Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Author as Musician

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Dalton Higgins

by Dalton Higgins

I have a healthy respect for multi-disciplinary arts; from dance, literature and film, to visual art, theatre and music. Having dabbled in more than a few of these disciplines myself, in different capacities, I am now of the opinion that authors could benefit greatly from behaving more like musicians as a means to engender more interest in their product, generate greater revenues, and to leave their indelible mark on this city.

Where exactly am I going with this? Well, for those in the publishing business who wouldn’t know what a crash cymbal was if it slapped them upside the head and twirled them around like a helicopter rotary wing, I say its time to step out of your comfort zone and try to learn a thing or seven from the musicians in our city.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all suggesting that authors need to spend copious amounts of time in recording studios like musicians do, or that they should be emailing out bushels of mildly annoying SoundCloud links of new unreleased material to anyone that will listen (God bless their little cacophonous hearts). But what I am proposing is that Toronto area authors not named Atwood need to turn up the volume and make their presence felt in the broader arts scene. The truth of the matter is that many parts of the literary scene in Toronto can feel kinda quiet at times, relative to the other artistic disciplines. Do some of the crude stereotypes surrounding authors being a tad less raucous than say dancers or musicians ring true. I say yes! It’s time to escape the quiet cafes, ditch the pristine writer’s dens and start to make more noise, both literally and figuratively.

Here a few areas where authors can take a page from the notepads of their musical brethren:

Instagram: To be a musician of today means buying directly into the shameless social media induced self-promotion schtick. Have you gone on a musicians Instagram page lately? Depending on the player and the instrument, there might be all kinds of selfies featuring them with their guitars, tats, keyboards, or horns and the obligatory pouty lips. Is it utterly annoying to see someone hamming it up with their musical instrument daily? Absolutely. But are these musicians building their brand up exponentially by exposing their new tats and loop pedals? Yes, they are. There are few Instagram pages of local authors I enjoy checking out and I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps some authors think that sending out nice crisp high resolution JPEG’s of their ARC’s or shiny new laptop keyboards won’t turn anyone’s crank. But they have it all wrong. Many of us would take an extreme close-up shot of a Logitech K480 Bluetooth Multi-Device Keyboard over some seedy buff bod shots any day.

Touring: Musicians generate the lions share of their revenue by touring, and by playing at any venue that will host them. If musicians can’t play live and tour, they don’t eat. Can I suggest you utilize some aspects of this paradigm, oh sweet heavenly author? Publisher-funded book tours as we once knew them, are on life support. And last I checked, your surname is not Hill (Lawrence), so how exactly can you get out on the road to hustle some books? Go launch a crowdfunding drive to cover the costs of your book tour. Bookstores have been diversifying their inventory to include selling housewares for a while now, so I don’t think you need to be singularly looking at bookish venues to tour and get the word out. Given that many of my books have to do with hip hop, technology and diversity, those are the spaces that my team seek out opportunities for me to shill my books. With all due respect to the fantastic niche mom and pop bricks and mortar stores I personally frequent in Toronto, I am not convinced that in 2016 your average Josephine Citizen is really finding out about my books while browsing traditional bookstores. And with these zany book returns policies, that’s another blog entry! So get out there and sell off the stage, wherever you go. If you are waiting around for royalty statements and cheques, I wish you luck. Waiting for royalty statements, especially ones that you can half understand, is like Waiting for Godot. It’s Waiting for Royaltot.

Business manager: Lets say you reside in a condo, own a house or are occupying a nice loft apartment somewhere in The 6. Well, someone’s got to pay for this schmancy lifestyle, non? Last I checked, those five dollar cups of cafe at Starbucks – where you seemingly want to get much of your writing done – are not going down in price anytime soon. Musicians rely on managers to help them make sense of why a few five dollar cups of coffee’s a day might be a colossal waste of dough over the long term. Enlist someone like a commissions-based management consultant to go out there and hunt for cash and revenue friendly opportunities for you. That person surely ain’t gonna be you, because you have a manuscript to get done. Surely, there must be someone around you who is a raging capitalist who can help find you loot, whilst taking in a healthy commission.

Busking: Musicians can play tunes on street corners and in TTC subways, while selling their merchandise and hustling for dinero. So why can’t authors too occupy street corners, conduct more public readings, in parks, on neighborhood blocks, and try to hustle some chapters from their unfinished manuscripts? A large bulk of the readings I attend are snoozefests, but that doesn’t mean it has to be this way. It’s time to convert your normally staid, hush hush reading affairs into performance art. And then whip out the old fedora for donations. It will do your RBC account good. Go to the corner of Queen St W. and Spadina Avenue and take some notes on what things work and don’t work for practicing buskers. And when you're done, tell them Dalton Higgins sent you.

Dalton Higgins is a music programmer, pop culture critic, author, broadcaster and journalist. He is also Canada’s foremost expert on hip hop culture. His latest book is Hip Hop World, published by Groundwood Books/House of Anansi. He is also the co-author of two books, Hip Hop (Thomson Nelson) and Much Master T: A VJ’s Journey (ECW Press). His work has been referenced in many popular culture essays and has been cited in influential urban culture books such as Erykah Badu: The First Lady of Neo Soul (Sanctuary Publishing). As a print journalist, Dalton is a Canadian National Magazine Award recipient, and his articles have appeared in esteemed print and online mediums in the United States (Vibe, the Source, Urb, and Canada (Saturday Night, Now Magazine, Toronto Star, Quill & Quire and many others). As a broadcaster, Dalton has hosted his own TV show, and has appeared as a pundit on every major Canadian network, from waxing about Barack Obama on CTV’s Canada AM, and providing election coverage on CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning, to debating legal issues on CTV Newsnet’s The Verdict, musing on fatherhood activism on TVO to ruminating on black culture on OMNI TV.

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