SXSW Panel: Rock, Rattle & Roll

Get an agent, ace the proposal, and you too can biography

Moderated by Holly George-Warren, author of the new A Man Called Destruction, a biography of the late Alex Chilton, this panel provided a tiny peek behind the curtain of how music biographies are written.

Fellow authors on board included Parke Puterbaugh, who wrote Phish: The Biography, and David Ritz, who’s written or ghostwritten around 50 music biographies, including 2012’s Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me with R. Kelly. The three shared experiences as biographers, from squishier platitudes like, “Your book should reflect the joy you have in writing,” to more practical nuts-and-bolts advice about how to get a book deal in the first place.

Photo by Gary Miller

That important information came from Denise Oswald, a senior editor at Harper-Collins’ It Books imprint: “The proposal has to be good,” she stressed. “Everything goes better when the proposal is good.”

You have to communicate a clear point of view and control of your narrative. She also suggested that the nature of the writer’s access to the artist informs the direction the project will take. Finally, the panelists advised that writers should get an agent due to their familiarity with the business and its players.

“Agents know the lay of the land,” said Oswald. “They know who’s a fan of whom, or maybe they’ve already had a conversation about your artist with someone.”

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Holly George-Warren, SXSW Music 2014, Denise Oswald, Parke Puterbaugh, David Ritz, It Books, R. Kelly, Phish, Alex Chilton

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