Jazz and the Solo Author

If you're wondering where the current explosion of publishing posts is coming from, I spent an evening in a Jazz club scribbling out topics I wanted to write something about and ended up with around thirty. I suspect there's something about Jazz that helps loosen up the knots in my head, maybe makes me a little less self critical and willing to accept my own ideas rather than dismissing them out of hand. As a solo author and self publisher, I tend to be very harsh about my own book ideas (and often recommend to other self publishers that they act the same way) because it's so tough to pull the plug on publishing a book once it's written. I know that some arts programs teach self criticism with the hope students will learn to judge the relative value of their works in progress, but I've heard artists misapply the lesson, as in, "I know it's good because I took a criticism course and I only do good work now."

While Jazz musicians and authors may share some common traits, there's one area where we certainly have different expectations. The most amusing thing I've seen in the hundred or so Jazz performances I've attended in the last few years was the head of a trio explaining how audience interaction is supposed to work in Jazz clubs. I don't know what possessed him, maybe the fact the club was under new management and drawing more first time Jazz fans, but in essence, he made a little speech saying that it's normal for the audience to show it's appreciation after each solo. And it is normal to applaud or call out a "Yeah," or a "All right," after a solo in a Jazz performance, and even to offer a little polite clapping if the solo wasn't anything special. I expect that the musicians feed off the applause to some extent and I've certainly been to performances where they really warmed up as the night goes on. One thing I never seen in a Jazz club is a solo being received with boos, and that includes first time performances by nervous nellies at open jam sessions.

Authors who expect a minimum of polite applause to greet their publication are in for a nasty surprise. In fact, any author who goes into publishing with the idea of building self esteem through the wonderful things people are going to write or say about the book has started a new career for the wrong reason. I remember when my first trade book was published by McGraw-Hill about ten years back, I got a horrible review from some "professional" reviewer who ran a sort of an independent review newsletter. I mentioned to a friend with some publishing background that I sent a copy to my editor at McGraw-Hill, and the friend saying he didn't think that was very smart. Maybe it wasn't, but when I got over the initial shock of having my book trashed, I figured I'd better start working on growing a thick skin if I was going to continue as an author. I don't think it even occurred to me to write the reviewer and point out his errors in both facts and judgment:-)

While Jazz musicians thrive on feedback, authors frequently wither under it. The funny thing is, some of the nastiest e-mails I've gotten have been from people who've never read one of my books! It can take a bit of back and forth to figure out, but some readers figure that an author who writes about a subject is somehow associated with it, and makes as good a place to send general gripes as any. I've tried to learn to differentiate between people who are just trying to be mean and people who are genuinely seeking answers, but it's my batting record is nothing to brag about. I suppose you might argue it takes a lot more effort to become a Jazz musician than an author, and it might be true in some ways, but you see plenty of kids playing music at a high level, and not that many kids writing great books. Who knows, maybe the polite applause is part of the reason. Kids aren't stupid.

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