How rock music is saving books

Mon Apr 25, 2011 2:35pm EDT
 
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By Shirley Halperin

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - From Keith Richards' assertion that he really did snort his father's ashes to Sammy Hagar's revelation that he's been abducted by aliens, out-there autobiographies by aging rock stars are helping to fuel the ailing book-publishing business.

"There's clearly a demand," says Mauro DiPreta, vp of It Books, which published Hagar's current New York Times best-seller "Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock." The former Van Halen frontman was paid about $3 million (Richards pocketed a reported $7 million for his memoir, "Life").

"What you have with a book is a memento," DiPreta adds. "You can buy a CD, but you've probably heard the songs many times already. You can bid on a used Eric Clapton guitar. But for $25, you get to hear all the stories, not only behind the songs but how these guys lived."

Says literary agent Sarah Lazin, who specializes in music-themed titles: "Publishers are looking for an automatic fan base so they can just plug into it. Right now, I have four deals with a major agency where they have the star and I have the writer. That's unprecedented."

The boom is good news for imprints like HarperCollins' It, which also published autobiographies by fired Guns N' Roses drummer and Celebrity Rehab graduate Steven Adler, Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine and Runaways singer Cherie Currie. Ghost writers are in high demand and can get $25,000-$200,000 for their services; most deals average $75,000-$100,000.

Rock memoirs are a ray of light for booksellers struggling with the twin challenges of a recession and the transition to e-books. Although overall sales were up 3.6 percent in 2010, publishers struggled to find nonfiction hits. Nonfiction titles with sales of 100,000 or more were down nearly 20 percent from a 2008 high of 132. The 2010 list is top-heavy with politicians and political commentators (George W. Bush, Glenn Beck) and comedians (Jon Stewart, Chelsea Handler). The exception is Richards' "Life," which ranked No. 4.

But some publishing observers are concerned about overkill. "When you have the drummer who played on two Guns N' Roses albums putting out a book that didn't do that badly, that's saying maybe this glut will burn up the market," says Neil Strauss, co-author of the gold standard in rock autobiographies, 2001's Motley Crue tome "The Dirt," and head of HarperCollins' Igniter imprint. His latest book, "Everyone Loves You When You're Dead," a compilation from a career of musician interviews, was published in March.

But DiPreta disagrees. "I don't think it's a case of, 'I read Keith Richards' Life, so I'm not going to read Steven Tyler's book when it comes out in a couple months.' These stories are unique; they feed people's passion because you're talking about their memories, the fabric of your teenage years and coming of age. That's what we're trying to capture."   Continued...