Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Finding a Model for Your New Book

When an author launches a new book, she or he should be simultaneously looking for a model to follow. Even if the book in question, such as The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas, is unique in the marketplace, there will always be another book whose subject matter intersects with yours. What comes clearly to mind vis-à-vis The Steiny Road is The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross. The Rest Is Noise has made the 2007 ten best books list of The New York Times and many other book lists, including Time magazine and

Of course, Ross already had a huge readership as the well respected music critic of The New Yorker and he has an important Internet presence with his blog, now nominated for the 2008 Bloggies award as the best blog about music. It cannot hurt if you, the relatively unknown author, are also writing criticism in the subject area of your book. For example, I went to a memorial service for a fellow traveler recently. (We had been together for two glorious weeks in Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast some years ago besides seeing each other more recently at standup parties at the home of mutual friends.) At this service, which was quite sad since the always vibrant Sarah Francis died quite unexpectedly, I realized the soprano singing the Ave Maria was Claire Kuttler, the same singer who had been featured in the new opera Later the Same Evening: An opera inspired by five paintings of Edward Hopper by composer John Musto and librettist Mark Campbell. After the service, I told Claire how much I believed Sarah would have been pleased that Claire Kuttler had sung in her honor and that I had had her in three separate performances of Later the Same Evening. Looking somewhat shocked, Ms. Kuttler said to me, “Oh my god! You must be the Dresser.” I relate this anecdote not to promote myself as the critic known as the Dresser, but just to say that occasionally a small fish in the large sea of the Internet is occasionally spotted. Now whether those people who read your critical opinions will buy your book is clearly, as it is said (you may groan here), “another kettle of fish.”

On the serious side, I reveled in reading The Rest Is Noise and I refused to write a review of the book until I had read every word of this magnificent tome on a survey of classical music in the Twentieth Century. (My review of The Rest Is Noise is posted on I also went to hear Ross speak about his book and was amused to hear him say that “classical music is alive in some zombie state” and he was doing his best to disprove the notion that classical music is dead. Of course as a poet, I relate to that struggle but mine is about keeping poetry and opera alive. It tickles me that Ross took a picture of that Washington, DC audience, which included me and then he put that photo on his Website. Even an author who is getting so much good press and great book sales is doing the same things I’m doing. Now what I have to do, besides getting lucky enough to get some major press on my book, is figure out how to make a clever book trailer. Ross has one and it’s not bad. Scroll down on this link to the middle of the page to play his book trailer. So study your model and see what you can learn to advance your book. If you can get your model author to read and comment on your book that's even better!

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