When it comes to publishing a memoir, the odds of obtaining an agent, bringing a book to market and selling it within one’s lifetime whilst the publishing industry endures seismic change, are astronomical. Local music scene fixture Buzzy Martin, however, aimed for the stars (and scored) by doing precisely none of the above.
Don’t Shoot! I’m the Guitar Man
, recounts an odyssey that began with Martin teaching music to at-risk kids to a stint playing tunes for hardboiled cons at San Quentin. Throughout, he brought back life lessons he shared with his young pupils ? think Scared Straight with power chords. This very paper applauded the book as ?a compelling portrait of the transformative power of music and of the impact that it can make on men from drastically different walks of life? and recommended highly.
Berkeley, an imprint of publishing juggernaut Penguin, released Martin’s book in a trade paperback edition last month. A film adaptation is underway.
Martin’s accomplishment is interesting on several levels, not least of which because the wild-haired and mustachioed guitarist never intended on being a writer. He wanted to be a rock star. ?That never happened and I have to cop to that and that’s okay but what did happen is that I’m changing the world in my own way.?
More specifically, Martin is changing the worlds of those he mentors through music and now words. Martin’s commitment to healing broken souls through music is total and he’s more inclined to discuss the issues faced by incarcerated kids than the vicissitudes of the publishing industry. However, his experience in this realm is an object lesson in persistence, friendship and belief in oneself ? attributes he tries to awaken in his students.
This is how he did it: After afternoons playing ZZ Top covers sand stewing in the existential experience of jailed felons, Martin would recount his experiences into a tape recorder to decompress during his commute home. Being computer-averse at the time, Martin later transcribed the six resulting 90-minute tapes by hand and later coaxed his wife into keying his words into a word processor.
Thereafter, Martin began working the material into a cogent narrative ? writing and rewriting until he ?had what I didn’t realize was called a manuscript.? With little notion how to proceed, Martin sought publishing advice from staffers at Copperfield’s Books who suggested he self-publish. With his wife’s continued assistance, he did. He then proceeded on an ill-fated campaign to place the book in the hands of juvenile hall inmates, which he perceived as his target audience.
?The only juvenile hall director I talked to said ?Don’? ever call me again, these kids are my fucking retirement, I’m not going to read your goddamn book? and that was it,? said Martin. Mike Grabowski, a professor in the Criminal Justice Program at Santa Rosa Junior College, had a markedly different response and made Martin’s self-published book required reading. ?That was the first ?yes,?? said Martin. It only takes one.
If the so-called ?vanity press? finds some authors gazing fondly at themselves in the mirror, Buzzy Martin is the opposite ? he went through the looking glass. When Martin finally got hip to Facebook he used it to connect to everyone from guitar players (Toto’s Steve Lukather among them) to criminal justice professionals and asked each if they would accept a copy of the self-published tome and review it on Amazon. The approbations rolled in.
Meanwhile, a friend’s wife at Penguin Books gifted a copy to a colleague who emailed Martin some kind words about the work. Contemporaneously, Martin pursued a contact in San Francisco’s juvenile court system who learned had quit and moved into a position at Prodigy Motion Pictures. She recognized the potential of Martin’s story, which also sparked with company founder Ray Robinson, which Martin shared with Penguin. He was offered a contract in a matter of days. The film contract followed shortly thereafter.
Don’t Shoot! I’m the Guitar Man
is available in 40 countries. It’s first printing sold out in six days. The movie is coming soon to theater near you.
Originally published in the North Bay Bohemian.