- The Song Is You – J. Kern/O.Hammerstein/
Lift It – A. Smith
- You Don’t Know What Love Is – D. Raye/G. DePaul
- Submissao -A. Smith
- Don, Are You Listening? -A. Smith
- Dolphin Dance – H. Hancock
Having just finished Marc Eliot’s highly enjoyable book, Michael Douglas: A Biography, I had the thought that in the arts, we are all more or less in the same boat. Even an iconic actor/producer like Douglas, I learned, dealt with countless setbacks during his amazing career. For example, it took him years, when he was still unknown and languishing in the great shadow of his father, Kirk, to bring One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to the screen. Were it not for first his father’s, then his own unshakable belief in the material, and the perseverence to weather many obstacles, the movie would have never even made it to the screen.
It got me thinking how a film, while it is usually the product of hundreds or thousands of people in the end, starts with a vision–one person has a belief… a burning desire to see that idea be manifested in the real world. No matter how many people think the idea is dumb, impractical or otherwise ill-coneived, nothing can sway that person from taking the steps to see the project to completion. It’s the same with writing a book, recording a CD, or anything else artistic in nature. These types of endeavors take not only an original vision, but then the persistence and stamina to survive the invariable hurdles that lay in the creator’s path.
Anyway, I loved this book, and recommend it to not only fans of Michael Douglas (of which I am certainly one), but also anyone who loves film, and anyone who braves the creative arts, and might be empowered to read the tale of a fellow artist, who dealt with continued challenges throughout the course of his storied career. It is never easy, even for those whose work enjoys the sheen of commercial success and universal validation.
Okay, you wrote a book. That much was hard enough. You spent a year, maybe a couple years–in my case, I spent TEN YEARS writing, editing, re-writing, shelving, revisiting and finally finishing The Lizard Stays in the Cage, a creative non-fiction memoir or sorts, which focuses on the twenty-plus years I’ve spent in the trenches of the music business mostly, but also the arts in general.
Now, you’ve got two choices: One, you can send out a bunch of query letters, pray to whatever god you worship, and hope that somehow, against astronomical, incredible odds, an amazing thing happens: someone actually responds to your query. Yes, you can send out two hundred query letters, and perhaps you will receive one or two curt replies which say, in so many words, “(sigh) Okay, go ahead and send a sample chapter… we’ll get back to you in a few decades.” Is this cause for celebration? Sure, you threw a bunch of stuff at the wall and something actually stuck… sort of. Treat yourself to an iced mocha with whip cream. Is it cause for quitting your day gig, sequestering yourself in the corner of your office and churning out prose like John Grisham? Uh, maybe not.
Option two, you can say “to hell with the snooty, established publishing world! I don’t need to be a part of their little club! I’m gonna do it all myself!” Yes, it’s liberating to take this leap. You can in fact do it all yourself, and it is not entirely outside the realm of possibility that you will ultimately get a return on your investment of time and resources.
But let’s keep it real. When you take this leap, you are signing on for a huge learning curve, which is going to entail literally hundreds of hours of your time. First, you will have to figure out how to format your book (in both hard copy and e-book formats), you will have to either do the layout yourself or farm that out to someone (for a fee), create artwork for the front and back cover, which, as tempting as it might be to do it yourself in Photoshop, is probably a task best left to an expert, such as a proven graphic artist with experience and credits.
Then, if all that goes smoothly (haha), you now have to figure out where you can get the best price per book, and decide how you’re actually going to try and sell the thing. Will you sell it exclusively via your website (yeah, you need one of those too), or in conjunction with Amazon or another major online distributor? Or are you going to partner with a self-pubishing company and have them assist you in marketing and distributing your book? This last option, of course, is going to cost you more money.
Okay, let’s say you figured all that out. You’ve got your book, it looks good, it reads good, friends and family who have picked up advance copies are digging it and giving you positive feedback. Great. You’ve come to the juncture where this humble author currently is positioned.
I’ve got my book, I more or less am happy with its internal and external elements, and I believe I’ve got a product I can now market on more of a mass level. But how? If I don’t have a major publishing company backing me (I don’t, at this point), is it even possible to create national or international interest in my little book, given the deluge of product constantly saturating the market? The answer is yes, it is possible, and there are people who have done it quite successfully, but in order to achieve it you need to do one very important thing: create a platform for yourself as an author. This entails creating a presence within various social media outlets, including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. There are numerous others, but these seem to be the big three most people talk about.
In addition to this step, you will need to figure out how to get your material reviewed by credible sources. This doesn’t have to be the New York Times (although that would be nice!). You can turn to smaller magazines, even local ones in your area, as well as a plethora of online sources, be they magazines, newsletters or blogs. There are also a number of Amazon top reviewers who seem to yield power and influence in the self-publishing world.
I am telling you this not as an authority, which I am not at this point, but as a fellow writer who is just starting to wrap his mind around all of this, and slowly make some moves to build an author platform and create demand for not only my current book, but hopefully many more to come.
As I said, the self-published author faces a serious learning curve, and many will fall by the wayside because, well, the challenge is a daunting one. I plan to stick it out–I’m in it for the long haul. I’m stubborn and I believe in my work. I believe I have something worthwhile to say to the world. I can only hope that this resolve–which nobody can teach you, by the way… you either have it or you don’t–coupled with a continuing self-education in all things related to self-publishing, marketing, and social media presence–will get me to the place I want to be: a self-contained, media and marketing-savvy writer who understands his audience, and has figured out how to reach people all over the world. Of course, once I get there (if I do), that will be the point at which a major publishing company will materialize, offering to catapult my career to the next level. Those opportunities come along when you no longer need them… but that’s the way the game seems to work! Good luck, fellow writers. I will be blogging many more of my thoughts, as well as ideas and strategies as I figure them out and hopefully master them!
For a long time, Twitter was something that barely registered on my radar… yet another annoying medium churning out a lot of noise, crowding the information landscape with meaningless “jibbety-jabber,” as my friend Karl Denson would say. I think I was turned off long ago to the micro-blogging mecca, when I saw the predictably vapid (imho, at least) Ashton Kutcher flapping his gums on some national TV talk show, boasting about how he had just topped a million followers. The whole thing seemed rather dumb and pointless.
I stuck to this conviction for several years… that is, until last week. I recently braved the world of self-publishing–currently in the process of releasing and attempting to market my first book–and became convinced that since I wasn’t going to a) be spending money on advertising or b)have the help of Penguin or Random House hawking my wares, I’d better start taking advantage of free social networking outlets.
Well, here I am a week later. I’ve got over 400 followers on Twitter, I’ve “tweeted” almost 500 times, and I’m engaging in chats with fellow writers, political pundits, entertainers and famous filmmakers. I have to say, I vastly underestimated the power of Twitter. Now, I am quickly coming to believe that it has greater potential as both a networking/community and marketing tool than Facebook, which I have been using regularly for the last couple years. While Facebook offers one the constant opportunity to stay connected to friends and acquaintances, Twitter opens up a whole new world. You have the potential to attract the interest of others in your field, through effective “tweeting” (140-character-or-less messages) and persistence. I also find that Twitter plays to my personal strengths, such as basic writing ability, wit, and a broad range of interests.
Of course, this is just my initial take. I’m still on my Twitter honeymoon, and the bubble very well might burst in the near future. Just as it is in our society itself, the world of Twitter is filled with lots of noise–millions competing for attention, everyone selling something, much of the content intrinsically worthless blabber about mundane, inane topics. I’m already seeing that the whole thing can be a bit overwhelming and, if you’re not careful, a monumental time-suck. Nonetheless, I’m going to trudge forward and attempt to methodically build myself a Twitter “platform”… whatever that means.
I’ll check back in soon for a Twitter update, perhaps when I hit the 1000-follower mark, or I finally get Ricky Gervais to respond to something I’ve tweeted (I’ve sent the guy several tweets I thought were fairly clever, but so far not a peep! I thought for sure he would retweet my suggestion that he is a cross between Robin Williams and Christopher Hitchens… oh well)
Time to get some tweep… I mean sleep
Thoughts on Art Tatum
My Dad was jazz pianist Art Tatum’s biggest fan in the fifties. He followed Art around the jazz clubs in Los Angeles, sitting next to the large, blind man as he played solo versions of standards that, in many cases, remain the definitive jazz interpretation the material (for example, check out Art’s still jaw-dropping arrangement of Yesterdays). Dad was a boxer growing up in Chicago, and a big jazz lover from a young age. When he moved out west with his family and started frequenting the vibrant West Coast jazz scene, he had little patience for people talking while the musicians played. While sitting near Art listening to the genius at work, he would not think twice before turning to some rude patron and saying, “Hey, can you please shut up? Do you know who this is playing here?” Art, of course, appreciated the support, and got along well with Dad. They would have little conversations in between songs, or at the end of a set.
Dad knew that he was in the presence of something very special—an artist with a rare, incomparable gift. He passed on his love of Tatum to me, sharing various albums of Tatum’s work with me when I started to learn to play the piano myself. It was clear to me that Art Tatum possessed an other-worldly level of virtuosity, so much so that great classical pianists of the time, such as Horowitz and Rubenstein, would show up to hear Art, leaving with mouths agape at the astonishing pianistic ability of the man.
According to Dad, Art was a nice guy to talk to, but he was well aware of his ability. He once said to Dad in a one-on-one conversation, “You know, man, I’d like to get all the best jazz pianists together for a concert somewhere, a summit…”
“That sounds great, Art,” Dad offered.
“… and once they’ve all played, then I’ll cut ‘em all to shreds.”
Bud Powell, who was a bit younger than Tatum, worshipped the older player along with all the pianists of his generation. There are a couple famous stories involving the two men, which I won’t repeat here. Within the jazz orthodoxy, Powell’s legacy is mentioned more often than Tatum, and Powell is considered the Charlie Parker of jazz piano; but Tatum was an innovator as well, far ahead of his time in a harmonic sense, and arguably the greatest stride pianist who ever lived. Without Tatum, there could have been no Oscar Peterson, although Peterson was ultimately recognized more as a group player, Tatum a soloist.
(to be continued)…
Quotes are a fun, easily digestible form of entertainment. Everyone says something funny, outrageous or occasionally even profound at some point, whether consciously or unwittingly…
“It’s not every day you see a nun aggressively driving a Hummer.”
“I repulse women. They find me grotesquely unattractive.”
“Mark my words. They’re gonna make a mortar out of this guy.”
Please post any funny quotes you’ve come across lately, either via the written word or directly from someone you know’s mouth!
(I Could Get Used to Your Bacteria is a collection of quotes contained within The Lizard Stays in the Cage: Music, Art, Sex, Screenplays, Booze and Basketball)
“Hey, man, I’m really digging the music and the vibe. Thanks for the opportunity… and by the way, at what point are we going to actually bathe?” the bass player wondered.
One of the things we take for granted in life is the freedom to wash ourselves on a daily basis. Back when I had a band on the road, we hit a stretch on the East Coast where nobody had showered for several days. We were holed up at some crazy jam band festival with a bunch of partiers, young hippies and various freaks, and needless to say, the RV was starting to get a little funky. Everyone had multiple layers of dried sweat caked on their bodies. The newest band member finally spoke up and asked the obvious question! There weren’t any public showers, so we had to wait until we left the festival and hit the next gig. Five days without any type of bathing. I hope I never have to do that again. This is but one small glimpse into the realities of road life, as detailed in The Lizard Stays in the Cage.
What sacrifices have you made for your craft?