‘So, you think …..’ By Jane Risdon © 2018
Back in 1990 my husband and I were managing recording artists, record producers, and song-writers, producing and generally messing around in the international music business – I was still dreaming of becoming an author and had scribbled a few stories here and there for my own satisfaction. I had written articles from time for the Music Press but mostly those were related to song-writing and music in general. One such article was called, ’So, You Think You Want a Record Deal.’
Yep, the horrid ‘so’ was used way before it became the norm as the title for much more.
It blew away a few myths about getting a record deal, getting signed, signing a contract and making the first step to world domination. It was blunt and spelled out a few home truths about the business back then – before certain celebrity managers and A&R representatives ‘sold out’ to line their own pockets and TV shows told anyone they could be a star because – as those of us in the know are fully aware – chuck enough mud at a wall and what sticks can be moulded to any image required. I do know that many of those given the chance to display their talents to the world on these TV shows, would never – back in those days – have even had their demo recordings played and most jiffy bags mailed to the record companies with their Press Kit and demo never opened. The system worked differently. Talent was not enough. Image was 99% of the deal.
Since those days the business of music has undergone an earthquake. The top 5 record companies are not what they were, many have disappeared forever. Management, promotion, and releasing records has changed beyond belief with the onset of ‘Indie’ labels, and the technology which enables musicians to record in their bedroom and forego A&R departments (Artist and Relations) searching for ‘the next big thing,’ to release via the internet themselves. Big changes.
The record labels had ‘tried and tested’ methods to push artists and make sales until this time. Suddenly it was all change and money making was harder and harder from sales of releases the ‘old’ way. In fact most money is made from touring and merchandising now – not the sale of records. Thanks to downloads.
Which brings me to writing. I see so many parallels with the music business and what happened to the established norms of discovering new talent and bringing them to the record buying world. I am not an expert on book publishing by any means. I am learning as I go along as an author who is published. But one thing has struck me is that many publishers – not all, I hasten to point out – are going the way of the record companies in the mid to late 1990s.
A lack of imagination in the authors and books they sign or want to sign, so many restrictions and ‘boxes’ authors are supposed to fit in to, has led to frustration on the part of authors who cannot simply plonk themselves in the required genre and readers who are sick to death of having the same formulaic books shoved down their throats by the same authors time and again, led to a dip in sales for a time. It is good to know Print sales are thriving for now. Ebook sales took a dip but have recovered I understand.
Publishers are still somewhat blind to the needs of readers as far as I can see, hence I can understand the rise in self-published authors. They have a platform for their work, they control it all and they keep the money and can market however they wish. Just like young musicians discovered back when.
Another thing I have noticed as an author is that, just like the music business has given musicians a platform to get their music out there and on sale, self-published authors find themselves swimming in a very large pond populated by lots of other authors all fighting for sales with limited funds to push (market) their books widely enough to make enough money to live on.
When marketing a band/musician/singer in the old days a record label would have a dedicated team working to push the record: Marketing departments, Art departments, Image and Style advisors, sometimes even Choreographers, as well as Radio liaison representatives and College Radio representatives, contacts with the National Music Press and other outlets all preparing the way for the release date and then working hard to get radio air-play. Tour agents and merchandising companies were employed and deals done for sponsorship – all to bring the artist to the public notice and then keep them there, touring, doing personal appearances and TV/Radio appearances, as well as concerts.
If you went it alone, all this vanished overnight and you had just another release trying for limited air-time and newsprint space.
If you fore-go mainstream publishers and opt for an ‘Indie’ publisher or to go it alone as a self-published author, all the benefits of a ‘big name’ behind you has gone and you are in the position of the musicians who find they are small fish in an ever widening pond filled with those all trying to achieve the same as them.
You may strike it lucky and find an excellent ‘Indie’ publisher who has few authors signed and a hunger to get new and exciting authors exposed to the buying public, who will use innovative and exciting means to do so. However, they need money behind them, they need a team with dedicated employees prepared to go all out for their authors, and the author has to take on a lot of marketing and PR themselves – a team effort. Success is never guaranteed but having a publisher behind you helps with credibility – apparently! You may strike it lucky with your ‘Indie’ publisher.
When you decide to self-publish you are on your own. You rise and fall by your own efforts, how much money you can spend on your own artwork, formatting, and marketing. You might have a full time job as well as writing, marketing, and promoting your work. Time – time is the enemy – time is money. And contacts, you need plenty of those and you also have the added problem of approaching marketing as the author and not as a publisher. As with a musician it is much better to have a third party make approaches and look after the marketing of your work because quite often people will not deal with the artist/author direct – a credibility issue.
The reason I am writing this is because having worked in an industry which was cut-throat and driven by who you know, what credibility you have (reputation was all) and with my experiences marketing on a large scale with powerful people working alongside me, I have come to the conclusion that you still need that cocoon around you even if you have to sink or swim very soon after release.
I have not tried self-publishing but I have read of great successes and authors selling huge numbers of books, but I also hear of authors hardly making the minimum wage per annum. And it seems to me ‘Indie’ publishers can fit into either mould – good, or not much better than being self-published.
It is clear to me that ‘Indie’ publishers are hamstrung by finances and staff issues and there is little time allowed for an author to make sales large enough to cover the publishing costs, and so they tend not to push a book that hard if it doesn’t take off immediately. Their staff are few and with new releases coming thick and fast every week, it is understandable if this happens and unlucky if your potential best-seller has been side-lined in favour of the ‘next big thing.’ I know this probably happens with the big publishers too…just like the music business. Chuck the mud and see what sticks.
So therein lies the dilemma: seek a large publisher, try an ‘Indie’ or self-publish. I wish I had the answer. I am published by a small publisher and I am wondering what – if any – is the benefit to me as an author of allowing any more of my books to be published again.
I’ve always wanted to write but I suppose I never thought I’d actually get published – in fact I never really considered it – so it was a lovely surprise; recognition and justification of my self-belief, if you like. It would be nice to sell books, make a living, and feel satisfaction at having achieved all of this, but I really am wondering if the time and energy it takes to go through all this again, is worth it.
In 1990 I wrote an article aimed at those musicians who wanted to get a record deal and what the reality of chasing and obtaining one entailed, and I would so dearly have loved to have seen an article before I accepted a publishing deal called ‘So, You Think You Want A Publishing Deal.’