On Becoming Multimedia Emperors


I’ve joked before that my friend Matt and I are like any other two excitable young guys looking to do stuff outside the strictures of corporate working culture. If it had been the Sixties, we would have begun a commune. If it had been the nineties we would have started a dot-com. Because it’s the 2010s (the first two decades of a century are super annoying for nickname branding purposes), we obviously decided to start a multimedia empire.

It began with a trip to Iceland and an idea I had to write a short travelogue about our experiences in that weird, wild, unforgettable country. I’d previously published a memoir through a traditional publisher called Publish This Book: The Unforgettable True Story of How I Wrote, Sold, and Published This Very Book, with which I’d had some success and which had become a cult hit in the years after following its debut.

Yet the entire publishing industry changed, literally, in the months after it came out in March 2010. That December, the hit product of the holiday season had been the Kindle. E-publishing was suddenly this vast new frontier with as many sinkholes and opportunities as any standard gold rush. Authors and publishers were attempting to figure it out, and I wanted to be on the front lines of this new mode of propelling good writing, quickly and cheaply, out into the world.      

With this in mind, I published a long-essay/ short e-book titled The Great Dysmorphia: An Epistemological View of Ingesting Hallucinogenic Mushrooms at a 2012 Republican Presidential Debate. Like Publish This Book, it’s about exactly what it sounds like it’s about (and yes, it’s 100% true).

Finally, Matt and I found ourselves in Iceland talking about e-publishing, self-publishing, and all these different avenues opening up to enterprising young people with no girlfriends, typical jobs, or other cumbersome restraints like a savings account. Matt had just taken a leave from his job at IBM to travel around Europe, and I was shuffling through several different ideas of what I’d do next. We struck upon the idea to get into publishing together, specifically him using his startup company GiveLiveExplore to publish Tales of Iceland or Running with the Huldufólk in the Permanent Daylight, which debuted this past month.

From there, the idea snowballed. We decided to turn the entire enterprise into a travel series. We would go out and recruit comedians and writers to share their experiences in short, funny “anti-travel guides”—narratives that travelers can read on their journeys or the sedentary can use to get inspired to get out in the world. In the upcoming year, we’re now hoping to publish Tales of Belfast and Tales of Ecuador among, hopefully, many more to come.

Our hope is to pioneer a new type of fast, fun, and informative travel literature aimed at the traveler looking for a non-guidebook. Each one will retain the voice and particular sense of humor of the author while reaching for those universal themes—that the world is not, in fact, a very big place; that it’s actually quite small and therefore the impetus to get out and see it and to meet the people who are only superficially different from you should not be ignored.

So my thinking is that we’ll be multimedia emperors within a couple of years. And if that doesn’t pan out? Well, there’s always the commune.


Stephen Markley is the author of Publish This Book (Sourcebooks, 2010), a columnist for Chicago’s RedEye, and was recently accepted into Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He teamed up with indie publisher GiveLiveExplore for his newest release Tales of Iceland.

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