Author Solutions, authors, creativity, helpful hints, self publishing, writing

Writing advice –“First you buy a wood burning stove.”

A few weeks ago my wife and I paid a visit to an Amish craftsman who is known for building unique dining room tables. We have always wanted one of his tables since we first enjoyed a dinner around one of his masterpieces a number of years ago. However, he does not have a web site or even email so if you want to order one, you have to schedule an appointment and pay him and his bride of nearly 60 years a visit.

It is more than a two-hour drive from our home, but it was well worth the trip. When w we arrived,  I was surprised to learn he was 80 years old and is still building tables and clearly enjoys it.  He explained that by saying, “I would rather wear out than rust out”. Our conversation also caused me to see writers could learn from him.

I confess I love spending time with craftsman of all types.  I mean people who are really good at what they do and are clearly passionate about it. So when I have a chance to spend time with people like that, I take advantage of the opportunity to learn what they do to be so good and what keeps them motivated.

Writers can learn from wood working

Wood burning stove

Who knew a visit to an Amish craftsman would inspire a blog post to help you in your writing journey

Once we went through the details of ordering the table, I asked him a few questions to see what I might learn from him. The first thing that became clear is writing is a lot like wood working. It is a craft that requires practice and you will make mistakes, but that’s OK.

In fact, when I asked the table maker what he would he tell someone he was training, he quickly said, “buy a wood burning stove so you have somewhere to put your mistakes”. Writers can learn from that. You must work at it, but sometimes you will write something and realize it is not that good.  That is OK and is actually part of the process. However for some of us that feels like failure. Instead you should you look at it as a learning opportunity.  What did you not like about the current version that you would do differently with your next draft?

It is a craft that requires practice and you will make mistakes, but that’s OK.

Sometimes you can see it and admit it to yourself or sometimes it requires an editor to show you the rough edges. Either way, you may have to throw it in the “wood burning stove”, learn from the mistakes and get back to writing a better draft.

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Author Solutions, authors, book marketing, creativity, helpful hints, Hollywood, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

3 Key Reasons Why Hollywood Will Reject Your Self-Published Book

In my last post, I outlined three reasons why Hollywood is interested in self published books more than ever before. As promised at the end of that post, I also wanted to share reasons why I see Hollywood not pursuing deals on self published books.

Hollywood sign

Entertainment execs are looking at self-published books more than ever but some authors aren’t able to take advantage of the opportunity for three key reasons. 

The three reasons that follow have come from what I see in my role with Author Solutions. Over the past five years, we have built relationships and first-look partnerships in Hollywood and created events like the Book-to-Screen Pitchfest, which have given hundreds of authors a chance to put their books in front of people who are making decisions about what makes it to the screen.

From that vantage point, I have witnessed authors pitch their books and even be offered deals, but not be able to take full advantage of the opportunities before them. Why is that

1.The story is missing one or more key elements of what makes a great story

In my most popular post, The 5 Essential Elements for Every Good Story, which was inspired by many of my conversations in Hollywood, I list what every great story needs. I would encourage you to read the complete post, but for reference, those elements are

  • An inciting action
  • Protagonist
  • Antagonist
  • Conflict
  • Resolution

Too often first time authors leave out one of these elements or do not develop it fully. Another mistake I see is the elements are all included, but it is difficult to see how they relate to one another. For example the story might be resolved, but the resolution comes out of left field. There was no foreshadowing of it or it does not tie up other details of the story. The result is an unsatisfying and confused outcome that leaves both readers and viewers, wondering, “Huh?”

For this reason, I have seen many books get interest, but not result in a deal. So if you have a story you think would play well on the screen, pay attention to the craft of telling a good story. It could be the difference between your book being optioned or not.

2. It is derivative of another work

Hollywood is sometimes criticized for recycling the same stories, but my experience is they really are looking for fresh ideas. However, if they are going to acquire a new property, they will shy away from ideas that are simply a different flavor of an idea that is already out there.  Now that doesn’t mean if you have an interesting take on a crime or police drama that hasn’t been done, they would pass on it. For example, at one of our Book-to-Screen Pitchfest, one of the authors pitched a book about what it was like to be the first African American police officers in Atlanta during and shortly after the Civil Rights movement. It was a police drama, but told from a perspective that has not been used yet. Very interesting biopic with all the elements that make for an intriguing story.

On the other hand, there was an author who pitched an idea that was simply like the Disney movie Cars, but all the characters were trucks or construction equipment. In this case, it made for a really cute series of kids books that the author was even selling through truck stops, but as a movie it was too close to Cars so everyone passed.

3. The deal you want is not in line with what the industry typically offers a first time author of a self- published book

This makes me frustrated more than anything else which is why we really try to educate authors on how the business side of Hollywood works. In each case where there is a shopping agreement or option offered, we advise authors to seek legal counsel, but make sure that person has some experience with entertainment contracts. Without that, lawyers ask for too many things or too much money at the wrong point and the deal goes away.

Red carpet

Most authors don’t see big paydays for screen rights till the movie gets made, not when an option is offered. 

Typically, there are three opportunities for authors to earn money for their books. The first is when the book is optioned. What that means is you are giving an exclusive opportunity to one producer or director to develop the property for the screen. Typically, options are for a year to 18 months and pay anywhere from $500 to $1,500. Once it is optioned, the next opportunity for an author is when the movie gets “set up”. That means the script is finalized and usually the director and actors are attached. Financing and a shooting schedule is usually also in place. At this point payment to the author could be anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. Then the final payment usually comes when the movie is shot and released. That payment can be a fixed amount or a percentage of receipts. It too can be anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000.

The key is to understand what amount of money is reasonable at certain points in the process. Too many authors don’t get the option because they ask too much for the first phase. They get bad advice from counsel who doesn’t understand how deals in Hollywood work.

I trust this and the previous post has been helpful as you think about the increased opportunities for self-published authors in Hollywood. If you have other questions, please use the comment section to post your question and I will do my best to answer it.

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authors, creativity, Editing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

7 keys to creating unforgettable characters

Along with making sure your book has all the element s of a great story, you also need to make sure your characters are interesting, consistent and an element of your book that draws readers in and keeps them interested. Good characters or poor ones will often determine whether your readers stay with you to the end of the journey or get off at the first stop. If readers lose interest in your characters, they usually lose interest in the story.

So how do you develop memorable characters? Here are some ideas to keep in mind as you write

Create a history for your main characters

The Davinci Code is one example of a book that has all the elements of good characters..

Past experiences help make us who we are and explain many of the decisions we make. So even if you don’t reveal everything about the lives of your characters in your story, it is still very helpful to write a biography to use as a guide for your writing. Identify key events in their lives and key people who influenced them. Answer questions like where did they live, where did they go to school and what jobs did they have. Who helped them along the way? Who hurt them? Knowing these things about your character will ensure you have them act consistently and help you understand what drives them. If you don’t understand a character, your readers won’t either.

Make sure your characters act consistently

Inconsistency in your characters will confuse your readers and make them lose interest. Once you develop a character in a certain way, readers are expecting that character to behave in accordance with his or her personality and motivations as you have revealed them. If that character behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense, your readers will notice. Be consistent in even the small things, such as hair color, to big things, like the character’s manner of speaking.

Avoid stereotypes

Shrek is not the stereotypical ogre, which is one of the reasons readers are drawn to him.

A good story surprises the reader and rewards them for reading. Sometimes that happens with a plot twist, but it can also happen with what I call a character twist. One of my favorite examples is the children’s book, Shrek. Even though Shrek is an ogre, he is actually kind and helpful. He is not the stereotypical ogre roaming the forest wreaking havoc in people’s lives.  Make sure there is something unexpected about your characters, but that it aligns with the biography you wrote for them and they act true to themselves throughout the story.

Develop secondary characters that are interesting  

Sidekicks can be some of the most likeable and interesting characters in the story. In some cases, readers can like them as much as the main characters.  They can help or hinder the main characters. They can provide comic relief or threats.  The key is to make sure they move the story along and not just there to take up space on the page. Here again, you may want to consider writing a biography of the character before writing he or she into the story.

Reveal your characters as the story unfolds

Often times, because we love our characters so much we want our readers to know everything about them right away.  So there is a temptation to tell the reader everything about our main character right at the start. We want to give a full physical description, tell the life story, and reveal the innermost thoughts of a character as soon as he or she is introduced. But that can create a very lopsided story and get bog down the reader in too many details.  Introduce your characters, but let your reader get to know them better as the story unfolds just like they would do in a relationship in real life. It will make your book much better.

Have an antagonist

Life has struggles and sometimes we don’t really learn who a person is until we see them in a conflict. In some cases, challenges can come from nature, but usually the most common and interesting struggles are with other people. Good versus evil is the oldest story line there is, but it still works. So make sure as you unfold what the main character is driving towards, it is clear who is creating resistance

Use all the senses

One of the ways you can keep a reader interested in your characters is engage all the senses as you reveal them. Sight is the most obvious sense to use because you can describe what the character looks like or what they are wearing, but don’t neglect the other senses of sound, taste, touch, and smell. Aroma can tell us something about a character. For example, you don’t need to tell the reader your character smokes. Instead, you could say the jacket he wore had a hint of cigarette smoke. It still conveys the idea that this person likely is a smoker, but it does it in a more interesting way.

Hopefully, you have found these suggestions helpful. If you have other keys you would like to share, please use the comment section to provide your tips.

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authors, creativity, helpful hints, self publishing

4 words that will help you unleash your creativity.

Creativity is a very interesting and often debated topic. Is it something you are born with or something you can develop? Is it something that only happens when limitations are removed or is there a process you can follow to foster creative ideas?  From my experience some people may have a greater propensity to come up with new ideas, but we all have the capability to be creative. I say that because I believe creativity is essentially seeing or ordering the relationship between existing elements differently and perhaps in way that you had not seen previously. Therefore I believe you can use a process to help ideas flow more freely. It is a process I have used to fuel my own creativity and train others to use.

It is really quite simple and only requires you to remember four words:

  • Subtract
  • Add
  • Combine
  • Substitute

With these words in mind, you ask the question, “what if?” You can utilize this process in just about every area where creativity applies, but for this post, I want to focus on how an author might use it.

By subtracting the ability for characters to chose their future, the Divergent series provides an interesting plot twist and sets up the conflict for the main character.

By subtracting the ability for characters to chose their future, the Divergent series provides an interesting plot twist and sets up the conflict for the main character.

Subtract

One of the first things you can do with your story is “subtract” something. In other words, ask the question what if the main characters did not have sight? Or in the case of Divergent, what if they could not chose their future, but it was pre-determined. By taking away that simple choice, a major plot line unfolds. So what can you subtract from your characters or world and what ideas would that spawn.

Add

The opposite of subtract is add. So in the same way you subtracted things from your characters or plot, do an exercise where you add something. They could have a special power or previously unknown child. The environment in which they live could have some additional feature as well. The key here is that addition is the goal.  The goal is to make your story or characters more interesting by adding something that is a bit unexpected or launches the plot into a completely different direction.

Combine

This exercise involves taking two elements that you would not normally associate with each other and combining them. One of my favorite examples is the series, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer. Here the author took a well known character from history and combined him with the idea of vampires. It is a bit campy, but quite memorable and certainly a twist you did not expect.

Combining ideas in relationships that might not normally be seen can create some interesting ideas like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer.

Combining ideas in relationships that might not normally be seen can create some interesting ideas like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer.

Substitute

This last technique involves taking a common element and substituting something else in its place. So for example instead of communicating by sentences and speech, perhaps the characters in your book only communicate by song. Or instead of living on land, they live on water. Again the key here is to use this method to create a twist that makes your story or characters more unique and somewhat unexpected for the reader.

What do you do to stir your creative juices?

I trust you will find these simple exercises helpful as you strive to make your book as interesting as can be. Is there something else you do to help your creative process? If you are willing to share that, use the comment section on this post to let us know.

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