Author Solutions, authors, book selling, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing

Postcards from Cuba: My impressions from the Havana Book Fair.

If you have followed me on Twitter or Facebook, you know I had the honor and opportunity to attend and participate in the first US Publishing Mission to Cuba, which was sponsored by Publishers Weekly and was conducted in cooperation with The Havana Book Fair and the Instituto Cubano del Libro.

The Cuban media called this an historic event and in many ways it was. Here are some of my impressions from my time there of both the publishing business and Havana itself.

Cubans really love books. No, I mean they really love books.

Havana Book crowds

Crowds at The Havana Book Fair were quite large. 

I read a statistic that Cuba is nearly 100% literate and one million people attend the Havana Book Fair. Judging by the lines and crowds, I would say those numbers are probably accurate. The Book Fair was held at The Fort, which overlooks the city. Stands were packed with Cubans looking to buy books. Many of them were remainders imported from other countries so the prices were quite low relative to standard retail pricing in the US, but there were bags of books being sold.

The demand for English language books is going to increase dramatically.

Fidel bookSpanish is the native language, but English is a high priority, especially for the younger Cubans. So the demand for English language books is going to increase. I had two young men, who were university students who served as my translators at the fair. Both had been regular attendees at the fair and over the years had purchased a number of English language books including dictionaries. Both are working on a thesis for graduation that focuses on English language. One is doing a project on The New York Times and the other on the book, Pilgrim’s Progress. Very different projects, but both focused on English language.

There is definite interest in self-publishing.

4 Paths

Attendees at the self-publishing panel scooped up copies of The 4 Paths to Publishing

One of the opportunities I had while attending the Havana Book Fair was serving on a panel about self-publishing. The room was filled with a variety of people including publishers, authors and students. Mark Coker from Smashwords was also on the panel, which was helpful because it provided a clear contrast between a DIY self service platform like Smashwords and supported self-publishing. I had versions of the 4 Paths to Publishing in both English and Spanish available and every copy was taken. As usual, that whitepaper provided a helpful framework for authors to understand their options for publishing today.

 Self-publishing has some barriers to overcome before it grows.

It seems the government may be softening its stance on publishing which could open the door for self-published authors, but the biggest barrier appears to be payment methods and currency. Right now there are no banking relationships that would easily facilitate payment by or to authors by US based companies.  In addition, there is no infrastructure for credit card processing. Both will likely be available in due time and that will facilitate the growth of self publishing.

A few personal observations about life in Havana.

Life in Havana is very interesting and tough in many ways.

  • There are lots of old cars as you may have heard.Cuba Car
  • Most of the buildings, including apartments have not been maintained on the outside, which leads me to believe they are pretty rugged on the inside.
  • Airline travel is interesting. Lines at US airports are extremely long because virtually everyone traveling to Cuba is taking a pile of consumer goods, including televisions, baby strollers and coffee makers. Departure is not as long, but still plan for a couple of hours for your exit.
  • The bus and taxi system works to some degree, but you need to know how it works, because there is not any easily visible public information.
  • While there are public restrooms, none of them have soap, paper towels or even toilet paper, which obviously leads to some sanitation challenges.
  • Cubans generally love life and the arts. Music, dance, reading and art are a natural part of everyday life.
  • Amazing reunions are likely happening every day. I suspect many people are returning to Cuba having left many years ago and are now reuniting with family they have not seen for decades. I am pretty sure on my flight there was an older man who was coming back to Cuba for the first time since he had left as a boy. When he cleared customs, there was a man his age waiting for him with a group of people. When their eyes met, they immediately began to weep and then hugged each other with the force of missed years. I don’t know if it was his brother or cousin or friend, but no matter who it was, the reunion was sweet to behold.
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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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Author Solutions, AuthorHouse, authors, Indie book publishing, iuniverse, Publishing, self publishing

3 Big Reasons Why Hollywood Wants Your Self-Published Book Now

For the past five years in my role at Author Solutions, I have been working with our team to build relationships and partnerships in Hollywood and help create events like the Book-to-Screen Pitchfest to expose entertainment executives to self-published titles and give our authors unique opportunities to put their books in front of people who are making decisions about what makes it to the screen.

Now more than ever, producers, managers, directors and even studios are looking more closely and intentionally at self published titles. In fact, I have noticed a significant change in the past year in terms of how many entertainment industry people are calling us, wanting to attend our events and get access to our author’s books. What’s created this increased interest? Here’s what I think has changed

1. The number of scripted shows being produced has nearly doubled in the past five years.  

The rapid expansion of media outlets including cable channels and streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have led to explosive growth in the number of scripted shows being produced. In a widely quoted study from FX Networks Research, Variety noted this past year the number of scripted shows totaled 409, which is nearly twice as many as were green lit just five years ago.  Scripted Series 2002, 2006-2015 as of 12-14-15 for Press - with

Julie Piepenkotter, exec VP of research for FX Networks commenting on the report said, “This was the third consecutive year that scripted series count has grown across each distribution platform – broadcast, basic and pay cable, streaming – led by significant gains in basic cable and digital services. This statistic is staggering and almost unimaginable from where they were a decade ago.”

2. Two significant movies from this past year started as self-published books.

Books have always been a source of inspiration for movies, and self-published books have been a starting point for a number of films in the past. In fact, People magazine recently ran an article highlighting seven films that first came to market as self-published titles. One of the more widely known examples is Legally Blonde. The book, originally self-published with AuthorHouse, became a starring vehicle for Reese Witherspoon and spawned sequels and even a Broadway show.

Still Alice book cover

An Oscar winning performance started as a self-published book

However, this past year, I believe two things happened that have caused entertainment executives to look even more closely at self-published books for ideas. First, Julianne Moore won the Oscar for her performance in the movie Still Alice.  An international best-seller for Simon and Schuster, Still Alice began as a self-published book with iUniverse.  Second, the movie, The Martian was a box office success and it too started as a self-published work.

3. These two developments have made the hunt for fresh ideas more critical than ever.

With so many time slots to fill on the small screen, producers and writers are looking for new ideas more than ever before. Self-published books can be a vast source of inspiration and often they can find these books before they are widely known to the public. That makes the acquisition of the material more feasible because they can typically avoid bidding wars, but still reward the authors appropriately.

On the big screen, successful sequels are still a focus, but movie studios are also looking for the next franchise movie, like The Hunger Games or Twilight, plus they are looking for great stories they can produce for a reasonable amount and recoup their investment.

While Disney had great success with The Force Awakens, lest we forget they lost millions on flops such as Tommorowland, The Lone Ranger and the infamous, John Carter.  From a business standpoint, each of these movies cost $200 million or more to produce, which means their breakeven point was well above that amount. That is why they are also looking for movies they can make with a much more modest production budget, which tells a great story and make a profit, which is still the goal for studios.

Now, while I believe this is all very good news for self-published authors, I have also seen these new opportunities squandered. In my next post, I am going to share 3 Key Reasons Why Hollywood Will Reject Your Self-Published Book.

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Author Solutions, authors, Indie book publishing, self publishing

6 Tips on How to Fulfill Your Publishing Resolution

This time of year, many people make resolutions with goals they want to accomplish in the coming year. For some, that list includes publishing a book, yet they are often unclear what it takes to accomplish the task. Why is that?  Some lose interest. Others hit what’s commonly known as writer’s block. Still others don’t know how to get published once their manuscript is finished. Simply put, many authors don’t have a plan for getting from manuscript to the bookshelf.

2016

If publish a book is on your New Year’s resolution list, these tips will help you reach your goal.

From my own experience and from the hundreds of conversations I have had with authors at book fairs, trade shows, and conferences, I’ve found that there are six things that successful authors do to get published. So if publishing a book is on your resolution list, here are six tips to help you get that manuscript out of your drawer and into the hands of readers.

  1. Set a date when you want to hold the first copy of your book. The first and most important thing you need to do is set a date when you want to hold a copy of your book. It can be any deadline, but it may also be an important event, such as a speaking engagement, holiday, or even birthday party. For example, one author I worked with had the goal of getting his book done by his 50th birthday so he could give a copy to everyone who attended the party. That date became one of the key motivations for him to finish his book.

One of the key things you have to do to promote your book successfully is identify your audience.

  1. Create a timeline with the milestones you need to pass to reach your publishing goal. The second thing you need to do is create a schedule with the tasks that must be completed to meet your deadline. In other words, you need to understand what is needed to get from where you are to where you want to be and set appropriate milestones along the way.If you already understand publishing, you may be able to do this on your own, but most authors need to work with someone who knows the publishing process to make this happen. Your timeline should include important steps like completing your manuscript, editing your manuscript, submitting your manuscript, and allowing time for both the cover and interior design. Of course, the timeline for the book will depend on the type of book you are writing. For example, a children’s book will take less time to edit than a lengthy historical fiction novel.
  1. Determine the best time for you to write and make an appointment for that time on your calendar. My third tip is to determine the best time for you to write and block out that time on your calendar. What I’ve learned from my own experience and conversations with multiple authors is that most of us can write more in one good hour than in three hours when we are not ready to write. I recall one conversation with an author who has published more than twenty books, some traditionally and some self-published. I was having lunch with she and her husband and I asked her if there was a time that was better than others for her to write. Before I could finish the sentence, her husband blurted out, “five thirty in the morning.” By his own observation he had noticed that was the most productive time for his wife to write. If you want to get work done, it’s very important to know what time of the day you write most productively and make sure that time stays available for you to work on your manuscript.

Share your goal and milestones with someone who will encourage you and help you stay on task

  1. Make yourself accountable to someone. The fourth tip is to be accountable to someone. Share your goal and milestones with someone who will encourage you and help you stay on task. It could be a friend, a spouse, an editor, an agent, or a publishing consultant. Fact is, most of us work better when we have someone checking in and reminding us of our deadlines.
  1. Start planning your promotion before you finish your manuscript. Now, this may seem like putting the cart before the horse, but with the advent of social media and the other opportunities we have to communicate with people these days, you can have people anticipating the launch of your book long before you finish your manuscript.One of the key things you have to do to promote your book successfully is identify your audience. For whom is your book intended, and who might actually enjoy reading it? This is a seemingly small thing, but it’s very important, because it lays the foundation for promoting your book. I asked an author one time who the audience was for his book, and he very seriously looked at me and said, “Every man, woman, and child living on this planet.” While I admired his ambition, it really was an unrealistic way to think about how he was going to connect with potential readers. A specific, carefully defined audience usually leads to a good promotional plan.
  1. Plan an event to celebrate the publication of your book. Many people start writing a book, but far fewer get to the goal of publishing, so when you do, it is time to celebrate. This is perhaps one of the most exciting parts of promoting your book, and it’s actually quite fun to think about it when you’re doing the hard work of editing and revisions and proofreading. You might want to mark the occasion by holding a book signing at a bookstore, but you can also be creative. Depending on your book, you may want to host it at a kitchen store if you have a cookbook, or a church if you have a spiritual book, or a school if you have a children’s book. Just be sure you take time to celebrate your accomplishment no matter the venue.

 

I trust you have found these tips helpful and I am confident that by following them you can make 2016 the year you become a published author. All I ask is you send me an invitation to your book launch event. I want to be there to celebrate with you.

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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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Author Solutions, authors, Editing, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

4 different types of editing every aspiring author needs to understand.

There are no one-draft wonders in book publishing. Every book, including children’s books, can benefit from the keen eye and experience of an editor, but not all editing is the same. There are different types of editorial services based on the need of the manuscript. Understanding these differences can be very beneficial as you work with your editor to make your book as good as it can be.

Knowing the differences in editing services can help you make good decisions about what is needed to make your book even better.

Knowing the differences in editing services can help you make good decisions about what is needed to make your book even better.

In a previous post titled, Six tips for finding the right editor for your book, I outlined some ideas on how to find the best editor for your book, but in this post I want to identify and explain the different type of editing you might need for your book.

Copyediting

Copyediting, which is sometime also called line editing, applies a professional polish to a book. The editor reviews your work, fixing any errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Depending on the definition, copyediting may also include editing of syntax, word choice, tightening of sentences, and the application of style, such as The Chicago Manual of Style.

Some editors distinguish copyediting and line editing and consider them two separate edits. Copyediting is often the lighter, grammar-only edit, and line editing is a more detailed look at each sentence’s meaning.

Every book, including children’s books, can benefit from the keen eye and experience of an editor, but not all editing is the same.

Line Editing

Line editing is often used interchangeably with the term copyediting. However, when it is distinguished from copyediting, it refers to a unique edit that falls between copyediting and developmental editing.  With line editing, the editor looks at your book line by line and analyzes each sentence. The editor considers word choice and the power and meaning of a sentence. The editor considers syntax and whether a sentence needs to be trimmed or tightened.

Developmental Editing

The developmental editor looks deeply at the organization and strength of a book. The editor considers everything from pacing to characters, point of view, tense, plot, subplots, and dialogue. Weak links are exposed and questioned. The editor scrutinizes order, flow, and consistency. He or she asks questions such as: Is this the right number of chapters? Are the chapters and paragraphs in the right order? Are there any places in the book where the pacing lags? Is there a hole in the information or story presented? Are the characters likable? Developmental editing considers all the aspects of a manuscript that make the book more readable and enjoyable.

Proofreading

Proofreading is also often used interchangeably with copyediting. The goal is the same: find any mistakes related to grammar, spelling and punctuation. However, proofreading is usually performed on the final layout of the book to make sure it is error-free before it goes to print. Chances are most errors have already been caught in the earlier stages of editing, but this final check gives you one last time to make your book as good as it can be.

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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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