Dave Black (left) with Sandy Feldstein
DRUM!: In your role as an editor, how many aspiring writers do you come into contact with in a year?
DB: Too many to count! Very often, a proposal or conversation starts out with, “I have never seen anything like this on the market,” but when I start flipping through the manuscript, I can name several books that have a similar content and/or approach. So when they say they haven’t seen anything like this, they probably haven’t done their homework.
Before someone proposes a book or an idea to a publisher, they should first do some research and visit their local music stores, in addition to the Web sites of major music publishers, to see what’s already out there. You can’t write another drum book and expect to get it published unless it has a different twist or element from those already on the market (and there are already lots of them). If you still need clarification, contact the publisher directly and ask if there’s a need in their catalog for the book you want to write. If so, what would the publisher suggest you do to make it different? Unfortunately, not many people do that kind of groundwork in advance.
Another mistake I often see are people who try to write the bible of whatever subject matter they’re trying to teach, and they’ll send in a 200-page manuscript. No one is going to publish a book that size. Had they talked to the publisher in advance and asked for a recommended page count, they could have saved themselves a lot of time.
DRUM!: What kind of books interest you? What kind get signed?
DB: A new idea or a different spin on an old idea. A recent example is Steve Fidyk’s new book, Big Band Drumming At First Sight. There have been other books about interpreting big band drum charts, but he came up with a system of being able to look at drum parts at a glance in order to make them easier to read the first time through. The audio CD he created includes full-band versions (with and without drums) as well as isolated beat and ensemble figure transcriptions featuring three styles of loop examples. This gives the student the ability to be able to work on just those figures and really get them down. He was able to dissect big band charts in a new way (both visually and audibly), and so it was a different take on that subject. That’s what I look for.
One of the advantages of the end user owning engraving programs such as Finale and Sibelius, and layout programs such as InDesign, is that manuscripts look like a finished book when submitted. Reviewing a book or performance piece that’s been handwritten or poorly laid out can be a turnoff for the editor. Submitting books with music that’s already engraved, that are well laid out, and include nice-sounding audio tracks, not only makes a good impression, but makes the manuscript a lot easier to evaluate. I’m more likely to accept a book that’s submitted that way than one that comes in sloppy and will take a lot of work on our end to clean up for publication.
DRUM!: What are the key skills an author needs to promote his/her book?
DB: Because of the vast number of social media outlets available, authors now have a greater number of promotional tools available to them that were not available five or six years ago. If I get a well-written book by an unknown author but I don’t have room in my production schedule, sometimes I will advise the author to self-publish. Their local music stores will probably sell it for a percentage, and they can advertise it on a number of available social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, or their own Web site. If that book starts to produce some sales or buzz, the author can then go back to a major publisher and say, “I did this book on my own; it has sold a thousand copies; and several teachers are using it.” That would make me take a second look and consider publishing it, because now it has a following and has proven itself in a local market.
Of course, if you have a name and are out on the road with an artist or clinic circuit, that is obviously a great opportunity to reach a lot of people and sell books. If you can get prominent names to endorse your product, those endorsements can be used as a great promotional tool on all the social media sites as well.
DRUM!: Will there be another Alfred Method Book in 25 years?
DB: Oh, I don’t think there’s any doubt that there will be another. Of course, it will be much different than what we currently have, as it will most likely not be published in a traditional printed format. I believe within the next five years or so, students will be bringing their iPads to a class or lesson, putting them on the music stand, and playing from those devices. You’ll be able to store hundreds of tunes or books in that one device rather than having to carry around or store a stack of printed music. It’s going to be interesting to see where this all goes, but it’s happening very rapidly. Publishers are all scrambling to keep up with the technology and to make it accessible. If they don’t, they’re not going to survive, because that’s the way future generations are going to want to purchase product.