I’ve recently become acquainted with The Lefsetz Letter, a blog by — who else? — Bob Lefsetz.
It’s a blog about the music industry.
And yet there are so many parallels between the music industry and the publishing industry that I recommend this blog to any writer out there who wants to get a feel for where we’re all headed.
There are differences, to be sure, between the two industries. There’s no American Idol for writers, for example (which is not necessarily a bad thing).
Both industries are undergoing massive change, both due primarily to the digitization of content.
And as Bob wrote, the music industry can’t get away with overcharging for music any longer. The same might be said for the publishing industry, which sowed the seeds for its own disruption when hardcovers began costing north of $25 (and giving people a very good reason to migrate to the Kindle).
But what I most appreciate about Bob’s writing (and boy, is he prolific) is that he always comes back around to the importance of the art itself. Because despite all the Kindles and iPads and Nooks that are making headlines these days, despite all social networking success stories, it is the art itself that matters most.
A Kindle is worthless without a great book.
And I would argue that there is still a dearth of great books out there.
Here’s what Bob wrote recently:
No one wants to hear this. Especially a generation brought up getting trophies for last place. Music is more cutthroat and competitive than ever before. The public is right there, on the other side of the computer, but it’s almost impossible to get people to care.
If you’re a great marketer, good at Facebook and Twitter, hire yourself out as such. Just because you can promote a product, that does not mean it’s going to sell. Social media only works if the music is great.
Good is not good enough.
We’re talking great. One listen great. Fifteen seconds great. Or something so left field that our friends tell us to give it five times through and we think it’s the new “Dark Side Of The Moon”.
Music is like America at large. There’s the 1% and everybody else. You may think you can make it, but you can’t. You’re part of the 99%. You’re a fan.
You could swap out “music” and insert “publishing” and “book” and this excerpt would be just as relevant to writers.
There are more books being published today than ever before, more books competing for reviews and for “follows” and “likes.” It’s the natural evolution of an industry that no longer has gatekeepers. It’s chaotic. It’s noisy. And now the focus is on how many friends you have, how many followers. Writers are all expected to have a “platform” so they can guarantee a certain number of sales, a certain amount of publicity.
But I agree with what Bob notes: Social media only works if the music [book] is great.
I’ve been thinking a lot about social media lately. I wonder how a writer who has been toiling for years (usually nights and weekends) writing his or her Great American Novel is also expected to have a few thousand followers and friends?
My advice echoes Bob’s: You’re far better off worrying less about how many friends you have and focusing more on writing the best book possible. A book that people tell their friends and family about not because you asked them to — because they want to.
Far too often, publishers make acquisitions based on how many friends or likes or Twitter followers an author has. And that is a mistake. Yet it’s a mistake that will ultimately benefits smaller presses — those of us still focused on the work itself. In a world with no gatekeepers at the top, it is the gatekeepers at the bottom who matter most — the readers. Write for them and them only, and the rest will fall into place.
And don’t forget to check out Bob’s blog.