The thoughts, stories and advice of Bill Riddell.

Rocking & Writing – The Backdoor to Success

August 12th, 2009 Posted in advice, personal, writing
Red Door, Grand Forks, N.D. by tuey
Red Door by tuey

I’ve always looked for the more unconventional, less traveled path to get what I want. Very few people look beyond plan A; as a result, the conventional path often becomes overpopulated and hard to find your way through.

Today I’m going to share some interesting lessons from the music and book industries on the merits of finding your own way to success, rather than following the horde.

Rocking to the Top

Listening to the radio the other day I heard an upcoming Australian pop singer talking about how she got her ‘job’, a record deal with a major label, and how other aspiring singers and bands struggle to get noticed.

They face a lot of crowded channels to get a record deals. The official channels are clogged and so are the unofficial ones. For every muso you hear of who gets a deal based on their myspace page there are hundreds of thousands of others with no luck.

One time proven method to get yourself noticed by the right people in the music biz is to send in demo tapes. Someone in the industry hears your tape, signs you up, then rockets you and your band from obscurity to stardom. Sadly those demos rarely get listened to, or a drowned out by the sheer number of other average demos the listener has heard.

Many singer-songwriters have found a less crowded backdoor into the industry. Rather than pushing their demos first as a performer they do so as a songwriter, submitting songs that other artists may record. If you wanted to be the next Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus, write a song for them. As well as the lyrics, songwriters typically submit a demo with it. If you’re writing is good it will find its way to Britney or Miley’s people who are probably looking to sign someone like her. You’re far more likely to get noticed that way than you are hiding amongst the regular demo pile.

Writing the Book of Success

As I slowly improve my writing I’m also beginning to study the publishing industry in order to plan my own rise to the top. The book biz has its own version of demo tapes; it’s called the slush pile. Every unsolicited novel sent to the publishing company gets added to the pile. It quickly becomes a mountain, only to be toppled each year into the trash. In the off chance your book gets read, it will most likely receive a passing glance from an underpaid intern who has already been at work for 9 hours and is in no frame of mind to assess your writing.

Another option is to send your book to an agent who will represent you and send your book to relevant people at the publishing companies, skipping the slush piles, but again agents have their own slush piles.

Over the last few years some people have turned to self publishing their work in order to get noticed. A few authors, after self-publishing (with help from a growing number of print-on-demand companies), have been picked up by a traditional publisher. Over the past 2 years there have been only 29 occurrences of this phenomenon (according to the US Bookscan that discloses book deals), approximately one in every thousand book deals (see here and here for more). Far more authors have been plucked from the slush pile I’m sure, I’d figure the number conservatively at one in a hundred. However is it better to be the small fish in the big slush pond or the potentially big fish in the self publishing pond.

Writer Seth Harwood stepped aside from the emerging self publishing route and forged his own path. He turned his novel, Jack Wakes Up, into a podcast and let people listen to his book for free. Word got out and eventually he landed a deal.

Advertising Yourself

Also in the book publishing world, last week I came across this very cool example of someone using the advertising section of Facebook to network in the hope of getting her dream job.

I’m sure people who work in prominent positions at publishing companies are regularly contacted via sites like Facebook by people looking for a job or a book deal. What was not very long ago a backdoor in its own right will increasingly become another crowded option.

As Marian Schembari demonstrated there is always a different way to get peoples attention. She wanted a job working for a large book publishing house, such as HarperCollins. Rather than adding people who worked there as her friend, she instead advertised directly to people who list in their profile that they work at Harper. Those people would login to their account and as their eyes flick over to the right hand column, “I Want To Work For Harper” a nice smiley picture of Marian and a brief 23 words about who she is and what she wants with a link to her personal website/resume.

I have written an ebook that focuses on finding the backdoor to a work experience opportunity or an internship. In addition to discussing in detail the two incredible and unique opportunities I worked for I also discuss a bunch of methods to suit anyone and any job.

I’d really like to know, what backdoors have you taken in life?

  1. 4 Responses to “Rocking & Writing – The Backdoor to Success”

  2. By Starsailor on Aug 18, 2009

    Awesome post – that’s thought provoking stuff man. Cheers

  3. By Bill on Aug 24, 2009

    Thanks Starsailor, really glad you got something out of it. It’s an incredibly gift to be able to give people a bit of nudge in the right direction.

  4. By Marian Schembari on Sep 23, 2009

    Hey Bill, thanks for the mention! The ads ended up working and 1 month later and I’ve got a job in book publicity! There’s something to be said for unconventional :-)

  5. By Bill on Sep 23, 2009

    Your welcome Marian, thanks for the inspiration and all the very best with your new job.

Post a Comment