You've probably seen R.M. Drake's work on the Instagram feeds of celebrities like the Kardashians and Ludacris. Set on handmade gray paper and in typewriter font are his literary prose that ruminate on love, death and loneliness. His posts garner thousands of comments but with the exception of an understated "r.m drake" signature at the bottom, very little context is given about what the words are referring to, where the work originated from or any information about the writer. So who is R.M. Drake?
Robert Macias, who goes by the name R.M. Drake, is a self-published writer. He has 1 million followers on Instagram, 16K on Twitter and 19,985 likes on his Facebook page. And right now his book Beautiful Chaos is the 7th best-selling book in Amazon's poetry category, placing himself in the company of Edgar Allan Poe and Sylvia Plath. But what sets R.M. Drake apart from many of his best-selling companions is that he came into popularity not through the publicity of a big publishing deal or a piece in The New Yorker, but through comments and likes on Instagram.
A writer since grade school, Drake was working as an art director for a television company in Miami when he started posting excerpts of his writings to social media.
"It just started as an experiment. I honestly didn't think anyone would read it," he says chuckling, trying to explain how his work went viral. "It seems unreal, having such a huge celebrity following. Just yesterday I found out that Brandy was following me and I was like wow, that's cool."
The combination of having a massive celebrity following and an ardent fan base that constantly shares his work has led Drake to a global distribution deal, which allows him to sell his self-published writing through major booksellers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon. He estimates that his distribution deal, in combination with his own personal Etsy store, brings in a total of 4000 monthly sales, which has afforded him to leave his job and write full-time.
A photo posted by R. M. Drake (@rmdrk) on Feb 17, 2015 at 6:27pm PST
But how does one go from just posting excerpts on Instagram to gaining a huge social following that can sustain a writing career? Drake isn't quite sure himself though he reasons that his confessional writing is a particularly good fit for the venting platform that social media provides.
"The more I write things about myself the more that people relate to it," he says. "At least on social media, people want to expose how they're feeling and things they're going through and that's what my writing does. It's self-exploration and self-therapy."
And it's true, his writings have a very diaristic, sometimes moody quality to them, which readers respond to with gusto.
"it's like reading your own questions, bemusings and thoughts out loud. Love the open, non-steering way of writing as much as the dark and rough edges in some poems," one reviewer writes on Amazon.
Right now, he likes how raw and unedited his work is and how readers are getting the writing straight from the source. This is one of the reasons why he has declined several offers from big publishers, such as a two-book deal with Random House he recently received. He also adds how many of the deals he has received thus far don't make sense from a financial standpoint seeing as the responsibility of most of the promoting and marketing would still fall on him.
Drake's success comes at a particularly interesting time in the self-publishing discussion. A survey from Bowker, an organization that specializes in aggregating statistics from self-publishing sites, reported that from 2008 to 2013, the number of self-published books rose 1000 percent. Once used as a last resort, self-publishing has become the route of choice for a good amount of indie and established authors such as Libby Fischer, Hugh Howey and Bella Andre. Though the stats for self-publishing still seem frightening. A 2013 study from Digital Book World reported that very few self-published writers can actually make a living off of writing. Out of the 5,000 writers they surveyed, only 1.8 percent of the self-publishing respondents reported making over six figures through their writing. Traditional print authors reported 8.8 percent. But Hugh Howey, a successful self-published author, points out that the survey's comparisons are inaccurate. The self-publishing side of the survey included amateur and aspiring authors whereas the traditional publishing category only surveyed professional writers who made it out of the slush pile and landed a publishing deal. In this sense, the survey seemed skewed towards favoring the traditional publishing route. Regardless, Drake stands out as an example of a new type of literary success. He's someone who didn't get an MFA, a degree often considered something only people of privilege can afford. He also didn't start off writing romance or fan fiction, which has traditionally been the genre that has had the most success in the self-publishing realm.
Right now, he is working on a book called Dead Pop Art, set to be released later this year. He makes a point to emphasize that though his work is often portrayed as poetry because of how it visually looks on social media (his book is in the poetry category on Amazon) they are actually excerpts from short stories or novels that he is in the process of writing. His last three books have been more or less a collection of excerpts, he explains, because that's what people wanted and expected from him at the time. But Dead Pop Art will be a collection of short stories that he characterizes as surreal, dreamlike and something very unexpected.
"I'm just trying to steer away from what everyone is used to seeing from me because that's not really what I do," he says. "I don't want to be portrayed as some guy who only writes a few sentences."