One of the great benefits of being a music journalist has been getting the opportunity to relate to musicians on multiple levels. And while I would never claim to be living the life of a recording artist, I no longer feel like an interloper in that world. These days, I find I can truly relate to them where business is concerned.
When my first book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, was released this past April, I harbored no illusions of it becoming a best-seller. It’s a niche-driven book, geared toward people in that musical world. I knew I wouldn’t be able to retire from my day job based on revenue from book sales.
I recently received my first quarter sales numbers and royalties from Global Publishing Group, LLC, who saw fit to unleash my words on the public. They seem happy with the book’s progress. I’ve been relatively pragmatic about it: for a nobody from nowhere, I seem to be doing pretty ok.
There is still a metric ton of work to do where promotion is concerned. My publishing house is small, so they lack the resources to saturate the book-selling market the way a Penguin, Viking, or Random House would. Therefore, I have to do a lot of the work myself. This is a difficult undertaking, made even more challenging by a day job that keeps me busy nearly 70 hours a week.
In a perfect world, I’d have a part-time publicist sending emails, working the phones, and contacting bookstores on my behalf, if only a couple of times a week. Those efforts would land me on radio shows and podcasts, chatting up the book to anyone who will listen. But this, too costs money, which is not exactly lying all around me.
You can’t generate money without sales. You can’t generate sales without money. It’s quite the conundrum.
It’s not easy getting your work in front of perfect strangers. I’ve gotten a great review from a journalist I admire. If all goes well, I may see my name in a magazine I enjoy a great deal. A local newspaper geared toward African-Americans recently declared me one of its “People on the Move.” These are all cool things. But are they helping my bottom line? That remains to be seen.
A few of my requests for a book review have been ignored. Another refuses to read the book because I can only provide him with the electronic version, and he insists on a hard copy. Still other potential reviewers have appeared out of the woodwork, then disappeared just as quickly after making initial contact. It’s hard to know what to make of these things.
I can already hear Susan Claridge, my primary contact at GPG, reminding me how it takes years to become known in the literary world. I’ve been at it for just short of five months. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say. And I have barely begun to lay my literary empire’s foundation. Like so many other things in this world, I’m in the early stages of a process, which I need to learn to trust. I’ve already gotten through a door many prospective authors have yet to wedge open. This may not be the ultimate triumph, but it’s a long, long way from a defeat!
Between this site and my social media followings on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, I’ve managed to start and develop a small, but enthusiastic, audience. I seem to pick up one or two new followers every day. It’s a nice feeling. But the enthusiasm I get on the pages has not quite translated to book sales.
When I told my friends my book was coming out, I got nothing but excitement and enthusiasm from friends and acquaintances. “We can’t wait to support you,” they said. “I’m gonna tell my friends all about your book!” When I advertised my book signing, I saw all kinds of people were “interested” in being there. Many said they would be there. The actual number of people who actually showed up was … well, less.
My book-related posts are flooded with “likes,” often from people I haven’t heard from in ages. Some of them have bought my book, and posted it on their own pages. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. But many others haven’t quite taken the plunge, for whatever reason.
I tell my musician friends about this, and they just smile and welcome me to a rather large club. They always remind me of one indisputable fact in the commercial art world:
“Likes” are not “Sales.”
I understand not everyone is interested in what I wrote about. That’s ok. I understand people can’t just throw money at something entertainment-driven when they have so many other daily essentials to deal with. Believe me, I’m in the same boat. I guess my disappointment (however minor) stems from the number of people I talk to from day to day who promised support but haven’t come through. But that’s just the way it goes.
I hope more people see fit to give my book a shot. For what it’s worth, I’ve already begun “pre-production” for the follow-up, which will pick up pretty much where this book left off. It’s amazing how much the world can change in just a couple of years. That is the world I now live in. And that world has generated some interesting stories, with more forming every day.
For now, let’s stay on point and focus on the challenge at hand. I’m eager for I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This to find an even wider audience. And while I formulate a few more promotional ideas, I’d appreciate it if you simply did things the old fashioned way and headed over to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords and got yourself a copy. And tell a friend or two while you’re at it, would you?
I would really appreciate it.
Check out my new book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears. It’s available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine bookstores.
I read Prog Magazine’s review of your book in the current issue, but based on their fairly balanced critique I wasn’t encouraged to buy in, sorry.
Perhaps 20 years ago, when you didn’t have to compete with social media on a daily basis, you might be making more headway, but in the current climate everyone’s a music writer (or so they proclaim.)
And the more people push their stuff, the more we simply step aside and pass on.
Maybe you need to get a little more imaginative in catching people’s attention? Why not discretely leave copies in public places – this is becoming the norm for encouraging people to simply pick up and enjoy a book instead of looking at a mobile phone. Sure, it’s not going to bring in any immediate revenue, but you might be surprised in the longer term.
We have a reluctance to invest money , and more critically, precious time, in the unfamiliar. But equally we can’t resist something free, and more often might be willing to repay that leap of faith by investing a little more time.
I guess, the closest analogy might be the glory days of tape-trading. Bands like Metallica knew they’d make no money from their independent tapes, but they were savvy enough to place the value of presence and reputation above income. And it paid off – Lars’ constantly passing free tapes, and trading with other music fans across the world, got the band their gigs and record contract.
At the end of the day, might it be worth losing potential revenue, but reap the longer term reward of people slowly warming to your book through word of mouth and book swapping?
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Here’s the issue (and I wrote a blog about this):
Prog is a British magazine. I’m an American. Most of the “exotic”
Sorry, hit the wrong button. My “exotic” discoveries were mostly British. They’re off the beaten path here, not there. In a sense, I opened a restaurant in Rome to teach the residents the joy of Italian food.
The Americans who’ve read my book are all in. You can check the Amazon reviews. But my book lost a little something in translation in Great Britain
Given how much I’d have to pay for each copy, I currently can’t justify giving it away.
I talked to Jo Kendall (the Albums editor) at Prog. She didn’t see the review as overtly negative. Like I said, it just lost something in translation. Other than this review, my feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
But if I can’t convince you, that’s a loss for both of us. I get what David West wrote, and I stand by my words.