Lately, it’s been a tough run of celebrity deaths. Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall, Richard Attenborough, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, to name a few. The news media uses these events as a life review. Joan Rivers, the acerbic comedian, who recently died as the result of complications during a medical procedure, is one that has had a few “news specials” about her life.
I wasn’t a huge Joan Rivers fan but the pitiful side of my character did enjoy her taking down a celebrity or two when they dressed in something expensive and awful that might have been more fitting to clean up dog vomit (there’s my toast to you, Joan!). What I found interesting in these biographies on her life is just what a brand/marketing genius she was. We writers could learn some valuable lessons from her.
1. She triumphed through dark times. When her husband committed suicide, Joan was now not only a single mother but she was reportedly also left with quite a bit of debt. Yet we know she didn’t die penniless. She was a wealthy woman. In writing, there are definite valleys. Will I make any money with this novel? Will I make any money ever in publishing (indie or traditional)? Sometimes, we can only answer these questions by pushing forward through the next day and taking the next step even when we can’t see the answer in the distance. If you don’t try, the answer will definitely be no.
2. She didn’t hold public grudges. One of the pervasive stories of her life was when Johnny Carson chose never to speak to her again when she left being his “permanent guest host” for her own talk show. I don’t know what she said in private, but publicly, even though their friendship ended over this perceived slight (which really was a business decision), she always spoke very positively and gave him great credit for giving her a start. We all need to keep in mind publishing is a small industry. If you say something bad about an editor or agent, it will likely get back to that person. Keep in the forefront of your mind that a “no” is about your work and its fit for a company–it’s not a personal slight against you as a person.
3. She had a brand. Whether or not you like Joan Rivers, you knew what she was about. She had a clearly defined brand.
4. She branched out. Joan didn’t make her money doing only stand-up comedy. She also sold fashion items on QVC. What else? Reality TV. She authored several books. What can you do in publishing that maintains your brand but gives you additional income? Can you do non-fiction? Can you write in your genre for another age group? Consider not having all your eggs in one basket.
5. She was willing to try anything. In one interview, she compared herself to, putting it nicely, a lady of the night. “I’ll try anything at least once.” In publishing, there are so many things you can do but fear may be holding you back. Reconsider and take a chance at learning something new. Marketing definitely means stepping out of your comfort zone. M
Thanks for the laughs, Joan. Rest in peace.