Musicians page through their pasts for book deals

By Cortney Harding

NEW YORK (Billboard) - As recording artists experiment with all manner of digital media to reach their fans, a few are engaging in a centuries-old practice -- writing books.

Those awaiting new material from Eminem, for example, were granted a temporary reprieve when the rapper-turned-hermit released "The Way I Am" in October. Part scrapbook and part memoir, the book has sold 10,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen BookScan.

"The Way I Am" isn't the only new tome on the market from an outspoken Detroit musician. Ted Nugent's "Ted, White, and Blue: The Nugent Manifesto," a polemic about politics, has sold 24,000 copies since it arrived October 7 and is No. 28 on the New York Times' Hardcover Nonfiction best-seller list.

The book sales haven't translated into increased record sales for either. None of Eminem's four albums or Nugent's greatest-hits album has enjoyed any appreciable rise in sales since their books were published, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Then again, that's usually not the reason why artists turn to book writing. Musicians pick up the pen to set the record straight, rant about the state of the world or just share tales of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. And even those who aren't rock-star famous can sometimes get book deals: Juliana Hatfield, more than a decade past her indie-rock heyday, recently published a memoir through Wiley.


A more conventional rock 'n' roll book project was Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx's memoir of drug addiction, "The Heroin Diaries," which has sold 161,000 copies in hardcover and an additional 6,000 in paperback since it was published in September 2007. Sixx helped boost sales of the book by releasing an album a month before the book's publication. "The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack" has sold 276,000 units in the United States, according to SoundScan.

Many publishing deals are fairly modest, at least by the standards of multiplatinum recording stars. "A typical advance for an established musician is a few hundred thousand dollars," a publishing source says. "The advance is generally about 20 percent of what the publishers expect a good book will generate." Representatives for Eminem and Nugent couldn't be reached for comment about their respective book contracts.

As in the music industry, authors have to wait until their advance is recouped to receive royalties on sales. Since many musicians don't write stunning prose, they hire ghostwriters or co-authors, who are generally paid a flat fee out of the advance money. Primary authors are then usually paid a royalty of 15 percent of the retail price for hardcover and 7.5 percent for paperback books, translating to $3.75 for a $25 hardcover or $1.05 for a $14 paperback. Compared with the $1 to $2 typically paid for each album, selling books looks like a more lucrative bet.


But not everyone who has ever cut a record should count on getting a book deal.

"Things are dire in the publishing business, and they are looking to get the big names that already have established brands and platforms," says literary agent Sarah Lazin. And she adds that even some popular musicians face an added hurdle because of their fan base.

"For a long time, publishers made the mistake of thinking that because a band had sold a lot of records, they would sell a lot of books," she says. "I think they've discovered that it depends on the audience. For the Tori Amos (biography "Piece by Piece," which she co-wrote with Ann Powers), we had a huge response, because her fans are readers and book buyers."

"Piece by Piece" has generated hardcover sales of 32,000 units and paperback sales of 9,000 units since its publication in February 2005, according to BookScan.

Sakiyah Sandifer, who co-authored "Thank You and You're Welcome" with Kanye West, devised a creative response to this problem, bundling the book with tickets to West's Glow in the Dark tour.

Musicians who think their story should be on the big screen might have an easier time selling the story to Hollywood, but Lazin says even that isn't a sure thing. "You don't make money optioning the book alone," she says. "But with 'Walk the Line' and 'Ray,' you are starting to see the movie industry open up to books written by musicians a bit more."

Sandifer says many musicians-turned-authors "do it for vanity reasons." And, he adds, much like in the music industry where artists can sell relatively few records and make their fortunes on the road, "They can probably make more money on the speaking circuit and doing author events than on the publishing deal."


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