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I'm fascinated by collaboration, and I think the indie community fosters it these days.
Indie authors don't work alone. We need editors, cover designers, graphic artists, illustrators, beta readers, translators and tech support on our team. We need author friends to support us in the difficult times, and to ask questions of when we're lost. Authors are writing more books together, utilizing both networks of readers to spread the word and there's even a marketing trend right now where authors are collaborating on box-sets to storm the charts.
But you can go further than collaborating with other writers and the supporting industries. You can start looking at the other artistic spheres for collaborative opportunity. For my latest print book, Desecration, I used amazing visual images, with specific permissions, from a Cabinet of Curiosities collection by Suzanne Norris of SakuraSnow. With my words, and her images, we created a gorgeous new finished product.
In today's article, the fantastic Dan Holloway, author, spoken word poet and polymath, talks about some more ways collaboration can be used.
As writers, we spend a lot of time with other writers. And although most of us will admit to a whole host of interests outside of our writing lives, for many of us they remain just that – outside of our writing lives.
My great passion has always been art, with music not far behind.
I guess I was naïve when I started self-publishing, not really knowing many others who were doing it at the time other than the close group of friends I had at the Year Zero collective, which 22 of us had started up in January 2009 in protest at the publishing world’s lack of opportunities for new literary fiction, and Guy Gonzalez of Digital Book World, who when he wasn’t talking digital publishing was one of the US’ leading slam poets.
So I didn’t really know that writing was writing and other stuff was, well, other stuff. What I knew was that I loved indie rock music, the musicians I’d met at gigs shared pretty much exactly the same artistic ethos as I did, that one of the writers I respected, and still do respect, most in the world, Marc Nash, used to work at the iconic Rough Trade in Brick Lane, and that one of my good friends James Rhodes was currently taking pops at the Classical music scene by making his concerts more gig-like and doing rather well out of it thank you.
(Veronika von Volkova's photograph of the world famous skatepark situated in the Undercroft of the Southbank, with words from my poem Hungerford Bridge, which was inspired by the iconic setting. This is one of a series of postcards Veronika and I have produced together)
Which meant, when I came to organise the launch of my first book, which was to be my first ever reading, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to get in touch with my favourite acoustic musician (I had at least figured out that fully-amped and bookshop wasn’t a match made in heaven, though that would change in time…), the wonderful Jessie Grace. I borrowed a trick from James and made a minimalist and beautifully laid out set of A5 programme notes, and Jessie and I split the night between us, each with two fifteen minute sets, alternating music and reading. I should add, for those of you who only know me as a performance poet, this was a long time before I discovered poetry. This was prose at its prosaic prosiest.
(Lucy Furlong's Amniotic City is a brilliant example of the way that not confining yourself to the use of one medium can help you create a “book” that is not only unique but does better justice to the words you have written)
More than 60 people turned up that night, some of them to see Jessie and some of them to see me. She sold CDs, not all of them to people who had come to see her. I sold books, not all of them to people who had come to see me. Which meant I never unlearned the fact that it made perfect sense for writers to share the floor with people from other arts. My next event, held at Rough Trade, featured three writers and three music acts (including Jessie), and it went from there.
I soon learned that there is no reason why literature should be confined to bookstores – I have staged collaborative events everywhere from an art gallery in a castle turret in Oxford to the theatre on the ground floor of Manchester’s legendary Afflecks to a burlesque club in Stoke Newington. And yes, I’ve brought fully-amped electronica into bookstores.
(You can find full details and numerous pictures of the day long installation Lilith Burning here. Katelan and I used photography, physical collage, both of our storytelling skills, her modelling experience, and collaboration with an art gallery and a bookstore to create an event that got many of the independent retailers not to mention book lovers in Oxford talking about both of our work)
And I’ve moved beyond just collaborating with musicians.
In 2010 I worked with the amazing New York based artist, model, and photographer (as well as writer and publisher) Katelan Foisy on an installation on the streets of Oxford that morphed into a reading, and for the past two years and more, I have worked on numerous collaborations with the amazing Canadian photographer Veronika von Volkova (who is currently running a series about our collaborations on her tumblr ).
She is more than just my cover photographer (although she is that). I have used her art as the backdrop for my performances, to create exquisite postcards, and most recently I used her Grime Angels series as the artwork for my long-form poem SKINBOOK.
Creatively speaking I have found myself learning things and taking steps I could never have imagined through my collaborations.
But they have also been fabulous ways of bringing my work to new audiences. And not just random new audiences but audiences of people many of whom love what I do, just as many of the people who like my books absolutely love what the artists and musicians I work with do. Because our taste in literature isn’t just about our taste in literature. It reflects a fundamental part of us, the same part of us that also expresses itself through a love of certain music and certain art. And many people who love the same music and art as us do so because it reflects a fundamental part of them that also expresses itself in the kind of literature we write.
So working with people in other creative disciplines ticks so many boxes.
- It widens our creative horizons and expands our creative vocabulary.
- It expands our network of brilliant creative people.
- It gives our existing fans something truly valuable by exposing them to other things they will love.
- It brings our work to whole new audiences, many of whom will then become part of our fanbase.
And not to be ignored:
- It creates all sorts of possibilities for producing interesting collaborative merchandise!
How are you collaborating as a creative right now? Or how would you like to? Please do leave a comment or question below.
Dan Holloway's Self-publish With Integrity: Define Success in Your Own Terms and then Achieve it is now available for Kindle.
The book, which includes chapters on community building, handling self-doubt and never being afraid to be yourself, is intended as a guide to help self-publishing writers discover, and then stay true to, their fundamental writing goals, helping them steer a path through the maze of how to guides, helpful advice, and other obstacles that beset them at every stage of their writing life so that achieve long-term happiness and success on the only terms that count: their own.