A polymath or modern day Renaissance man, those were my thoughts as I walked into the patio area of Urth Caffe to sit down with Kaleb Nation. From his online presence I had a feeling that this would be an eloquently interesting conversation. The guy is in his glorious twenties and is hustling hard for his craft. Kaleb is a published author with 2 (soon to be 3) books under his belt, a personality online, an online radio host, and soon to star in his own television series. And in true Generation Y fashion the whole “Kaleb Nation” brand is powered by himself. The ideas, writing, filming, editing… 10,000 hours of diligent work are all Kaleb. Read on, Rockstars, as I wonder what I have been doing for the first 20 years of my life.
- What takes up most of your time right now? Right now, it’s filming videos. My work goes by seasons actually. I just finished writing another book, so that means that “writing season” is over and it’s “video season” again. Then in a few months, writing will take up almost all of my time. Repeat this over and over, and you have my year!
- Guilty pleasure: Chick-fil-A. It’s guilty for me because I eat there almost every other day, if not every day! The first week the new Chick-fil-A opened in Hollywood, I ate there every day for two weeks straight except for Sunday (and only because they’re closed on Sunday). I can’t get enough of it. I go home and I think about it constantly until I finally find myself in my car on my way there!
- What are your pet peeves? People with closed minds, that’s my biggest pet peeve. I don’t like people who think that they can’t change… people who won’t at least leave an option open for their opinion to be changed. When their opinion is correct and no one else can possibly be correct. People ask me about my opinions on things like politics and religion, and all these very important topics. I tell my opinion but I also realize that I’m 23, my opinion could change two years from now depending on new things that I learn. I don’t like putting myself and my mind into a box. I don’t like people who say “I’m this way now and this is how I’ll always be.” It’s important to have an open mind about everything.
- Your ideal girl: Every girl I’ve ever dated has been from YouTube! I think that says a lot about what I look for in a girl — someone who understands what I do and understands my life. Someone who has the ability to be a teammate with me and the ability to work with me if I say “Oh I’m sick and I need someone to upload the vlog for me!”… she’ll know how to figure out how to do it. Someone who can be my teammate in every way. Trust is another big factor. I want a girl I can trust enough to share my passwords with.
- Team Jacob or Team Edward? Team Edward, definitely.
- What’s the longest period of time you’ve gone without sleep? It was 26 hours. I was editing a video and I was sitting at my desk and looked up over my shoulder and thought “Are there sirens outside? What is that light coming through my window?” It was the light of morning. It was terrible since I had class the next day. I get distracted when I’m doing stuff and I don’t notice when the time ticks on!
- Top three authors: Lemony Snicket, Eoin Colfer (who wrote Artemis Fowl), and John Green.
- What is your favorite story of all time? That’s a difficult question for me, I like so many books that it’s difficult to pick just one. One of my favorite books is called If I Stay by Gayle Forman, who’s also one of my favorite authors. It’s a very short book, it’s very thin, but it’s a sharply-told story and it pulled me in and I couldn’t stop. I loved it.
- Fun Fact: I have a pet chinchilla. She’s this little fluffy thing that looks like Pikachu, except she’s gray. She just runs around the house, she has this squirrel tail, and the shape of a body like a rat-squirrel thing. She bites on furniture, she eats books and throws things and she squeaks. She’s hilarious, I put her in my videos too. She’s nocturnal so she makes a ton of noises at night. She rings bells and throws things and runs around my house. I caught her standing on top of my lamp last week! She’s a cute little critter but she can be a troll sometimes.
- Funner Fact (you can’t use your pig, we know you have a pig): Did you know I lived on a farm? I was home-schooled all the way through high-school! I graduated as a home-schooler. And I also used to hate writing — when I was 9-years-old I hated writing anything. I hated picking up a pencil and my mom had to force me to write stories. She gave me this little black notebook and told me I had to write one story every week, one page a week on Fridays. All I did was complain and whine that was the worst part of my week, until much to my surprise, I started getting really into it. All of a sudden I loved it, I started enjoying writing stories and getting into my characters. I’d build legos and write stories about the lego buildings with the characters I had in there. From then on I just kept writing stories, then I became an author. My mom still gloats about that, “If I hadn’t pushed you to do that, then you never would’ve been an author.” Then she follows up with “What would you have been if I had pushed you with your piano lessons?”
You write, you vlog, you rant, you red carpet, you kind of make fun of society… in a nutshell please tell us who you are and what is a typical day like in your life.
Kaleb: My real name is Kaleb Nation — that’s not a fake name, everyone always asks if it is, but it’s real. I’m an author and an online entertainer of sorts. A typical day for me depends on my work seasons: if it’s writing season, I get up and write as much as I can during the day and become a slightly disorganized maniac of “Oh I need some caffeine, oh now I need to eat, now I need sunshine, now I need to eat again!” Then I just write until 2 or 3am. Right now it’s video season, because I just finished a book. So I get up and a lot of it is writing and developing the ideas from the night before. I go to bed and I lay there for hours thinking of all these ideas, until I’m about to fall asleep and then all of a sudden – an idea! So I roll over, write it on my little iPhone notepad, roll over, go to back to sleep… Wait, there’s another idea! Over and over. So sometimes I write a whole video script laying in bed, then when I wake up I think, “Was that a dumb night-time idea or a good idea?” A lot of it is preparation. Just yesterday I had to track down an Elmo puppet and a fake gun for a video. That’s a typical day for me!
At age 12 you boldly phoned a publishing company, 14 started your own radio show, 18 joined YouTube, … now starring in your own tv show. Were you always this extroverted?
No, I was the complete opposite. I was the biggest introvert growing up. There were periods of time where I had literally zero friends. It’s so weird looking back on that! I do remember when one of my friends told me “You should put some videos on YouTube!” and I said “YouTube?! Why would I want anyone seeing me? That’s ridiculous!” But putting myself online helped me get over that. My parents still don’t believe it, they say “You have 500 videos on the internet Kaleb, you’re not the same person that we knew when you where growing up.”
I transitioned out of that in stages. I started out as a writer – when you write, you’re protected, you’re only judged by your words. Then I slowly moved into radio when I was 13 or 14. When you’re on radio, you have a wall; people can hear you, but no one can see you. Then from radio I went to vlogging, where people heard my words and saw me at the same time. And now I’m going into TV. It was a slow transition but it’s worked somehow!
You often mention that from a young age you were “unhindered by rejection. ” How do you keep yourself motivated to continue writing after being rejected by a major publisher. How did it feel to end up being published by the same person who rejected his book idea.
Muahahaha! It was sweet victory! Rejection is hard in the beginning, but bad reviews have nothing on YouTube commenters. I’ve gotten some bad reviews about things that I’ve written, from people who absolutely detest my writing. I just think “Oh, is that the worst you can do? I get worse comments on videos on the internet every day.”
Back to the story with the rejection with the publishers, it’s something with the business, you’re going to get rejected. Whenever I was querying with the book there were times when I would get twenty rejection letters in one day. You just get kind of hardened by it, it’s not a personal insult, it’s just not for them and that’s the way it is for a lot of entertainment businesses. There are 12 trillion different possibilities, and you only need one to work out.
Congrats on finishing the secret Kaleb book. What is the creative process like when developing story lines?
The best ideas come late at night for me. I’ve developed severe insomnia because my writing day starts at 5pm and I write until 2 or 3am. So you do that every day for long enough and that becomes your schedule! It’s not healthy, but for a writer, you’re hit with an idea and you can’t really control it. It becomes your obsession. Books can grow from very small concepts, and you just need to write it and get to know your characters like they’re real people. It took a year and a half to write this book but it was a lot of fun, I enjoy getting into the characters and getting to know them like they’re real.
Did you ever try screenwriting?
I did in college, and I’m terrible. So, never more. I’ll leave that and poetry to the professionals.
From we understand everything on the KalebNation YouTube channel (filming, editing, lighting, audio, writing, etc.) all comes from you. How do you manage to balance everything and maintain a consistent branding?
Years ago I was in graphic design. I ran a graphic design company, did website design and logo design. The reason behind that is because when I was even younger and wrote my first stories, I wanted to make book covers for them. My dad got me Photoshop and I would just design my own book covers and from there I thought “Let’s make a website for my books, let’s make a fake website for me, etc.” That’s how I got into website and logo design, I’ve probably been through about 300 designs for Kalebnation.com, every time I have a new idea I just go and design it in Photoshop. That’s definitely a big thing for consistent branding, that I do it all by myself so I know exactly what I want it to be, I don’t have to talk to a designer. For people in social media and YouTube, that’s a big thing – know how to Photoshop! It’s the best way to keep a consistent brand.
How do you balance all that and play so many roles?
I bear the curse of a perfectionist! If I see something that’s not perfect, I’ll sit there and work on it over and over until it’s right. For example: the 60SR show. It’s only 60 seconds long, but it probably takes an hour to find the right story, an hour to script it out, an hour to film and an hour to edit. I have very high expectations for myself to put out good stuff, because if I don’t like it then the audience isn’t going to like it either.
When you’re just starting out on Youtube, you have to work within a budget and balance all the roles yourself. You can’t afford a producer or an editor or even real equipment. For years, I couldn’t afford lights, but after a lot of videos that got a lot of views, I was finally able to buy a real light set. Maybe one day I’ll be able to hire an editor too! You just have to do the work by yourself first, and learn everything you don’t know along the way.
While driving back to Los Angeles from Arizona you mentioned that an audiobook made the long drive go by with ease. What is your opinion on traditional books vs. handheld devices (iPad, Kindle, Nook, etc.). How would you prefer your own stories to be experience?
I prefer to enjoy stories through paper books because it’s traditional. Maybe it’s just a personal thing because I like holding a book and reading it. I don’t see anything wrong with reading books on an iPad or e-reader though. Some people do try to hold back the digital age of books, saying that we need to stay with traditional paper books – but when has that worked? You couldn’t do that with records when CDs came out. You couldn’t do that with CDs when iTunes came out. An ebook is just a new way for people to experience a good story. Plus, with my iPad I can carry a hundred thousand books on a plane… I like that a lot!
How would you like your audience to read you?
I would always prefer my readers to get my books in a bookstore. To me a bookstore is part of a community, especially local and independent bookstores. There’s something special about going into a place surrounded by books, and to be immersed in thousands of books and stories and be able to pick any you want. You don’t have to go on to the internet and just read what’s on the best-seller list, you can browse thousands of books inside of a store. The digital age of ebooks is something you can’t fight, because you want the world to continue to progress, but it would be so sad if bookstores go the way of record stores and almost entirely disappear in the name of convenience.
We’re starting to see a trend of the mainstream world dabbling in and out of new media. Having worked with various forms of the mainstream and having the producers of “Twilight” reach out to you, what do you think is going to happen to the current generation of content generators.
I think a lot of YouTubers are going to be plucked up by TV. They’re always looking at YouTube people and we’re put on TV all the time. I turned on my TV a few days ago and I saw Tay Zonday was on someone’s show. Then last night Julia Nunes was on Conan O’Brien. I think TV has long ignored talent that’s been on YouTube and now they’re starting to pay attention to the people who don’t need a television audience because we’ve already built our own audiences by ourselves. I don’t think any of us are going to leave YouTube for TV because we love YouTube for a specific reason, I think a lot of YouTubers will use TV to expand to their platform. Think of it as making a collab video with someone who has 3 million subscribers — that’s a Youtuber making a TV appearance.
You are one of great few that have been able to use New Media to build a revenue stream. Do you think there is a special formula to succeeding in New Media as a creative?
Be genuine, that’s the biggest thing. There are channels that post videos with a ton of spammy tags and their titles are whatever the top ten video on Youtube are. People like that are just in it for the money. You’ll never build an audience that way. When I want to see success in New Media, I look at people like Philip DeFranco. He’s been doing this forever and you can tell that he loves what he does, and it’s just naturally entertaining. I think that’s the formula: take something you love and ask “How can I make this appeal to a large enough audience to support myself while I’m doing it?”.
So do you like Twilight?
Yes, I am the Twilight Guy! When I wrote my blog (TwilightGuy.com), it was meant to be a study of the books — an investigative site of a guy reading Twilight for the first time to find out what all the hype was about. I liked doing my research and learning from other people about why they liked it so much.
It’s funny how that website came into existence, though. In my first interaction with Twilight fandom, they actually hated me. A year before I even started Twilightguy.com, I saw people talking online about this movie casting for a character named Edward Cullen. So I wrote this parody blog post saying “Kaleb Nation has been cast as Edward Cullen in the Twilight movies” not knowing that all the fans were waiting for the big announcement that week. Then, a bunch of people actually thought I had leaked the news about me being cast as Edward Cullen. I got so much hate mail, about 40,000 people hit my website in a day. I had to release a statement basically saying “I am not associated with this. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t even know who Edward Cullen is.” That was my first experience in the Twilight fandom.
After that happened I thought “These people are insane, what is in this book that’s bewitching them so much?” That’s when I knew I had to research it.
Three books (“Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse,” “Bran Hambric: The Specter Key,” and #SecretKalebBook), three YouTube channels, a television show, what on Earth is next for yourself?
I’d love to do a documentary one day. I’ve always loved watching documentary films. I actually got the chance to make a web-only mini-documentary when I followed authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl on their book tour. It was so much fun travelling with them and getting into the minds of bestselling authors!
Another thing that I’d love to get back into is radio. When I’m older and the TV show’s done and have a bunch of free time, I’d love to go back into radio. I’d love just going into a studio where it doesn’t matter if my hair is brushed or if my eyes are bloodshot, doesn’t matter how I feel, just go in there and talk to people. I’d love to do a call-in show where people call in to talk about their problems and I give them my absolutely ridiculous advice… as if I knew what I was talking about. I figure I can do something fun with radio.
Finally, any words of wisdom for other aspiring content creators?
Always do what you love! But from a technical standpoint, get good sound! I often watch these videos that are really good entertainment, but I can’t hear what anyone’s saying. Even if you get a good microphone or you close the door, or turn off the radio…
No! This is better advice! Scratch that previous thing I said. Never, ever, ever use copyrighted music! Ever! I want to cry every time I see a video with 10 million views that has copyrighted music in the background. I look at that and think “I’d give anything for those 10 million views, and yet you have “Never Gonna to Give You Up” in the background!” I just want to mourn the horrible death of that video’s revenue.
How do we stalk you?
I blog sometimes at Kalebnation.com, but I guess the best way to follow me is through Twitter – Twitter.com/Kalebnation. I love Twitter! YouTube of course – YouTube.com/Kalebnation. And my newest project – YouTube.com/60SR. I think the 60SR show is the project I’m most excited about right now!