Tag s | Creativity

Cover Bands Don’t Change the World

Years ago, while reading and thinking about creativity, I came across the title of today’s post as a chapter with this phrase in a book called The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice by Todd Henry (published 2011). It stopped me in my tracks. I knew he was right. A cover band plays other people’s music. Often it is a new interpretation of a familiar song; and sometimes it is a direct copy, like a tribute band. While popular and entertaining for the moment, they rarely have lasting impact.

What sells in our market, also known as trends, moves like a chased rabbit, very difficult to capture and quickly shifting its path. To our detriment we often chase these trends in order to find success. After forty years in the book business, I’ve seen this happen time and again. Hot trends of the past include nonfiction books on prophecy, angels, spiritual warfare, Bible promises, heaven, racial reconciliation, and even martyrdom. In fiction it has been novels that revolved around prairie romance, Amish, supernatural battles, and chick-lit. While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it betrays original thinking.

Be sure you understand this isn’t a criticism per se, merely an observation. There is nothing wrong with writing what has captured your imagination or what has captured the attention of the buying public (i.e., following a trend). Plus, you may be very good at writing this type of book. But look again at the title of the post: ”Cover Bands Don’t Change the World.” Todd Henry says that when one of these bands declares, “Now we’re going to play something we wrote,” the audience protests vigorously. Their audience didn’t come to listen to the band’s music; they came to be entertained by the familiar.

Thomas Merton said it a little more forcefully in New Seeds of Contemplation:

“People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular—and too lazy to think of anything better. Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success and they are in such a haste to get it that they cannot take time to be true to themselves. And when the madness is upon them they argue that their very haste is a species of integrity” (quoted in The Accidental Creative, page 201).

Publishing veterans have seen thousands, even tens of thousands, of book ideas and proposals. We have heard so many similar things that there can be a tendency to become cynical or at least immune. I know I struggle with that. I fear that creativity can be squelched by the desire to write what sells.

But I also fear I’m about to be misunderstood writing this. If possible, visualize flashing disclaimers, so this is not taken wrong. Please see these words as a call for creativity, not a condemnation of the marketplace. Nor am I skewering any one particular author or book. Instead, I stand here, almost shouting, “Be creative!” “Take a risk!” “Follow your passion, not the passion of others!” “Be a difference maker.” If you cut your teeth on the familiar (see above), then use that foundation to find new ground.

Write what is a passion for you. Your intensity will be found in the words you write. Your ideas will be refined by the fire of life and the forge of Scripture. The slogan for our agency is “To Help Change the World Word by Word.” The books that stir hearts and point readers to redemption are the ones that become agents of change. These are the books that can make a difference. Write your passion, and by God’s grace the market will find you. Hey, you might even set the next trend and spawn “cover bands” in your wake.

Below is an interesting counterpoint video to this entire post. If you are able to close your eyes and not watch some of the images in the YouTube video below, you’ll hear almost a half-hour of songs you might recognize from the 80s. But the hit version is actually a cover of an older original. I suspect you will be surprised by some of these once obscure songs that became hits. But the point of this post is still the same. Try to be brilliant so that a cover band will follow your trendsetting work. Remember, ears only with the video.

(A version of this post came out nine years ago this month. The ensuing years have only proved the point, time and again. Feel free to object or help me clarify in the comments below.)

Leave a Comment

Edgy Christian Fiction

A number of years ago the question of what is appropriate to include in Christian fiction was asked, and I wrote much of what is below as a reply. Recently, this issue jumped back into conversations with the release of the film Redeeming Love, based on the bestselling novel of …

Read More

Always Be Curious (The ABCs of the Writing Life)

by Steve Laube

Depending on where you live and your school district policies you may already be in a back-to-school mode or preparing for it.

It got me to thinking about the need for all writers to always have a “back to school” mentality.

Here are five things we can learn from always going “back to school.”

Read More

Books Are Signposts Along the Way

By Steve Laube

The novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, is a series of stories linked together in the small town of Macondo in South America. It is surrounded by a swamp and thus is known for its isolation.

One day the town was infected by a plague which causes insomnia. The people of the town were not unhappy at first because it meant there was more time to get things done. But there was more to this plague. In addition to insomnia they began to lose their memory. Marquez called it the loss of “the name and notion of things.”

They countered these symptoms by writing names on things or pinning signs to them. You would walk around the town and see the words “clock,” “chair,” “dog,” “wall,” and so on. But they were afraid they would forget the purpose of the items. So they would write longer and more elaborate signs with instructions.

Read More


Oxymorons can be fun. Two words that can have contradictory meaning are put together to create a new phrase. Or it can be expanded to mean two separate thoughts or ideas that are in direct conflict with each other but when combined create something new.

For example, if you’ve ever worked in a cubicle you can see the humor in the description “office space.”

Read More

Brainstorming: How and With Whom?

Brainstorming is one of the fun parts in the development of a book. The key for the author is a willingness to hear other ideas. The second, and most critical key, is discovering those with whom you should brainstorm. Those people need to be willing to have their ideas rejected in the discussions and be willing to let an idea they created to be used by someone else. It takes a special person…many times a professional…to achieve that.

I’ve heard complaints from some authors who try this in a critique group only to be frustrated. Egos get in the way or the ideas generated are singularly unhelpful. Or the discussion doesn’t move the project forward, instead it gets sidetracked by numerous differing opinions on the direction of the piece.

Read More

Same Message, Different Reader

When a published book is successful (sells well), the publisher and author begin pondering how to be successful again with the next book. Often times, the solution to the repeat-success puzzle in non-fiction is having a similar message but aimed at a different audience. You’ve seen it happen many times, …

Read More

A Writer’s Beatitudes

In the famous “Sermon on the Mount” passage in the Bible’s Gospel of Matthew, Jesus presented a series of eight “beatitudes.” Each was a saying that turned conventional wisdom on its head, showing how in God’s eyes the oppressed are blessed and the despised are prized. No one can improve …

Read More

Create Magic with Words

Years ago, I took my five-year-old daughter to Toys R Us to meet “Barbie.” “Barbie” turned out to be a cute and charming teenager who, yes, looked like the classic blonde image of the doll. She wore a pretty pink gown. I expected a lot more fanfare around this event. …

Read More