FAQs Give Readers All the Answers
by series editor Robert Rodriguez
FAQ – acronym denoting “frequently asked questions”
FAQ series – An array of titles offering a comprehensive examination of performing arts subjects, providing intelligent, curious readers the answers to every anticipated question.
The Entertainment shelves at your local bookstore are typically packed tight with an assortment of offerings. A large amount of these will be quickie publications, intended to cash in on the hot subject of the moment; these will come and go. Others may be ghost-written memoirs, likewise intended to feed public demand while the fire is hot. Still others may be massive tomes written by professional wordsmiths, bulging with detail, the results of years of research and interviews.
All of these approaches have their place, but each – in their own way – fails to satisfy the needs of a reader simply wishing to steep themselves in the kind of information it ordinarily would take years for a fan to accrue. They want to know what’s what quickly, and have that kind of knowledge right at their fingertips, without having to plow through a lot of unnecessary detail. Likewise, they demand something more than just a trivia book: little-known facts are great, but without a big picture context, fail to provide readers with a true understanding of why this artist or genre is important.
So was the way paved for the FAQ series. What makes these books important – indeed, essential – is a number of things. First, they aren’t written by journeymen authors: they are put together by hardcore fans – they might be bloggers, critics, or simply (as in my case) amateur historians – but what informs every word on the page is the passion felt by the people behind them for their subject. At the same time, they are honest, not unctuous, and never fail to look critically at their subject’s work.
An FAQ writer knows the lay of the land in the way that only a true fan can. They write about subjects they have studied and enjoyed for years. (Typically, an FAQ author will be asked in interviews, “How long did it take you to write this book?” The answer: “A year to write, a lifetime to research.”) Also, what makes it to the page is never “trivia” – that suggests that the data is frivolous or, well, trivial. We say: “minutia.” FAQs are steeped with info that not only fulfills the needs of a newbie to learn an awful lot quickly, but also the veteran fan, who will discover plenty of “I didn’t know that” information.
The other aspect that sets an FAQ book apart from any other telling is the presentation. Any book can provide a linear, chronological beginning-to-end examination of a subject. But what if you already know about The Quarry Men and really would like to know who’s playing the saxophone on “Lady Madonna”? What if you’re not all that interested in what was Paul McCartney’s biggest selling solo record, but really would like to know how close the Beatles came to re-forming? An FAQ reader knows that all they need do is turn to the appropriate chapter, and there the answers will be, presented in a detailed event-by-event history.
FAQ books cover all angles of the subject by breaking it down to narrowly focused themes, then presenting a chapter-by-chapter examination of everything on that aspect. It’s a deconstruction of sorts that allows the reader to truly get inside the subject. It also empowers them to select where to start reading: it need not be at the beginning of the book, but rather, wherever their interest lies. They’ll end up following wherever the history leads them, usually through the entirety of the book, despite themselves. It’s a post-modern approach that leads readers to walk away having grasped the big picture by studying the individual components.
The FAQ series, published by the Hal Leonard Performing Arts Group, represents a unique and accessible approach to learning “everything left to know” about a pop culture subject. There’s a richness of detail that satisfies those needing to know all the answers, but with all the boring parts left out. Whatever it is you’re into, chances are there is (or will be) an FAQ book to cover the subject.