BB King: A role model for authors?
They are admittedly tangential relationships, but I do have a couple important connections to BB King, the blues legend who passed away yesterday at the age of 89. First of all, my husband is a professional guitarist. Secondly, we were dating for about four months when I first met his parents at Lucille’s Smokehouse – a barbecue franchise that shares a name with King’s famed guitars.
Of course, we can also take some significant book marketing lessons from one of the most influential guitarists of all time.
- Get a moniker. Early on, King was a DJ for Memphis radio station WDIA, where he was known as “the Beal Street Blues Boy.” That was shortened to Blues Boy, and eventually became BB. Do you have a recognizable name? If not, can you create a catchy one that people will remember?
- Know what you’re willing to fight for. King was playing at a dance in Arkansas when a fire broke out after two men, fighting over a woman named Lucille, knocked over a kerosene heater. In his hurry to escape the flames, King initially forgot his guitar, but risked his life to go back in to save it. How willing are you to take risks when it comes to marketing your book?
- Have a mentor and be a mentor. King’s first guitar teacher was his cousin, Bukka White, and he was inspired by jazz and blues musicians who came before him, including T-Bone Walker, Charlie Christian, and Django Reinhardt. Likewise, King inspired famed guitarists who came after him, including Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and David Gilmour (Pink Floyd). Who are your teachers, and who are you motivating and inspiring? Do you regularly connect with both?
- Get the gigs. In 1956 King and his band performed 342 one-night shows. That’s an unbelievable schedule and, you’ll note, he only did it once. He also appeared on the television shows Sanford and Son, The Young and the Restless, Married … With Children, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Sesame Street. What kinds of opportunities are you creating to get in front of your readers? Libraries, farmers’ markets, book stores, other brick-and-mortar shops, conferences, conventions, civic and networking groups … the opportunities are there. You may just need to start seeing them.
- Be willing to expand. Having become famous as a blues guitarist, King greatly “expanded his fan base to jazz, folk, and rock audiences in 1967, playing at the Montreux Jazz Festival, the Newport Folk Festival and the Fillmore West in San Francisco.” Is there a crossover audience you could reach with your books? Are there other authors you could partner with to help you reach a wider readership?
- Don’t let fame slow you down. One of the primary things for which King will be remembered is his refusal to slow down, even though he had long passed the fame threshold of becoming a household name. Even after snagging the record for most Grammies for a blues artist (15), being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and winning a Presidential Medal of Freedom, he maintained a “relentless touring schedule” until just this past year. How willing are you to keep working, keep traveling, keep talking to your fans, even if you’ve already hit that magical personal milestone?
Today, the world mourns the loss of a most talented music man. My goal is to honor him, if only slightly, by letting his accomplishments be an inspiration for my success. Won’t you join me?
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