What Paul Scheer Wishes He Knew About Publishing a Book

Paul Scheer would absolutely call himself a go-getter. After attending NYU, he forged his way through the New York improv scene, eventually ending up as a member of the Upright Citizens Brigade. Now decades into his comedy career, he acts, writes, hosts multiple podcasts and his own Twitch channel. So when he set out to author his first book — what became the memoir Joyful Recollections of Trauma — he was surprised to be surprised by what it required. Scheer spent months working on the book before taking it out to publishers — something that isn’t often done in the world of celebrity nonfiction, where it’s standard to sell on a pitch alone — and even hired his own copy editor to get every page up to his standards. He also took charge of Joyful‘s marketing plan, which included holding signing events in airport bookstores.

“It can be very isolating,” he says. “It’s like releasing a TV show or movie, but it’s just…you. People ask me if I would do it again, and I’d love to write another book again but the act of calling in a favor from every single person I know is a little challenging.”

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Here, talks to THR about his memoir, what he learned in the process of publishing, and what to expect from him next.

First, can you talk about how you decided on the scope of the book, especially given you’re a public figure who might not have the same anonymity that can offer emotional padding to someone writing a memoir?

I try to draw a line of separation between my persona and my personal life, and then when I started to write this book my initial thought was, I’ll make these funny anecdotes. It’ll be a collage of childhood stories similar to what I’ve been telling on How Did This Get Made. But I also have such a respect for memoirs, for that form, and I realized I needed to elevate the book to meet that. I wrote a lot of the book before I even got a book agent and went out trying to sell it to publishers. I wanted to know what I had and what I was trying to do. And I wanted to be in the right place with the material by the time I went out to market with it — I’ve read a couple of books that feel like I’m in somebody’s therapy sessions, and that isn’t what I wanted to do.

Have you honed what your persona is over time, as you’ve gotten more successful?

I would say that part is less that I’m consciously crafting it, as it is just putting up a wall around certain things. The easy example is I don’t post pictures of my kids online. My wife, June [Diane Raphael], is an amazing actress and also somebody I work with, but I don’t make that part front-and-center. I don’t use social media to convey all those things about my life that some people might.

Did you let June in on anything you were writing about?

She read really early versions of it, and it was great to be able to talk about it with her. I wrote that chapter on UCB and it was originally just a history of my experience with the group and she was like, I don’t get this, you’re not a dramaturge, this doesn’t feel right to me. I was like no, you don’t get it. It’s cool, people like this. And then I sat with it a beat and realized she was right — I reinvented that entire chapter to incorporate my stories about auditioning for SNL. I had to think about what UCB represented to me, and that was finding a community.

How often do you think about what your life would be like if you’d gotten onto SNL?

Oh, all the time. It’s like a lottery, right? Like first, can you even get on the show. Then, can you pop on the show. There are so many featured players that just come in and out, and there are also these tremendous success stories. But what the experience of going back again and again taught me was the importance of developing my own stuff. And to even have gotten the chance to be in a room with Lorne [Michaels] is incredible.

I think sometimes it’s easy to get obsessed with the 1% of success in this business, and to forget that all of this really is a miracle. Imagine telling your childhood self that you would meet Lorne Michaels…

Absolutely. And it’s because of that, that I’m not a big believer in specific goals. If you make getting on SNL the end-all, be-all, and you don’t get it, then nothing else will feel good. And no one job is the answer to anything. You could be in a Marvel show and no one watches it. So you have to have pride in the work because nothing else is guaranteed. I think about Black Monday, the show I did with Don Cheadle and Regina Hall and Andrew Rannells. The cast was amazing, and I had so much fun, but it was on Showtime and at the end of the day not many people have Showtime. I loved coming to work every day, but now it’s not even available to watch anywhere.

It’s not?!

It might be on iTunes, but when Showtime collapsed it went back to Sony so it’s not streaming. I remember during the strike Guillermo del Toro and I tweeted at each other about needing to create a real digital media library. Someplace where everything we’ve made can live, and it’s free so no one is making money on it, but you know you can always watch things. There is so much good stuff that is just used for bankruptcy. Don got nominated for an Emmy for that show!

How did you find the process of selling your book, especially compared to getting a TV show or movie made?

I think I thought it would be different. But the truth is a lot of it fell on me. I saw a lot of people get book deals before they even wrote anything, but I’m not one of those people. The first thing I did was look for an agent separate from the agency that represents me for talent stuff. I went to David Kuhn, at Aevitas, who had done Jessi Klein and Casey Wilson’s books. He helped me workshop what a pitch would look like, and then we went out to all these publishers. And we had to ask, can you actually promote this book, and how? It’s like you’re interviewing them at the same time they’re interviewing you. You’re meeting with marketing teams as you’re pitching — I wish they would do that in television, actually. I went with Harper because of the way they saw the book.

I had this vision of me and my editor just chopping it up, getting in the mix, but the truth of it is the industry is constricting so much that editors are working on a million different books and your time with them is minimal. I probably talked to mine three or four times in the writing of the book. I also hired my own copy editor because I just needed someone else to look at the book and make it make sense. I was a little possessive, but also this material is locked in amber so I wanted to make it as good as it can be.

What can you say about DINKS, the show you’re developing with June?

We of course work together on our podcast all the time, but that’s more of a conversation, so this has been really interesting. We’ve worked together on it from the beginning with Marta Kauffman. We shot a version for CBS about a year ago, and it was an amazing process because we’ve now put enough time into our relationship that we’re comfortable with each other in our careers — we’re not jockeying for anything. We can have our own things but also come together. This is going to be an improvised show where we’re playing a married couple, so it has some roots in real life. I think June is hilarious and there isn’t a safer person for me to be improvising with. We’ll also have to continue to make sure that our relationship, separate from the show, takes priority. I don’t want our careers and our personal lives to blur.

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