No New Music Books After Beach Boys vols 2 And 3

Just so people know, I won’t be writing any more music books after the two Beach Boys ones I promised to write. It seems that no matter how clearly I label the books, or how much I make available for free, the majority of people buying them who care enough to post reviews have four complaints:
1) That they’re not sessionographies or reference books listing times and dates.
2) That I have opinions which they disagree with
3) That they don’t contain any photographs
4) That I use what they consider an excessively large type size.

1) and 2) are never going to change, because dry reference books already exist about these people. I’m interested in analysing the music, not in saying “the session took place on 23rd March 1964 and featured Joe Drummer on drums”, and am never going to write that kind of book. 3) would only change if someone was willing to pay the many hundreds of pounds per book photo licensing would cost. And 4) isn’t going to change, partly because I don’t consider twelve-point type to be exceptionally large, and partly because I want my books to be accessible to people with visual problems (I design the layout of my books specifically to make them easy for my wife, who has limited vision, to read).

This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing and publishing books — I’m writing a novel at the moment, I’ve got a book on comics I’ve been planning for a while, I’m going to turn my Mindless Ones Doctor Who essays into a book, and so on. Expect at least four books from me in the next year. But after I finish the Beach Boys books, I’m not going to write any more music ones. I’m not going to spend six months working on, say, a book about David Bowie for the end result to be three days of sales followed by “Hinkey doesn’t even tell you the recording dates! He thinks he’s an expert and yet he thinks Kooks is better than Life On Mars! And Hinkey uses large print!” It’s simply not worth the stress. I could just punch myself in the balls and save everyone involved a lot of time and effort.

The annoying thing is I know there are a lot of people who *do* like those books — but they’re not the people buying them, and I don’t want to write books that sell to people who don’t like them and don’t sell to people who do.

I’m not being self-pitying here. The reactions of the people who *do* like my music writing have made it more than worthwhile for me to write those books — a lot of people I like and respect, and a lot of total strangers, have said lovely things about them. But I don’t write books in order to upset people, and so I’m going to concentrate on my other writing.

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20 Responses to No New Music Books After Beach Boys vols 2 And 3

  1. WPT B.V. | Hans Verhoeven says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I own nr 1 on the kindle, but are 2 and 3 not available for Kindle yet?


    Hans Verhoeven


    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Volumes two and three aren’t *written* yet ;)
      I serialise the first drafts of these books on my blog as they’re written, before doing a rewrite which becomes the actual book, and I’m about to start serialising volume two. My guess is that volume 2 will be published in January, and volume 3 about six months later. I put off writing them for a while because of the new reissues and box set — I wanted to make sure they were up-to-date.

  2. Hal says:

    Interesting. Points 1), 2), and 3) seem to me irrelevant to appreciation of books of this kind and I can’t blame you for being disheartened. As far as 3) goes I’m not sure analysis of, say, Sunflower would be improved by the inclusion of a picture featuring Mike Love wearing a fucking kaftan (Disclaimer: While Michael has worn some amusing clothes I may be wrong in stating he has draped himself in a *kaftan*, read that as “kaftan-y type garment” instead!). Odd. I have more of a problem with books and magazines that skimp on words while overdosing on images but that’s just me (insert smiley-face emoticon here…). As for 4), as long as the content is rich enough and the type-size is not equivalent to the letter on the top line of an optometrist’s chart I don’t see the problem. If they don’t like the content that’s fine, as long as it isn’t because they were expecting the books to be something they were never meant to be, but moaning about the type-size seems a little silly. Seems like those people who whine about subtitles or films with the sign language person late at night or maybe that’s just me.

    • No, it’s definitely not just you. Given that many of the reviews just make stuff up that they think I’ve said but haven’t (half the bad reviews say “…and he claims to be an expert!” when I never make such claims, while the other half say “…and he admits he hasn’t even read X book”, where X is in the bibliography), I suspect the people bothering to review the books aren’t the brightest people in the world. The most recent of these reviews repeatedly called me “Hinkey”, which should tell you how much attention he’s paid to the books.

      They moan about the type-size because they say I’m doing it so I can charge more for the books, which they also say are overpriced. In fact, I’d prefer the books to be shorter in page count, because with print-on-demand books the page count determines the print cost, and I price the books in such a way that when sold through Amazon I only make one pound or so out of the ten pound cost. It costs me money to use larger type, and I do it to be nice to other people, but it’s used as ‘evidence’ that I’m writing as a get-rich-quick scheme (*to make a hollow laughing sound* — if I’d put in that many hours of overtime at my day job instead of writing I’d have made about twenty times as much money).

      Incidentally, I think their problem isn’t with the font size, but with the font family — I typeset my books in a sans serif font (again, because they’re more legible to people with poor eyesight) and sans serif fonts take up more space than serifed fonts of the same size (serif fonts have larger capitals and smaller lower-case letters, so overall are smaller).

      But either way, if they have a problem with me typesetting my books in such a way that they don’t cause my wife (who’s also my proofreader) physical pain, they can fuck themselves, frankly.

      But even if their criticisms were all objectively *entirely* without merit (as opposed to being subjectively mostly without merit in my opinion) it wouldn’t really matter. The people who are buying those books don’t like them, and it’s their right to say so and to persuade other people not to bother. So I’ll write other books, that those people won’t buy and complain about.

  3. Hal says:

    I was going to mention that as a self-publisher it’s not as if you’re rolling in the green which makes some of the nitpicky comments even more petulant. But, hey, the other things you’re working on seem promising, so there’s that! Onward…
    As an aside perhaps related to some of the criticisms, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve been accused of being to “negative” in some of your song analyses. The internet seems riddled with people who take any criticism no matter how reasonable or well-argued as “negative”, in fact that word is so often used (often by utter berks) that I wish there was some kind of moratorium – for, say, a 100 years – on its use. Yes, that kind of conservatism *really* gets my goat (whose name is Gerhardt by the way)! It’s such an asinine way of attempting to neutralize anything but kid gloves criticism. And god forbid you criticize, however mildly, something popular because then you might get the “who do you think are?” argument or a tiresome dunderhead lecture on “cynicism”. Entirely I-R-R-I-T-A-T-I-N-G. Gah!

  4. I am just sorry to hear that people are idiots. :-(

  5. dhanyc says:

    I am very sorry to hear that people are idiots. :-(

  6. TAD says:

    I like your music books and blogs. They’re funny and informative. Often I’m inspired to seek out a certain song that you’re talking about, and give it a fresh listen. I don’t always agree with your take on something, but you always have a valid viewpoint that’s worth exploring.

  7. Tam says:

    Don’t take internet criticism too seriously. I really like this interview with Kyle Baker where he points out (correctly I suspect) that most people only write to complain, which probably makes authors forget that the majority are actually enjoying their stuff.

    Since reading this interview, I’ve made a point of trying to send lesser known authors thank you emails when I’ve enjoyed their stuff to try to counter this a bit…

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      It’s not so much that I take it seriously as that other potential readers do. If someone goes along to the Amazon page for one of my books and sees a bunch of one-star reviews and no five-star ones, they’re not going to bother buying the book. I did get a lot of feedback, at first, for those books from people who liked them, but that’s stopped as people have essentially stopped buying them because of the bad reviews. And if the people who would like them won’t buy them, there’s no point me writing them. It’s sad, but that’s the way these things work.

  8. I think that you should say what it occurs to you to say, put it out there in various forms, and ignore the un-constructive comments as far as possible. (Although I do know how deflating un constructive comments can be.)

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thanks. But right now I’ve got far more to say than I have time or energy to say it, so given a choice between writing a book which will get me angry readers who don’t like me, or writing a book that won’t (partly because only three people will buy it) I’ll choose the latter…

  9. Iain Coleman says:

    It sounds like the books are bringing you the downsides of fame (a load of pricks having a go at you) without the upsides (money, power etc). It makes sense to refocus your energies on the prick-free option.

  10. Hal says:

    Hahahaha! Andrew, you’re a card! ;)

  11. Richard Royston says:

    Having only discovered your music books literally the day after your announcement (!) while browsing on amazon, I have to say I’m really sorry to hear about your decision not to write any more of them. Of course I don’t agree with all of your opinions, but isn’t that the point? There’s nothing to be gained from reading a book that tells the reader exactly what he/she already thinks.

    Your observations on the songs are very perceptive (some of which, of course, I agree with, others not), and very refreshing. I also wholeheartedly agree with your recommendation of Philip Lambert’s book, and am grateful to you for pointing me to Francis Greene’s transcriptions (in which Philip Lambert’s comments about the introduction to ‘Wendy’ mirroring the middle eight becomes obvious).

    I’d planned to email you, as I thought you might be interested in my own observations on a couple of Beatles songs. Since I can’t find an address for you, I’ll put them here.

    The ‘Paperback Writer’ riff (which has always seemed ‘forced’ to me, not falling naturally under the fingers), seems to be an anagram (as you put it under the Beach Boys’ ‘Girl Don’t Tell Me’) of the riff in ‘I Want To Tell You’, transposed from A to G. Making me wonder which Beatle first thought of the riff.

    ‘Hello Goodbye’ and the verses of ‘For No One’ share almost the same chords. There’s a bootleg backing track for the former that you can almost sing the latter to. Almost.

    You mention two connections with the Everlys’ ‘Cathy’s Clown’: ‘Please Please Me’ and the introduction of ‘I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party’. The Everlys’ song also provided the chord structure for the verses of ‘I Should Have Known Better’.

    You also point out how the chords of ‘Something’ readily fall under a guitarist’s fingers in the key of C. It’s even more so in A, the key George uses on the Anthology version, and in which he presumably wrote it. The bass into D7 goes nicely into B7, and even the Eb falls easily into place as a C chord.

    But I have to add one point of disagreement: your comments on ‘Revolution #9’ are based on the assumption that, prior to the release of this track, no-one who bought a Beatles album had ever come across – or even heard of – experimental music, and that John and Yoko opened people’s eyes/ears with this track. That’s not at all how it seemed at the time. The general impression was that John was putting out one of those weird experimental pieces on the new Beatles album and calling it music, or art, or something. We all knew what that meant and what it was referring to, even if we hadn’t actually heard any of the real stuff. It was the sort of thing you’d see or hear parodied on the radio or TV (Tony Hancock’s delightful painting of a foot in ‘The Rebel’ being a visual analogue of this phenomenon). There!

    In short, your Beatles book is certainly one of the better Beatles books out there (and there’s a lot of competition, in numbers at least), and your Beach Boys book(s) admirably fill a long-standing gap. I haven’t yet read your Monkees book, but I’d be surprised if I didn’t recommend it as highly as the others.

    The fault isn’t with your books. If you’d sold millions of copies, the carping opinions of a few wouldn’t matter. Ignore the critics (apart from my ‘Revolution #9’ comment above, of course) and do what you can to make your books more widely known. There are enough of us out there who would really like you to keep on doing this, but only if we know you and your books exist in the first place. I’ll certainly be recommending your books to everyone I know who’s interested in music.

    Looking forward to Volumes 2 and 3 in any case.

    Richard Royston

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thank you — that (and someone on Tumblr saying something similar about my Monkees book about five minutes ago) has made my day, seriously.
      Unfortunately, though, those carpers do have an important downside — whenever anyone goes to the Amazon pages about my books, that’s all they see, and it drives the sales off a cliff. My Beatles book, for example, used to sell an average of three copies a day — now it barely sells that a month, because of the bad reviews (I can see the downtick in sales every time one is posted). By posting those reviews, those people are making it impossible for me to get the books to the audience who *would* like them (who I do believe exist).
      If, somehow, the books start getting good Amazon reviews and selling again, I might reconsider the decision, but right now the pattern is “write book — sell a few copies — get hate messages — sell no more copies”.
      Those points are all fascinating, and should I ever do a second edition of the Beatles book I’ll try to incorporate them. As for Revolution #9, I take your point — obviously there was actually such a thing as arts programming back in the 60s, and the general intellectual level of even populist TV was much higher than it is today. Nonetheless, I still suspect that the average purchaser was rather unlikely to have come across much in that vein before — but of course I wasn’t around at the time.
      And on a different note, thanks for mentioning The Rebel — I’ve got a friend staying with me, and I think that would be definitely his kind of film, and I don’t know if he’s seen it. I might have to get the DVD out tonight…
      (Incidentally, I’ve started putting my email address in the books, but it’s not in the Beatles one — it’s andrew @ ).

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Also, you may be interested to know that I have a book on the Kinks out too (that was in many ways the last straw — the amount of abuse I got from Kinks fans when I mentioned on my blog that the song Black Messiah was racist was ridiculous). I’ve had problems getting the ebook formatted, but the paperback, PDF and hardback versions are available from the Lulu link in my sidebar.

  12. Richard Royston says:

    Don’t give up: you may have lousy 1-star and 2-star reviews on, but you’ve also got a couple of great 4-star and 5-star reviews on the US site.

    Hmm: I can see a review coming on. To the site that could use it the most.

    And thanks for the Kinks link. I couldn’t find it before, but now I know it’s there I will.

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