The Writing Business

         Before I start today, I want to thank The Laurel of Asheville for hiring me to do some pieces on bluegrass music.  The editor, Mr. Paul Howey, is a fine fellow who decided to take a chance on an unknown, and I appreciate the opportunity.  

        Mr. Howey wrote an award winning book on Pet Therapy dogs.  His book came out of empathy for a stray dog he happened upon in the Arizona desert back when he when he was living there.  He sensed the dog was special and indeed his intuition proved well founded- Freckles became a star in the field of pets and healing. 

        I’m lucky I ran into Paul, as he is an empathetic man with a soft spot for stray dogs and old Docs.  He is a busy editor, but took the time to make the piece magazine worthy.  It was my first good paying writer gig, and I’m glad Mr. Paul Howey was the man to give me a chance.  As we say in bluegrass, he’s a good’un.     

        Today I wanted to share some of the business aspects of writing and agents.  I am a Doc and an artist, not a business guy, but I am a fast learner.  In the literary world you gotta have an agent.  They come by all the best gigs, and they know the business end of things.  (Someone has to take care of Dr. B.) 

        Take today.  My agent found me a gig writing for a University Press up north.  They have a book compilation project on rural medicine in progress and wanted one chapter from a country doc who played bluegrass music.  (Can you believe my luck?) 

        My man has all kinds of writers in his stable and he chose me for the project.  I wonder what made him think of ole Dr. B?  Maybe it was ’cause my six word memoir is “World’s first physician bluegrass fiction writer.”  

        He really wants to see me get this gig, ’cause he says it will be a springboard for even bigger publications.  It is hard for me to imagine anything much bigger though.  Old Dr. B has spent his entire adult life as a country doc and bluegrass picker and now is gonna be rubbing elbows with University scholars.  Too dang much.  I hope they want to have a pig picking and a bluegrass band when their book comes out; I know all the best ones.

        When I got my Bluegrass First Class gig, my agent negotiated all the details, and it was impressive.  I couldn’t believe I was going to get paid all that money for having so much fun.  

        Right from the get-go he had me ready for the role right down to the little hat with the press ticket tucked in the band.  We had the run of the entire place and backstage access to all the shows.  To tell you the truth, as Buck Owens would say, I was just acting naturally; only difference was now someone was paying me to do it.  I had a little notebook I carried in my back pocket, but I forgot to pull it out.  It didn’t matter.  Who could forget the events anyway?  

        The writing business is new to me, but I have been around bluegrass music all my life, and I can see some parallels.  Both of ‘em have a fair amount of overhead.  (One bluegrasser told me you don’t know what overhead is till your diesel fuel bill is in the tens of thousands of dollars.)  I remember talking to one boy who signed on as the bass man for a mid level band, and they went all the way to California and back on tour.  They flew in airplanes and stayed at fancy hotels, smoked fine cigars, and had steak every night.  (They warn’t the ground up kind either, but them good Delmonicos and such as that.)

        When he got home and got to figuring, he had fifteen more dollars than he’d left home with.  He called his old boss and asked if he could get back his job at the hardware store.  (He still plays but now balances a day job with weekend music work.)

        This writing gig, like playing music, is also a tough way to make a living, though I don’t think my overhead is in the same league with the folks on the music tour.  We did have a lot of expenses though.  At the end of the weekend, me and my agent sat down and went over the line item financials.  We got our press passes for free, and of course I understood all the travel expenses.  I didn’t realize he had rung up quite such a bar tab, and room service each day does tend to accrue.  I wasn’t sure exactly why his mama needed a room, but then he told me her sitter had quit her, and she was scared of staying alone, so I let it go.  The Doc side of me empathized with his circumstances.  (I never was much of a businessman.)  As we say in bluegrass, it was a large time, and I’m ready to go at it again. 

       They say the best Docs know they ought to be out making an honest living but enjoy practicing medicine to much to quit.  Music has always been that way for me too, and now so is writing.  (My wife says I’m gonna get all the way to the end and never go to work for a living.)  To play a whole weekend, get paid, make expenses, and have seventeen bucks left over was a huge success.  Maybe that is why I like to write so much- it’s a lot like bluegrass music. 

        So I guess I’ll persevere on as long as y’all will put up with me.  I am having too much fun to quit.

        See you this weekend.  Let’s see.  Medicine, music, writing or golf?  Hm, I’ll have to see what transpires between now and then.  One thing about it, when you don’t go to work every day, a lot of material surfaces on a regular basis.

Dr. B

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10 Comments on “The Writing Business”

  1. mrschili Says:

    I’m not quitting you, either, Doc. I’m having too much fun.

    A few years back, I thought about starting up a little desert catering business. I’m a whiz at whipping up the sweeties, and thought it’d be a good way to make some money while still being able to stay at home with the mini-Chilis. Mr. Chili talked me out of it, saying that having to do the baking under a deadline and for money would suck the joy out of it.

    I’m still trying to decide how I feel about that, because I love teaching, and I get paid to do that. Why should the baking be any different?

    I’m paying attention to you and your adventures. I truly believe that if someone can find a living in one’s joy, so can I…

  2. kalpesh Says:

    Sometimes clients are unreasonable, it is us writers who have to decide whether to sell our talent for money or creative satisfaction. Most often writers write for paltry sums, this disturbs the whole equation of the industry. Even websites like Guru.com etc. should have certain bidding standards to protect writing industry in general.

  3. Ted Lehmann Says:

    A ditty for Doc:

    Medicine has virtues the whole world does admire,
    Writing often finds the way, to light an inner fire.
    Music reaches deep down into the soul,
    And golf gives balance to help make all things whole.

    It sure is fortunate you don’t have to make a choice. – Ted

  4. drtombibey Says:

    mrschili,

    I guess the trick is to somehow not ignore the bottom line to avoid going under, and yet not make money the driving force and the reason for being in business.

    In doctoring I figured if I took good care of my people I could not get rich or go broke either one. I didn’t make as much money as some, (and didn’t care) but if anyone is happier with how their career went, I’m happy for them.

    As far as cooking, one time Ms. Marfar had a teacher conference, and I cooked for the kids all week-end. You never saw two young’uns so happy to see their mama get back home. If it weren’t for the grill, they’d starved to death, but I did the best I could.

    Dr. B

  5. drtombibey Says:

    kalpesh,

    You are right, and the same kind of thing exists in the music world too. A lot of bands will play free for the exposure. I try to be charitable, but some of them are not very good, and it gives bluegrass music the wrong image.

    Whenever a big RV dealer wants to book us in Raleigh and balks at our fee (around $1200.00 for an out of town gig), I tell him if we are there and he sells one extra camper for it, he’s made money.

    I usually close by saying, “I can get you a terrible band for free. Nice guys, but out of time, out of tune and they sing so bad it’ll drive their mama away. Or, I can get you Ricky Skaggs for thirty grand. Ricky is great- no doubt about it, but you gotta sell a bunch of campers to get that back. Ricky has a better band than me, no doubt about that either, but we are 90% as good, so I figure….”

    The alternate of course is to hire us for 1200.00 bucks. Come to think of it, with gas being what it is I might go up to 1500.00.

    We’ve played many a benefit for some child with cancer for free, and always will, but if someone stands to make money from what we do, I see to it my guys are compensated.

    Now if I can figure how to do that with my writing!

    Thanks for visiting and I appreciate your words of wisdom. I am just getting started and need all the good advice I can get.

    Dr. B

  6. drtombibey Says:

    Ah brother Ted, I appreciate you so. The English Professor is the MAN. (And the English teacher it the WOMAN.) You are a true brother in bluegrass.

    Hey, speaking of choices, I know you’ve seen this one, but other readers might get a kick out of it. There was a T-shirt making the rounds at festivals a few years ago. It said,

    “MY WIFE SAID IF I BOUGHT ONE MORE GUITAR, SHE WAS GONNA LEAVE ME.”

    (insert picture of guitar here.)

    “I SURE AM GONNA MISS THAT GIRL.”

    As a man with a wife I love and three mandolins, I’m thankful for what I have in this world.

    Dr. B

  7. pandemonic Says:

    Well, I’m making more for writing than I ever could playing the violin. Well, maybe people would pay me to stop! :-)

  8. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Pande,

    That violin is a tough one. I can play mandolin, guitar, banjo, and bass and even do a little part singing, but when I pick up the fiddle everyone in the house runs for cover right down to the family dog.

    A pick I can handle; that bow is a beast, though. They don’t call it the devil’s box for nothing.

    Dr. B

  9. enreal Says:

    Really liked your memoir…Under normal circumstance I would say to ramble on…but your 6 words are consise and to the point…

    Good Luck to you, you are living my dream…one day I will live it too

  10. drtombibey Says:

    hey thanks enreal,

    I am trying to live the dream sure enough.

    My banjo man, Moose Dooley, says my brother-in-law lives his dream.

    Moose is a very tough cat who has no use for a fool. One day he pulled me aside to ask about my brother-in-law. “Hey, Bibey.” he asked. “Does he really smoke Cuban cigars, drink fine whiskey, have a black belt in karate, and stay out all week-end with twenty-five year old girls?”

    “Afraid it’s true, Moose.”

    Moose was humbled (which is rare) and said, “He’s my hero.”

    See ya, Dr. B


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