Making Books After Music: On Rockers Turned Publishers

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It takes a certain type of personality to be a freelance publisher. Passion for books is a big part of that, but beyond that there almost always has to be a balance of tenacity and obsession, business cunning and marketing prowess. The need for these attributes probably explains why a significant number of artists, especially musicians, have found their way into the world of letters.

Johnny Temple toured and performed with various bands until post-hardcore quintet Girls Against Boys achieved financial and critical success, and he used royalties from his work with the band to establish Akashic Books in 1997, to be both a record label and a book publisher. . After Akashic’s resounding success with the shit by Arthur Nersesian, the editor’s emphasis on literature has been defined.

At the height of the White Stripes’ success, lead singer Jack White founded Third Man Records in 2001. Soon after, he opened Third Man Books to publish avant-garde poetry and literature.

“I think it’s just this drive to pound the pavement,” said Temple, who is publisher and editor of Akashic Books, when asked why he started the press. “When we published our first book, the shit, I would just take a backpack full of books and go to bookstores and meet people, selling the book by hand. He described DIY as something he learned as a touring musician. “You go out and do your thing or you’ll never get anywhere,” he added.

The same motivation that leads to a music project is what inspired Chet Weise, editor at Third Man Books, to help White cultivate a successful independent publishing house. “My Alabama band and I ended up traveling the world, and I’m not saying it’s because of talent either – it’s just because of pure, relentless energy, just to form a habit.” This willingness to publish and edit is like the habit of making music.

Coming to the convergence of music and publishing in stark contrast, Christoph Paul had music in his veins from before his writing days, but it wasn’t until after he became an editor at Clash. Books that he found the music that called him. “Honestly, you need a stress buster — you need something outside of publishing that you’re passionate about to survive publishing,” he said. To indulge his musical passion, Paul formed a band, The Dionysus Effect, specializing in stripped-down rock, with several songs based on Clash Books titles, including “Darryl”, from the book of the same name by Jackie Ess.

Lessons from the road

Musicians have cut their chops learning to balance artistic collaboration and marketing their work. Even the most popular artists act as their own publicists, ensuring they deliver the best marketing performance and don the best personality for the brand of music they play. This approach is especially needed in independent publishing, but it’s not so well appreciated there.

“You can’t really be shy [as a musician]”, said Paul. “You have
to hang out, play shows, do head counts. Paul and Clash editor Leza Cantoral took this
early heart lesson
and generated a touring schedule to ensure the press attends all major conventions and writers’ conferences. Coming out on the market really helped spread the word about Clash.

Temple took his experience as a full-time musician to heart as a freelance publisher. “My background as a musician helps me as a publisher on different levels,” he explained. Traveling the world, talking to so many different musicians and promoters, he learned how to communicate a message – a skill he uses with songwriters. “There’s a lot of respect for each other, and when it comes to the promotional side of things, I’m there to help them deal with the bad reviews, the good reviews, the challenges of maybe having to travel somewhere to a reading and maybe having very few people show up.”

Weise said of his musical tours, “I don’t know how many times I almost ended up on the side of the road.” He doesn’t regret the effort, however, even when the gig paycheck for the whole band barely bought a single beer. He took that love for art into publishing. “When I look at a book for possible publication by Third Man Books, and everyone is on board and feeling good, we run with it,” he said. The entire Third Man staff, from Weise and White to co-founder Ben Blackwell, has learned to trust that gut feeling from all those years in the bands, and it always keeps them excited and eager to feed off that energy.

“Books are easy to sell, man,” Weise said, noting that the hardest part is getting someone to read a book. This is when the hard-learned act of being your own distributor and self-promoter becomes so valuable. “At the time, I was involved in all of the band’s marketing, whether it was layout or merchandising,” he explained. “It helped me see how an author can wrap themselves and their books from cover to live reading.”

It also showed Weise how all aspects of publishing impact a book’s success. “Being available to do readings is important,” he said. “Nothing is the same as being in the same room, hearing someone read those words.”

For Temple, these days in music, especially in the early days, revealed how important it is for all artists, including songwriters, to be open-minded to do things such as networking and building lasting professional relationships with journalists, media and industry professionals. “We really understood how a band has a relationship with the media and being comfortable with it being talked about in the media, no matter the tone,” he said. It’s also an important lesson for authors to learn, especially when those one-star Goodreads reviews roll in.

And since publishing, like the music industry, can be insular, another lesson Temple emphasizes is to be kind. “If you’re an asshole, a lot of people won’t care if your book sells.”

“My first rule is to stay in business,” Paul said. “Musicians have that in them, because if you don’t have
an audience, you don’t have a show. It’s also important to understand that editing, like broadcasts, is collaborative in nature: “You have to support others.”

The bottom line, for Clash Books, is to convey that willingness to take risks, stay in business, and stay passionate; the same can be said for Akashic, Third Man, and any independent, artist-run press that seeks to publish books that fuel their passion, excite them, and most importantly, do something different.

“If the publishing industry were a little less white, a little less upper-middle class, a little less refined, with fewer rules,” Temple said, “publishing could be as exciting as music can be. being in itself.”

Michael Seidlinger is a writer in New York.

A version of this article originally appeared in the 09/19/2022 issue of Weekly editors under the title: How Music and Publishing Converge

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