Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Do I Do Now? The Darker Side of An Author

The art of writing...the joy of words...of putting them together...the satisfaction of typing the final page of a manuscript...the excitement of being publisher...the pride of holding the first copy of the book that you wrote in your hand...

It's all bullshit.

Wait. No. Scratch that...

It's only all bullshit when what comes afterwards turns to poo and sullies all those positive feelings that a writer and author should feel on the journey towards becoming a published author. 

When my novel was published in 2010 through the wonderful ireadiwrite Publishing house, I was - as you can imagine - understandably ecstatic. It was the culmination of a life long dream to become a published author and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity Michelle Halket and the team in Vancouver gave.

When it became apparent that my novel would be going into print, we discussed how we would get the book down to Australia and we were able to set up quite a good mechanism for achieving that. I set up my own distribution company, Hambledown Road Imprints, and I became the distribution executive for the Asia/Pacific region. 

This is just a fancy way of saying that I took up the responsibility of pounding the pavement, taking my book to book stores as far and as wide as I could to garner interest, form relationships and, ultimately, get the book on to the shelves. This is the ultimate prestige for an author - one that we spend most of our life dreaming of.  

But, make no mistake, this was hard work. 

I had to become a salesman, become articulate in-so-far as learning the language of the book trade as well as develop a professional 'persona' that would allow me to 'sell' my book. I had to become an astute business person in order to strike agreements and arrange promotional events. I also had to set up a business operation that would allow me to track stock, keep in touch with book stores who had agreed to take on my novel, prepare invoices and send them out as the sales reports came in. 

Initially, I enjoyed all this very much and I felt that I was making much of this new enterprise. I was, in my view, yielding success. 

Along the way, however, I began to encounter a darker side to the whole business of selling books. 

I would send invoices out to stores based on their sales reports back to me and ask for a 30 day turn around which, to my mind and my observations of business operations, seemed entirely appropriate. I'd set up reminders on my calendar in order to remind myself when invoices were due to be paid and I ticked them off one by one as transactions were completed. 

I recounted an experience last year in a previous blog post where a particular store I had struck an agreement with avoided paying an significant account after several friendly reminders, a couple of phone calls from myself and a visit in person to the store. They threw up all sorts of excuses to me as to why they hadn't paid the account on time and engaged in serial avoidance in order to delay the account even further. 

That experience degenerated into my having to threaten legal action, if the store did not pay the account within 7 days and I had to terminate my relationship with that store. That whole experience heralded my entry into the darker side. I lost a lot of sleep over it. It affected my relationships with my family and it soured all of those good feelings I described at the top of the page. 

I am now experiencing similar difficulties with two more stores who, as I write this, have not paid accounts I sent out to them in May this year. We are now at the end of July. Letters I've sent are not being responded to, emails I send go unanswered, phone calls I make are either blown off or given the "I'll get back to you on that" 

I don't understand how it is that these book stores - in fact any business - can operate like this. The two book stores are stores that I have previously held in high regard. I have visited them many times over the years and I've bought books from them. They have good reputations. I approached these book stores on that basis because they are stores I wanted to see my book in. 

They are fucking with me and I know they are fucking with me. 

There are certain mannerisms that you can pick up in phone conversations that scream obfuscation. Non committal answers to simple questions like - "When can I expect you to pay the account sir?", "Will you confirm you've received the account by telephone with me?"

My bullshit-ometer has turned way up to 10 now and my tolerance for these people is stretching to breaking point. It is also spoiling my pride in being a published author. 

But it is also making one other thing clear to me. 

Throughout this year, news services have run with stories of the collapse of big book stores like Borders both in America and Australia. This has been blamed in part on the rise of on line retailers like Amazon and the advent of the ebook. I think it has more to do with the failure of supposedly sound corporate entities and their shitful business practices. I know this from experience. I struggled for nearly a year to receive payment from the parent company of Borders Australia who again, sold a significant number of my novel from their shelves. As a lone Australian author and CEO of a start-up book distribution house, there was little hope of me extracting monies from them any sooner than I eventually did. Again, the experience left me frustrated and discouraged.

But it has also lead me to question the need for me to continue forming the kinds of bricks and mortar relationships with entities that are, from my vantage point, in trouble. If book stores enter into formal arrangements with authors that include signed documentary agreements and then they fail to live up to the spirit of those original agreements, then what the fuck am I doing with my time? I think my future as an author will ultimately be determined in a greater marketplace anyway - where the most important relationship will be that between the author and the reader directly. Frankly, the middleman sucks. 

There is no real moral to this story. I think I've given you an insight for you to determine your own moral here. 

I would just say that if you are in business, the one piece of advice I would impart to you as a fellow businessman...

Pay your fucking bills.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Train Wreck In Sarasota - There Need Be No Other Title.

Continuing on my journey of musical discovery, this week I'd like to share with you the music of Rob McCann whose acoustic project "Trainwreck in Sarasota" is turning heads - and ears - in all the right ways.

McCann's newly released EP "The Narrow Escape" has just landed through McCann's label Basement Session Records as a follow up to the 2010 release "Something To Call Your Own" and both releases herald a unique take on the trident of singer/songwriter/guitarist that is all at once refreshing and familiar but never stagnant. So it's worthy to explore both pieces as a way of showcasing McCann in his entirety.   

Upon first listen to "The Narrow Escape" I was greeted with the most satisfying of acoustics and I imagined the performer having set himself in some sort of disused apartment building or warehouse with high ceilings, exposed double brick walls and solid timber floors - tall windows along one side, letting in fractured light through dusty glass. Such environments lend themselves to a raw and organic sound that takes you into them - they are tactile and sensual - something that can oft be missed from the crispness of the studio. I often talk about good music's ability to evoke vivid imagery and Trainwreck in Sarasota achieves this handsomely.

Cover art for "The Narrow Escape" (2011 Basement Session Records).

McCann's playing is intricate and complex and by this I mean he doesn't simply stick to safe chord progressions nor labor on one particular rhythm. His instrumental pieces are in and of themselves a dance where the guitar itself is the vocalist and he achieves an almost classical flourish to what is otherwise indie/experimental folk and blues. This is what impresses me most about the performances on both releases - though I tend to favor "The Narrow Escape's" depth of musicality, which is merely a personal preference and in no way diminishes "Something To Call Your Own. As an artist - be it a musical or a literary one - we tend to pride ourselves on our first productions.  

Trainwreck in Sarasota' songs are lyrically appealing and McCann is a songwriter and lyricist of considerable talent. His songs on both releases range through the territory of deep emotional reflection, dealing with such abstracts as depression, substance abuse, fear and loathing as well as soul searching, love and absolution. As vocalist, McCann has a range and a rawness that suits the folk/blues sound of his guitar. It is honest and passionate, reflective and melodious. Most important of all - it is unquestionably individual, which is so refreshing to find in among the dearth of manufactured music that has swamped the mainstream in recent times.

Trainwreck in Sarasota's Rob McCann.

I don't like to compare musicians with one another because I think it can sometimes be unhelpful but McCann himself does cite as musical influences the likes of The Decemberists, Jeff Martin, Hawksley Workman and The Weepies. I myself, was reminded a little of Colin Hay, Chris Whitley and even Seasick Steve. The quality of Trainwreck in Sarasota's sound, combined with McCann's vocal presence, song writing smarts and guitarmanship make him worthy of being mentioned in the same breath. If there were any criticisms at all to make of Rob and his music, it would be to simply say that his sound is crying out for the addition of a session band and some additional harmonies.

"The Narrow Escape" and "Something To Call Your Own" are both available through McCann's official site and, while both recordings are free, I would encourage prospective listeners to kick in with a donation. Both works are highly deserving given the care and attention that has gone into them. 

The final word on Trainwreck in Sarasota, to me, is luminous. Go get yourself some.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Swear & Shake - There Need Be No Other Title.

Every now and then, I happen across absolute gems in terms of music. As you know, if you've read my book or my writings here, I am influenced by music. It feeds into my writing and helps me to visualize and draw both character, scene and setting. So I am very much a connoisseur of music, if you will and I will seek out music from just about anywhere. 

But I don't just seek out music for my creative impulses. There is nothing more satisfying to me than discovering something that I can put on the stereo in my work shed on a cold Saturday afternoon, light the fire pot in the back garden and either knock the top off a few beers or pull the cork on a bottle of red and sit and relax in the splendor of my little domain. 

Recently, I happened across a totally legitimate free download from an indie/folk outfit from New York - a quartet with the name "Swear & Shake". The EP, aptly titled "Extended Play" is the first release from the band and it has created a considerable buzz since it's release late last year. Though it comprises only six tracks, "Extended Play" is one of those sit up and take notice the moment you put it on kind of albums. Where does one begin with describing them? Their sound is smooth and smoky, their vocals and harmonies soulful and languid, their lyrics infused with story and poignancy. They add untold depths to the flavor of a glass of wine. They warm your already warm belly with their honest and unrefined acoustics and they deliver a satisfying aural experience that you just don't hear enough of any more.

The band comprises 
Tom Elefante on Drums, Kari Spieler on Vocals & Guitar, Adam McHeffey on Vocals & Guitar, Shaun Savage on Bass. As an outfit, of relative youth, their sound reflects a maturity and grace that one might associate with an band of many years standing. Their discipline as a live touring band is also impressive and they are a regular fixture in live venues in and around New York and Manhattan. Their success thus far will see them spreading their wings further and I have had a tip off just recently that a tour down under in the next 18 months is not out of the question.        

Presently, "Extended Play" is available as a free download under the Creative Commons attribution for artistic works which means that you can download their EP "Extended Play" completely free and completely legitimately. However, I would encourage you to drop by the band's store and consider parting with $7USD for the physical CD or the $5USD digital download. While there, check out their other merch items including a T-Shirt and Baseball tee which is a favorite of mine.

In addition to their online store, "Swear & Shake" have also embarked on a fund raising venture via the Kickstarter capital raising platform, in the hope of being able to raise enough money to produce their first LP which is titled 'The Maple Ridge'. By pledging as little as $20USD to the project, you can make yourself eligible for a number of incentives/rewards from the band - some of which are quite attractive. It is definitely a worthy project to contribute to given the sublime talent of this quartet.

If you're in the mood for losing yourself in the loveliness of an acoustic sound that is refreshingly honest and as smooth and smoky as an open fire and a glass of wine, then treat yourself to "Swear & Shake". You will not be disappointed.