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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, July 29, 2012

How To Get Your Book Rejected: A Former Big 6 Editor Gives 5 Tips for Sure-Fire Rejection.

...Some lighthearted "advice" from Ruth Harris 

First, a reminder: next week we're going to have a visit from a MOVIE STAR! 

On August 5th,, Golden Globe Winner and Academy Award-nominated actor Terence Stamp, who is also a novelist and memoirist, will be here talking about his writing process and his new publishing company.

You know how I’m always talking about the importance of Social Media? Well here’s an example. An iconic movie star has asked to visit our little blog, because here in the e-age, blogs can be as important as The New York Times in reaching the public.

See why you need to have a blog searchable by your own name, with your contact information displayed prominently?  This week we have a lighthearted look at rejection from Ruth Harris, who had to tackle mountains of slush in her days as an editor at Dell, Bantam and Kensington.

We know you seasoned scriveners would never make these mistakes, but do pass on the info to your newbie friends out there. Everybody was a newbie once. And even though we laugh at this stuff now, I think we’ve all been guilty of a few of these. I know I did that thing with the heroine looking in the mirror in about 5 stories as well as my first novel.

Do notice that Ruth has hot new covers on her Romantic Women's fiction titles--and a new title for them. They're now the Park Avenue Series. Full of Mad Men-era Manhattan glitz and glamour. Sizzling summer beach reads!

Crave Rejection?
5 Never-fail, 100% Guaranteed Tips and Tricks To Absolutely, Positively Raise Your Anemic R-Quotient: by Ruth Harris

Are your Rejection-levels too low? Is publication coming too easily? Did your publisher's promo/ad campaign turn your book into an overnight blockbuster? Did that mega-million movie deal just fall from the sky into your lap?

If the answer is yes, if you feel you are not paying your dues, if you are not receiving an adequate, soul-satisfying number of rejections, here are some sure-fire, failure-proof ways to pump up your faltering R-score.

1) Choose the Wrong Agent

  • You’ve written the best horror-thriller-mystery ever. 
  • Your villain makes Hannibal Lecter look like a pussycat. 
  • Your victims are so vulnerable, defenseless and forlorn a stone would weep. 
  • Your prose sparkles. 
  • Your grammar is of such flawless perfection a revision of Strunk & White is being written at this moment to acknowledge your excellence. 
  • Your manuscript has not one single typo. 
  • Your use of the Oxford comma and the activating hyphen are impeccable. Your ending will cause the reader’s hair to stand on end. 
  • You’ve worked for years, neglected your spouse and children, gone without food and sleep. The time has come at last for submission. Which lucky agent will get first look?
If you are determined to add to your pile of rejection slips, the answer is obvious: send it to agent who specializes in Romance.

OTOH: If you might just conceivably be interested in avoiding rejection, why not do some research first? Find out which agent specializes in the genre you write. That agent will be up on all the latest developments in the market you’re trying to break into and will have close contacts with the editors who are looking for exactly what you write.

2) Embrace the cliché.

Oooooh, a dog! Everyone loves dogs. One who’s smart—or maybe a smart-ass. One who talks! Maybe even uses the f-word. Wow! A talking dog! A dog who talks dirty! You want to reach the widest readership possible. So you think of a plot in which the smart/smart-ass trash-talking dog helps the hero/heroine get the job/meet Mr. or Ms. Right. What could go wrong? Every agent and editor in town knows all about it. He/she has read that story a million times. He/she knows the ending from the first page. Yawn. Fidget. Rejection guaranteed.

More ideas straight out of cliché-ville:

  • Start your book with the MC looking into the mirror and contemplating The Meaning Of Life. 
  • Or the girl who wakes up to find bite marks on her throat and realizes—OMG!—her boyfriend is a vampire. 
  • And don’t forget the where-am-I? opening: the guy who opens the door to his house/condo/garage/office and steps over the threshold only to discover he’s shattered the time-space continuum and is lost in a strange, far-away galaxy.

Moral: Read, read and read. Become familiar with the work of the bestselling writers in your genre. Study—and then analyze—your market. Figure out what’s selling and what’s not selling. If the characters or plot have been done so many times they’ve reached cliché status, you must come up with the genius twist, the brilliant why-didn’t-I-think-of-that?

3) Work the phone.

  • Keep in contact! Make the connection!! That’s what phones are for, aren’t they? 
  • Call the agent you’ve just sent your manuscript to every morning and then again every afternoon. 
  • Be sure to track down his or her home phone/cell phone so you can call in the evening, too. 
  • Once at dinnertime so you can interrupt the meal. 
  • Then again later to wish him/her good night. 
  • And don’t forget 3AM so you can wake the agent up. 
All you want to know is if s/he has read your book and give him/her the opportunity to tell you how wonderful it is and how your book is going to change the future of publishing.

Is that too much to expect? They’re professionals, aren’t they? Their living depends on their writers, doesn’t it? Of course they want to hear from you. They’re been on tenterhooks waiting for you to call. Of course they’ll drop whatever they’re doing to talk.

Um, no. Of course they’re going to reject you.

Conclusion: Hands off the phone! No matter how anxious you are, no matter how desperate you feel, stifle that impulse. Go to the gym. Binge on ice cream. Watch reruns of Law and Order. Do the laundry. Do anything! Just stay away from the phone.

4) Have fun with anachronistic language.

You’ve written a Victorian-era romantic suspense novel. You’ve researched until your notes are longer than the manuscript. You’ve had to buy new glasses—your eyesight has deteriorated because of the time you’ve spent on Google and in the library. Every frill and furbelow on your heroine’s dress is accurately described. The descriptions of period architectural details from plinths to fasciated entablature would impress even Frank Lloyd Wright. You’ve researched period hairstyles in such depth that your characters—literally—never have a hair out of place.

Then they open their mouths to speak.

“Been there, done that,” says your elegant, gentleman of high birth.
“Whatever,” shrugs the heiress he’s courting.

You’re into nails-on-a-blackboard territory.
You want an agent to shriek in horror? You’re hoping an editor will cringe and reach for the smelling salts? You’re on the hunt for rejection?

Congratulations. You’ve just succeeded beyond your wildest dreams.

Lesson: Watch your language—and your dialogue. Just as fashion changes so does the way people speak. 1940’s slang is different from 1960’s slang and the way people talk today is different from the way they talked back in the 1950’s. Listen to what people say—and notice the way they say it. Vintage movies provide a guide to appropriate dialogue: whether your characters are soldiers in World War II, gangsters in the 1930’s or advertising executives in the 1950’s (Mad Men, anyone?).

5) Be a trend setter with grammar and punctuation!

Just because every grammar guru insists that subjects and verbs have to match doesn’t mean that you have to be a slave to “the rules.” You’re much more imaginative that that! You’re a creative person. You don’t follow trends. You start them!

Just because professional writers heed the suggestions of proofreaders doesn’t mean you have to. So what if “Sue” becomes “Margaret” halfway through your manuscript. The editor will know who you mean. After all, “Sue” and “Margaret” have the same color hair, don’t they?

Same thing with that tangle of it, its and it’s and their muddled thicket of antecedents. You know exactly what you mean and who you’re referring to. And if you know, so will the reader. Well, won’t they? Isn’t that their part of the job?

And just because Speed Kills, don’t for one minute think that applies to you! Go ahead. Send that manuscript out without editing, cutting, revision, proofreading. You’re different. Your first drafts are magic. Even your mother says so.

Last of all, on your pilgrimage as you search for ever more rejection, don’t ever ignore the always-reliable habits of the lazy writer:
  • Exclamation point infestation.
  • Adverb excess and adjective overload.
  • Repetition of the same words and phrases.
  • Comma mistreatment and semi-colon abuse.
  • Typo tolerance. 
So, fellow scriveners, if you find the experience—and the pain and resulting soul calluses—provided by rejection essential to your journey to success, now you know exactly what do to and how to do it to get more of what you need and want. Good luck!

How about you? Do you have some favorite rejection-getters of your own? Anything you used to do that you cringe about now?

Whether you're a newbie sending out your first queries or a seasoned writer who’s looking at all the publishing options open to today’s writers, there’s no better place to learn how to avoid doing embarrassing stuff than a writers conference. Anne will be teaching at the Central Coast Writers Conference in San Luis Obispo next September. Early Bird discounts are available if you register now.

Plus a FREE BOOK ALERT!! The elegantly plotted academic cozy ACADEMIC BODY, by Anne's mom, Shirley S. Allen, will be free for Kindle on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Also going free at the same time is my Kindle short story, BETTY JO STEVENSON RIDES AGAIN.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cybermen, The Colorado Tragedy, and the Sociopath in the Comment Thread: Don't Add to the Crazy

We still know nothing of the motives of the demented gunman who perpetrated the horrors at the screening of The Dark Knight Rises on Thursday night—and my heart goes out to the victims of that tragedy.

But I think it’s important to note that earlier that day, the Rotten Tomatoes movie review site had to disable comments on the film The Dark Knight Rises because of death threats against movie reviewers who hadn’t loved the film.

Yeah. Death threats. Over reviews. People got so heated in the comment thread they were threatening to kill reviewers of a film they’d never even seen.

Mob behavior is always dangerous, but mobs form more easily out here in Cyberia. When they spill over into real life, real tragedy happens.

I’m not saying there was a cause and effect situation with the Rotten Tomato Dark Knight Rises death threats and the horrific event in Colorado, but in a larger sense they are linked. The guy didn’t choose to attack the audience at a screening of Magic Mike or Ted.

Violent acts are usually preceded by violent talk. And there’s an awful lot of it these days.

Since I’ve been urging new authors to become active in social media, I think it’s important to mention something about its perils. When I started interacting online a few years ago, I seriously didn’t have a clue about the evils that lurk in the dark corners of the Interwebz.  

They are many. With the anonymity afforded by the Webz, people say things they’d never say in person.  Especially if they’re using a “screen name” or posting as anonymice.  (Radio host Dave Congalton had a great discussion about the dangers of anonymous comments on his show on July 17th. You can listen to a podcast here.)

For some the Web is the opposite of “Cheers”—it’s a place where nobody knows your name. Anonymous posters may feel as if they’re wearing cloaks of invisibility, and can do whatever comes into their heads and never suffer consequences because its’ “not real.” (Another reason I urge writers to use their own names in all their online activity.)

Anonymous posters may perceive the others they interact with as “invisible” too—after all, a series of digits is not a person. They forget those digits represent actual human beings with real feelings.  

They can also represent real sociopaths.

In her bestselling self-help book, The Sociopath Next Door, Dr. Martha Stout says that one in every twenty-five people fits the DSM criteria for “anti-social disorder” –people defined as “sociopaths.”  These are people who have no conscience and no capacity for empathy.

That means in every comment thread or forum with more than twenty-five entries, a sociopath could be lurking. Your hyperbolic comment or snarky post may be taken literally by a demented person—which can lead to tragedy.  

So we need to weigh our words and check our facts just as carefully online as we do when we’re speaking in person.

Also, the anonymity of the Webz can make perfectly nice, sane people suspend their own empathy when they get riled into thinking they’re supporting a just cause, dissing a “public figure” and/or defending one of their own.

People will stop by a forum or a blog, let an incendiary remark spark their rage--and suddenly they’re part of an army of socipathic Cybermen bent on destroying everything in their path.

I’ve been swept up in some Cybermen armies myself, which I regret deeply. (For the non-Whovians out there, Cybermen are a fictional army of villainous cyborgs from the TV show Dr. Who.  They have human brains, but no emotions aside from the occasional bout of rage.) 

Some of my own Cyberperson behavior happened when I let myself go along with the crowd in a blog thread and didn’t check facts. Other times I got involved when I jumped in to defend someone.

Unfortunately, whatever our intentions, if we’re swimming in the cesspool, we’re part of the stink.

Sometime last year I saw a blogpost about an author who is one of my idols. He was accused of “unethical” behavior by a self-appointed group of amateur “literary police” who seem to be remarkably unschooled in the business of publishing. Dozens joined in the comment thread, each in higher dudgeon than the one before.

The result was a dogpile of stupid and nasty. A mass temper-tantrum. It made me furious. So I pounded off a comment to defend my hero.

Trouble was, I was so angry, I hit enter too soon and my comment sounded as if I was agreeing with the meanies.  

I got an email a moment later from my idol. It said “Et tu, Anne?”

I don’t know when I have felt like such a worm. I went back to the post and tried to clear up what I had said, but the damage was done. The classy writer forgave me, but I didn’t really forgive myself.

A few months later I personally became the target of the same literary Cybermen army. Their rage had been sparked by posts and tweets by a few people who misinterpreted one of my pieces on this blog.

I endured a similar dogpiling of hate and self-righteous rage—almost all anonymous.

Including actual death threats sent to my home by people who said they were "watching me" and "had a gun."

This week I was introduced to one of the bloggers who had dissed me. She had no inkling of the tsunami of crazy she had unleashed. She’d simply meant to be snarky and funny and had believed the voices of “righteousness” who accused me of some sort of deviousness I hardly understood.

UPDATE: here's an absolutely awesome graphic by author Dalya Moon in response to this post. Dalya, you're my hero!

It’s important to remember we judge others by what we know. A kind and truthful person expects kindness and truth from others; a manipulator sees deviousness behind every smile; and a sociopath will project the contents of his own damaged soul onto the entire population. That means when you habitually accuse others, you’re saying more about yourself than you are about the people you accuse.

Luckily the snarky blogger turned out to be a kind and truthful person who had expected her sources to be the same. She apologized sweetly and publicly and I’m sure we’re going to be friends.

But unfortunately, words can’t be unsaid. I have to stay away from the places where the anonymous Cybermen army lurks.  A lot of writers’ forums are off limits for me, because any mention of my name lets loose the verbal violence.

True sociopaths don’t mind being seen as evil—they’re usually pretty proud of it. But their Cybermen minions are convinced of their own righteousness, which justifies everything they do, no matter how cruel. They are not rational, so trying to reason with them is futile. They explode in rage when you show kindness to one of their victims or ask them to “have a heart”—because they don’t. They have disabled their own capacity for empathy.

I once saw a thread on a news story about a man who’d murdered his two year old baby in its crib. An anonymous commenter said it served the child right for not carrying a gun. Yeah. I wish I’d known how to do a screenshot then, because it was hard to believe my own eyes. I almost fired off a comment like “have you ever MET a two-year-old?” Until I realized either the guy was being ironic, or he was acting like a two-year old himself. And as any parent (or even an aunt) knows, you do not argue with a two year old. You give him a time-out.

That was when I stopped reading comments on news stories. It’s where the Cybermen live.

But if you’re dealing with social media, eventually you’re going to run into Cybermen, anonymous sociopaths, and even some armed two-year olds.

Here are two things to remember when you’re dealing with an Internet meme of “righteous rage”.

1) Never join in a brawl.

Joining in a barroom brawl just makes it bigger. Either you’ll appear to be joining in the attack on the victim, or you’ll be offering yourself as an even juicier target. (And the sheriff is going to haul the whole tootin' lot of you off to the hoosegow. Go watch some old Western movies.)

2) The old adage is right: “Never argue with a drunk or a fool.”  

Of course I have no idea if the people making death threats on Rotten Tomatoes—or the armed two-year-old—were consuming alcohol, but they were drunk: on rage. So are the Cybermen armies. Psychologists who specialize in anger management say that anger can flood the brain with endorphins very like the high of alcohol or cocaine. 

One in every 25 people may be a sociopath, but I’d say that here in Cyberia, even more than that will engage in sociopathic behavior. Certainly the people who attacked me (and my idol) didn’t show a shred of empathy.

I would urge everybody who interacts online to weigh your words as heavily as you would if speaking in person—because you’re closer to the “real world” than you think. 

And if you see a dogpile of crazy heaping on some designated victim—whether it’s a reviewer, fellow writer, or even someone who's "fair game" like a celebrity or a politician—take a deep breath, step away from the keyboard and repeat the Golden Rule. 

If you have turned into an empathy-free Cyberperson, and you don't believe that “others” deserve the same respect you want for yourself, get off the Internet. Go hang out with some real people in the real world. Or pet a real dog.

You aren’t actually a sociopath—remember? Your actions have consequences, even if you feel invisible.  

What happened on Thursday night shows that we live in a world full of unspeakable violence.

Don’t let yourself add to it, online or off.

I’d love to have you weigh in here, scriveners. Let’s try to keep political and incendiary statements out, lest we activate an army of sociopathic Cybermen


On a much happier note: I have a spectacular announcement.  On August 5th, we will have a very, very special guest on this blog.  Academy Award-nominated actor Terence Stamp, who is also a novelist and memoirist, will be here talking about his writing process and his new publishing company.

You know how I’m always talking about the importance of Social Media? Well here’s an example. An iconic movie star has asked to visit the blog of little old moi because here in the e-age, blogs can be as important as The New York Times in reaching the public.

See why you need to have a blog searchable by your own name, with your contact information displayed prominently?  

Also: I've been making a few little tweaks to the template here, since some readers have pointed out the font and links have been a little hard to read. So I changed fonts and darkened the link color. Let me know what you think!

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Social Media vs. a New York Times Book Review Cover: Which Sells More Books?

Yesterday Catherine Ryan Hyde and I spoke with a wonderful bunch of eager authors at the Digital Authors Seminar in San Luis Obispo. They were full of lots of great questions, some of which I’ll address here on the blog in coming weeks.

We talked about the two events that have caused a seismic shift in the publishing business in the last four years: the introduction of the e-reader and the rise of social media as a marketing tool.

Amazon, Facebook and Twitter: love ’em or hate ’em, they have turned the creaky old publishing industry on its ear.

The way books are marketed has been revolutionized as much as their delivery system.

As publishing insider Alan Rinzler said, on his blog last summer: “That $50K space ad in the New York Times? Forget it. It’s only for the author’s mother.”

Last week an article in Publishers Weekly backed up that statement with some hard evidence. They showed that even a favorable review on the cover of the NYT Book Review—one of the most coveted pieces of real estate in the publishing industry (and the object of most authors' most cherished fantasies) doesn’t do much to bump a book’s sales these days.

Most books they studied did double sales for a short time, usually not more than a week or two, and one quadrupled sales—but most didn’t show more than a modest influence.

And when I say modest, I mean just that. Arlie Russell Hochschild’s The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times featured on the May 27th cover, had sold 52 copies the week before. With the NYT cover bump, it sold 134. That’s right: scoring a review on the cover of the NYT Book Review netted a sales increase of 82 actual books.

So let’s compare that with the e-age way of marketing: using social media and free book giveaways on places like Smashwords and Amazon’s KDP Select.

Catherine Ryan Hyde recently self-published her novels When I Found You and Don’t Let Me Go and put them into KDP Select.

For the uninitiated: KDP Select is a program on Amazon that allows members to borrow the book free and any customer to download the book free during 5 days in every 90-day period. (Authors are paid for downloads by members, but not for the general-public freebie days.)

Why do authors want to give their ebooks away free? Because it’s the best possible advertising (as long as you have a great product) and it costs nothing. Zip Zilch Nada.

Why doesn’t everybody do it? There’s one big obstacle. In order to put a book into KDP Select program, you have to give Amazon exclusive rights to sell that ebook. No B&N. No Smashwords. No Kobo. Not even sales from your own site.

OK, so back to Catherine. In the week before its freebie days, When I Found You was selling “in the tens” per month. After it zoomed to #1 on its free days, it continued to sell thousands.

Within a week, Catherine had earned enough on that book alone to buy a car. (A very nice car. A Lexus.  I got to ride in it yesterday.)

Then let’s look at Ms. Hochschild, with her coveted NYT real estate.  On a trad. pub royalty of 17% or so on 82 units, Ms. Hochschild could barely buy a set of Hot Wheels. (Not to criticize her book. It looks brilliant.)

So e-age marketing wins over the New York Times Book Review cover. (Aside from having something suitable for framing for your Mom.)

But: it’s important to note that Catherine couldn’t have achieved her success with a giveaway alone. An author can offer any number of free books, but if nobody knows they exist, nobody will download them.

That’s why your social media presence is so important. By the time you have a book to sell/give away, you need to have a network in place that can spread the word to thousands.

When Catherine’s second self-pubbed book, Don’t Let Me Go went free last weekend, Catherine tweeted it to her 1150 followers. Since I’m one of them, I retweeted to my 3200 followers. Two followers even thanked me—and because most people don’t thank for tweets—I assume many more downloaded it. I also assume they went on to broadcast the news to all their Tweeple.

This is why Twitter is probably your most important marketing tool. But you have to get that network established long before your book comes out. One of the best ways to do that is to tweet links to things that your readers might be interested in. Write sci-fi? Tweet links to trailers of new sci-fi films, sci-fi bloggers, etc. Write cookbooks? Tweet links to great recipes--not all your own. :-) Write women’s fiction? Tweet everything Jennifer Weiner says about valuing the genre. 

The point is to have people in place who have a habit on clicking on your links for good content. Not just your own stuff.

Catherine also did a Facebook promotion coordinated by an outfit called Shindig: a two-hour chat that fans could attend for free. It was a rousing success—and Don’t Let Me Go shot to #1 in the whole Kindle Store and stayed there for three days. It’s now selling better than any of her other books.

This is why you need a social media presence.  Yes, even if you do get that NYT review.

I’m aware that people in the know will say the freebie days on Amazon are not working as well as they used to—and may soon not work at all. The Amazon algorithms changed again recently, and the freebie bounce in real sales isn’t as high as it used to be. There’s also the serious drawback of the exclusivity demanded by Amazon to enroll in the KDP Select program that allows the free days.

But no matter what new promo comes up next, chances are pretty certain you’ll only be able to utilize it if you already have a social media platform. Just going on Twitter two weeks before launch and saying “buy my book” (Or worse, hiring somebody to tweet it for you) isn’t going to cut it.

You need to have a network in place. That’s why you want to start now. You don’t necessarily have to Tweet or be on Facebook (Although FB is kind of like the Yellow Pages these days. It’s where people will look for you first, so it’s usually worth it to have at least a “like” page.)

But you can grow your network anywhere: LinkedIn, Goodreads, RedRoom, Pinterest or Tumblr. Or Vlog on You Tube. Find one that works for you and then start making friends.  Don’t spread yourself too thin by going on all of them. Check them out and then linger in places where you find kindred spirits.

Yes. Kindred spirits. People you like. Social media is social. So be sociable. It’s like being at a party. Don’t brag or talk about yourself or beat your chest and bellow. Talk about shared interests.  Like what books you like to read. What music you like. Your obsession with Dr. Who.

So, even if you're a romance writer, don't just talk romance writing. Instead, you might start exchanging Dr. Who lore with a bunch of people on RedRoom, and pretty soon you’ll find a Whovian who also likes romance. Voila—a potential reader. And yes, it’s possible to relate hot romance with Dr. Who. Here’s a great post at Passionate Reads from Marilyn Campbell.

What about your blog? That’s social media, right? If you have a blog is it OK if you’re not on other social media?

Sure. As long as you use that blog to network—going to other blogs and commenting and making friends. Just sitting there in your lair writing about your book and attracting three hits a month isn’t going to help sell your book. For info on how to start an author blog, see my blogpost on How Not to Blog, or read my How to Blog series in the book I’ve written with Catherine, HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE.

Reminder: I strongly urge new and unpublished writers NOT to blog their WIP or post excerpts from an unpublished piece! That’s giving away your first rights and will limit your book’s publishability. It’s OK to blog about writing some of the time when you’re starting out--that’s a way to make friends with other writers and people in the industry. I know a number of authors who found their agents or publishers from recommendations from other writers they met through their blogs.

And I think I should mention this in every post, because about 90% of unpublished writers do this. Don’t forget to post an “about me” page that contains your CONTACT INFORMATION. Without a bio your blog is useless. For help on writing your author bio, read my post on Write Your Author Bio Now.

But blog about other things besides writing. Interview published authors. Review books or movies in your genre. Or network with other Whovians and blog about why the tenth Doctor is by far the best. (OK, I have a fondness for Eccleston, as well.)

Personally, I think a blog is a huge asset for a writer, because it allows you to have a flexible online home base where people can always find you and communicate. Whether it’s an agent who’s trying to decide whether to request your manuscript, a fellow writer who wants to respond to a comment you left on another blog, or a reader who loved your new book, a blog is useful at any stage of your career.

But the main purpose of whatever form of social media you choose is interaction. You need to communicate with other people. Otherwise, you might as well be sitting in your basement holding a sign. No matter how brilliant and beautiful the sign, it doesn’t do any good if nobody sees it. You’ll be wasting your time--and you'll be stuck in reruns of that fantasy where you land the cover of the NYT Book Review.

Which will probably only sell 82 books.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have hot fantasies about the NYT Book Review? What form of social media works best for you?

Thank you, everybody who downloaded HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY (written by Catherine Ryan Hyde and yours truly.) Our free days were a rousing success. We immediately went to #1 in writing skills books in the Kindle store in both the US and the UK and stayed there for all three of our freebie days. We beat out Mark Coker's free book, the new conversation between Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler, and Noah Lukeman's new book on agents. All authors I really respect. Pretty amazing.  

But it's still a good deal. It's only $2.99 for another month or so. You can buy it at Amazon in the US, or in the UK

Remember, if you don’t have a Kindle, you can download a FREE app for your computer, phone or tablet RIGHT THERE ON THE AMAZON BUY PAGE. And if you have a NOOK here’s how to download an app so you can get free Kindle books to download to your NOOK. 

And remember, this ebook comes with free updates every six months!

And for you die-hard treeware lovers, the paper book is coming! A little slower than we hoped, but it is in the proofing process. 

Tor those of you who signed up early for our mailing list, we promised we would award a copy of a signed first edition of Catherine Ryan Hyde's iconic novel PAY IT FORWARD to one lucky winner today. So the winner, chosen by the random number generator at random.org is CORA RAMOS!!! Congratulations, Cora!

And further congrats to longtime follower of this blog, children's author Lorie Brallier, who also attended the seminar yesterday--and today was offered representation by the Karen Grenick Literary Agency! Congrats, Lorie! 

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bad Reviews—Six Reasons to Be Glad You Have Them

"What? Glad?" sez you. "There is nothing that makes a writer sadder than a bad review!"

That's true. They can feel like a sudden, nasty downpour on the biggest parade of your life.

Whether you self-pubbed or worked with a traditional publisher, the publication of your first book is a moment of personal triumph. You want to shout it from the rooftops: “HEY WORLD, LOOK WHAT I DID! I AM AN EFFING AUTHOR, PEOPLE!!”

And your book starts to climb up the charts. Wow. People are buying it. People you aren’t even related to!

Reviews start coming in. People like you. They really like you!!

But then…somebody doesn’t.

There it is, your first bad review, sitting there on Amazon or B&N or Goodreads, with its puny single star.

You feel like your head is going to explode. You’re not sure what will come out when it does--curses or tears--but it will probably be both. You want to fire off a response, saying what a moron the reviewer is because—well, first off—it’s not a zombie book. That’s why there are no effing zombies, OK??!! Don’t give me two stars because there are no zombies in my heartfelt story of a woman’s journey healing from her addiction to Hugh Grant movies, OK? And you say it’s too short? Almost like a novella? That’s because it IS a novella, you cretinous worm from Hell. It says so RIGHT THERE in the product information.

But of course you don’t write that down. That would be professional suicide. You know that.

You step away from the keyboard. You call your BFF/Sig. Other. You reach in the cupboard for your chocolate stash and eat a whole Lindor truffle bar while your BFF/Sig. Other is reciting platitudes about how you can’t please all the people all of the time and this too shall pass. 

You hang up and get in the car. It’s Haagen Dazs time. And yes, you go to the store and rent “Notting Hill” one more time.

OK, it’s good to mourn. You need to get that stuff out of your system. If you live near a place where it’s safe to throw things, go do that. I find throwing rocks at the ocean surprisingly satisfying.

But you do have to face that computer sometime, and when you do, it’s still there, those three nasty sentences that stink up your whole Amazon page like somebody’s poodle took a dump on your life-is-a-banquet buffet table.

Your career is over. It’s ruined. Nobody will ever buy your book again!!

Not true.

Quite the contrary, in fact. Bad reviews can actually be good for sales.


1) They show you’ve joined the big leagues. 

All popular writers get bad reviews. Just go to any bestseller’s buy page.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone “nothing more than a shallow tale about a misfit who makes good.”

The Hunger Games  “semi-familiar plot, predictable ending, eh not worth my time.”

The DaVinci Code “Highs: the French sentences are correctly spelled. Lows: everything else.”

Freedom “I started to dog-ear pages on which cringeworthy prose appeared, and I did damage to 90 percent of the book.” 

Or even better, the classics.

Gone with the Wind “I use to feel bad about Sherman burning Atlanta, but that was before I read this book." 

Pride and Prejudice “This is without question the worst book I've ever read in my entire life. The style is clumsy though the author strives to impress with an aristocratic pompousness so typical of social climbers of her day.”

The Great Gatsby “this book is twilight without the vampires, which by the way is an equally horrendous affront to intelligent readers…I don't need a book about stupid rich people.”

Great Expectations “a shapeless mess of a story…presented in the most abrasive fashion possible.”

(I especially love the irony of that uber-clumsy sentence about Jane Austen, don’t you? I think there is a good deal of what shrinks call "projection" in negative reviews. Some wannabe writers seem to see their own faults in everybody else's prose.)

2) They prove your reviews are genuine. 

It’s no secret that some authors game the system by trading reviews or even buying them from unscrupulous review mills. Or they pressure everybody in their church Ladies’ Auxiliary to write versions of the same exclamation-laden rave.

BTW, I hear Amazon elves are making a sweep and removing lots of suspect reviews. Unfortunately, some legitimate reviews have been removed too. Be careful you follow Amazon’s guidelines to the letter. NOTE: don’t repeat a phrase from another review or the product description or you can get flagged as a phony reviewer even when you’re not.

The truth is most successful books do not have a full five-star rating. When readers see a page with nothing but five stars these days, they tend to feel skeptical.

3) They demonstrate what your book ISN’T

Knowing what your book is NOT can be as useful to a reader as showing what it is.  Sometimes a negative review comes from a person who got the wrong idea of your genre or subgenre. So the review will steer readers from buying the wrong book and generating more irate reviews. (One bad review hurts our feelings, but a whole bunch can seriously hurt sales.)

I had one reviewer call my rom-com thriller Food of Love “rubbish”, because, she said, “I read lots of lesbian romance and this was the worst I ever read.”

Well…yeah it probably was. That’s because it’s not a romance. And it’s not about lesbians.

All my work has strong, sympathetic GLBT characters, but anybody looking for hot girl-on-girl action is going to be seriously disappointed. So thank you, “rubbish” reviewer, for setting people straight (no pun intended.) Whoever told her FoL was a lesbian romance was misinformed—so I’m happy she’s cleared that up.

Another author I know got a one-star for her historical mystery because somebody ordered it thinking it was how-two book about medieval embroidery. OK, the one-star is a pain, but better than a whole bunch of one-stars from dozens of irate embroiderers.

4) They help you target your demographic. 

A review that tells readers what group doesn’t like your book can actually encourage the right readers to buy.

I read a complaint from an author who said she got two stars from a reviewer “because the characters engage in pre-marital sex”. 

Oooooh. There’s sex in it?  So you’ve been identified as a writer who does not write for evangelical Christians who wear promise rings.

That shows you DO write for readers who like a little steam in their lattes. In a world where 50 Shades of Gray is the number one bestseller, that hurts you how?

I had a similar experience with a reviewer who said my mystery Ghostwriters in the Sky was “too complicated.” He said he “couldn’t tell who the bad guys were until the last page.”

Thank you! That tells readers who like a complex, unpredictable mystery they’re in the right place.

5) They rally the troops.

If an author is unfairly reviewed or attacked by trolls, the fans will be outraged, too. It might even get them to write that review they’ve been meaning to write forever. (If you need more encouragement to review your favorite authors, read my post on Amazon reviews here.)

I haven’t had a lot of time to read (or write reviews) during this marathon year, but one book I loved was Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. When I put it on my Goodreads page, I noticed a lot of clueless one-star reviews, obviously from people who didn’t realize it was about a minimally-produced record album like the Beatles’ famous “Let it Be…Naked”—and NOT about a lady with no clothes on. I made the time to write a review I probably would never have written otherwise. I hope I steered some of the right readers to the book.

Or there was the time I went to check out a new book mentioned in a Tweet and saw it had ten reviews already: all one-star—all attacking the author personally, saying nothing about the book.

It was an obvious example of cyberbullying. (For more on dealing with bullying in the trollosphere, Kristin Lamb has a fantastic post this week.)

Do you think I bought the book and, after enjoying it, gave it a good review? You betcha! (I also hit the "report abuse" button.) Plus I tweeted it to my followers and wrote an encouraging message to the author. Most humans are moved when we see a fellow human being persecuted.

6) They tell you what readers want 

Elizabeth S. Craig has blogged about how she learns from her negative reviews, and she displays a healthy, professional attitude we all should learn to emulate. You can learn a lot from your readers, who will let you know if they were angry when you killed off Aunt Millie, or didn’t like it when your romantic interest turned into Snidely Whiplash in your last book.

And believe me, if you have any typos, or your work needs editing, they’ll let you know about that, too.

On the other hand—make sure you’re reacting to a majority opinion and not just a handful of people in a bad mood. You don’t want reviewers to change your voice or artistic vision any more than you want your critique group to do that. 

In spite of all this, I do realize some reviews can be spiteful and useless.

Some of those may have been purchased. There are services that offer to leave bad reviews to bump authors ahead of you off the Amazon bestseller lists. (I’ve personally seen review mill sites, but they move around, so I don’t have a link right now.) On the plus side, their mostly illiterate “reviews” get taken down quickly. Amazon is on to them and will remove the review if you report abuse.  

Then there is the segment of the population who invent reasons to criticize and find fault with everything because they get off on it—especially if they can work themselves up into a self-righteous rage to justify their cruelty. Rage can produce a high very like cocaine. (See my post on Trolls, Sockpuppets and Cyberbullies.)

Unfortunately the anonymity of the Internet is where they thrive.

I’ve observed that freebie books tend to get the most troll attacks. That’s partly because people devalue things they don’t pay for, partly because they’ll download free books in genres they don’t usually read, and also because a lot of people simply hate self-publishing (change is scary).

Some people assume all freebie books are self-published—they’re not, but nobody is accusing these people of being rocket scientists.

You can usually tell a troll attack from an honest review. Trolls make it pretty obvious they haven’t read the book and use generic phrases—usually including “riddled with typos” and “obviously in need of an editor” even when they’re reviewing Jane Austen. They often dump lots of identical one- and two-stars all over Amazon. 

This is why Amazon has that “report abuse” button. (But never use it for an honest negative review.)

Sometimes a reader can leave a negative review because of something that has nothing to do with the quality of your book. Maybe your protagonist has the same name as the guy who just dumped her, or her own novel just got rejected by an agent who sat on the full for 18 months, or his mom just told him he he’s got to move out of the basement, and at 42, he really ought to find full time employment since he’s been working on that novel for 13 years now...

They aren't "abuse" in the Amazon sense, but do remember those rants aren’t reviews of your book. They’re verbal temper tantrums--the result of somebody having a bad day—or a bad life. You just happened to be in the line of fire. Smart readers can usually tell when the review is about the reviewer's issues, not the book. 

And chocolate helps. Or throwing rocks at the ocean.  Or maybe even watching a Hugh Grant movie.

What about you, scriveners? Have you seen clueless reviews of your favorite authors? Have you started to get bad reviews yet? Do you have any advice on how to cope with them? 

I have a bit of sad news this week. My US publisher, Popcorn Press, has closed its doors. But they have been incredibly gracious about handing all the files to me so I can re-publish with MWiDP. Thanks, Les—you’re a meticulous editor and fantastic book designer. And Kate—your covers are fabulous! Popcorn started as a poetry press and may be reborn as a poetry-only publisher some time in the future.

FOOD OF LOVE is now live under the MWiDP imprint on Amazon US and Amazon UK as well as Barnes and Noble. THE BEST REVENGE should be up there by tomorrow. The one downside is that I’ve lost my Amazon rankings, so FOOD OF LOVE, which had been on the bestseller list for romcoms in the UK since December has lost its status. A few “likes” and tags would be helpful, if you have the time. 

And YES, MWiDP will be re-publishing the Popcorn books in paper, AND, my other three mysteries should all be available in paper in the next few months. Yay treeware!

And don't forget the Digital Age Authors Intensive on July 14th!

You can learn all about how to be a writer in the digital age from iconic author Catherine Ryan Hyde and author, screenwriter, and radio personality Dave Congalton, as well as tech wizards, marketing specialists...and me. So if you're going to be on the Central Coast of California next weekend, don't miss this. There are still a few places available. Go here to register. 

Thanks to all of you who bought HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE last week and pushed us up the writing guide bestseller list into the top 20--ahead of the new Kindle edition of Strunk and White! 

Also: my Camilla Randall mystery SHERWOOD, LTD. is featured on Kindle Romance Novels this week and I'll be at RomanceUniversity.org on Friday the 13th!

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

What if Hollywood Rewrites Your Book? Survival Tips from Catherine Ryan Hyde

First: The big day has arrived!The ebook version of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…And Keep Your E-Sanity which I wrote with my mentor Catherine Ryan Hyde is now available on Amazon from MWiDP. For a limited time, the e-book price will be $2.99 in the US and roughly the equivalent in the UK. (This book is for writers all over the world, not just the US, and we had a Brit for an editor—thanks Mark!--who steered us from the usual America-centric advice.) 

Why did we write this book, when there are already so many writing books out there?

Because this one is different:
  • It isn’t a book about how to write, although we’ve got some great tips for self-editing and how to construct an opener that will grab readers and not let go. 
  • It’s also not a book on how to get published, although we have tons of info on how to find the right agent and how to write and format an e-query, as well as find publishers who don’t require an agent. 
  • It’s not a book on how to self-publish, although we provide the information to help you do that and decide if that’s the route you want to take. 
  • It’s not a book about building platform, although it includes my whole step-by-step “how to blog” series and tons of info on how to use Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest and other social media sites to establish your author presence on the Web before you take the publishing plunge.

It IS a book about how to BE a writer. How to take care of yourself and avoid getting scammed; how to make sense of criticism; how to build platform without giving up too much of your writing time--and a whole lot more about how to navigate the treacherous waters of today's fast-changing publishing business.

Plus, when you buy the ebook now, you can sign up for FREE updates, which will be issued every six months—since half of what we say today may not be true by then.

You can win a free copy of the ebook of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE if you comment on my post over at Meghan Ward's blog, Writerland before 9 PM Pacific time on Monday July 2nd. 

Catherine had the life-changing experience of seeing her novel PAY IT FORWARD made into a major motion picture. The only problem: the screenplay made major changes to the story and characters. Like, for instance the powerful African-American hero became a wimpy white guy. The setting was changed from small town California to Las Vegas, and most of the characters were eliminated.

So Catherine is going to tell us what to do when your dream comes true…and turns into a nightmare. We all dream of our books becoming Hollywood films, don’t we? I'm sure you've done some fantasy casting in your head. Come on, admit it. I sure have.

But what do you do if they cast Danny DeVito as your hero instead of Johnny Depp? Move the setting from post-apocalyptic Detroit to Beverly Hills? And they want Eddie Murphy to play the Betty White part in a fat suit?

Catherine has the answers. Read on…

The drawing for the signed first edition of PAY IT FORWARD will be held at the launch of the paper edition of the book. You can still enter by signing up for our mailing list, either by leaving your email address in the comments or emailing me at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com. 

What to Do when Hollywood Rewrites Your Book: How to Survive a Writer’s Most Desirable Problem

by Catherine Ryan Hyde

A big screen adaptation of your novel.

It IS possible. Likely, no. But possible.

If your book takes off and enjoys great sales, a big film company might step up and ask to option the rights. Which does not mean the movie will ever come to a theater near you.

Hundreds of properties are optioned yearly for every film that’s released. But it happens.

If you’re wondering how to make this happen, I’m sorry to say I’m not sure you can. It’s a bit like being struck by lightning (and often similarly painful). Lightning strikes happen to hundreds of people every year. And yet, if you’re looking for such an experience (you’re not, but go with me on this tortured simile) there’s no special path to finding it. My only advice is to stand outside in a lot of rainstorms. Lightning rarely strikes those sitting inside by their comfortable wood fires.

Maybe you have a film agent, or your literary agent has a subagent for film. And said agent is shopping it around. Good. That’s the equivalent of standing outside in a storm. Now all you need is a whole universe full of luck.

And then, in most cases, somewhere in the adaptation process, authors begin to wonder just how lucky they really are.

My novel Pay It Forward was adapted for film. I am commonly asked what I think of the movie version. My answer is always the same.

“I thought the book was better.”

Then again, I would, wouldn’t I?

When I say that, just about everybody says the same thing: "Oh, the book is always better than the movie." Which leads me to wonder why, as a society in general, we see so many movies and read so few books. But that’s another rant for another text.

I have theories as to why the book is always better.

Theory #1: The author is not a person responsible for recovering an investor’s fifty million dollars (or hundred million these days), and so spends less time second-guessing him- or herself. (Isn’t it nice to know there’s somebody on the planet doing more second-guessing than the writer?)

Theory #2: Most books have only one author. A Hollywood movie is like the textbook definition of too many cooks in the kitchen.

Theory #3: People don’t seem to realize that Hollywood will make whatever kind of movies we will support, and that we "vote" with our box office dollars.

If I had singlehandedly made the movie Pay It Forward:
  • The world would actually have changed at the end; 
  • Reuben St. Clair, my African-American Viet Nam vet protagonist would have appeared in said film (Eugene who?); 
  • All the gay, transgender, physically large, or minority characters would not have turned thin, white and straight, or disappeared entirely (ah, Hollywood is a magical place!); 
  • I would have made sure that the only black and (arguably) Hispanic characters left were not gang-bangers and knife-wielding thugs. 

Ah, you say. But it will be different with me. Because I will retain control.

Really? You think you can control a Hollywood film?

I’m not so sure.

First of all, if you’re not J.K. Rowling, attaching script approval might very well relegate your project to a shelf forever. But let’s say your work is hot, and you get what you want: script approval, or even collaboration on the screenplay.

Screenwriters do not control Hollywood films.

The director leaves fingerprints on it, calling it “A Fill-in-the-name-of-the-big-director Film” and making insane choices based on ego to prove it.

The actors come in with “script notes” (i.e., I just can’t see my character saying that). The bigger the actor, the harder it is for anyone to say no to the often rotten ideas.

New writers can be brought in to make new changes. Even if you could conquer those forces, a film editor can completely transform the feel of a film in post production. For better or for worse.

No matter what it says in your contract, a film is going to be out of the novelist’s control.
So, if I had it to do over again, would I still sell them the rights?

You bet I would. In a Hollywood minute.

Let’s face it. This is what you call a high-end problem.

I know other fortunate writers will face similar happy disasters (I want to go on record as saying I wish this problem on each and every person reading this) so I’ll offer some tidbits of advice for the adaptation experience.

1) A useful mantra: "It’s not my hundred million dollars."

2) A great quote from Jacqueline Mitchard: "Where I come from, you can either take the money or you can moan about the process, but not both."  My advice? Take the money. Moaning is not all its cracked up to be.

3) Remind yourself that they are not, as people will suggest, "changing your book." Go back and read your book. You will find it blissfully unchanged. This is not your book, it’s their movie. Separate the two in your brain for purposes of continued sanity.

4) If your problems feel overwhelming, complain to your writer friends who are still struggling to get published. (Example: "Boo hoo. They cast Kevin Spacey in my movie instead of Denzel Washington.”) They will help you regain perspective. Trust me. They will.

Just promise me that you won’t be that writer who gets everything he or she ever wanted, and is still unhappy. A big screen adaptation is the brass ring. It boosts your name recognition (and I don’t mean boosts like a booster seat, I mean boosts like a booster rocket via NASA) and sells more books. That title, plus your backlist if you have one, plus every other book you’ll ever write.

And let’s say they make a bad film. I mean a really bad film. Not like Pay It Forward, which I think of as a flawed film. I mean hold-the-nose-and-ask-for-your-ticket-price-back crappy. Then what will people say? 

They’ll say, “Oh, don’t even bother with the movie. The movie sucks. Read the book. The book is much better.” 

And this hurts the writer how?

Once Hollywood comes calling for your book, nothing they can do to it will ever be as bad, in my opinion, as the hurt caused when they don’t.

There are some very well-known writers who simply refuse to option their work for film because they know Hollywood is going to ruin it, and they know it’s going to hurt when they do. I’d advise you not to be one of them. This is the kind of pain we should all be happy to dive into. Put on your best grown-up suit and be prepared to let go.

As my old mentor Jean Brody used to say, “We should all have such problems!”

What about you scriveners? Have you cast all the major parts in your book with Hollywood actors? Have you dreamed of getting nominated for an academy award for the screenplay? And come on, haven’t you--at least once--rehearsed what you’re going to say when you get that Oscar? Are you going to go out and read the actual Pay It Forward now you know how different it is from the Kevin Spacey movie? Do you have favorite books that were made into "flawed" movies?


Catherine Ryan Hyde has two new books this week. Not only our joint effort, but her heartbreaking, funny, and life-affirming  novel, DON’T LET ME GO, formerly only available in the UK. It's now available in ebook and paper at Amazon.com. Yesterday it hit #1 in Kindle books!

And if you live on the Central Coast of California, you can meet and learn from Catherine in person. She and I are giving a seminar in San Luis Obispo on July 14th on How to Be a Writer in the E-Age. (Isn't Bastille Day a perfect day to liberate yourself from the old publishing ways?) No matter what your level of writing expertise, we have information that will help you on your publishing journey, from how to write an e-query to how to deal with bad reviews. More info at Digital Age Authors. It's going to be a fun, positive learning experience!

If you want to hear a podcast of an interview with Catherine and me on the Dave Congalton show, you can hear it in the archives at KVEC for June 28th.

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