Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Six Lessons for Writers to Learn from Casey Abrams

Who in the world is Casey Abrams, you might be wondering. If you watch American Idol, you know he is one of the contestants, arguably, the most talented musician/singer of the bunch.

And last week he was booted out by the American Idol viewers. The judges decided to use their one and only save on this talented guy. He still has hope if this experience taught him the lessons he needs to be successful, lessons writers also need to learn.

His failure proves that great talent does not necessarily equate success, and these are the reasons why:

  1. Casey’s physical appearance is said to “resemble a Fraggle” and “something a cat barfed up.” Harsh, I agree. Yet, like it or not, we are judged by our appearances. Casey needs to be better groomed; he needs to look like a professional. This also applies to writers, who mainly work “behind the scenes.” In our case, we need to look like professionals in all aspects of our professional lives. Our work should be well formatted. Our blogs should be attractive. Our dress should be neat and clean when we meet with editors and agents. It doesn’t mean we have to look strait-laced. It simply means we need to look like we care. Unkempt appearances might convey we are just as careless in our work ethic. Why take that chance? With a little effort, we can spiffy up.
  2. Casey does not have a target audience. Scotty has the country vote, James has the hard rockers, and Pia’s elegant beauty appeals to the guys—just to mention three of the other contestants. Who’s Casey’s target? A friend on Facebook used this as a status: Commitment to everything = Commitment to nothing. Someone responded: Or...in trying to make everyone happy, you make no one happy. Who is Casey trying to please? He needs to look within and figure out who he really is and then find his audience, find out what type of audience he wants to commit to. By trying to appeal to everyone, he is appealing to no one. And we as writers must also know who we’re performing for. And, that’s not to say to write for a specific audience. Writers should write the book within them. But, in the end, we must identify who that work is for. We may write brilliantly, but, if we have no audience, who will want to publish us?
  3. Casey is perceived by some as arrogant. He chose to perform a Nirvana song one week and some condemned him for it. Bravery is needed to take on challenging projects. However, some saw him as parodying the song. Talented people make bigger targets. This reminds me of when Jesus said to sit in the lowly seat. In other words, don’t get too big for your britches. We can know our true value without being arrogant. We need to carefully choose our words and actions, especially as Christian writers, to convey the correct attitude of respect.
  4. “Branding” is another area Casey needs to address. One of the judges told him he could do anything. Unfortunately, that’s not what audiences want. They want to “brand” you, label you, file you away in the recesses of their minds. If we do too many things, as Casey does--playing different instruments, singing songs in a variety of ways, we confuse people. Sometimes branding is a difficult process for writers. Fortunately, resources exist to help us determine our brand. With a little time and effort, we can develop an easily recognized persona.
  5. The judges also had a hand in Casey’s failure. The week before, this is what Casey was told:  by Steven Tyler--“I think you’re the perfect entertainer.”; by Jennifer Lopez --“You might be like ‘The Guy’ right now. You can really, really carve out a niche for yourself and be amazing.”; by Randy Jackson--“You are definitely a true original.” All great comments, right? Yet they did nothing to steer Casey in the right direction. It’s good to have “judges,” critiquers, but let’s find those who can help us grow, who are willing and brave enough to point out our mistakes. “Yes” men are never the answer. We need critique partners who will help our writing soar, even when the process may be painful.
  6. And the last mistake Casey made was in playing up his weirdness. People like the unusual, but they like it within the confines of normalcy. Have you noticed most popular movies have elements that are easily identifiable? One example is Indiana Jones. As many know, George Lucas based the format on serials, something many of us remember well. The idea of the whip came from Zorro. (according to: The Raider.Net) Making a movie like a serial, brought us something new, something we had never seen in movies before. Yet Lucas started with the familiar. Writers, too, must have a foot in the normal as they branch out into the quirky. Otherwise, the jolt may overwhelm.

Casey Abrams serves as an example of things writers need to keep in mind. Writers need 1. to look professional, 2. have a target audience, 3. learn humility, 4. know our brand, 5. seek out knowledgeable critiquers, and 6. keep one foot in reality as we explore our quirkiness. Casey has the talent. We may have the talent. Yet all the talent in the world will not garner us the success we seek until we learn these six lessons.


  1. Good info Shelia. Also why I never have a picture of myself on my books, blog, or facebook; I'd scare too many people away. I learned very early in life that most people, if they don't understand it, will laugh and make a joke of it.

  2. I was shocked when Casey got voted off since I had him pegged as a finalist for sure. I see the lessons you are pointing toward and i agree, but on the other hand, I might disagree with Casey's 'look' and the 'branding' issue. I see his look and his brand as very appealing to the younger pseudo-hippy set - (who probably aren't watching 'Idol')

  3. Thanks, Jonathan and Tracy, for your thoughts.

    Tracy--if Casey's target audience is outside the realm of the American Idol audience, then he's in the wrong place. How many pseudo-hippies are there? He's talented enough to become very popular, but to do that he needs to broaden his appeal!

  4. You are so right about finding out what your brand is. If a writer cares about his or her readers, then you want your reader to be comfortable enough in a bookstore to know what they're getting for their money. And we've got to be faithful--not only to God---but to that reader, so that they can trust what you say. No weird surprise. Excellent posting.

  5. Thanks, Christine! More and more writers are realizing the importance of branding!

  6. Good points, I love Casey's voice but he needs to find something that drives his passion and stick with it.

    If anyone would like to take my poll on Casey please feel free to drop by.


  7. You made some good comments. I think Casey needs what we all need and that is to find what drives us most. What is our passion and then start to walk in that direction.

    If anyone would like to answer some questions on Casey check out the poll, we will be looking at other idols in the week. Thanks
    Samantha Fury

  8. Seems to be jazz. Not sure how big of an audience he will have for that genre. I took your poll.

    Thanks for dropping by!


Thanks for sharing your thoughts.