Hey

 

The podcast took a week off because I was in Chicago, but we’re back today with Mike Sacks. Mike is one of my favorite writers on the Internet, a fellow author, and an editor over at Vanity Fair. Naturally, we didn’t talk about any of that, because this podcast is 15 Minutes or less and we only focus on the best advice someone has ever received (and the best advice they want to share.)

So, hopefully you’ll enjoy it regardless. There are three more episodes in the works and then I’ll start recording the next batch soon. Given that I’m currently out of work, I have nothing but time on my hands.

Show Notes

One major thing to point out: The sound quality via Skype is not great. So at some point I’m going to upgrade back to Zoom.Us and record these, but for now, hang with me since these first six episodes are meant to be an experiment. And when you experiment, you tend not to want to spend a bunch of money on things. (Also: I recorded them all already so … too late now to fix it.)

You can listen to previous episodes of the podcast here. 

You can also check out Mike here over on his website and here on Twitter at @MichaelBSacks

Mike is responsible for the creation of two books I absolutely love, “And Here’s The Kicker” and “Poking the Dead Frog”. I think you should buy both and I hope you get as much value from them as I did in learning from all the comedy legends Mike interviews in both books. The first book, “And Here’s The Kicker” is one of very few books I kept from my old life back in Glens Falls, New Yorker. I must have donated a couple of hundred books, if not more, and “And Here’s The Kicker” was one of very few I retained.

Mike Sacks on the Importance of Showing Up On Time

B.J. Mendelson: What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever gotten?

Mike Sacks: Well, I would say two pieces of advice. One is, I used to work at a record store for in suburban Maryland and Virginia calledKemp Mill Records. It was a small chain, a local chain, in that area. And I worked there for when I was, from 15 to 25 off and on for Christmases, holiday, summer vacation, and such. And the best boss I ever had was someone whom I worked with there. His name is, is Bruce Lee. He was not Asian, he was a black man and he later became a very good friend.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs)

Mike Sacks: But he was the best boss I ever had. He gave me a lot of incredible advice that I later used when I went outside of retail into the professional world. And one piece of advice that he gave me that I thought in retrospect, I wasn’t happy about it at the time, but in retrospect I thought was great was that I … He was a stickler for people arriving on time. And the store opened at 10 o’clock and he wanted you there at 9:55. And I got there, I … Literally at 9:56 or 9:57 and he said, “You’re late.” And I said “No. I, I’m here on time.”

He, he said, “I asked you to come here at 9:55. It’s 9:57 right now.” And I said, “Yeah, but Bruce, that’s only two minutes.” He goes, “That may be the case but you’re late, and I don’t want it to happen again.” But, so what he was doing and showing me was that the respect you have to show for others and the respect you have to show for yourself and for your job is such that, even if it is a retail job in Maryland, you need to show up on time and you need to do what is necessary for the job.

And that’s something that I’ve, I hopefully have brought to writing and to everything else. If something is due on September 1st, I’m not gonna hand it in on September 2nd. I’m gonna hand it in on, either on August 31st or on September 1st. So it’s just showing people that you work with, and even now extending out to readers a respect that I think, I don’t wanna say it’s missing necessarily in a lot of jobs, but I do think that any job deserves respect. And by showing respect to the jobs and to yourself, that’s really the only way you’re going to grow and improve yourself in your position in employment and in a working world.

B.J. Mendelson: Now, let me ask you. Is that, is that hard to apply as a writer? Do you find sometimes that there’s, there’s either writer’s block or just a struggle that takes place where it’s kinda like, “Oh, I can, I could just write whenever”? So, do you …

Mike Sacks: Right, well that’s a good point. I mean, I, I do think that a common mistake among writers is, they look at themselves as being sort of like Emily Dickinson where they can work on a poem or a piece for as long as they want until it’s right.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs) Right.

Mike Sacks: But if you, if you’re writing professionally, you have to pull the trigger. And it’s, it’s never gonna be perfect. It’s never gonna be as good as you want it, but at a certain point, you have to turn that in. Someone is waiting for that piece. And I think that’s a good lesson in not only putting through that piece, but then moving onto another piece. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked with in writing where I haven’t seen them in a year or so. I ask them about what they’re working on, they’re working on the same exact thing that I had heard about the last time I was with them. I think it’s very important if you want to make a career in writing, to produce and to move forward, and not to stagnate and circle the drain.

Full Transcript

(You can listen to the whole show by clicking play. The transcript below has been lightly edited for readability purposes.)

B.J. Mendelson: Hey Mike, how you doing?

Mike Sacks: Hello?

B.J. Mendelson: Hey, can you hear me?

Mike Sacks: I can, yes.

B.J. Mendelson: Okay. (laughs) I just get a little nervous with Skype, you know. There’s always, like, that, is it gonna work this time feeling that I have. Uh, but so far, so good. (laughs)

Mike Sacks: Yeah, there’s always a wrinkle with Skype.

B.J. Mendelson: You know, it, it gets the job done and it’s cheap. So … (laughs)

Mike Sacks: Yeah, that’s my motto.

B.J. Mendelson: So, hey, why don’t you introduce yourself to our audience and tell us a little about yourself?

Mike Sacks: All right. My name is Mike Sacks. I work at Vanity Fair full time and I write books, articles. I have my own podcast called Doin’ it with Mike Sacks. That can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and most places where you can find podcasts. My last book is Poking a Dead Frog, Interviews with Comedy Writers. And my next book will be out in about two months. It’s a humor book.

B.J. Mendelson: That’s fantastic. What’s the title of that book?

Mike Sacks: I’d rather not say just yet, actually.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs)

Mike Sacks: But it, it’s sort of a … it takes place in the 1970s. I can say that.

B.J. Mendelson: That’s awesome. Are you of any … So this is, this is a tangent but, like, I’m sort of struggling right now with naming my next book.

Mike Sacks: Yeah.
B.J. Mendelson: I want to call it The Internet is Magic. But I’m having trouble, like … You know, I, I feel like a better title’s going to come along. Is at that sort of situation? Or are you just, are you using his title as, like, a PR thing?

Mike Sacks: No, it … The, the title’s definitely what it is.

B.J. Mendelson: Cool.

Mike Sacks: But I think the title would sort of give it away, and … I mean, I guess I could say it, but I- I’d rather just wait until the two months release. What’s your book about?

B.J. Mendelson: So, I’ve been traveling around for about five years and I keep getting the same two questions which is, “Okay, smart ass. Now what do I do?” And then other is where it’s like, “All right, well let’s say I work for a large magazine or I, I work for a radio station, and my boss loves social media and I have to use it. What should I do then?” So its just stuff that’s kinda been lingering in the back of my head and, keeps coming up. But, enough about me-

Mike Sacks: Well, do you find that a lot of people who aren’t familiar with media feel they have to use it just because it’s the in thing?

B.J. Mendelson: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I mean, I had this lady come up to me at a book signing, like, in tears because she opened a small business in Burlington and she put all of her money in social media.

Mike Sacks: Oh, no.

B.J. Mendelson: Yeah, because she thought that was the thing and so she was like, “You know, I’m really happy that you’re here ’cause I, I had all these doubts and everyone kept telling me this is the thing to do, and now you’re telling me I was right.” You know, so it was kinda bittersweet. But, I get that a lot. Like, it’s not just-

Mike Sacks: Well how, how does she put all her money in social me-, how does that work?

B.J. Mendelson: Well, that’s a good question. But, she decided that all of her dollars that she was gonna spend on advertising and promotion went to Facebook and Twitter and all that, and just didn’t, did not go well. But that, that story’s incredibly common. Like, I encounter that quite a bit on the road.

Mike Sacks: I encounter it all the time, too. And I hear about it from a lot of marketing types, publishers that, that are always saying, “You need to push on, on social media,” or say, “I won’t accept anyone as a client who doesn’t have 10,000 followers on Twitter.”
But it really doesn’t it doesn’t really break through for you as a writer, you know. It … Just because you have 10,000 followers doesn’t mean you’re gonna have 10,000 sales.

B.J. Mendelson: Right. Well, you know, I always give, I always give this example. I have about 700,000 Twitter followers, and I did a test when my first book came out. I wanted to see how many of them would actually buy the book through, through a direct link on Twitter. And the answer is 28.

Mike Sacks: Oh my god.

B.J. Mendelson: So …

Mike Sacks: That is horrifying. I mean, the-, what percentage is that, .02?

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs) Just, something a little, a little less than zero is how I like to describe it. But, yeah. No, so I, I use that example all the time, where it’s like, you know, ’cause I hear that. I hear a lot of friends of mine who are musicians who won’t get signed because they don’t have x amount of followers on, like, Snapchat and Instagram. And it’s just, it’s insane. But, let me, I mean, we could always, we could always chat about this a little later. I want to focus on you and some of the great advice that you might have. So, let me ask you, it’s the same three questions I ask everyone else.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever gotten?

Mike Sacks: Well, I would say two pieces of advice. One is, I used to work at a record store for in suburban Maryland and Virginia called Kentmo Records. It was a small chain, a local chain, in that area. And I worked there for when I was, from 15 to 25 off and on for Christmases, holiday, summer vacation, and such. And the best boss I ever had was someone whom I worked with there. His name is, is Bruce Lee. He was not Asian, he was a black man and he later became a very good friend.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs)

Mike Sacks: But he was the best boss I ever had. He gave me a lot of incredible advice that I later used when I went outside of retail into the professional world. And one piece of advice that he gave me that I thought in retrospect, I wasn’t happy about it at the time, but in retrospect I thought was great was that I … He was a stickler for people arriving on time. And the store opened at 10 o’clock and he wanted you there at 9:55. And I got there, I … Literally at 9:56 or 9:57 and he said, “You’re late.” And I said “No. I, I’m here on time.”
He, he said, “I asked you to come here at 9:55. It’s 9:57 right now.” And I said, “Yeah, but Bruce, that’s only two minutes.” He goes, “That may be the case but you’re late, and I don’t want it to happen again.” But, so what he was doing and showing me was that the respect you have to show for others and the respect you have to show for yourself and for your job is such that, even if it is a retail job in Maryland, you need to show up on time and you need to do what is necessary for the job.

And that’s something that I’ve, I hopefully have brought to writing and to everything else. If something is due on September 1st, I’m not gonna hand it in on September 2nd. I’m gonna hand it in on, either on August 31st or on September 1st. So it’s just showing people that you work with, and even now extending out to readers a respect that I think, I don’t wanna say it’s missing necessarily in a lot of jobs, but I do think that any job deserves respect. And by showing respect to the jobs and to yourself, that’s really the only way you’re going to grow and improve yourself in your position in employment and in a working world.

B.J. Mendelson: Now, let me ask you. Is that, is that hard to apply as a writer? Do you find sometimes that there’s, there’s either writer’s block or just a struggle that takes place where it’s kinda like, “Oh, I can, I could just write whenever”? So, do you …

Mike Sacks: Right, well that’s a good point. I mean, I, I do think that a common mistake among writers is, they look at themselves as being sort of like Emily Dickinson where they can work on a poem or a piece for as long as they want until it’s right.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs) Right.

Mike Sacks: But if you, if you’re writing professionally, you have to pull the trigger. And it’s, it’s never gonna be perfect. It’s never gonna be as good as you want it, but at a certain point, you have to turn that in. Someone is waiting for that piece. And I think that’s a good lesson in not only putting through that piece, but then moving onto another piece. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked with in writing where I haven’t seen them in a year or so. I ask them about what they’re working on, they’re working on the same exact thing that I had heard about the last time I was with them. I think it’s very important if you want to make a career in writing, to produce and to move forward, and not to stagnate and circle the drain.

B.J. Mendelson: I agree. I mean, it’s something that I really struggled with over the years. So that’s, you know, 2017 I was kind of like, “Alright. I’m recommitted. We’re, we’re getting this book out and it’s, it’s happening.” (laughs) So, that’s, that’s fantastic advice. Now, let me ask you, so, if you had one thing you wanted to impart on the people listening to this, what would it be? What would be the advice you’d want to share with them?

Mike Sacks: Well, this is something I taught myself and that is what I would want to tell others is that in the end, you have to, you rely on no one but yourself. There’s gonna be no teachers who are going to walk you through life. In the end, you have to teach yourself, and you have to improve yourself. And there’s no rule book, there’s no writing book, there’s no course. There’s no online course, there’s nothing that is as important as you teaching yourself what works and what doesn’t work. Both in business and in the creative aspect of writing. And it really comes down to just sitting down and doing it, and experiencing as much life as possible. Because all these rules that you see about certain writers, like Hemingway would only write from 6:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and then go for a swim, then come back.

That worked for him. That’s not going to work for you, necessarily. There’s no magic elixir that’s going to make you a better writer, except figuring out and wending your way through this world by yourself. And it, it’s hard to do. It’s hard to create and forge your own path, but only you can do it. You cannot rely on anyone else. It’s a lonely feeling in a sense, but at the same time, you’re not relying on others and there is a freedom. You don’t have to rely on a boss. You don’t have to rely on this person or that person. It’s all on you, which is … There is a lot of pressure in that, but there’s also a lot of freedom in that it’s a valuable position to be in, and not everyone gets to be in that position.

B.J. Mendelson: I think it’s great, and it’s fantastic advice for writers. I mean, the thing I’m … The thing I struggle with right now is I’m looking at Tools of Titans from Tim Ferriss, and I’m just … And it’s exactly that. It’s like, all these different rules and things that these people have done, and I’m just thinking this, yeah. It, it works for you but it’s insane to, to say to someone, “Oh yeah, you should just ditch everything and go hiking through the mountains of Peru.” (laughs) You know, like, that’s …

Mike Sacks: Well, I think usually, if someone is teaching you that, it’s usually someone who can’t make a career of what they’re teaching. You know, I, I took a lot of lessons, courses right after college, taught by writers who couldn’t make a living at what they were teaching, whether it was TV writing or comedy writing or what have you. So you have to be very leery about taking advice. And in the end, what you’ll hear from successful writers across the board is, “Well, I don’t know what’ll work for you, but this worked for me.” And basically, what’s that, what that’s saying is that I had to figure this out on my own. No one else could tell me it. And in the end, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own. No one is going to give you … This is not a math equation where A plus B is going to equal C. It’s very murky and very nebulous, and you have to sort of wend your way through it.

B.J. Mendelson: I think that’s, I think that’s perfect. I think that’s great advice for us to kind of leave it there. So let me ask you, where can we find you online?

Mike Sacks: Okay, mikesacks.com, and then on Twitter, michaelbsacks, I think. And then Facebook, and I guess, anywhere that social media is used, and used for absolutely no reason.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs) All right, I love it. Thank you so much, Mike.
Mike Sacks: All right. Well, thank you. I really appreciate it.

B.J. Mendelson: Yep. Catch you soon. Bye bye.

Mike Sacks: Thank you.

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