time for a book is terrifying to me.JM It's terrifying to me, too. It's horrible. It's a horrible business model, and then they can return it if they don't like it, even if it's all dogged-eared. It's a terrible business.
You can ask for more money for an advance on your book. You may or may not earn it out, but you can ask for that, because you can say, "Hey, look at all these people I can reach." But it legitimizes you having the book when you go to speak. When they introduce you as the author of blah, blah, people go, "Oh, she must know something. She wrote a book." Then you have to back it up by actually knowing something.LR Those all work together.
Okay. I'll tell you a story of a friend, who was a very successful New York Times bestselling author. She had a book that had an editor change. Long story short, it came out and it didn't do as well as all her other books. Water under the bridge. Kind of a bummer. Not the end of my career. I am a seven time New York Times bestselling author. She goes to turn in her next one, and they say, "Yeah. We're going to give you a fraction of what we gave you before for your advance, because we're not sure you can earn it out, because that last one didn't sell so well. Also, we think you should change your name."LR Start over.
My whole industry is in crazy flux. It's nothing like it was when I started just 10 years ago.LR I said Radio Head before, but that's actually exactly what they did. They had normal distribution and deals, and then they were like, "Forget that," and now they sell their album through their website, and I'm sure they're obviously doing that because they do way, way better.
I always come back to when my husband and I first had children and we'd get overwhelmed. We had a little motto that we lived by that would get us through the tough times, and it's really profound. It was, "Dumber people than us do this." Dumber people than us do this.
I'm a pretty sharp cat. I know about writing. I can read a book on screenwriting and I can understand what the parameters are. I did a little test, and I bought the software, and I taught myself, and I wrote an original screenplay, and just for fun, I submitted it to the Austin Film Festival. It didn't win, but it made it to the final round, and so I thought, "Okay." I mean tens of thousands of submissions I think, in the multiple thousands. I was like, "That's something I can do."
I have a really good idea for the next one. I might try to polish that one and resubmit it, but I have one that seriously I'm obsessed with that I want to write.LR This is now more like a wild lottery ticket. You write these, and you write these, and you write these, and then one of them gets picked up.
But what are you learning? I'm learning that dumber people than me do this.LR Yeah. Marie Forleo is one of our clients, and she's famous for saying that everything is figureoutable. It's the same thing, right? If somebody has done it before me, then it's got to be doable.
I called my dad. I'm like, "What do you do when you get laid off? I don't really know what this looks like," and he's like, "Well, you go to the unemployment office." I did that one with all the homeless people, and I was like, "I'm just going to get a job. I'll just go find a job."
I started freelance writing, and I was in the advertising world, so I was doing really creative bank brochures and that type of thing.LR Yeah. That's good stuff.
I'm sending these unsolicited manuscripts off to New York, and I get a phone call. It wasn't even computers. I was still on a typewriter back then. I got a phone call from a lady who was like 22, who became my boss, who said, "I really like this. I can't buy it or publish it, but I'm hiring writers, and I would love to interview you." I said, "Okay." I was in Florida at the time. She's like, "I can't fly you up. I have 200 people I'm seeing from New York. But if you'll get yourself up here, I'd love to just sit down with you."
So I flew myself to New York, and we sat, just like this, and she's like, "Okay, great, you're hired." I was like, "That's awesome. Thanks," and I got back to my hotel, and I called my parents, and they were like, "How much money are you making?" I'm like, "I forgot to ask. I have no idea. I don't even know what my title is, but it's Seventeen Magazine. I start in two weeks."
I went home and packed up all my stuff, and moved to New York, and, again, dumber people than me.LR That was it?
I think the two things I would tell her are in all honesty, stay dumb. Stay a little bit dumb. Stay dumb enough that you're not afraid to try these things that any sane person, any smart person would tell you, "That's out of your league. That's out of your league." I got to Seventeen Magazine, and these girls would say, "Oh, whose shirt is that?" I'd be like, "It's mine. Are you all wearing somebody else's clothes? I don't get it." They meant, "Is it Ralph Lauren?" I didn't know. It's mine. Everyone would laugh. I was like, "They think I'm so funny." I've no idea what they're talking about.
That would be good advice. Be dumb. Don't be afraid to apply for a TED talk and do it. Dumber people than you do it. Don't be afraid. Write a book. Write a book, Publish it yourself. Try all these things.
The other thing I would tell little Jenna is never say never. Never say never. I'm not going to give a talk. I'm not a speaker. I've learned since then that was a really pivotal moment for me, giving that speech, and I woke up and I said, "You know what? From now on, the answer to anything is yes until it makes sense to say no." "Hey, do you want to come speak to our group in Kansas City?" "Yes. Tell me some more details about that." Before I'm like, "Oh, I don't know. Kansas City. Is that a good market?" Yes, until they say, "And we want you to wear a goat suit, and roll around on the stage." That's a good reason to say no. I'm going to say no to that. But, until then, it's yes.LR I agree. I think back to some of the things that I did in the early days of this business, yeah, that today I would never do, and would it would be like a ridiculous waste of time.M
LR But those were the things. Some worked. Some didn't. Some were a waste of time. But little by little, you learn and, also, yes, this relationship gets made and that relationship gets made. I actually just had a ... This guy emailed me just yesterday asking me about this ad, a letter actually, like a sales brochure I guess that I had written, that he remembers from like 10, 12 years ago, and he wanted a copy of it, because he was like, "It was the greatest ad I've ever seen. I think it's when you launched your business, and I want to do something similar." I was like, "I can't even remember what you're talking about."
But I actually went to this old bunch of files. I actually didn't find it. But I found something that was from the similar era, and it's kind of incredible to go back and look and go, "You know what? I can't even believe I remember this event that I went to, and there was like 16 people there. I spent way too much money on it. I hauled my ass all the way out to south Georgia for this thing." There is no way I would do that today.
But then I think back and I go, "Oh, wait. I met that guy, and he introduced me to that guy, and that turned into a deal that I think since then has actually earned our business like three million dollars."
JM Oh, my gosh.
LR You know?
LR You just never know what happens when you say yes to random stuff.
JM I'm picturing Justin Bieber in the movie, in the parking lot, in the tent in the rain, like at the grocery store grand opening. You're paying your dues.
LR Yeah. Did he do that?
JM He did. I have teenage daughters, so you watch these things.
LR There's a video.
JM Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, the movie, the Justin Bieber movie.
LR Sorry. I don't know.
JM It is good. I'll regret I said that on camera, but it's good. I cried.
I'm raising my daughters with that. I want them to know that in their being, that they can have it all. They might not be able to have it all every minute of every day, but they can have the career, and drive on the field trips, and volunteer in the classrooms, and they might be up all night in order to do that, and they might be working early in the morning, but you can have that, and nobody can tell you that you can't.LR Yeah. To be remembered by your daughters.
LR Very nice. What do you think it means to be a modern entrepreneur?
JM Well, the first thing that comes to mind when I saw this and saw that was the name of the series, I thought about my dad, who is no longer with us, but was the first entrepreneur I ever knew and my hero, and I thought, "What made him an entrepreneur," and in his day, as opposed to being modern, it was he had an idea, and he had the guts to do it and to go for it, and to execute it, and to do it better than anyone else. That's all he had to do back then.
I'm comparing myself. Do I write better than anyone else in the world? Probably not. So what is it that makes the modern entrepreneur is the ability to evolve. You have to keep evolving. I talk to people and they say, "Well, I have a website, and I have a social media presence." It's like, "Is your website mobily optimized, and is your MySpace page your social media presence?" You can't go, "I don't really like the technology." If you want to be a modern entrepreneur, you better be up with all of that, and you have to find a way to be at least a little bit passionate about it, or surround yourself with people who are, or companies like ONTRAPORT that can bring you into that, because that is what it means to me to be modern, to be evolving, to be keeping up, to be walking the walk and doing it at the same time.
LR Yeah. Well, thank you so much for being here. Would you mind signing our ... What is that? A sign?
JM I would love to sign your sign.
LR All right. Thanks.