When it comes to thinking outside the box, we could all learn a thing or two from author and motivational speaker Randy Kearse. The Brooklyn, NY native is a self-described "Book Hustler Extraordinaire" that has allowed learning from his personal experiences to transform him into a succss story that people all around the world are reading about...literally.He talked with Conversations Magazine about how the choices he has made have changed him and his thinking about everything from the meaning of life and even the definition of success.
In less than a decade, he has gone from prison to being featured and praised in the New York Times. Kearse's story will inspire not just aspiring writers and those already in the literary world, but anyone who has a dream that seems too impossible to make come true.
Randy, first of all let me just say congratulations on all of your success with your career as an author. Let's start there. Would you have believed just 10 years ago that you would be talked about all over the world and featured in such prominent papers like The New York Times?
(Smiling)... Thank you. Not in a millions years would I have imagined anyone would be talking about Randy Kearse, at least not in a positive way. I mean my life had taken so many twists and turns, 10 years ago I was just trying to figure out a plan that would keep me outta prison once I got out. 10 years ago, I was more then halfway through a 15 year federal prison sentence that I had received. In prison you're just dreaming of getting out and hopefully staying out. I was working on my first book Street Talk: Da Official Guide to Hip-Hop & Urban Slanguage 10 years ago. I dreamed of having a successful book but not actually being a successful author. It's been great.
For our readers that are just hearing about you and your accomplishments for the first time now, let's give them some background. How did you go from someone seen as another statistic headed in the wrong direction to now building your own brand as an author and entrepreneur?
Well not intentionally plugging the titles of one of my books, but the title says it all. I changed my game plan. While in prison and the years are slowly adding up, I'm getting older and life seems to be passing me by, I decided I needed to make some serious changes if I was gonna make it back in society. I had to take a real hard look at myself, my life thus far and the mindset that landed me in prison in the first place. I slowly began to strip away that "street mentality" that is so destructive and slowly began to re-learn the positive things that I had been taught as a youngster and began reshaping my life, the way I seen myself life and the way I perceived my situation. My incarceration could be two things now, a crutch or a stepping stone to something greater, that was the challenge I set for myself. Incorporating some of the things I learned while living a street lifestyle, I knew your greatest asset in most the things we do is the ability to sell yourself. I was good at selling at things, (small chuckle) so it was a natural extension from what I used to sell that landed me in prison to my ability to sell and move books now as an author.
Courage is not always easy to come by. You seem almost fearless in the way you promote yourself. Where does that courage come from and how did you develop it?
When you have traveled some of the roads I have fear is something you deal with on a regular basis. It's just part of the street lifestyle. I have friends who have been killed or sent to prison for the rest of their lives. I have had occasions where I had to literally fight for my life, so I say all that to say this: If I can face down my fear during that part of my, fear of dying, fear or going to jail and still do what I was doing, how can I fear approaching the book business like I mean business. I remember when Changin' Your Game Plan came out, I was so excited and I picked up over a 1,000 copies of the books from the printer and the reality set it, I said to myself, "Yo you have to move this books." (Laughing). The first day I had set up a table downtown Brooklyn had books set out all professional and stuff and nobody was paying me attention. So I came from behind the table with books in hand and at first I was a lil' shy to approach people, but then I had a thought, and the thought said, "you weren't shy when you was selling that other stuff so how you so shy now?" From that moment to this day I have never been shy or scared to approach anyone about my books, I mean the worst they tell you is "beat it" it's not like they're gonna shoot you.
Tell us about your first book.
My first books is actually titled, Street Talk. It's a 750 page lexicon that interprets the whole hip-ho and urban slang vernacular. I POD it 30 days out of prison. Not to make any money but to have a tangible book when I approached publishers. I felt it would be more impressive in book form apposed to sending a 1,000 page manuscript. Took the POD to a small book press fair in NYC and started showing all the different publishers the book and walked out there with a book deal.
The book I'm most known for is Changin' Your Game Plan: How to use incarceration as a stepping stone for SUCCESS. Its a very deep thought provoking books that challenges you to re-evaluate who you are. It's not about prison so much its about life, just written from the experience of being in prison and deciding where I wanted to go from there.
Did you have any plans for a second book or think ahead as to what would come from it?
Street Talk had taken like 5 years to complete and I never really thought of writing anything after that, Street Talk was just a project I worked on as a means to stay sane in prison #1 and hopefully help generate some revenue when I got out to help rebuild my life. Changin' Your Game Plan started as a series of letters I was writing to my brother who had just gotten arrested a year before I was due to be released and I was trying to guide him on how to do time productively.
How did you come up with the way you were going to get the word out about what you had written?
Well with no major marketing and promotion machine behind me, I did things the old fashioned way, handed out thousands and thousands and thousands of flyers that I printed on a used laserjet printer and stayed on the internet day and night, emailing people. Just getting out there in front of people. A lot of writers think just cause you write a book it's gonna sell. No! You have to get out there and sell it. I'm what you call a "flat-foot" hustler. I can walk from one end of town to the other end and back to promote my product. I came into this business with the same work ethics I had when I was standing on the corner. Up early, out in the street early, out most the day meeting people, pitching the book to whoever will listen. If I can get the media exposure I have on my own, Imagine what I could do with a major marketing machine backing me.
We all look at success different ways, Randy. You have already been featured prominently in print and online.Going through what you have, how has your view of success changed?
I used to think success was having lots of money. Success today is knowing that you're doing something that's impacting someone's life in a positive way. That people are recognizing that you're not that person you once were. That people believe your story is worth telling.
From each situation in life, both good and bad, we have moments where lessons are learned. I'm curious as to what lessons your experiences have taught you that you share with others.
Man I have so many life's lessons I wouldn't know where to begin. So I'll just give one of the most prominent lessons that sticks wit me, CRIME DOESN'T PAY (laughing). Seriously though, my experiences have thought me to appreciate life, freedom, to be humble and enjoy the beauty and wonders of life itself.
What advice would you give to anyone who has a dream but is not doing everything they can to pursue it?
If you don't pursue your dreams, there's always going to be times when you're going to wonder what could have been. Go for it, so at least you'll know the answer to that question of what could have been.
Thanks again for taking out this time, Randy. If our readers want to catch up on everything you are doing, where can they find you online?
Man, Thank you. It's been great because now you're part of my story. (smiling).. People can catch me at www.randykearse.com facebook, linkedin, twitter, digg, blackplanet and on a subway train near you.