Interview with Connor FrantaPosted by Goodreads on April 2, 2016
As a creative platform, YouTube has come into its own, and Franta capitalized with his pitch perfect mix of humor, honesty, and accessibility that resonates with his more than five million subscribers. In addition to weekly videos, Franta exercises a creative eye on Instagram, has released musical compilation albums, and published his first book this year.
In his memoir, Franta proves that even at 23 years old, he has something to say. The Goodreads Choice Award winner for Memoir & Autobiography, A Work in Progress shares formative memories from his childhood, documents his path (so far) to self-discovery, and is a call to action for his readers to find their own passion. Regan Stephens spoke with Franta on behalf of Goodreads about "the realest thing out there" and living his life on his own terms.
Connor Franta: I always make a list of goals for the year ahead. What would I like to accomplish this year? What would I like to do? What would be a cool area to dive into? For 2014, one of my goals was to write a book, so I though, maybe that would be a cool thing to think about toward the end of the year. But within the first couple of months [of 2014] I got in talks with my publisher, and they put something out. I thought, maybe this is a sign. I wanted to write a book and now someone is telling me I should. So I took that as a sign and began writing, and spent a year writing and released the book a year later.
GR: Who are you speaking to in the book? Who do you imagine your audience to be?
CF: Normally I'm used to speaking to my YouTube audience, and that's mostly teenagers. But for the book I wanted to speak to more of a silhouette of a person, in a way. I wanted to put all of my thoughts and experiences on the page, hopefully in a way almost anyone could relate to, regardless of your age, or your gender. I wanted to tell my story and have it be able to really relate to anyone.
GR: Goodreads member Emily asks: "What is the most important thing you want your readers to take from reading A Work in Progress?"
CF: There are plenty of messages, but I really wanted people to get out that, although it's strange that I'm 23 and wrote a book, I wanted to get across that I'm living my life on my own terms, and not terms that seem to be set for people, especially people nowadays. I'm definitely doing things a different way and I'm really enjoying that. I wanted to get across that you don't have to do things like everyone else, and you don't have to live your life like everyone tells you to. Do essentially, what you want, and do whatever makes you happy and passionate. Just go for it.
GR: What did you take away from writing a memoir, of going through the creation process, thinking about the way you live your life, and the people and events that shaped who you are?
CF: It was incredibly therapeutic. [Laughs] It was interesting to reflect—even though, again, I'm very young—it was really interesting to reflect on who I am and where I've come from, and the progression of my life. I grew up in a small town in Minnesota and now I'm living in the big city of Los Angeles, and I was in the closet for 20 years of my life. For two and a half years I've been out of the closet, and I went from, again, a small town to having over five million [YouTube] subscribers who are constantly wanting information from me. It's been a complete 180. It's been a lot of change.
GR: You write about everything from early onset FOMO [Fear of Missing Out] and phone addiction to more weighty topics like identity and transformation. What propelled you to write about these things specifically?
CF: I went about my book very much like a school project. I love lists, I love planning things out, and I love a good bullet point. I very much scripted my book—these are the things I want to write about, these can be chapters, these are the things I want to include in those chapters—and worked on it from there. I thought about what was important to me, and I went through the process of trying to write about that. Some of the things didn't work, and some of things I had more to say than others, and I went from there.
GR: Speaking of identity and transformation, those two things seemed to be recurring themes throughout your memoir. Your acceptance of your own sexuality seemed to be a fundamental turning point in your life. Do you think your career helped this process? As in, do you think the fact that part of your job involves introspection, self-awareness, and sharing yourself with your audience helped get you to this point? Would you have gotten here if you had any other job?
CF: I will say first off that's a very interesting question that I've never gotten before, so kudos to you.
I definitely think that being in the space that I am, and being in the profession I'm in totally fast tracked my process. Because one of the main reasons I accepted my sexuality was because I watched YouTube content. I think I would have been doing that if I wasn't a YouTube creator, but the difference is that I actually moved to Los Angeles because of this YouTube content, and in Los Angeles there are a lot of people in the LBGTQ community. Being surrounded by people in that community, versus in Minnesota, where there aren't as many, I guess, in my direct friend group, but moving to Los Angeles, there were so many. I guess it normalized it for me and it made me think, "Oh, this is OK. People are this way and people are happy this way. That's cool. That sounds great, I think I'm that too." I definitely think it fast tracked it for me, and I've never thought about it before but I'm incredibly grateful for it even more now.
GR: You said: "I put a vast majority of my life on the internet." You've built your career on candor and honesty with your audience. Is there anything you feel is totally off limits? And if so, do you feel guilty for keeping it private?
CF: Definitely. It's something that's been a learning process for me, and I think it's a process for a lot of people in this space. I've learned that there are things I want to keep offline, and want to keep to myself. The details that I do keep to myself are incredibly special and I want just for me in a selfish way. And maybe that is selfish in my profession. I've found out that things like relationships, or even just my family life, or close friends who aren't on the internet, I want to keep those details to myself. If I do share some of it, I definitely ask permission from the people in those realms.
GR: That was my next question. Do your family and friends feel comfortable being included in your stories, knowing they're being shared with such a vast audience?
CF: My family's been so great about it. Again to use this term, it's been a learning curve for them. They've had to figure out as much as I've had to figure out. But my family absolutely loves it. My mom, my sisters, my brother, they all text me "Watched your new video, absolutely loved it." Or, "That new instagram you posted was so great." They're incredibly supportive. When the hardcover edition of my book came out on Black Friday, my mom was like, "I raced out to get it since there are only a couple thousand copies worldwide, I got three of them!" She's so great.
GR: Several times you come back to some advice, guidance, or thoughtful response from your Mom. Your parents and family are clearly incredibly supportive. What has their reaction been to your success?
CF: My parents are absolutely the best. Not just my mom, my dad too. But I've always had a special relationship with my mom. My dad is absolutely incredible too, and they've both been nothing but supportive. They love it, and they can't stop asking questions, and talking about it, and are also respectful. They get involved when I want them to, and it's just great. It's the best possible situation anyone could be in.
GR: Goodreads member Karina asks: "When you were writing the book, was there that one person who you always went to for advice or when you needed an opinion on something? If yes, who was it?"
CF: To be honest, it was a lot of individual work. A lot of the book was just me writing, and then me with my editors. I would send it to them and ask if it was good, and they would say yes. I really did not show anyone the book, or let anyone read the book, until it was done.
GR: Even your mom?
CF: No, my mom didn't read the book until it was printed. It was one of those things, I'm really, really particular about things I work on. Not just my book, but anything I work on. I'm designing some clothing right now and I keep telling people "I'll show you soon, but it's not done yet, and I don't want you to get a different opinion until it's fully done." I'm really a stickler for details, and I want to make sure it's perfect before I show it to anyone.
GR: You write about being on the red carpet at the MTV VMAs and seeing your peers in the YouTube community mixed with mainstream celebrities. You say "It's happening, and quickly." Can you expand on this? What do you think is the difference between a "mainstream celebrity" and a famous YouTuber?
CF: I think it's been a strange wrench that's been thrown in the spokes of the industry, that people can be successful in the entertainment industry without going through something as mainstream as movies or television. I think there's been a huge stigma attached to the online community for so long, that it was really, really satisfying to see YouTubers, or people in the online community, on that red carpet mixed in with Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus. And to see the fans cheering louder for someone like Tyler Oakley than they necessarily were for someone like, probably not Miley Cyrus, but someone in the celebrity realm. They were cheering louder for them. It was very reassuring and satisfying, and a big F you to everyone who says it's not a real thing, or it's not important, or says it's just people filming themselves in their bedrooms. A lot more effort goes into it than just ‘filming ourselves in our bedrooms.' You have to be filmers, you have to be editors, you have to be personalities, technically you have to be on 24-7, you have to be vulnerable. So much goes into this that people don't realize.
YouTube is the realest thing out there right now. People have been more obsessed with reality-based subjects like reality TV, and I think YouTube is as real as it gets. I'm very candid in my videos, I tell it like it is, and I talk about my life very openly. I find it great, and I think my audience finds it very refreshing. You really become familiar with your viewers, and they become more than a viewer or a fan. They become a friend.
GR: You describe the strange experience of walking to get a coffee in Orlando and being bombarded with young fans. Have you gotten used to this? How do you react to this in-person attention?
CF: It's something that I'll forever have to get used to, and I'll forever be a little bit shocked that people wait at airports for me. It's crazy to think that people are wondering what I'm doing, outside of me telling them. It's definitely something to get used to, and in the book I talk about how when I started I never wanted that. In fact I really wasn't much of an attention seeker growing up, I didn't like attention. So, it was a weird twist of fate that I got a lot of attention, and sometimes I'm like, "I don't want the attention, I wish I didn't have it." But those are the times I have to remember I'm just filming a video in my apartment. It's technically a video blog to myself. Nine times out of ten it's absolutely great to meet people in public, everyone is really sweet and really calm. After the coming out video especially, I get a lot of people who have very emotional stories they want to tell me, that's just so rewarding to know a video I made really actually did good in the world.
GR: Goodreads member Pili asks: "If you weren't a YouTuber what do you think you would be doing now?"
CF: I went to college for a couple of years, and I was going for a business degree, but I was also starting to focus on art my second year. I really think I would have eventually gravitated toward opening my own business or doing something in the arts, like a graphic designer, or a video editor, or even a cinematographer. I definitely think I would have found this passion, because obviously it's been inside me for a while, I just had to discover it.
GR: Can you describe your writing process? Do you have any sort of ritual you follow?
CF: I definitely go through…Wake up. Oh, I'm going to write today, and then avoid it for a little bit. Then sit down…"Okay, we're gonna do it." Pull my laptop forward, fill up my coffee, light a candle, and then let it go.
CF: I read The Girl on the Train. It was incredible. The way the perspective was written, it's jumping back and forward through time. It's a really unique writing style, and I found it so thrilling, both on the edge of my seat, and ready to cry. My mom read it, too, so I called her after I finished and we just gushed about it for an hour.
GR: What books or authors have influenced you?
My book was influenced by the comedic style of Ellen Degeneres' books—I really like her memoirs. And aesthetically, it was influenced by Alexa Chung's book, It.
GR: What are you working on now? What's next for you?
CF: I've done a coffee line, and I have a record label where I release music compilations, all under the name Common Culture. Within this month, I'm launching a website where I'll be releasing some other projects I'm really excited about.
Interview by Regan Stephens for Goodreads. Regan is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia. Her writing about travel, food, and books has appeared on sites like People, Vogue, and Refinery29.
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