Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Doin' the writer rock

To become a successful writer in the new publishing era, you must channel your inner rock musician.

That was the take-away message I got from a post by Jason Boog over at Galleycat, "What publishers, authors and journalists can learn from Indie Rock and music blogs."

The publishing world is changing in many of the same ways as the music industry, according to Boog. To thrive in the new paradigm, authors will have to adopt strategies that have been successfully pioneered by Indie artists and music blogs.

Among Boog's music-biz inspired suggestions: Reach out to aspiring writers; Don't be exclusive; Create real-life events to drive revenue. 

My favorite tip was to "work for every fan, from blog interviews to hanging out after the show."

For writers, that should be an easy one--we love hanging out at the bar at conferences. And most of us are already trying to connect with readers and other writers by blogging, doing newsletters, and using Twitter and Facebook.

I did quibble with Boog's Lesson #1, which he got from a rock band manager, "Most successful indie rock stars earn a teacher’s salary through record sales, touring, and merchandise. For publishing, that means we have to adjust our expectations."

What adjustment? Most of us have already adjusted our monetary expectations--it happens the moment we get our first advance. When you divide the advance by the amount of time we spend writing, we're lucky to make a teacher's salary. And royalties? They're like the life of a spider, a very uncertain thing.

I shouldn't say this, but there's one possible problem with the idea of writers becoming like rock musicians: On the outside, most of us aren't exactly cool. We don't look hip. Most writer's conference attendees look like refugees from the Village of Middle-aged, Friendly People. 

Our imaginations, however, are extremely cool. That's the stuff that goes into our books. That's the stuff we can share with readers and the world.

I can't sing a note, but I'm eager to absorb these lessons of the rock world. I'm still a bit worried about the cool thing, though. At least TKZ has John's Bad Boy picture on the front page.

It's a start.

Do you agree that writers and publishers should become more like musicians? What would that entail?


  1. You know I love you, Kathryn, but I always hate it when people say "writers aren't cool". Writers are the coolest people I know. Insane, but cool.

    I think the rock artist analogy is apt because rockers understand that part of their job is to project the FANTASY of being a musician, that it's the coolest thing on the planet to be, even if the reality is interminable and often miserable months on the road, the alienation of never knowing where you are when you wake up in the morning and who your friends are, and the ever-present dangers of burnout and addiction, and bad people who just want to rip you off.

    Readers and aspiring writers want to see writers living our coolness, to believe all the grueling work that they secretly suspect writing is is WORTH it because writers get to live in the magic of pure creation, and be anyone we can conceive of being.

    And isn't writing all that and more?

    Now, how cool is that?

  2. Alexandra, lol, you are absolutely one of the coolest writers around. And you're right that writers are indeed cool people--it's just that some of us don't look cool. I know we can start projecting more cool, though. In my own case, I think I need a makeover!

  3. Kathryn, I think the idea of adopting the music industry marketing approach is an excellent tip, especially since the model has proven successful for many musicians. The big difference, which you accurately point out, is the physical element. Just about all rock stars look like rock stars. Although I agree with Alexandra that writers are very cool people, not all of us look like Vince Flynn or Sandra Brown.

  4. The problem I have with this writers much be like rockstars theory is that readers aren't looking for a concert, they are looking for a written story. Even the best selling authors don't pull anywhere near the crowds that the big rockstars pull. The lesser known novelist will accomplish very little with an event. I can see where a non-fiction author may be able to sell more books if he gives a seminar on the subject, but still, it's about the story. Period.

    I'm not going to say that doing those things wouldn't help, but the key to success in writing is writing stuff that people want to read.

  5. Timothy, you make a good point. The idea of hosting live events might apply more to publishers than individual writers. Publishers could pull their writers into regional live events, with an emphasis on getting local press coverage for local authors. Joe, thanks for understanding my uncool pain!

  6. Oh, please, Kathryn, you're GORGEOUS. You jus need to work it - channel your inner diva - I know you've got one.

    Come to RT in LA - we'll get you in costume and out on the dance floor. Then there'll be no turning back.

    Joe, hmm. Maybe needs to think more Elton John.

  7. That sounds wonderful, Alexandra! Maybe I could try for a look like Stevie Nicks. You've also planted a picture in my mind of Joe at the piano, wearing giant sunglasses--now, that is cool!

  8. Stevie Nicks works for me. Go for it.

    (I love dressing up because it makes up for all those work days we never get dressed at all).

  9. Well I don't know anything about the music industry, but to me, on an elemental level, musicians and writers are different people. Both crave attention, but in vastly different ways. A musician puts himself right in the spotlight---he wants hoardes of screaming fans giving direct accolades for his work. The in your face people element is very strong.

    Writers certainly have ego and desire attention, but indirectly through their words. I like the physical obscurity of the writer (yes, I know modern marketing is working to ruin that). But face it, chances are you recognize a rock star when you see them. But how many of us recognize all but the most famous authors when we see them?

  10. I don't know, BK. I try to conjure up visions of writers being hounded by paparazzi, writers appearing in the "Who Wore it Best?" pages, writers fending off tabloid rumors...and the idea just makes me smile. I've got my dark glasses at the ready, just in case.

  11. The first time I saw John Ramsey Miller and John GIlstrap standing together at a writers' conference, I thought I was staring at Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.

  12. RT is in LA this year? I am so there...I remember reading a piece awhile back discussing the fact that for an artist to earn a solid living (and it was mainly referring to musicians), they needed to develop a base of 1,000 true fans- people who would buy everything they sold on the day it was released. I suspect that holds true for us as well, but the number (depending on your royalty structure) is likely much higher- maybe 5,000 true fans.

  13. I know a lot of authors who act like rock stars. I know a few who are actually treated like rock stars.

  14. I've been told I sometimes look like a rock star....strung out and mumbling incoherently in a corner...

  15. By the way...I keep a stock of photos taken when I was in my weight lifting heyday. That way when I get famous I can post something that looks like I'm one of my characters instead of a chubbly wubbly middle aged dude.

  16. Cool, guys! We're all channeling our inner rock stars tonight.

  17. I was a professional musician (piano) for many years before becoming a writer and I found the transition fairly easy. The immediacy of audience response is vastly different, of course, as is the pay scale, and writing books is a very different discipline from creating music, but the creative juices flow just the same.