Andy Romanoff Interview: Stories I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You

Andy Romanoff is a storyteller, photographer, and photojournalist. His book, Stories I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You, chronicles his eighty years of stories, learning to accept success, friendship, and family while raising hell along the way.

Order your copy of the book.

Follow Andy’s work by reading his blog.

Visit Andy’s photo website.

This interview transcription has been edited for length and clarity.

Joe: Hi everyone! Thanks for watching. I’m joined by Andy Romanoff – who has many amazing stories to tell. His book, Stories I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You was released last year and is available for purchase. I appreciate you taking the time to be here!

Andy: Thank you for the opportunity.

Joe: Storytelling is one of your gifts. It’s clear in all the work that you do. Anyone who watches your videos or reads your book realizes that your life is filled with such rich experiences and stories. So, if we’re talking about who you are and your background – what would you want people to know about you?

Andy: Oh boy. Well, so I have led a very unlikely life. You have to start there. I went completely off the rails. My father died when I was 7. I became unteachable. I became ungovernable. And for the next 25-30 years, I got myself into a significant amount of trouble.

Then slowly through a combination of both getting older and therapy, I started to pull my life together. Along the way, I started businesses, became senior EVP of technical marketing and strategy for then the most respected camera company in the world. I was married and had children. I learned a little bit from it.

I initially set out to write short stories. People would tell me that I should write a book. But I never thought of myself as the writer. Then, after 5 years of writing short stories, one day I woke up and realized that I have so many of them, and they could fit together to be a book.

Joe: And your stories specifically don’t fit into any type of box. You don’t like to highlight how your path allowed you to become successful. You like telling those “bad boy” stories. It really has been a wild ride and it stuck with me. Looking back at all your stories from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, how would you describe life in those eras?

Andy: Someone once said to me that this book should be pitched as one for kids who hangout on corners looking for something to do. I got into a lot of trouble that way. I had a disastrous marriage and after leaving London to return to Chicago, I met the Hog Farm Commune and traveled with them everywhere. We did it all – Woodstock, you name it. For a year I lived on buses and traveled across the country. I started breathing nitrous oxide and became known as Captain Gas – and so on.

Joe: What’s amazing is that so much of your “wild ride” story became a part of your success. You went from being a lost soul in a sense to someone who is very successful and someone who is rich with lessons to share with others. How can you describe this process of learning and growing to become who you are today?

Andy: I really want to answer that question. But I’m not sure how. I am enormously lucky. I know that. There were just too many chances to have terrible things happen and I escaped over and over again until I was old enough to see. Eventually, I was done with that old life and began to figure it out. So, I have a different message.

My message is that you must get out into the world. You have to get up in the morning and take that first step. See what the world wants. See if you can find where you and the world fit together.

Joe: I think that’s beautifully said. So many people desire to do so many things but, in my experience, I found that the less I try to do, the more I’m able to be myself in the world. Things usually end up falling into place. So much of your journey really starts with the mere act of putting yourself out there into the world and seeing what happens. 

Andy: One of the big advantages of not paying attention is that crazy things can happen. You’re not afraid until it’s way too late. So, I wandered into thing after thing and I’m not saying everybody should do that. In fact, I hope you figure out an easier way. But I did do it that way and eventually you begin to make life choices on a conscious basis there.

Joe: One the things that you write about a lot is this theme of living a meaningful life. So, another big question is coming your way. What does a meaningful life look like to you?

Andy: To have companionship with someone who loves you. To raise children if that is something you desire. To be a part of a community. And to do meaningful work that inspires you to get up in the morning.

Joe: That is beautifully said. One of the most important things I’ve learned from your book is that the path is not linear and we should not expect it to be. That’s what makes your book so interesting! There are all these amazing, different pieces of your life. I know you mentioned you never intended to write a memoir. So, what was the process like to bring all these experiences together and formulate them into one, cohesive book?

Andy: So, I could write bad boy stories all day long. But I was a little shocked to discover that so much of the book wasn’t about me at all. Some of it is about friends who died along the way – those who I wanted to memorialize. I wanted to tell their stories in a way that other people would find interesting. So, that’s a piece of it – telling other stories outside of just my own. I hope that answers the question.

Joe: It definitely does. I also am curious about the process of actually putting all of these stories together.

Andy: Once I knew that I had a bunch of stories, I tried to imagine how they could all fit together. I knew it wouldn’t come easily so I found an editor to work with. That was an important moment. She read every one of the stories and we spent almost a year structuring them into the book you see today. And I wrote new material because it became clear that I needed some more stuff. It needed bits and pieces to bring it all together. The book is nonlinear, and it says a lot of things. Important to note, it’s not a true memoir. It tells my story but also the stories of others. There are ruminations about life, death, and what’s important. That took a year to put together.

Joe: I speak to many authors like you and with your book being so deeply personal, you see the advantages of remaining independent. So, how did the path of being an independent author best serve you?

Andy: I didn’t think of myself as an author with a message. I was just writing stories. I was just telling stuff. My story really wouldn’t be of interest to a true publishing house and I didn’t want it to be. People love my book. It’s received high praise, but it just doesn’t fit into the traditional publishing model. That was the point that allowed me to understand that it was going to be my responsibility to publish it myself. I have a friend who is a designer and he designed the cover.

As I explored the landscape of the industry, I realized that I didn’t just want a big palette of books to be delivered to my driveway. I wanted a real, publishing services provider that can set up my distribution through the print on demand network. And that is what led me to BookBaby. I really needed someone to help me navigate all the complexities of the process. There was formatting and ISBN numbers, and then there was the printing and distribution. I needed a true partner to work with to have a complete, professional publish while remaining independent. BookBaby was the perfect fit. 

Joe: It’s great to hear that. The game has changed for authors and the industry is shifting. You could remain independent and have your book in all the same places as traditionally published books. And you can earn a lot more in royalties, too!

Did you learn anything new along the way of publishing this book?

Andy: Well, now everyone wants to talk to me about self-publishing. I’ve learned so much about the publishing process and the advantages of remaining independent and working with a company like BookBaby. And I learned that no matter what, just get your story out there. There is no better feeling than holding up your book and having others read it. There were pieces of this thing that I didn’t understand when I started. Creating the book was one thing, then there is all the work that goes into selling it!

Joe: Well, now the book is out there, and readers can purchase it today on BookBaby Bookshop and anywhere else you buy books!

Andy: Let me just add that I highly encourage all readers to purchase my book from BookBaby Bookshop instead of Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Bookshop pays the highest royalty rates and gives me, as an independent author, the best chance to recover the costs of making the book. I know this is a labor of love but the best way to support me and my work is to purchase directly from Bookshop.

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