Interview with author Neil Daniels
Interview by JP
As the metal industry continues to grow at a phenomenal pace, we here at Metal-Rules.com are committed to bringing you interviews not only with musicians, but other hard working professionals in the industry. From Record Labels to film-makers to authors we continue to bring you interviews with the bright lights of the Metal industry.
Recently we had a discussion with UK author Neil Daniels. Daniels is currently one of the most prolific and respected writers in the Heavy Metal industry. Based in England, Neil has written eight books about Hard Rock and Heavy Metal and has several more on the go. For more information on his work (and other non-metal related writing) visit www.neildaniels.com.
Who was the first ‘rock star’ you ever interviewed and how did it go?
In person, it was supposed to be with Ginger from The Wildhearts backstage at the Manchester Academy a few years back but he was not up to it (he was ill or something and wanted to save his energy for the show.) I saw some of the soundcheck and ended up with a 30 minute interview with C.J. and Jon Poole instead. I was nervous as hell and even wrote my questions in a notepad to look professional. I probably looked like a dick. But I don’t do that now…. well; actually most of my interviews are by phone anyway. They were cool guys; they could see I was nervous and young and gave me lots to write about. The interview wasn’t used in the end because the editor felt nobody would want to read an interview with them, preferring Ginger instead. My first phone interview was with Glenn Tipton. I only had 15 minutes. Again, I was nervous but he was great – very friendly and enthusiastic. Lots more interviews followed with the best being: Dio, Sammy Hagar, Biff Byford, Tim Owens and K.K. Downing.
What made you decide to enter an industry (journalism) that some observers say is on the wane?
At first I thought I could try and make a career out of it but after a couple of years I came to the realisation that there is no money and that the magazine industry is dying on its arse because of the internet. I branched out into books and though I have made some money I don’t make enough to live off and have a day job. I can get by okay; I don’t live an extravagant life or anything. I just like music (as well as books, comics and movies) and wanted to write about it so that’s why I can into being a hack. I’ve made loads of friends and some great contacts and enjoy what I’m doing. It keeps my brain ticking over and I obviously love the free passes and promos, etc. But if you want to make a career out of it think again – or at least train as a “proper” journalist and that way you’ll have a broader scope if you can’t get a staff writers job. But you’re right, it is on the wane. Magazines like Mojo and Classic Rock and Kerrang! here in the UK sell thousands because they are brand names with festivals and record labels attached to them. It’s a real struggle for the other mags especially the fanzines.
In this day and age of instant access to info about bands, blogs, twitters, video tour diary’s etc, what role do you feel the traditional journalist has to play?
That is a good question and a difficult one to answer. From what I gather – and this is something of a plug for my book All Pens Blazing – most music writers, certainly ones on Kerrang! and Metal Hammer, were/are not trained journalists per se in that they never got a degree in journalism. What they have brought and continue to bring to the fans is an authority over the subject. Some of them are not great writers, some of them are, but one thing they all share is a passion and deep knowledge of the subject – metal/rock. A lot of metal scribes have egos because they have their own little fanbases but that’s because fans/readers know that what they say is a good album will probably worth investing in. Back in the eighties, AOR fans probably bought most albums that were positively reviewed by Paul Suter and Derek Oliver in Kerrang!. You don’t really get that kind of authority and knowledge from a small Twitter report or a mini blog diary or whatever. It’s important to the bands as well as the readers to have writers with such a vast knowledge and passion for the music.
Do people buy books anymore? Especially some of the niche market books like yours?
Not really. I suppose it’s to do with the cost of a book and the fact that so much information is online. But if I had not written At Atkins’ book Dawn Of The Metal Gods, being a Judas Priest fan, I would have bought it. Not a lot of people have done. Not a lot of people bought my book on Priest either, Defenders Of The Faith, despite a lot of good reviews. The cost of a hardback book is high. It’s certainly the case that fans of some bands just aren’t readers. But then, there are so many books on Led Zeppelin and Guns N’ Roses that it’s obvious those fans are readers… if you see what I mean. Metal and rock fans though by and large love information and want to devour as much of it on the subject as possible. So why don’t they buy the bloody books and magazines? Maybe it is simply down to the cost. Books and magazines certainly aren’t cheap these days. I have a hefty collection of music books – many first edition hardbacks – some of which I bought, some of which I got free to review. But a lot of the books I buy come from second hand shops and discounted book stores. I can’t afford to pay £12.99 for Brian Johnson’s book; that’s more than a CD. It’s also down to marketing – it’s really hard to market the books without spending money. Getting fans to know your book is out there takes a lot of time. I did okay with All Pens Blazing but I have yet to make serious money from my books – maybe I never will. I do it because I want to do it. You’d have to have 2 major book deals a year and some paid magazine work to justify making a living from it. I know only a handful of writers who can do that. I’ve earned very little in the way of royalties, actually. Dave Thompson is the man to watch – he writes so much and his books come out in all sorts of ways. The same can be said of Martin Popoff. They’re creating a legacy and adding something to history however small it might be. It is very admirable, I think.
Having done both style of publishing, do you have a preference? Self-publishing or have a book deal?
This is where it gets slightly complicated – self-publishing is entirely DIY, so you do everything yourself including buying an ISBN, having the cover designed and formatting the text, finding a printers, selling and marketing the book, etc. It costs a lot of money too from what I gather. Again, Martin Popoff does a brilliant job with his many self-published tomes but I know he spends a lot of time at the post office mailing his books. I don’t have anywhere to store a print run of 500 copies too.
The All Pens Blazing and Rock ‘N’ Roll Mercenaries collections are published through print on demand. There are literally hundreds of POD companies online all offering FREE publishing because of the brilliance of digital technology but you still have to pay for the publishers services (ISBN, putting the book for sale on Amazon, etc). It is still cheaper than self-publishing and the royalties are higher than your usual publishing deal. In the States a lot of authors use lulu.com but here in the UK I’ve gone for AuthorsOnline. They’re both very similar and the basic service packages are about the same price. It was cheaper for me to pay a designer (James Gaden) to design the covers for APB2 and R’N’RM than it was to have a more expensive package with the publisher that included the full design of the book. (You will have to research this; it gets complicated.)
The first POD book I did – APB1 – was a real learning curve because I had no idea what I was doing and neither did my friend and webmaster who designed and formatted the text, so the text came out too small and the cover was very dark. He gave up a lot of his free time for which I am still eternally grateful for, but for the next two POD books I had to hire the services of a professional designer. I’m going to go back to APB1 later this year and have it redesigned and formatted so both volumes make a nice neat pair.
As the name suggests, books are printed on demand so there is no set print run and no copies hiding in a warehouse somewhere. Each copy is printed specifically for each order. No money is wasted. You go online, order the book and it is printed for you. Anybody can do it, be a writer that is. You will need to spend some money but it is not a lot. The hardest part is marketing the book and letting people know it is out there. It’s much better for non-fiction because you know the market you’re aiming for. Also, if you want reviews published you have to buy the books yourself but so far I have learned that there is, in fact, not correlation between reviews and strong sales. It is just a matter of promoting the POD books via press releases and internet presence. Each book is a learning curve in that sense. I spent a lot of money buying copies of APB1 and sending them out to reviewers and getting good reviews but sales were not special to be honest. I do like being in full control of the books though so I will publish more POD books and work with indie and mainstream publishers too. There is a lot of prestige that comes with having a book deal plus there is more money involved. I’ve got an agent for my next book – which is the best book deal I have had thus far – and we already have an idea for the one after that.
Metal related book publishing has seen a massive increase in the last decade, why do you think that is?
The quality of the writing and the production of the books certainly have a lot to do with it. If you read books by Martin Popoff, Joel McIver, Ian Chirste and John Tucker you know you’re going to get a well written and insightful book. But you’re right; the sheer amount of books on metal over the past decade has been staggering. And more books keep on getting produced. There’s a big market for autobiographies too – Dave Mustaine, Joey Kramer, Steve Tyler, Brian Johnson, Alice Cooper, Slash et al – have all released autobiographies (or semi-autobiographies) or are set to release them soon-ish. There’s also smaller press books out there like Bobby Blotzer, Brian Vollmer, Al Atkins, Biff Byford, Brian Tatler et al. Metal fans seems to love them. I certainly do. I don’t just write books myself but collect them. I have a bookcase, a very tall one, stocked with them. It’s also a way of preserving history. The internet can only do so much; I mean do you want to read an 80,000 word book online? I don’t! I want a book with words and pictures. Lots of words and pictures, in fact.
Conversely traditional metal magazines have taken a bit hit with many flagship magazines going bankrupt, getting sold and/or changing format. What do you think is the reason?
Recently, it has obviously got to do with the rise in printing costs and the lack of enthusiasm for labels wanting to take out ads making the publishers very hard to fund the magazines. Costs go up and people just can’t afford to pay out that kind of money any more for a magazine when most of the information is online. Sure, you pay for quality writing and an authority over the subject but you have to stop at some point and £5 per magazine is a lot. Publishers rebrand magazines in an effort to entice new readers but they lose the loyal readers and are no better off. It’s hard out there. Like I said, Mojo and Classic Rock are just about the best here because the writing is excellent and so is production, but they’re also costly. If you want it though you will pay for it.
Do you still read fanzines? Have independent magazine style publications become the new metal magazine industry?
I don’t see that many fanzines out there – sure, Black Velvet is an excellent example. The best for melodic rock fans is undoubtedly Fireworks which I write for. The magazine has come along amazingly over the past year – brilliantly designed, full colour, excellent writing, and fantastic content and very knowledgeable writers. But the problem has been distribution. The next issue will be the first in WH Smiths, a major nationwide newsagent, so fingers crossed sales will shoot up. Powerplay began as a fanzine and is now a monthly magazine with full distribution. Zero Tolerance is something of a fanzine turned magazine. I don’t know. I don’t see that many here in the UK – maybe I don’t look hard enough. I prefer film and sci-fi/fantasy/horror magazines/fanzines, if I’m honest.
Do you think that England is the last bastion of Metal print journalism and if yes, why?
At the minute it certainly seems as though we’re doing better than North America as there are still so many rock/metal magazines published here – Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Kerrang!, Terrorizer, Zero Tolerance, Rock Sound, Powerplay and Big Cheese. But I’d imagine they’re very expensive to buy abroad. As for the reason why, I simply don’t know. The metal press started here so I guess that is a fundamental reason plus we just love magazines. I mean, just walk into a newsagents over here or WH Smiths and you will see magazines on literally every subject from train watching to heavy metal.
As your reputation in the industry grows do you have people approaching you know with work? Do you have the luxury to choose who you want to write about?
The simple answer to that is no. I work really hard trying to get book deals and one reason why I went into POD was because I had ideas publishers didn’t want. It doesn’t matter what the stature of your name sis, it is down to the idea and its commercial appeal. I do like the idea of making smaller books through POD and working on bigger ideas with publishers. Hopefully, with an agent I can get some bigger selling books. I have yet to have a book that has done really well. Eight books in four years is a lot though and I do work hard. There is one person who has helped me enormously – and she knows who she is – if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be doing it. My website helps – www.neildaniels.com – as it lists everything I’ve written. But no, I work hard plugging new ideas and trying to get them commissioned. I gave up trying to get paid magazine work – it’s just too hard and most reviews editors have their favourite writers anyway and tend to give work to them. Magazines are very “cliquey”. I’m a bit of a lone wolf in that respect.
What are you currently working on?
All Pens Blazing Vol II is out in the next few weeks and you will be able to buy that from Amazon and AuthorsOnline; I’ll then be working on republishing APB1 though I won’t make any money from it, it’ll be for personal satisfaction. I’m waiting for a contract to be sent to me for a bio of a major American rock band which will be published next year. Like I said before, for the first time I worked with an agent in getting this deal. We’ve also got an idea for a bio of a major British rock band so I’ll be working on a proposal with my agent for that soon. I can’t really give details in case my ideas get stolen which happens all the time. Check out my website www.neildaniels.com and thanks for the exposure!
Any famous last words, for now?
Do it because you want to – it won’t make you rich.
‘The Story Of Judas Priest: Defenders Of The Faith’ (Omnibus Press: OUT NOW in HB & PB), ‘Robert Plant: Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page & The Solo Years’ (IMP: OUT NOW in PB), ‘The Bon Jovi Encyclopaedia’ (Chrome Dreams: OUT NOW in PB), ‘Dawn Of The Metal Gods: My Life In Judas Priest & Heavy Metal’ with Al Atkins (Iron Pages: OUT NOW in PB), ‘All Pens Blazing – A Heavy Metal Writer’s Handbook’ (AuthorsOnline: OUT NOW in PB; revised edition due September 2010), ‘Linkin Park – An Operator’s Manual’ (Chrome Dreams: OUT NOW in PB), ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Mercenaries – Interviews With Rock Stars Volume 1′ (AuthorsOnline: OUT NOW in PB), ‘All Pens Blazing – A Rock & Heavy Metal Writer’s Handbook Volume II’ (AuthorsOnline: OUT NOW in PB)