Thursday, 7 March 2013

And Entertainer of the Year Goes To

Every November the CMA Awards come to Nashville and the whole city loses its mind over it. For good reason, it's a pretty awesome event. And while every artist nominated would be happy and honored to receive one of the show's awards, what everyone really wants is the award to end all awards: Entertainer of the Year.

Current reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year is Blake Shelton, who won it back in November 2012. He was nominated alongside Kenny Chesney, Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley and Jason Aldean.

Entertainer of the Year isn't about having the best voice or the best album that year. According to the CMA, Entertainer is about, "displaying the greatest competence in all aspects of the entertainment field. Voter should give consideration not only to recorded performance, but also to the in-person performance, staging, public acceptance, attitude, leadership, and overall contribution to the Country Music image. Award to artist."

So, sure, the Entertainer probably has a great album. But it's so much more than that. They know how to promote it, they understand their audience, they conduct themselves as a leader and as someone who the public can approach. They just WOW you.

To be honest with you, I wish authors thought of themselves more as entertainers, because that's what we are, you know? We're storytellers, just like musicians. We want our stories to be great! But writing, just like singing, isn't always about having the prettiest sentences or the catchiest hook. All of that is important, to be sure. No one wants to listen to something off-key or hear cliche rhymes. But you have to be able to do more than tell a nice, fresh story. If you're a writer, you're in charge of your brand, so to speak. People are watching you along with your stories, whether you're aware of it or not; and most successful writers seem to figure this out.

In fact, I've got a few writers who I think deserve an Entertainer of the Year nomination:

JK Rowling. Rowling shows up, she's involved in her career, as all entertainers should be. When it comes to her work, you feel like she gives 110%. She is not passive about what happens with her stories. She was involved with all the Harry Potter films, developing personal relationships with the actors. She oversaw how her work was interpreted through media and did her best to make sure it stayed true to her pages. She was the leader, she had the vision. Her readers trust her because of it.

John Green. Green not only writes amazing YA, but he has cultivated his fans in this unbelievably cool way. Green and his brother Hank, started something years ago called Vlog Brothers, which has become something of a internet phenomenon. Look it up on YouTube. Green takes questions from fans, offers writing advice, life advice, sometimes dating advice. He's not afraid to give faces to his readers and let readers see his face in return. He's invested in them. Talk about understanding your target audience! I'm sure most of his fans feel like they know him, not just his books. Even if you've never met him, he feels totally accessible and approachable, which I think is a key element for an Entertainer of the Year.

Nicholas Sparks and Stephenie Meyer. Even though they're two totally different writers, I put these two in the same category because I think they have the same trait that makes them so great. They're polarizing. You either love Sparks or you hate him. You either love Meyer or you hate her. They don't typically have lukewarm fans. Their work almost always sparks a conversation whenever it's mentioned–even if it involves two opposing view points. But this never seems to rattle either one. These two illustrate that not everyone is going to like what you do and that's okay. What's more important is knowing your strengths and capitalizing on them. Are you really great at building love stories and then breaking everyone's hearts right before the final buzzer? Awesome, write it. Are you fantastic at crafting the ideal sparkly boyfriend that somehow makes girls from 9 to 99 swoon? Rock on. Know what you're good at and run with it, don't worry about becoming polarizing. It means that people care enough to have an opinion about what you do.

And that brings me to how this applies to you. What? You're not published yet? That's okay. I'm not either. But guess what? You can still work on being Entertainer of the Year! Here's how:

Show up and lead. Have a presence outside of your desk and your word documents. Talk about your work with others, talk with others about their work! Pick a few people that you trust and let them read your MS. Listen to them and improve what you've written. Do things that are outside of your comfort zone. Never designed a website for yourself/your books? Try it out! Never started a blog? Try it out! Never found beta readers? Do it. Get involved in the writing scene whether it's online or at conferences. Half the battle of being an Entertainer is being willing to work for what you love. If you have a go-getter attitude, you're on the right path.

Know your audience.
Think about what they want and how you're communicating with them. Do they use Twitter? Tumblr? Wordpress? Do they like to interact with you? Do they know what you're working on? How accessible are you or do you want to be? JK Rowling has twitter, but hardly ever tweets, while John Green tweets and RTs daily. Whatever you do, whatever your working on, think about how you're building a reader's trust.

Be conscious of what you put on social media. Make it personable to you, but be mindful of how you're branding yourself. For example, Blake Shelton can pretty much swear all he wants, his audience expects it, they don't mind. He runs his mouth every chance he gets. But I don't think Taylor Swift would have quite the warm response from her fan-base if she followed those Shelton guidelines. What works for one person on social media, doesn't necessarily work for everyone. So make sure that what you're doing works for you. Every tweet you post, every blog you write, builds your image so make it count.

See your work in new inventive ways. Think outside of the box with it. John Green did when he started Vlog Brothers and founded Nerdfighteria. Need another example? Think about it this way, singers think about their lyrics and their melodies, but they also have to think about what those songs would like on tour. Will it be theatrical? Stripped down? One crazy light show? Is there a massive dance party before intermission? They have to think about how their staging and cheoreography will interpret their songs. Think about your work. What if you made a cool interactive map for your readers? What if you just made it for yourself? Character-sketches! Websites! Photography! Use Pinterest to make storyboards! Your work is only constrained to the page, if you let it be.

Don't try to please everyone. It's impossible and if you start trying to do that, you'll please no one. Write want you want to write because you have to because you love the story you're telling. Be mindful of the advice of beta readers, agents and editors but don't let negativity from others bog you down–whether its family members, friends or strangers. If people take sides, know that you were able to hit a big enough of a nerve to get a conversation started.

You don't have to win Entertainer of the Year to be great, but it'd sure be cool if you did.


  1. Awesome post, Caitlin! Great points & wonderful examples.

  2. This post is GENIUS. It should be in the Debut Authors Handbook.

  3. "Know what you're good at and run with it." Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

    Fantastic post, Caitlin! And for the record, I LOVE the CMA's. Always a great show.:)

  4. What a great post Caitlin. Though part of me would like to hear Swift swear just once. :)

  5. Thanks guys! :)

    And, Spence, ya never know! She seems to be full of surprises.