Is Being an Author Like Being a Musician?

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I’m here again comparing the written word against the sounds made by musical instruments and the human voice. Successful authors have long careers spanning many years with many novels and articles published in much the same way as bands and musicians do with albums, singles, and EPs.

Do their lives run parallel? Who knows? Well, you are about to know. These two I’m going to describe don’t have names, they aren’t fully fleshed-out characters, but for this example they don’t have to be. The differences should be quite noticeable, probably because one of them is written in italics.

Enjoy.

A child will hear a story read to him by his parents.

Another child will hear a song played or sang to him by his parents.

After a while the child will begin reading, and then choosing his own books that he wants to read.

This child will start singing along to the music and asking to hear various songs (or possibly the same one over and over and over and over again).

Soon, as his imagination and writing ability increases, he starts to write his own stories. It’s fun, and when people ask him what he wants to do when he’s a grown up, he says ‘write.’

A drum, or maybe just an upturned toys container, may be used to tap out his own rhythms, which increase in complexity over time.

The writer will start undertaking more detailed works, possibly writing projects at school, entering competitions as he does so.

The musician will eventually talk his parents into buying him that guitar, or that drum kit, or that bassoon, and the lessons then follow. ‘When I grow up, I wanna be in a band!’

Before long the writer is busy creating short stories, sharing them online or simply with friends or others who also enjoy writing.

The musician joins, or – even better – forms a band, with others who share his love for music and specific genres.

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The writer is now gathering a little interest from not just writers, but readers. He is receiving a number of likes on his website, that he has recently set up to showcase his blossoming talent. His regular blog posts seem to be entertaining many people.

The musician is doing well, after a chance gig in the back room of a deserted pub opened the door for his band, they have met many other bands, and they begin to play in local clubs and small venues.

The followers of the writer’s blog are increasing by the day, the readers are excited to see the next story or article published. Just where is he getting all these ideas and sage advice?

The band are on the up, local interest is hot, promoters want to book them for gigs and they have a small following who are willing to travel to see them play. The first demo is recorded and goes down pretty well with their fans.

The writer has finished his first full length story. He’s not confident enough yet to call it a novel, just a story that is going to take someone a good few hours to get through. Although it now seems harder to market this than he first hoped. He finds it difficult to attract a publisher, but after plugging away for months and months he finally discovers one.

The musician and his band are playing to larger and larger audiences. They’ve released a couple more demos, and even re-recorded their first one with more accomplished playing and better production. Things are looking good. Eventually a small indie label is willing to take a punt on them, although it’s not really a punt, as these guys really could be going places.

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The publisher turns out to not be as excited about this debut novel as the author is. The marketing is poor and sales are not what was expected. Undeterred, the writer keeps on doing what he loves, and his stories are getting consistently better. The next novel is coming on well, making the first one seem a bit amateurish in comparison.

The band have been on a national tour, although the label doesn’t seem to be doing enough to get them playing abroad. If only they’d advertise the album a bit more, or get some magazine space, then sales could start rocketing. But the band keep playing, it’s the only way they know.

Disaster. The publisher has decided that it can do nothing more with this book. If only they put a little more time and money into it, they could be sitting on a future cult classic. The second novel’s nearly finished and those that have read excerpts of it are excited. The followers are still steadily increasing, the blog posts whetting their collective e-appetites.

The band have been dropped from the label. They’ve cited poor album sales as the primary reason. The band are gutted, the new batch of songs they have are the best to date and sound as fresh and energetic as their live shows. A year or so of touring has really sharpened their playing and songwriting. The fans are hungry to hear more.

With all the networking the author has been doing for the last few years, he decides to self-publish his second novel. It is a wise move, the interest is phenomenal and sales are through the roof. Before long there are many publishers sniffing round offering deals, each seeming more enticing than the last. Weighing up his options, the author decides to go with one of them. A good choice.

Meanwhile, the band have signed to another label, this one seems much more interested in promoting them. The budget for the new album is twice what the last one was, and it shows. They’ve got a year-long tour booked, with even a couple of festival appearances lined up.

Fast-forward a few years and the author is enjoying huge success. He’s never stopped writing and blogging, and his recent works have been critically acclaimed by many. There’s even interest in turning one of his novels into a movie. The author is involved heavily, making sure his work isn’t changed to suit the needs of the studio. He feels totally in control of his vision.

The band are now on yet another international headlining tour, and the support bands are in awe of them. They are well-respected in their genre and there’s even those who are normally into other music commenting on how good they are, and even buying the odd album.

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The child who loved reading and then writing his own stories, is now an international best-selling author. Everyone knows his name, there are countless films and TV shows based on his novels and short stories, his books are averaging over 4.5 stars on various review sites. He’s constantly on TV himself, or at book signings where he spends hours and hours engaging with fans. He’s living very comfortably, although this was never his intention, he just wanted to do what he loved as a living.

The band are enjoying the same sort of success. Their shows are sold-out arenas, they appear on prime-time TV, their albums and singles are on top of the charts for weeks on end. Everyone’s not only heard of them, but know their songs and all of the members’ names.

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And here’s where their lives go off on tangents (and the italics stop).

The author will have his haters, sure, those who post one star reviews and complain how he’s so over-rated and everyone should shun his books. But this won’t really change anything, as people who don’t like certain authors don’t seem to be that proactive in voicing their displeasure.

However, music fans do. The haters of a band will let their feelings known in forums, on review sites, on social media, in the comments sections under the band’s music videos on youtube. If you don’t like a band, particularly a successful one, it seems that you don’t just not listen to them, you tell the world how much you hate them.

But why is there such a difference? OK, you may argue that a band might change their sound or style to try and plug more albums, ‘selling out’ if you will. But do authors do the same? Do they change their writing style to sell more books? There are examples of this but I would suggest that it is nowhere near the same for them as it is for musicians and songwriters. A good writer will just keep on doing what they do and the success and acclaim will follow, if they are good enough.

Why is this? I don’t know really, but I suspect that with books you need to invest more time in finding out whether you like a particular author or not. Hearing a song on the radio can instantly tell you whether you like the band, or if the singer’s voice is just a bit too nasally and whiny for your tastes. But you’d never hear someone complaining that the first paragraph of a 400 word novel was shit, and so they stopped reading there and proceeded to tell everyone how annoying the author is.

The music business is a much more fickle one than the book business and so bands and musicians, it could be argued, need to strive to be more accessible to more people in order to maintain their success.

I’m yet to hear of an author who started out writing stories about gore and rape, who now writes romance novels. Perhaps there is, or maybe I should start doing that, become a literary sell-out myself. Although you need much more talent to produce a ‘one-hit-wonder’ book than you do for a song.

Yes, in literary terms I’m still plugging that first EP around the place, playing in back rooms of pubs to only the staff and the couple of drunk regulars, who think I’m pretty good, but then they would say that; they’re drunk! But one day I’ll be there, playing four consecutive nights at 100 000+ venues.

Well, probably not, but you have to dream, don’t you? Those two children above did, and it worked out for them. OK, I’m not a child any more, but I still wanna do shit!

 

Photo via Visual Hunt

Photo credit: Mr. Objective via VisualHunt / CC BY

Photo credit: marfis75 via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: streetwrk.com via VisualHunt / CC BY-ND

Photo credit: markhillary via VisualHunt / CC BY

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