The Writing Business

Hello, businessman.  I used to be just like you.  Strategic alliances, paradigm shifts, forward-thinking initiatives.  Who can even understand it?  No, I gave it all up to become a humor writer. A far better fit for my skill set.  A world of creativity, whimsy, and imagination.  I could tell you all about my transition, but it’s probably easier if I boot up my computer and show you a PowerPoint. See, the business world is full of number-crunching and data analysis — and that just isn’t what I wanted to spend my days dealing with.  Oh, look, I just got an e-mail.  My latest piece was rejected by The Economist.  Jokes about market manipulation in the Basque region.  How could they turn that down?  I guess they don’t run much humor.  I’d better update my spreadsheet.

My spreadsheet?

Yes, of course.  Key to being a successful humor writer is your spreadsheet.  See, I put the titles of each piece in the left column: word count, keywords, laugh index, and then which publications have rejected them.  Look, this is cool — I can turn everything into a graph. Here, I’ll plot word count against number of rejections.It’s just this kind of stuff that really gets me excited about humor writing–the furthest thing from business there is.

How do I decide what to write?  Cost-benefit analysis, of course. The cornerstone of any good humor writer’s tool kit.  Estimate how much research the piece will take, get one of my interns to do a search and see if anyone else has covered the topic, and then calculate the potential audience.  For instance, if I want to write a satirical take on monetary policy in the Balkans, I figure out how many people live in the region — about 60 million, according to the latest data — what percent work in banking or related industries, and how many of those are fluent in English and might be likely to read a humor piece. That gives me a market size, and I work from there.

Of course there have been challenges.  Often times, my inventory of humor pieces runs low and I need to find a cheap supplier abroad.  I use the negotiation skills that all humor writers need to get my cost per word down as low as possible, without running afoul of sweatshop regulations– get back to work, kid!

I’m even starting to franchise.  I’ve put together a packet with the information someone needs to be a humor writer — I outsourced the writing of it to some hack I found on the Internet — and for a small percentage of revenue, someone can use my name and the existing equity of my brand to shop their pieces, with exclusive rights to markets around the world.  For instance, I was able to land a beachhead in the Eastern Canadian market with a piece I wrote about the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in Nova Scotia.  Now, if I canjust find a franchisee with some local connections, and a desire to expand into the region, I can sit back and collect the royalties.

Of course, the secret to the franchise model is effective marketing strategy.  I’ve worked with a branding firm on a logo, changed my name after a few rounds of testing, and I’m building an entire sales force to help me blow this thing out and hopefully go public eventually. I’ve got a business plan that goes into all of the details, and a prospectus that explains what I’m doing with the stock option strategy.  You can get in on the ground floor right nowfor a low, low price.

So, yeah, I’m absolutely thrilled I made the switch.  I can’t imagine ever being back in the corporate world, not when I can wear this humor writing suit to work each day in the office suite I’m renting from a consulting firm.  Let me give you my card, and if you’re looking to invest in humor, give me a call anytime and I’ll send you my deck and we can set up a meeting.  My secretary can validate your parking.

Or did you fly here?  Because I think your arms look tired.  That was a joke.  Just doing my job. It’s funnier on paper.

Jeremy Blachman is a humor writer who has never had a piece rejected by The Economist.  Read more at http://jeremyblachman.com.