The Things That Set Us Apart: 3 Things The Writing Community Can Learn From The Music Scene

Homelife - Regional Band from Lansing, MI

Homelife – Regional Band from Lansing, MI

My brother has been a musician in some local and regional bands for probably a decade now, and I’ve met a lot of people in the punk scene from going to shows with him. Somewhere along the line, I realized that these were a rare breed of people: They were going after something they loved, knowing full well that they probably wouldn’t make a living that way. Perhaps more importantly, they seemed, as a whole, to have a humility and openness about them that seems to be lacking in my usual circles. (Disclaimer: I spend most of my time around aspiring scientists and doctors. I’ll reserve another post someday for talking about why they have reason to be less than super friendly to the competition in their fields.) Nestled in with the fist-flinging dance moves and the yelling vocal delivery, I decided that these people had a certain wisdom that I wanted to take away to my own creative endeavors.

    1. Other Writers Are Not Your Enemy

      Maybe I’m projecting a little bit, but it seems to me that writers are often insulated and have a tendency to scoff, at least internally, when they hear that other people are writing something as well. While I admit that there are far more aspiring authors out there than there are real authors, I think that this attitude is counterproductive to the sense of community that creators of any sort ought to be fostering.
      In particular, there are a few collaborative strategies that we could benefit from trying out. I know that coauthoring is definitely a thing from time to time, but there are other ways we can help each other and build a community of creators that I haven’t really seen in use.

       “Splits”

      For those of you who aren’t familiar, it’s pretty common for two bands to get together and press a record that has one or two songs from each of them. In this way, they can get out a new song or two while giving the buyer a taste of another artist’s work as well. This means that fans of either band will be interested in the record, and may therefore give a new band a listen. This has the additional benefits of allowing both bands to split the cost of the pressing and share the task of promoting the album at concerts and over social media. So what does this mean for writers? I submit that there would be some merit in taking two smaller novellas or short novels and binding them together in a “split” in much the same fashion, achieving most of the same benefits. In this way, authors can also form useful bonds with similar authors, laying the foundation for future collaborations and cross-promotion opportunities.

      Samplers

      Record labels often release sampler albums featuring a single track from various artists. In the same way, it seems feasible for various writers to get together and submit compiled works of shorter stories, poetry, essays, and novellas in one volume under some theme. This does happen in some genres, but I wanted to point out that it could be a useful tool for emerging writers to be seen and to work with other authors. Ideally, this would be arranged in a grassroots way rather than relying on a publisher or editor to handle all the compiling – that way the writers actually have to talk to each other.

      Cliques

      Like-minded bands tend to stick together – they tour together, promote each other’s news on social media, and build a scene around them. While this process emerges pretty naturally from the more public nature of consuming music, but I think the same principle could apply. Word of mouth and social media are the best ways of getting people to try out new artists, and writers ought to consider the same sorts of alliances.

    2. The “Real” Publishing vs. Self Publishing debate is missing the point if your goal is to create and share art

      There seems to be a lot of digital ink spent on the relative merits of self-publishing vs. seeking publication through a professional publishing house. While being published by a major company carries a number of advantages (including quality control, promotion, etc.), I feel that both routes ought to be considered parallel means to the same end. If your goal as a writer is to create art and share it with people, the route of publication is pretty much inconsequential. In other words, I think we ought to refocus on the goal of producing products that are well written, well edited and properly promoted.
      There will always be advantages to getting picked up by a reputable publishing house, but it’s pretty widely recognized that this is easier said than done. Publishing houses prefer to do the lowest risk publishing they can, so they may not be willing to take a chance on an unknown author’s fiction when they have a sure bet in picking up the latest topical nonfiction or adapting a well-established blogger’s compiled work. Therefore, I propose that we adapt the music industry’s strategy of relying on more accessible means to get exposure at the earlier stages of one’s career. In the case of musicians, smaller, regional record labels are becoming increasingly common, and the ease of digital publishing has been embraced to get work to fans.
      In the case of books, there are plenty of on-demand services by which we can get our works out in digital and paperback formats without major barriers to entry. I submit that we can reduce the stigma of self-publication by combining these convenient publishing means with smaller scale operations to provide the kinds of quality assurance that a publishing house normally takes care of: Namely, promotion and proofreading. To practice what I preach, I am going to undertake to set up such an operation myself. However, I don’t want this entry to come off as shameless self promotion, so I’ll urge my readers to consider forming their own, and I’ll leave the details of mine to come at a later date.

    3. Fans are Everything
      IMG_0857

      Transit at the 9:30 Club – We writers may not see our fans en masse, but we should appreciate them just the same.

      The performance of live music is a powerful thing. Watching the crowds erupt when their favorite songs play really drives home the idea that the musician’s art affects people in a deep way. As writers, we aren’t generally privy to the effects we have on our fans, but it’s important to remember that they are the ones who make or break us. I see a lot of hand-wringing in forums about the ideal way to write this or that, but I believe there’s a fundamental mistake in directing this question only to fellow authors. Like it or not, you’re not writing for writers, you’re writing for readers. Works like 50 Shades of Grey and the Twilight series go to show that sheer literary quality does not always correlate to success. I’m not saying we should market to the lowest common denominator, but I think that it’s a perfectly noble goal to write work that resonates with people. Because of the introverted nature of writing and reading, we are at great risk of getting caught up in naval-gazing and idealism when the real goal should be to offer art to the masses that will inspire and affect them.

I don’t mean to criticize writers, many of whom may already be trying to collaborate and form these sorts of alliances. Musicians may have stumbled upon these techniques sooner because their art form requires them to work with others (for example, one artist usually needs a whole band, and a small band can’t play without joining a lineup, etc.), but I believe it’s time for our art form to pay attention to the lessons of theirs in order to adapt to the modes of consumption of the 21st century.

Do you agree? Disagree? Want to help with my “label” or want to give me some choice words? Message me or give me a comment below and let’s talk

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