Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Summer of Success

Facing a career crossroads at the moment—what step to take next and all that. I’m not all angsty over it, but I have been thinking a lot about Donna Summer lately, as a result.

Donna Summer? The Queen of Disco?

First of all, thinking about Donna Summer is not new for me. I’ve had a long time interest in her career and in the singer, herself. I’ve even been known to be a defender of Summer (she’s so much more than disco), because I think her talent was far overshadowed by her persona and by the Super Storm known as Disco that came in and tried, unsuccessfully, to obliterate the Rock and Roll shoreline.

Still, I’m more interested in Summer’s genre-hopping than in her music, per se. For instance, did you know she was nominated for 17 Grammy Awards in eight different categories (genres)? Further, did you know that she won five times in four different categories—twice in Inspirational? That’s right, Inspirational. The singer of 1975s disco moan-fest, “Love To Love You, Baby,” won two Grammy Awards for Best Inspirational song (1984 and 1985).

Conventional wisdom is to not genre hop in the publishing world. Start in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense) and stay in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense).

But, I must have a little Donna Summer in me because I don’t want to be constrained in that way. Before we get all crazy, let’s remember that no one is knocking down my door for my next book—or, for that matter, my first book.

But—again—we can look to the diva for guidance. Because “conventional wisdom” isn’t called “conventional-sort-of-good-advice,” you know?

Summer made her mark in one genre—disco. It was the red-hot genre of the time and she rode that horse for all it was worth. But when the horse started to get hobbled, she made the smart move of wrapping up that era with a Greatest Hits collection, changing record labels, and then came roaring back in 1980 with a rock-pop disc without even a whiff of disco, The Wanderer. And a song from that project earned her one of her Grammy nominations.

What are the lessons for a writer?

  1. Do your homework. Summer worked in Germany and Europe in various touring companies of shows like “Hair” and “Godspell” before connecting with Giorgio Moroder for her first album, Love To Love You Baby.
  2. Establish yourself as an excellent writer of (choose one: romance/historical/suspense/other) and then, like Summer, work your butt off to make your mark. She released seven disco albums from 1975 to 1979—that’s four years—three of them in a row were blockbuster double albums.
  3. Keep your nose to the ground and your face forward. If you pay attention to the market and publishing trends, you’ll know when it’s time to change genres. If you’re a big enough success, you’ll get your opportunity. When you do, show the same quality, perseverance, and dedication to craft that got you where you are.
That’s the way to build a Hall of Fame career (Summer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013) and do all the things you want to do.

Summer died May 17, 2012, at age 63. At her death (from cancer) she was working on two albums simultaneously—a collection of standards and a new dance music collection.

For the record, Summer’s Grammy wins were for:
  1. Best R&B Female Performance, 1979, for “Last Dance.”
  2. Best Rock Female Performance, 1980, for “Hot Stuff.”
  3. Best Inspirational Performance, 1984, for “He’s A Rebel.”
  4. Best Inspirational Performance, 1985, for “Forgive Me.”
  5. Best Dance Music Performance, 1998, for “Carry On.”
Additionally, she was nominated four times for Best Pop Vocal, twice for Best R&B Vocal, twice for best Rock Vocal, once for Album of the Year, once for Best Disco Vocal, once for Best Inspirational, and once for Best Dance Music.

Not a bad career.

Your turn: So, do you have a little Donna Summer in you?

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal ezine, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a Marketing Communications Writer for CHEFS Catalog and as a freelance editor at He has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.


Ane Mulligan said...

I could use a little more Donna Summer voice. :) I've got a solo in the choir I sing in and 4 notes are right in my transition area and so hard. I wonder … would tighter pants help me get up there?

Michael Ehret said...

Well, it couldn't hurt ... but probably some voice exercises will do the trick, too. And nerves and breathing control. :)

Gina Holmes said...

Good piece, Mike. I'm not sure of all her songs but a couple of them, though labeled in different categories, still have the same sort of sound/feel. It would be more interesting if she yodled, did some Marilyn Manson type stuff and then maybe a Jars of Clay type album. ha. I think we all have a little genre hopping in us. Maybe because our creator liked to mix it up and built that desire into us? Anyway, well done. :)

Michael Ehret said...

I had hoped to find that she did a country song ... alas. :)

Nicole said...

She had a strong and powerful voice and used it in all of her work. That could be said of a good writer, couldn't it? As for this rebel, I call my romance novels "love stories", and I'm working on a crime novel with a thread of romance. Whatever direction the Lord takes you is the best, regardless of what all the professional publishing heads have to say. Go for it.

Michael Ehret said...

Excellent point, Nicole. Sounds very "Donna"-like. Get on with your diva self!