Underdog Days: Behind the Book with Carlos Lerma

We’re diving deep into the creative mind of Carlos Lerma, a multifaceted artist who has been making waves in the world of literature and film since his teens. He may be best known for his original, award-winning films, but he’s a writer and author at heart, with multiple books in multiple genres to his name. His latest, Underdog Days, is an illustrated poetry collection. What’s more, he added never-before-seen content for an updated, Blurb-exclusive version.

In this interview, he shares insights on how his filmmaking and writing inform each other, recounts his successful and not-so-successful marketing efforts, and offers valuable advice to fellow creators on launching and marketing their own works. Lerma also opens up about his journey with self-publishing, his transition from a Spanish to an English audience, and the unique considerations he makes when deciding what genre of writing to create and publish. Buckle up for a journey through the creative process of one of today’s most exciting young creators!

You’re a director, producer, and writer—making videos since you were 13 and publishing books since you were 16. You also adapt your short stories into films. How do your filmmaking and writing inform one another?

Every project always starts with a concept or idea. Whenever I have an idea or a concept, I always try and stop whatever I’m doing to write it down, mostly because I’m a really forgetful person. Then I decide the best avenue to tell this story, whether it’s a book, live-action film, or animated film. 

I also have rules for myself. For example, I will only do an animated film if there is absolutely no way I can tell it with live-action. My writing and filmmaking will always go together because I love to tell really personal stories.

Marketing a book can be a challenge for even the most talented creators. Tell us about your most successful marketing efforts.

I had a book go viral back in 2020. With my debut as an author, I took videos of the reaction of my friends as I revealed to them that I made a book. I uploaded that video to the internet, and it gave the book really good exposure.

With 102,000 readers on Apple Books and Google Play, you have quite the following! To what do you attribute your literary success?

I got really, really lucky to have that many people read my words. However, it’s not in the way you think. Back in 2021, I released some of my old work for free on certain platforms, and it somehow went viral and has risen me to the top spots of Free Books in Mexico.

Unfortunately, not all that audience has translated into new followers, but I’m grateful that many people took the time. However, a few thousand have reached out and expressed their love for my books specifically.

On the other hand, what marketing efforts haven’t been as successful? And what did you learn from them?

I learned very early on that indie books are hard to sell—especially if you are 15 and just starting out. I tried a myriad of ways to promote my book, and one method I would not try again is making a smaller book out of a bigger one. 

I was working on the follow-up book to my first in the middle of the pandemic, but I knew a release in the chaos would be hard. I decided to take 60 out of the 230 pages and make them into a separate project. I learned that a book launch should be a very big deal, not just a small video you post on a random Saturday afternoon without warning.

Do you have any advice for creators launching and marketing their own books?

Absolutely. One, please, please, please, get a professional book editor. I made the mistake of just using the free online spell checker, and it was one of the dumbest mistakes ever. 

Two, analyze other books’ fonts and font sizes. See what’s popular and the standard, then use it. You need to give your book a pro look. My font recommendations would be Adobe Hebrew, Baskerville, and Bembo Book! 

Three, don’t be scared of coming off as too much of a self-promoter. If you are not excited about your book, no one else will be either. 

Four, try and see what else you can do with your books. Perhaps, if you make a poetry book with illustrations, you can make a coloring book or an animated short film. You decide!

Carlos Lerma's illustration of a person on a moon in a dark sky

What is your personal experience with self-publishing? Why did you go the self-publishing route with Blurb?

When I was 15, I looked up “how to publish a book (easy),” and that’s when I discovered self-publishing. I clicked a video, and it was a video from a girl just saying how good Blurb was. I looked up Blurb and was amazed and excited because now I would have the power to hold a book of mine in my hands.

What draws you to print in the Digital Age? What do you feel is print’s role in the world today?

Tech might be cool and all, but there will always be a need for that good ol’ classical feeling of a physical book with the page-turning and new-book smell. I think the same way music artists are still releasing their music on vinyl, there are enough people on the planet that love holding art. I’m one of those people.

You’ve moved from Monterrey, Mexico, to Chicago. You’ve also recently released an English translation of one of your bestselling Spanish books. What led you to pursue an English audience?

Because here’s where the big leagues are! I knew in high school I wanted to come to the US. The film industry, in general, is much much bigger here than in Mexico. And it’s the same with the literature industry. 

I’ve always wanted to be in the big leagues, and little by little, I’ll eventually get there. While I was putting new projects out in Spanish, I always had at the back of my mind that, eventually, I would have to rebuild my audience from the ground up. 

Before moving out to Chicago, I translated my most popular literary works to have something to show when I arrived. After arrival, I’ve made all new stuff, like my new book, “Adultish,” coming in early 2024.

You’re a multidisciplinary artist and writer—publishing illustrated poetry, essays, and short stories. How do you decide what genre of writing to create and publish?

Carlos Lerma's illustration of a person holding a skull

I love all writing, but when I was 14, I asked myself, What on earth am I going to make a book about? I knew I wanted to make something my classmates would want to read. Because I knew most of them did not read long novels or stories, I saw an opportunity to create relatable, short (but not that short), digestible poems

My end goal is to write a novel, so at 18, I took the challenge of writing a little longer form fiction novelettes and short stories—a big change from writing poetry for the past few years. Going down that path is my first baby step before I write my debut novel, which I think I’ll be ready to write in 2025. I need to learn how to structure a story and arcs still. Baby steps.

Releasing shorts monthly and self-publishing projects yearly is impressive! What do you get out of creating at such a fast pace? How do you feed your creative well to avoid burnout?

Planning! I could talk about my planning all day. I try to plan at least six months in advance of whatever I’m doing. 

I see my fans as someone I have this huge crush on. With crushes, you might want to give them a Valentine’s Day gift, Christmas gift, or birthday gift, and with each little gift, you make sure it’s the best possible thing you can give of yourself. Now, there’s a chance they hate it, or it’s not the best thing you can give them. That fear, of having my “crush” turn me down, is what motivates me to make my films and books the best for them. 

And yes, my films and books would be the metaphorical gift I would give my crush. The truth is, I love the people that have supported me. They are some of the most interesting and cool people, and the fact that they care at all for what I do is amazing. It’s precious and something I’ll never take for granted. Ever.

What’s next for you? Any other books or films in the works?

Yes! In the short term, I just finished a new animated film called ’Treasure Haunt,’ coming out September 8 on my YouTube Channel. I’m back making short films, so many more to come! For the long term, I’m planning the release of my sophomore poetry collection, “Adultish,” in early 2024!

Anything we didn’t ask that you’d like to mention?

Of course! Dear people of the internet, I invite you to join me on my journey of making cool new films and books! If you want to watch my short films, they are all on YouTube. Just search “Carlos Lerma,” and they should be the first thing to come up! 

I also want to thank all the incredible people who have supported me because, without them, I wouldn’t have kept going, eventually making me the person and artist I am today!


Find Carlos Lerma’s book, Underdog Days, and follow his work on his website.

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