Publishing a book on rivethead culture
October 3, 2009 12:51 AM   Subscribe

I want to write and publish a book on the industrial music scene from a feminist perspective. I’m a decent writer, but I have no photography, graphic design, marketing, or publishing experience, and no industry connections. Where do I start?

I have a long-standing interest in the harsh distorted music, extreme fashion, dystopian military aesthetic, and apocalyptic culture of the industrial/dark electro/EBM/powernoise underground music scene. I want to write and publish a book focusing on the people who are involved – bands, artists, fans and supporters.

There are a few books on industrial music and culture out there already, but I want to approach my project from a different angle. I envision the book as an affectionate portrait of a selected group of unusual people, focused on certain aspects of the subculture that I particularly appreciate. Rivethead culture is commonly seen as overwhelmingly male-dominated, but I see it as much more feminist-friendly than it might appear at first glance. It’s very accepting of LGBT folks, geeks, and body types that don’t fit conventional standards, for example. It’s also one of very few places (aside from a few others like goth, riotgrrl and punk culture) where women’s anger and aggression are accepted, and even encouraged.

What I want to do is shine the feminist spotlight on rivetheads of various genders, ethnicities and sexual identities. I want bold, insightful feminist analysis. I want to feature photos of real people with a variety of body types, rather than professional fashion models. I want to highlight older people involved in the scene, to counter the mistaken idea that this is just a youthful phase that everyone outgrows. And hey…it certainly doesn’t hurt that gritty settings featuring men in eyeliner and utilikilts, or women with purple hair and spiked leather jackets, are inherently interesting to me.

Inspirations for this project include:
* AxWound: Gender in the Horror Genre
(I found this while searching for one of my childhood heroes, Lt. Ellen Ripley in Alien!)
* The work of Kyle Cassidy, author of Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes (previously on MeFi)
* The work of UK journalist Mick Mercer
* The Origins of Industrial Music by Jennifer Onativia

I’ve never done anything like this before. I don't know any of the people I mentioned whose work inspires me. Though the scene is fairly small, I’m not well-connected at all – I’m not a musician, DJ, or promoter. I'm just a fan with an abiding interest (and an introverted one at that). I’m definitely not a photographer. And although some of my writing has been published in small-press zines, I’m hardly a professional writer, editor, marketer, graphic designer or publisher. So I really have no idea where to start. And furthermore, I just finished a post-bac in accounting and am currently looking for a job, which means I’m cleverly camouflaged as a semi-normal middle-aged woman and would not be able to devote myself to this book project full-time.

In any case, I would not want this to be a fly-by-night kind of thing. I'm organized, hard-working and responsible, and I’d prefer to take a professional approach. I realize that the market for a book like this is very limited, and that it would be more a labor of love than a profitable venture. But beyond that, I'm clueless. What kind of budget would I be looking at, and would I have any realistic funding options aside from tapping my own pocketbook? Would it even be worth trying to pitch this idea to a traditional publisher? Are there any specific people I should talk to, and if so, what would be the most appropriate way to approach them about a project like this?

What else should I know that I probably haven’t considered?

Any advice would be very much appreciated, particularly from those who've successfully completed projects of similar scope. Thanks!
posted by velvet winter to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Start a blog or an online zine. Start writing something and post it somewhere. This will give you critiques but will also let you start building a fanbase or other interested people who can provide you with knowledge and contacts.
posted by JJ86 at 5:56 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not an expert on this, but I am a writer, and as I understand it this is how the system should work:

Write it, and blog about it. The blog can include excerpts, or posts that are potted versions of chapters, or just riffs on some of the subject matter, or (and this is probably best) all of the above. Your enthusiam about it should get you a following - be sure to link outwardly to other blogs that you admire and they should notice you as well. Your following will in theory guide your writing, and you should be able to tell what interests people and what does not, which will help you refine an edit. But remember that you're the most important reader and there's no point in writing the book if it's not the book you want to write. Write, write, write.

When you've got a first draft, or something approaching it, that's when you should start thinking about how to get it published. In the meantime, your online presence should attract like-minded people, and you will hopefully run into like-minded photographers, graphic designers etc. When the time comes to start thinking about publishing, your online following will demonstarte the existence of a market for the book, and should be a starting point if fundraising is needed for self-publication.

In summary: write it first, worry about publication later; hopefully by then most of these problems will have resolved themselves, or will seem less important.
posted by WPW at 7:16 AM on October 3, 2009

also check out this previous thread
posted by Think_Long at 7:42 AM on October 3, 2009

Best answer: I can't answer most of your questions, but I can answer this one:
Would it even be worth trying to pitch this idea to a traditional publisher?

Sadly, the answer is "no."

My sense of the non-fiction publishing industry nowadays is that it's all about something called "platform." As far as I can tell, this means that a publisher doesn't just want a good manuscript. They want a good manuscript by an author who can attract lots of attention. This could mean being famous, or having lots of media contacts, or having a website with a huge readership. Or it could mean having some sort of very catchy backstory -- if you were once a twelve-year old who ran away from a conservative midwestern home and ended up at the center of the rivethead movement, you'd be golden.

If you're trying to sell the book from a proposal, rather than from a finished manuscript, I think this would be even more true.

I should note that I'm not a publishing expert but this is what I gather from my agent, who specializes in non-fiction books. His advice to authors who don't have a platform is to try to build one, so you could either partner up with a bigname rivethead (if such a thing exists) -- or follow JJ86's excellent advice and try to build up a readership online.
posted by yankeefog at 8:46 AM on October 3, 2009

Best answer: I might know some people you can get in touch with. E-mail's in the profile.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:04 AM on October 3, 2009

A blog sounds like a good idea for your situation, but I think you should also think about developing a support network in the physical world--a writing group would be ideal, but probably in Portland you could find enough music fan friends who would read and talk about your work once a month or so in exchange for drinks or a meal. Having people backing up your interim self-imposed deadlines can be very powerful.
posted by Mngo at 9:56 AM on October 3, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! I like the idea of doing a feminist blog on industrial music as a "platform" to get this idea off the ground. I do think there'd be an audience for it, though probably a relatively small one. I've been listening to this music for 20 years, and have studied feminist theory for almost as long, so I do have a fair bit of the necessary background knowledge, and a driving passion for the subject matter as well. But how should I handle the photography angle for a blog, since my own skills are so lacking in that area? Should I just contact people whose work I like, and request permission to use their photos alongside my text?

I'm fine with self-publishing, assuming I can pull together all the necessary pieces. I'm not after fame and fortune, and as I mentioned, I'm looking for a "day job" in another field. My goal is just to get a book like this out there, not to launch a career as a professional writer.

infinitywaltz: I love ReGen magazine - thanks! E-mail to follow.
posted by velvet winter at 10:57 AM on October 3, 2009

Response by poster: Follow-up: Thanks, everyone! I've started a new blog called Rivetheads: Industrial Music and Feminism. There isn't much there yet, but the link can be found in my profile.

I've marked best answers, but am still interested in advice and making connections, so feel free to contact me anytime. E-mail's in profile.
posted by velvet winter at 6:31 PM on October 4, 2009

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