Interview with a Mad Author – Marc Oromaner

A lot of people go crazy over their favorite television shows. My next Mad Author took it a step further and wrote a book about it. Marc Oromaner is a freelance copywriter in NY and author of The Myth of Lost.

You wrote a book about the television show, Lost. I missed a couple of episodes and was forever lost. How difficult was it to write this book?

The book practically wrote itself. Editing it however, now that was a bitch. One of the major themes of the show is about learning to let go, which I can definitely relate to. Whenever a suggestion was made to cut something, I couldn’t help but wonder if this one statement was meant for someone, and now they wouldn’t get the message, or the joke, or whatever it was.  In the end though, I realized that by trying to get in everything, I wasn’t saying anything—the message was being lost. I wish my ad clients would come to realize that too.

If you had to run The Myth of Lost by your worst ad client for approval, would it have turned out differently? 

For starters, all the spirituality would’ve been taken out. Usually, advertising and spirituality don’t go too well together. Advertising is the art of convincing people that they need to buy certain goods or services in order to be happy. Spirituality is the belief that people don’t need anything to be happy, other than a positive state of mind and possibly an iPad. Much like a yin-yang however, both of these polar opposites need each other in order to make a greater whole. Advertising works much better when it can touch people’s souls. And spirituality is more fulfilling when it enables us to experience the many materialistic pleasures of life. Rarely are advertisers interested in understanding the soul of their brand, and I think that’s why so much advertising today feels so superficial and hollow. I don’t even think that it’s the worst clients that are guilty of this, but it’s a symptom of the industry as a whole.

I also had to fight for the cover of the book. My publisher wanted a cover featuring an island with palm trees—just like ever other LOST book. I wanted a cover that stood out, that had hidden images and clues—the kind of things that intrigue fans of the show. Perhaps I would’ve gotten the book into more bookstores had I done it their way, but I sold way more online doing it my way, and that’s where more books are sold these days so I’m glad I went with my gut.

Banksy was quoted as saying, “The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists. Modern art is a disaster area. Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little.” How true or false does this ring in your opinion? 

Copywriters wish they could be authors. Art directors wish they could be artists. And apparently, artists wish they could’ve been in advertising. No one’s ever happy—especially creative types. By definition, creative people have to think differently than everyone else. For this reason, both artists and ad folks are often very bright and ambitious, and yet, are also very eccentric and self-obsessed. They both also think that the other has it so much better. If they’re self-actualized, they’ll sublimate that frustration into their work. I don’t think that art can be judged as being truly good or bad, or that it’s only useful if it makes an important statement. It’s subjective and means different things to different people. That’s its true beauty. Writers, artists, and musicians are like modern day shaman, and what they do is pick up on the collective unconscious of the masses and translate it symbolically into a way others can interpret. What may mean nothing to one person can totally inspire another. By seeing no meaning in the modern art that is around him, Banksy has taken it upon himself to put it out there. So in a way, what he considers bad art has really moved him to act. It has done for him exactly what the best art does: inspired him to use his gift to help inspire others.
How did publishing your first book compare to producing your first TV spot?

After I wrote my first spot, between the creative directors, the director, the art director, and the client, I didn’t feel like I had a whole lot of say with the production. With the book though, I had the final say on everything. I think I’ve learned enough in advertising to know when to listen to people who are experts in a particular area—like the book editors—but also, to go with my gut when I feel strongly about something—as with the cover.

Do you think the background of an ad person makes it easier to kick out a book or is there no advantage?

Are the ends of my answers segueing perfectly into your next questions or is it just me?
Okay, the advantage is that while literary writers are usually only concerned with getting their vision out there, advertising folks are also aware of the importance of what sells—how to speak to people in a persuasive, intriguing way. This is also incredibly helpful when it comes time to marketing your book. To market The Myth of LOST, I had a major advantage over most first-time writers. I put ads on Facebook with quick, clickable headlines, I created a trailer and put it on YouTube, I wrote taglines like “You’ll Totally GET LOST” and put them on bookmarks, t-shirts, and hats. Writing the book is the easiest part of the process, because we’re writers. Marketing it is a bit more challenging, but for ad people, it’s just another day on the job. And since you’re now the client, it’s a lot more fun.

The disadvantage is that as ad people, we usually aren’t as skilled with telling longer stories, building characters, or writing grammatically or descriptively. A good editor can help with a lot of these issues, but with some of them, you may need to take some classes to break bad ad habits.

When it came to working on your own book, were you at all encouraged by the success of other ad peeps?

Before I wrote The Myth of Lost I wrote a (yet unpublished) novel and for that I was inspired by the likes of Dave Eggers and Jonathan Safran Foer because their books were just exaggerated versions of their experiences. Blogs later gave me more encouragement because these days, it seems as though there aren’t too many rules anymore and you could pretty much do whatever you want and possibly find success with it, i.e., I Can Has Cheezburger? Most ad people I know don’t find complete fulfillment in what they do because their job doesn’t really allow them to fully express themselves. So many vent out that creativity through blogs or music or movies or whatever. I vented a 2,000 page novel, and then my creative director at work mentioned the show LOST. I started watching it, and was then inspired to write a much shorter book. So in a way, advertising did encourage me to write my book, but not really in the way I think you were getting at. I guess I’m either just too slow or self-obsessed to notice that ad peeps have had success as authors of books unrelated to advertising. I hope more of them do though. It enables them to use their creative superpowers for good instead of evil. That, and it opens up all the more freelance ad work for me.

What feels better, a reader telling you how much they love your book or a consumer telling you how much they love your ad?

It depends, which one is hotter?

Well, there is a truth in that the value of the compliment is often related to the perceived status of who’s giving it—whether they be intelligent, respected, or even just hot. Seriously though, it really depends on how much of your true self you committed to the project and how much the complimentor was affected by it. Most of the time, something you spent six hours to six weeks on for a client in order to sell their product isn’t going to be as personally significant to you as something that you spent months if not years on, crafting based on your vision. I never had anyone come over to me telling me how my ad inspired them or helped them make an important decision about their life. It might’ve helped inspire them to take a vacation to Scotland or watch a particular show on TV, but the impact wasn’t strong enough that the person felt a need to seek me out and tell me. However, I have had many people who have contacted me, letting me know that The Myth of Lost has helped them through a difficult time or to make a career decision or that it even helped them with their own writing. And yeah, that felt really good…even from those who weren’t particularly hot.

Any advice for advertising creatives thinking about writing a book?

It’s the exact same advice I give to those who are considering going into advertising. If you’re thinking about it, it’s not for you. You have to know you want it. It has to be something you feel like you were born to do. That way, you’ll love the process even when it doesn’t love you back, and be grateful for having it, even if it doesn’t turn out exactly as you had planned.

Marc Oromaner
author • copywriter • creator
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