It’s all becoming more and more about live performance.
Part of what I do for a living (my actual living, which pays me actual money) involves looking at sales and (financial) performance trends in different industries. On a bad day, I’m forced to switch from the sales projections of ball-bearing manufacturers, to the financial ratios of insurance companies. On a good day, I can jump from looking at companies who make ridiculously expensive shirts, to pondering the machinations of media moguls (hence the thoughts which led me to this particular soapbox).
Ever since music publishing entered the murky era of music sharing, social media and bedroom record labels (which in the business is known as the “Nobody Knows What The F*** Is Going On” era), a few things have become clear, namely:
- Artists aren’t making as much money from album sales as they used to.
- Record companies aren’t making as much money from album sales as they used to.
- Record companies and (some) artists used to make obscene amounts of money from album sales. Nowadays, this is rare (unless you’re Adele, or Adele’s record company).
- Artists can still make a lot of money from touring, but that’s pretty much it (unless you’re Adele).
- Record companies without live music divisions are in trouble, and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel just yet.
So, How Does This Relate To Books?
Well, since the advent of e-publishing, and self-publishing, the book industry has been undergoing the same stresses. Book pricing has changed completely; even full-price books are cheaper online, and the majority of books in shops are being discounted anyway. Readers are flooding electronic devices with free content. Online fan fiction takes a huge chunk of readership. There are a hundred other reasons why things have changed, but the upshot is that there are far more authors on the scene, and those authors are all getting less money. And publishers are petrified, because their business models are becoming obsolete.
And here’s where the author performance events come in.
What originally germinated from small-ish literature festivals, book clubs, dead-of-night TV arts programmes and open mic nights has now become a whole new and important part of the entertainment industry, not to mention a major driver of books sales.
Big-name authors can now sell out concert halls for readings, signings and interviews. Some authors are becoming more famous for their live performances than their work on the page. But live “performances” – for that is what they are, whether they’re called interviews, signings or otherwise – are undeniably selling books. It’s the equivalent of the rock band live tour.
Some authors are huge and can sell thousands of tickets to their appearances. Some authors are small, and give readings to tens of people in bookshops.
But the parallels with the music industry are there too. Some garage bands dream of making it to the stadium; some want to stay indie because they believe it’s truer to their art. Either way, none of them want to stay in the garage.
I did a Spoken Word workshop recently, and it was a real eye-opener. But I also go to a lot of book events, and a good performance always makes me buy more.
Could I Get To The Point, Please?
The moral of the story is: whether you’re self-published or traditionally published; starting out, struggling, mid-list or heading for imminent superstardom – you must get yourself ready to perform.
Learn how to read your work publicly, in an entertaining way. (The old chestnut here is “Be the best version of yourself”.) Learn how to engage with an audience; learn how to engage with an interviewer. Practice reading your work out loud, and get feedback. Select well from your work, and ask for the opinion of others; the best piece (to you) could easily be the worst to read aloud, and fail to give an audience any reason to buy your book.
So if you want to be a hugely famous author, learn how to act. Put on a show. Any writer who wants to be successful nowadays must be able to entertain in ways which do not involve sitting behind their desk, or hiding behind their computer and crippling shyness. It’s all about the show today, folks, and the show must go on.
Do you agree?