Indie Authors: The Comedians of Publishing

Indie authors are a lot like stand-up comedians, minus the jokes (and the two-drink minimums).

As a fan of stand-up comedy, I've often marveled at the journey of those comedians who have found success in their trade, both in the execution of their craft, as well as their ability to be seen and heard on a large scale.

For a lot of years, comedians would get their start doing open-mic nights at comedy clubs, gradually putting together routines that could eventually get them through a full hour set, and, if all went well, they 'd get a spot on The Tonight Show, where five minutes with Johnny Carson was all they needed to become household names.

In the same way that publishing has seen a dramatic shift in how indie authors handle their careers, so has stand-up comedy. I've written before about the stigma of indie publishing, how writers had to fight off the perception that circumventing the traditional publishing world meant their work wasn't worthy of being published. The rapid advancements of technology have made publishing a book more accessible than ever, allowing authors to cut out the middleman (read: traditional publishers) while still getting their books into the hands of the folks who matter most (read: readers).

In the wake of a struggling economy, traditional publishers have largely turned to celebrities for books, hoping that their fame will help generate book sales. While this is well and good for the publishers, it doesn't leave much room for those authors who aren't nearly as famous as their celebrity counterparts. This is why more and more authors, in ever increasing numbers, have turned to indie publishing.

In the same way authors are having to figure out new ways to reach their audience, stand-up comedians are doing the same, as many comedy clubs around the country are booking celebrities (such as NBA star Ron Artest and Jackass alumnus Steve-Owho want to try their hand at stand-up comedy.

Recently, indie authors and stand-up comedians have found some common ground in their efforts to evolve in an ever-evolving time. Just as many authors are now publishing their own work, stand-up comedians are beginning to produce their own stand-up specials. The first comedian to really make a splash in this vain is the incredibly talented and funny Louis C.K.

In 2011, Louis C.K. performed a stand-up special called Live at the Beacon Theatre and used the money he generated from ticket sales to produce a video of the performance, which he later sold on his website for $5 dollars a download.  He posted the video on Saturday, December 10, and by Wednesday the 21st his standup special had earned over $1,000,000. On his website devoted to Live at the Beacon Theatre, C.K. writes:

If the trend continues with sales on this video, my goal is that [I] can reach the point where when I sell anything, be it videos, CDs or tickets to my tours, I'll do it here and I'll continue to follow the model of keeping my price as far down as possible, not overmarketing to you, keeping as few people between you and me as possible in the transaction.

Ross Luippold, associate editor for the Huffington Post, recently reported that Jim Gaffigan, another successful stand-up comedian, is making plans to self-release his next stand-up special exclusively on his website. I've no doubt that more comedians will follow suit and see the benefits of bypassing the middleman in order to deal directly with their audience.

Joe Rogan, for, example, the successful stand-up comedian, TV personality, and combat fighting enthusiast, has created an extremely popular podcast called The Joe Rogan Experience, where  he's found an ideal method for speaking directly to his audience, offering them free entertainment, which organically encourages that same audience to go to his live shows where they will pay to see him perform.

Incidentally, while comedians and indie authors alike are finding new and innovative ways to utilize the rapidly evolving world of technology to connect directly with their audience, audiences are doing the same. With cool innovations, such as the iPad and Kindle Fire, audiences can read a book or watch a stand-up comedy special all on a single piece of technology. With audiences having more and more control over how and when they want to be entertained, it simply makes good sense for authors and comedians to figure out new ways to deal directly with their audience.

In the end, the similarities between what Louis C.K. did and what indie authors are doing is pretty clear. As independent artists, we create our work, fund it with our own capital, then work extremely hard to find and sustain an audience. And whatever money we generate from the loyalty and goodwill of our audience, we can reinvest into our work in order to produce more books or comedy specials or whatever and whatever.

The moral of the story is this: If you are an artist with talent, ambition, and drive, the only thing standing between you and success is you.