blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
Taking writing tips from vinyl? Is that a thing?
Vinyl is in retrograde, in a good way. Vinyl records are experiencing a resurgence among the hippest, hippiest, (and hippy-est), and among younger generations who find anything vintage fascinating, and who discover that a needle floating across grooves in vinyl produces sound that is, well, groovy.
If the needle of a–hang on for the retro-word–phonograph doesn’t lock into the groove on the vinyl record, it produces noise rather than a pure sound.
The writer’s job is to create a work that makes it easy for the needle (reader) to find the groove, the tone, the reason-for-the-book’s-existence, the musicality that will draw the reader closer rather than tempt the reader to plug his/her ears. And that’s not child’s play. Easy doesn’t mean simple, uncomplicated, or dumbed-down, in this instance. It means that the writer and the story have found the precise “lane” where music replaces distortion.
If you’ve listened to a vinyl recording with a scratch in it, your jaw likely tenses when you think about what happens when the needle hits that scratch, even a scratch that isn’t obvious. The needle skips, hops, or drags its way through the scratch, damaging the needle, damaging to the surface of the record, scraping eardrums, and wrecking the listening experience. A bad enough scratch or the appearance of frequent scratches may be too much for the listener to bear. The record is shelved.
Agents and editors don’t approach a proposal hopping it’s a dud. They open every inquiry with a sense of expectation. Could this be the project I’ve been looking for? The needle of that question is lowered onto the “vinyl” of the submission. Listening stops if the agent or editor:
- Checks the vinyl cover. “Wait. This is used. It’s not new. Did the author send me something from the resale shop?” A fresh idea produces a fresh sound, not only pleasing to the ear of an agent or editor, but worth a second listen. Wise writers have done their due diligence to know what’s on the market, what titles have already been snatched up with either great or no success (which colors an agent’s or editor’s perception from word one), and how their unique take adds to rather than muddies the conversation, how its sound resonates and stands out above the noise.
- Holds the vinyl to the light. “Not just one scratch, but many.” Scratches like typos, misused words, lack of understanding of publishing terms and the publishing process, and annoying repetition or redundancy feels like a needle skipping in vinyl. The song might have great potential. But the quality of the listening experience falters.
Live performances, vinyl, cassette, CDs, mp3s, Spotify, personalized playlists… Our modern listening options–growing every day–eclipse the handful of choices available to people even a few hundred years ago. True aficionados keep exploring. They scan options online or stand in vintage record shops, flipping through selections, looking for one that will catch their eye and eventually their ear.
That’s our book market too. With the advent of the digital age, we’re no longer limited by shelf space in our libraries, bookstores, or homes. The sea of books has become a universe. Readers have virtually unlimited options. Those are the readers authors try to nab with their “Pick my book. Pick mine” marketing endeavors.
What makes a reader say yes?
- Intriguing cover.
- Recommendation from a friend who knows what the reader likes, or who wants to challenge the reader to try something different.
- A “first song” that pulls the reader to leave the “needle” where it is to listen to one more, then one more.
- Reputation. The author (or the musician) consistently produces quality products worth the reader’s or listener’s time and investment.
- Whim. Yes, sometimes a book (or vinyl) purchase is made on a whim.
Over what does a writer have control? We sometimes have say regarding the cover of our books, but not always. Writers can encourage people to recommend the book to a friend, but can’t force it. We have no influence over whim. Producing quality is one of our strongest marketing tools. Creating a product worth the reader’s investment is our task.
Scratches? A reader or listener (agent or editor) can only take so much skipping, scritching, and hitches before nerve endings say, “Put it down.”
Yes, some of our favorite books are dog-eared. Our favorite Cat Stevens vinyl looks like a cat used it as a scratching post. But we had to fall in love with the product first.
Is it only me? Or can you see writing tips embedded in vinyl?