Sunday, October 25, 2009

Austin Film Festival -- Day 4

or, The Producers Pontificate

I sat in on several panels today made up of People Who Make Movies (as opposed to those of us who merely write screenplays...). These included producers Richard Bever, Curtis Burch, Steven Puri, Victor Moyers, and attorney / producer Sally Helppie.

Some quotes from the panels that you can take to the bank:

"What gets producers excited is something that can get made. Market your story in the right way so I can see the dollar signs. Make it easy for us to pitch."

"You can probably get most films made, given enough time and enough willpower."

"I get excited when I read scripts that the writer loved writing. I look for a pure quality of craft and originality of idea or character."

"I started [my production company] with a Utopian vision. I thought, 'I'm going to create this writer's dream...' Reality is very, very different."

"You must be aware whether or not the budget fits the genre."

"Comic books are the new 'spec script.' You can talk about 'art' all you want, but this is absolutely true."

"Not all scripts lend themselves to a single-sentence logline. If that is the case, develop a log or pitch that can provide a way into your story that isn't necessarily linear."

"I prefer a two sentence pitch. The first sets up the character and the conflict. The second clarifies the story's tone."

"A real writer doesn't think about the marketing. When a writer begins talking about marketing, that's a tip off that the writer probably isn't any good."

"The most important thing to figure out is how to break through the noise."

"Identify the various support / niche markets that could be built into your distribution plan."

(Hmmm... I'll leave it to brighter minds than mine to figure out how to fit those last three comments into a cohesive world-view.)

A final piece of advice to independent filmmakers from the Money People:

"Don't waste time or money shooting a trailer to show potential investors. Instead, invest the time and the money to shoot a key, pivotal scene that shows the kind of production values they can expect if they fund the entire project. Show them that."

As you can see, it was a very mercenary day. Which is kind of a letdown after hearing so much about the artistic process for the past few days. The harsh reality, however, is that making movies costs money. It behooves those of us who want to see our words come to life on the screen to listen to those who know how to make that happen...

Heading home bright and early tomorrow (a 6:00 CST wake-up call -- bleah). Though the Austin Film Festival will be over for me, I still have a few more little tidbits to share.

Tune in for tomorrow's installment: Contemplating Karma.

Austin Film Festival -- Contemplating Karma

(From Friday's Festival Musings)


I'm at the AFF, sitting in the lobby of the Driskill, talking to Tim, the director / producer of My Run, which screens tonight (and which has a gung-ho promotional team, by the way), when this guy comes and sits on the couch next to me and starts talking to the woman at the other end.

It was one of those odd serendipitous things, when you realize that you have been a good person, and the universe is smiling upon you, and God has granted you a boon for the day.

You see, when I work on a script or a book, I actively engage in Dream Casting -- sometimes to an alarming degree. My studio walls will often rival the most obsessed fan's as I surround myself with pictures and clippings of my dream team (especially my principals). My husband is a longsuffering and understanding sort, thank heaven!

The script for Against the Wind is no exception to my regular working rule. I wrote it with my "perfect cast" clearly in mind. (Which, I realize, has little to no bearing on reality, and which will carry next to no weight when it actually comes time to cast the thing. But I've never been a big fan of reality, so it has little bearing on my life.)

The guy who joins us on the couch looks SO freaking much like my Ideal Lead for ATW, it was like God dropped him in my lap. So I finish up my talk with Tim and introduce myself (which I do to everyone anyway). Turns out he's an Austin-based actor who is a Festival volunteer.

So we got to talking. I talked about the script, and this guy is practically made for the part.

He ran track in college.
He grew up doing 4-H.
He even has a (get this) degree in Agriculture.
He's got the build, the athleticism, and looks enough like a younger Dick Beardsley to be weirdly spooky.

I talked with him and his friend Stephanie (a screenwriter with my darkly comic sensibilities -- we discussed the more hilarious aspects of her competition script that features a serial killer... but I digress) for over an hour. We watched clips of the 1982 Boston Marathon on YouTube, checked out Dick's website, and exchanged cards.

You just never know what might happen. But I like to believe in things like Poetic Justice and Karma. I like to think that if I lead a good life and write a good script, that great things will happen both to me and to my projects. Call me naive, but it beats believing that you've got to have a heart of stone or sell your soul to make it in this business.

I take my encouragement and find divine inspiration anywhere I can. So when someone who looks exactly like the lead I've envisioned sits next to me and we strike up a conversation about the project I'm working on, I choose to believe that can only mean one thing: Good Things Will Happen With This Script.

After all -- why believe in chance? Fate is so much more interesting...

Taking to the Stars in Austin (AFF - Day 3)

Regular readers know that while at the Austin Film Festival for the past few days, I have been dutifully attending panels and taking notes on various business-related aspects of screenwriting (Note #1: Don't Quit Your Day Job...). But I haven't actually gone to seen any films. Until tonight.

The evening began at the Paramount Theatre. At the door, a cheerful girl with an "AFF Crew" t-shirt checked my ID. As with all great theatre-going experiences, the smell of fresh popcorn greeted me as soon as I passed the hallowed portal of the oaken entrance. I was then ushered in by an austere gentleman in tuxedo, cummerbund, and bow tie.

I sat near the back and serendipitously met Bethany, one of Austin's newer residents and a writer for Film School Rejects. We struck up a conversation about ghosting, book authoring, and other subjects near and dear to my heart.

Then the lights dimmed, and a discussion on What Makes a Moving Story began, featuring panelists Ron Howard, Mitchell Hurwitz, and Steven Zallian.

Did I learn the One Thing that is going to help me sell my script the next time I pitch it. HA! No. But it was way cool to just sit and soak up the war stories of these pros.

Afterwards, they screened Apollo 13 to a packed house. Aside from recurring technical difficulties that I suspect stemmed from the projectionist's unfamiliarity with the old-school medium of film, it was one of those warm-and-fuzzy viewing experiences. It just felt good to be there.

When the film was over, they brought out no less than 9 panelists and a moderator. In addition to Ron Howard (director) and William Broyles and Al Reinert (writers), they had astronaut Jim Lovell, and members of the actual mission control crew from the Apollo 13 mission. The panel received a standing ovation for over 3 minutes.

More warm fuzzies...

Audience questions ran the gamut from craft to history:

Q: How do you make a story so compelling when people know the outcome even before the movie starts?

A: (From Ron Howard) The audience might know what happens, but the characters in the story don't. If the audience cares about the characters, they'll be swept along with the story.

Q: Was the film's 'lost at sea during wartime and following the phosphorescent algae trail home' story true?

A: (According to Jim Lovell) Absolutely true.

After the panel, I ran into Bethany again, as well as Neil, "Film School Rejects" publisher and editor. I was going to head back to my hotel before the streets got scary, but really wanted to see Caprica. Bethany and Neil, my two new best friends, were going to the screening and offered me a ride home afterward.

So off to the Alamo Drafthouse we went. What a great theatre! Cheesy "Mystery Science Theatre" films screen before the feature. You place your food order (coffee with cream, and pizza with fresh tomatoes and basil for me -- thanks!) and eat while watching. What could be better?

How about writer Jeff Reiner and actor Esai Morales in attendance?

Though I was a huge, raving fan of the original "Battlestar Galactica" series 100 years ago, I have never seen an episode of the new BSG. Maybe that would have better informed my take on "Caprica."

I thought it was OK. I liked the Ceylons, which were very cool. But I felt like I was watching a show mostly about modern families on Earth instead of watching something that happened "out there."

It's not like I'm pining for the lame effects the original series inflicted on us viewers. But I am a bit wistful for the clearly drawn "other world" that series brought us.

Still, Mr. Reiner and Mr. Morales were wonderfully generous with their time and their comments to audience members afterward. I wish good things for both of them...

And that about wraps things up -- for today anyway.

Tomorrow is the last day of the screenwriting conference. Further bulletins as events warrant.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Soul-Stirring Creative Inspiration from Elizabeth Gilbert ("Eat. Pray. Love.")

This is as inspiring as any sermon I could have heard today. Treat yourself to the 20 minutes it takes to see this. It will free you of any creative angst, and allow yourself to be open to the divine possibilities of inspiration...

Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert, for your insights on the creative process.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Quotable Austin Film Festival -- Friday

or, Words of Wisdom from the Masters

Marvin Acuna (Rainmaker Films)

On Re-Writing and Motivation…

“Write your masterpiece so you can give some other screenwriter the opportunity to rewrite it.”

“If you sell it, it’s not yours anymore. You have to let it go. Get over the fact that it will be re-written, and start writing something else.”

“The idea of a writer’s Catch-22
(you can’t get optioned without representation, and you can’t get representation without being optioned) is because you are being lazy. You keep thinking that way, and some day you’re going to be 90 years old and on your deathbed, whining that ‘I didn’t get to do what I wanted to do because someone didn’t do it for me.’”

“Imagine a wall that separates you from your dream of a screenwriting career. You can let it keep you out and beat you. Or you can decide to somehow get to the other side. You can chisel it down, dig underneath, climb over, blast through… But do whatever it takes to get to the other side.”

“You can direct your career if you choose to.”

Jeff Graup (Producer / Manager)

(Jeff has been one of the most consistently helpful panelists in the sessions I have attended. His rapid-fire answers to questions are wry, candid, spot-on, and practical. He repeatedly preaches the “Be Nice To People” mantra. I would LOVE to have him as my manager… Note to self: See what you can do…)

On Re-Writing – “I extract movies from my writers painfully, as if the pages are stapled to their bodies.”

Other Words of Wisdom from the How to Sell Your Spec Script panel:

On Readers’ Notes…

“If the reader is not getting the story you are telling, you are not doing your job.”

“Look underneath the note for the underlying problem that needs fixing.”

“Do not defend your writing. Do not argue. Merely take notes and ask “Why?” a reader feels something is unclear. Anything you feel the need to explain or defend, write down. Then put it in the script.”

Herschel Weingrod (Screenwriter / Producer)

On Storytelling…

“To want to be a writer of screenplays is to want to be a co-pilot.”

“Comedy is usually tragedy that happens to other people.”

“People say you should write what you know about. I think you should write what you care about.”

On Pitching, Script Marketing, and the Way the World Works…

“Writing a screenplay is an act of seduction. The script is intended to invite people to want to make the movie.”

“The problem with Hollywood is, nearly everyone knows the alphabet. The executives don’t know the first thing about lighting, or acting, or set design, or sound… Critiquing the words on a page is their way of contributing to a project.”

“If you actually follow (an executive’s) notes in the next draft, they will hate the re-write.”

“It’s a corporate movie business and corporate entertainment. The writer is essentially in ‘New Product Development.’ It is now a part of our job to discuss marketing and demographics, and to sell the execs on this ‘wonderful new product.’”

Boaz Yakin (Screenwriter / Director)

On the Realities of Re-Writing…

“The screenplay isn’t the last thing anyone is going to see. It’s a blueprint for something else – the movie.”

“One of the big struggles of screenwriting is to maintain your enthusiasm for the work because you spend so much time protecting yourself (from the inevitable negativity of the industry). You have to come to some sort of emotional agreement for how you are going to relate to the project.”

“If I want to protect something I wrote, I’d write a novel and never allow anyone to shoot it.”

“There are over 80 million people involved in making a movie. Getting a film made takes a small army. The script has to evolve along the way.”

“Don’t underestimate the importance of actors bringing their conviction and contributing to the tone of the film.”

“I am sick of ‘Good Screenwriting.’ Too many screenplays are overly technically proficient, but they have nothing to say. Don’t be boring. But you gotta be yourself. The stuff that gets my attention is the sruff that lives and breathes.”

Terry Rossio (Academy Award © nominated Screenwriter originally from Kalamazoo, MI)

On Craft…

“Make each word fight for the right to stay on the page. If you’re not doing it word-by-freaking-word, you aren’t working hard enough.”

“Writing a single sentence could take an hour. The writer is the only one willing to spend that kind of time with the words.”

“Something really wonderful happens when a writer is discovering something, when there is momentum or inspiration. You can feel this motion of scene resonating against scene. You know it when you see it or read it. But it’s so elusive that we don’t even talk about it.”

“Jokes age. What was hilarious the first time is no longer funny after the eighth read…”

And my personal favorite words of wisdom from Terry Rossio:

“Take the trouble to be extreme to your characters. Santa Claus. Superman. Mary Poppins. Sherlock Holmes… Your character has to walk into that crowd and BELONG with those characters.”

My thanks to all the panelists who gave of their time and wisdom to us in the audience today... Onward and upward.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Austin Film Festival: Thursday Recap

Evidently I had to come all the way to the Austin Film Festival to meet some cool filmmakers from Chicago.

This afternoon, I met Chris, the producer of Left Field, a documentary about the anarchistic subculture of urban kickball. My initial reaction was, "I had no idea that people played kickball after third grade."

Chris quickly set me straight on how wrong I was. He talked about his movie with such enthusiasm that now I look forward to seeing it when it screens on Sunday...

Later in the afternoon, I sat in on a panel entitled "The Art of the Pitch" with three panelists: a VP of production at Paramount, the Creative Exec. Director of Development at Walt Disney Animation Studios, and a Manager / Producer.

Suffice to say that though their credentials were STELLAR, only the Manager / Producer really had much to say to an SRO packed room of aspiring screenwriters. He was direct, honest, and useful. The others kept saying how the facilitator's questions didn't really apply to them because they never took pitches by unrepresented authors, and they didn't work with spec scripts...

Still -- the information we got was good.

(Some key points:

* A pitch must have a Clear Concept that people can get behind.

* Eventually the moviegoer must get excited about going to see the movie. NOW, however, the agent / manager / producer must get excited about acquiring the property.

* DO NOT write a boilerplate query letter. Though there is a fine line between "creative" and "gimmicky," the query letter or phone call must give the industry pro the opportunity to recognize your talent and hear your unique voice. It must also convey your unwavering enthusiasm for your project.

* If you want a screenwriting career, be in it for the long run. Do not expect overnight success. Plan to work at it for YEARS.)

My main quibble is just that most of the stuff that applied to the audience came from only one of the three panelists.

While there, I met Clifford, a fellow attendee. We discussed projects and leads and had a great discourse on querying and marketing. We ran out of time, but will probably pick up that thread and run with it later.

Immediately after the panel, I met Dick Beardsley's wife, Jill, who graciously picked me up and took me out to meet two of her friends for dinner.

"Oh!" she said upon meeting me in the hotel lobby,"You're much smaller than I expected!"

Evidently my Facebook pictures add pounds. (Note to self: smash camera...)

We had a lovely dinner, during which we discussed movies, travel (Dick and Jill leave for Bermuda tomorrow and he is flying home from Illinois tonight), and both the script and book proposal for Against the Wind, Dick's life story. I daresay I did most of the talking (which should surprise no one) and thoroughly enjoyed getting the opportunity to meet Jill and her friends Beth and Cammie.

Then, it was back to the Conference. I stopped in at the Driskill, where I met a whole slew of filmmakers, producers, writers -- and one world traveler. Most were from... Chicago!

There was Laura, the producer of the short An Evening with Emery Long, who handed me one of the flat-out best pieces of postcard marketing I've ever seen.

There was Anna (who somehow knew my name before I said it), who -- among other things -- is an independent pilot producer, and Megan who works in marketing and production, and who is here to have someone kick her butt into finishing a script of her own.

And I am kicking my own butt because I can't recall the name of the Chicago transplant who now calls Austin home, who regularly takes several weeks or a month off of work to travel the world. She (literally) just returned from a jaunt in Peru and Equador, and held us mesmerized with tales of hiking sheer mountain cliffs, zip lining at 500 feet over a river gorge, staying in youth hostels, and cruise around the world in 100 days when she was a student in college. How exotic, and interesting, and cool...

Left the Driskill fairly early because I was just -- tired. Tomorrow starts bright and early with "How to Sell Your Spec Script." I'll let you know how THAT goes...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Child's Play

or, It's Never Too Soon to Follow Your Dreams

The facility director where I conduct a Writer's Workshop on Wednesdays through October received this email from one of the attendees:

"I wanted to tell you i thought it would be a little scary to be the only kid there but I'm having fun and i am learning a lot of things! Oh yeah! I almost forgot. I will be leaving at 7:45 each week because i have to go to sleep for school. Just wanted to give you a heads up. I will see you on Wednesday!"

The writer is a 5th grader. She comes every week and sits in the front of the room. She is taking the class along with 20 or so adults. All share a common love of writing. She takes notes, asks informed questions, pays attention, and participates. Those who know her say that she writes all the time. I envision an Pulitzer in the girl's future...

At this early age, she has learned what many writers take years to understand: if you want to do something -- go for it. So what if it's "a little scary?" Go! Learn! Participate! Get involved! Your dreams belong to no one else. If you don't take steps to make them reality, they will do no one any good.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Applied Marketing

or, Short, Sweet, and "See What I've Done!"

I received the following update from a student in my current Writer's Workshop:

A funny thing happened after your social networking comments last night at class. I finally had time to review some of my writing today and remembered that I had submitted an article to a new website... I had forgotten all about it.

Anyway, I went to the site only to find that it had been published AND THAT I HAD 17 COMMENTS!! And, I am on their Facebook and Twitter pages, too! How funny!! Anyway, if you are interested, click Mamapedia on Facebook and on their first page of their fan site, my article can be found about halfway down called, "When Your Life Calling Changes." I was most excited about the favorable comments... See you next week!

I love getting these kinds of comments. I regularly encourage writers to post on blogs, social-networking sites, forums, and other online venues, as a way of getting their names and projects "out there."

Updates like these warm the cockles of my heart, and it's not just because a student took my advice and found a way to get herself published. No -- what really makes me smile is that I know she is internalizing some of the marketing techniques necessary for writers because she applies them in her note to me.

Not only does she tell me about her submission being published, but she told me the name of it, gave me a short positive review of it, and told me where to go to see it. This may seem like a small thing, but it's HUGE!

The more this writer gets used to applying these techniques as she works to network and build an awareness of her platform, the more it will become second nature to her. That way, when her book is accepted for publication she will be so accustomed to dropping her current work's title, kudos, and accessibility, that it will happen naturally.

Another student in my current Writer's Workshop is a surfer who has a small, self-published book about his surfing testimony. ("I gave my surfboard to God and he sent me to Hawaii for 27 years," is his short one-sentence About-My-Book pitch.) This past week, while he was surfing in Lake Michigan he got interviewed by Fox News.

Because of the Workshop's focus on marketing one's work, he gave the interviewer his book. To me, this seemed like an obvious thing to do. But he told me that he would have never even thought of it had it not been for my hammering home the importance of telling people about what you've written.

So -- again, for those of us who need the review -- Write. Create. Do your very best work. And then come up with a short, relevant way to let those interested in you or your subject know that your writing exists. Apply what you learn about marketing your work in the same manner that you apply what you learn about honing your craft. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: you owe it to your future fans to let them know that your work exists...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

or, Hang Up and Write!

Dr. John J. Medina knows why you haven't finished writing your novel.

Medina -- a developmental molecular biologist, research consultant, affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University -- has made the study of the human brain his business. Among many of the fascinating things he has discovered about how we assimilate and process information is this salient point:

The brain cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time.

In other words: multi-tasking is a myth.

Medina's new book Brain Rules: 12 Steps for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, explains that what we call "multi-tasking" is actually "task switching." In order to respond to an IM, for instance, you must first switch from the task at hand -- answering e-mail, doing laundry, talking on the phone, or -- OOoop! -- writing that chapter. Every "switch" takes time. Trying to simultaneously do many things requires multiple switches, which can actually make us less productive instead of more so.

In the Real World, our inability to pay attention to more than one thing at a time is the reason that talking on a cell phone significantly elevates a driver's risk of being involved in an accident.

In the Writer's World, this explains why I can spend an entire day "working" -- answering e-mails, sending out queries, teleconferencing, networking, doing research, making notes -- but not get any actual writing accomplished.

If I understand Medina correctly, the way to get more of my writing accomplished is to ::gulp:: take my mom's advice from when I was in school: turn off the music, stop passing notes to my friends, get off the phone, and get to work.

My novel calls. Gonna take Mr. Medina's (and Mom's) advice. How 'bout you?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Writer, Promote Thyself

or, Lessons from the Little Red Hen

I regularly speak to and work with writers who are actively working on developing their craft. Yet these writers often harbor the misconception that once they have perfected their writing, it will sell itself. They sigh longingly of being on "Oprah" and hitting the bestseller lists. They talk about holding book signings. And they think that the publisher is going to make this happen for them.

When working with newer writers, I tell them to spend as much time studying marketing as they do working on their writing. Many many books on the bestseller lists in recent years have gotten there more on the merits of a marketing campaign than on the beauty of their prose.

The realities of the publishing world, combined with the current climate in the spheres of technology, economics, and entertainment, have created a Perfect Storm of Doldrums ("a state of inactivity") when it comes to a publisher's plans to market a new author's work.

So, what's a novice to do?

Take the advice of that great literary figure -- the mother of inspiration -- the Little Red Hen. Do it yourself.

It behooves every writer to remember the Writer's Golden Rule: No One is More Interested in My Work's Success Than I Am. A new author who expects the publisher to put the entire marketing department to work on his or her book is riding a bullet train to disappointment.

When you consider that over 560,000 (HALF A MILLION, folks!) books were published in the U.S. in 2008, the competitiveness of the marketplace and the need for writers to take responsibility for promoting themselves become clear.

Consider Kelly Corrigan, the recent subject of a Washington Post article on book promotion for novice writers. She didn't see sales of her book take off until she spent some of her own money (smart authors know that's what the advance is for) and created her own media campaign for it. It was her story. She believed in it. And she took it upon herself to find ways to let people know that it existed.

The interesting thing about Corrigan's success story isn't that her book sat on the New York Times bestseller list for 20 weeks. (Ok, truth be told -- that is a rather interesting part of her story...) What makes her experience selling her book so noteworthy is that she spent a modest amount of money and did it all herself. It didn't take getting on Oprah, or a coast-to-coast book tour, or a major billboard or print ad campaign. She used the means at her disposal and found ways to get the word out.

Now, I'm pretty well known for giving my little pep talks -- for telling authors that they can do it, that their work and their dreams have merit. This is true, when it comes to following your muse and working on your writing craft.

When it comes to marketing your work, however, I have to change my tune a bit. It's not so much that you CAN do it... You MUST do it. You must find a way to champion your book. Be creative. Study marketing. Study trends. Analyze what makes you buy a book and then apply it to your own project.

So, go on... Get out there... Write! Create! Indulge the Muse with wild, wanton abandon. And then be ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work. You owe it to your readers to crow a little about what you've done for them.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dream Accountability

Kudos and huzzahs to my friend Janet Grimes. Janet sent me the following e-mail to update me on her "dream accountability":

From the time we first heard rumors of Tommy's job transfer, now almost three years ago, the only plans I ever had were to move wherever he ended up and get some sort of job. My resume is unique, and if I've been able to prove anything through the years, it would be that I'm a hard worker and willing to learn anything. I would soon realize, however, that these skills don't convert easily into job interviews in Detroit, Michigan.

For the first time since I was fifteen years old, I found myself without a job. This unexpected time off allowed me to go on a mission trip with my youngest daughter, Malloree. It provided time for me to be still long enough to answer the question as to what I really wanted to do with my life. At the same time, the moving process forced me to sort through boxes of stuff I would not touch for any other reason.

And it was there that I found my answers - in the keepsakes packed in forgotten boxes, in the stillness, in my heart - I still want to be a writer. That is all I ever hoped to be, but was afraid to admit it.

This is not news to those who know me best, but I suppose it was a dream that deep down, I found several excuses not to pursue. During all those years of making a living, I could dabble in it without being held accountable for any accomplishments. I could dream about it without anyone asking how I was progressing.

I attended my first Writer's Conference back in June, and have been on fire ever since. I realized that in order for the writing world to take me seriously, I must first do so myself. This is no longer just a hobby.

The e-mail then goes on to outline some of the concrete steps she has taken to pursue her writing dreams:

* She has established her own website just for her writing pursuits.

* She has accepted a position as a book reviewer for a major Christian publisher (her preferred niche).

* She has a dedicated e-mail that links to her site

* She has established a Facebook Fan page for those interested in her writing pursuits.

* She also mentions her first online byline and states that she has been asked to provide more copy as an Editorial Contributor.

This is a writer who is pursuing her dreams. She has realized that her dreams were given to her to act upon, and shares my beliefs that one day we will be held accountable for what we did on this earth to make our dreams reality.

This month, I am teaching a Writer's Workshop to over 20 creative souls at the Bridgman Public Library. I am also continuing to facilitate the Writing Practicum every Tuesday evening. I am challenging the writers in both groups to take that Next Step -- whatever that might mean -- to make their dreams of being working writers come true.

Part of making a dream a reality is accountability. Everything I challenge "my writers" to do, I do myself. I continue to send out queries and push myself to the next level up the ladder.

I hear my own advice to writers ringing in my ears: No one is more committed to your success than you are. You have been given a dream for a reason. You owe it to yourself, your dream, and you future readers, to do everything it takes to make that dream a reality.

So, here's to Janet, and to every other writer out there who refuses to rest on his or her creative laurels. Set your sights high. Then take the next step necessary to reach that prize...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Platform Primer

I recently conducted an interview with Martha Cook, Managing Editor at Trafalgar Square Books and Horse and Rider Books. In the interview, I posed questions that I often hear from new and struggling writers about how best to break into the publishing industry.

One of those questions had to do with the elusive, necessary, and oft-misunderstood platform:

Q: I keep hearing about a “platform.” How important is having one? What do you look for in a platform when considering an author’s book proposal?

A: A platform – a significant, credible, sphere of influence – significantly improves an author’s chances of getting our attention! If we have a choice between two projects similar in subject and the writers have equal qualifications, we are always going to go with the author who has worked to gain recognition among people who are the audience for his or her book.

Authors who present at expositions, write articles for magazines, participate in online forums or have joined associations or groups that build their reputations make the publisher’s job of promoting and selling a book much easier and generally more profitable.

The real question is not "how important is having a platform?" Instead, it is, "how do I get one?"

Note Ms. Cook's definition of platform: "a significant, credible sphere of influence." The key to developing your platform is in the definition. Decide what you want to talk about, write about, expound upon, and be known for. Then get out there and do it. Write articles, keep a blog, comment in forums, Tweet -- but do so with the ultimate goal of developing a readership that shares some quantifiable, common theme.

Non-fiction platforms are somewhat easier to build. You determine your area of expertise (whether it's building bird houses, relationships, or virtual worlds...). Then you actively look for ways to spread the word so that YOU become inextricably linked with that topic.

Building a fiction platform can be somewhat dicier at first -- probably because it's a relatively new requirement in the ever-changing world of publishing. (I don't believe that a publisher ever asked Margaret Mitchell what her platform was when she was shopping "Gone With the Wind" around.)

But be not dismayed. Perhaps building your FicPlat -- a word I just invented because I like the way it sounds in my head -- is easier than you think. If you are already online doing research and contributing to forums, simply start paying closer attention to the posts you leave.

1. Decide in which "sphere of influence" you wish to leave your mark. Romance? Horror? Cutting-edge gritty urban poetry?

2. Establish a blog, website, and / or Facebook Fan Page. (Ideally, do all three...)

3. Make posts in forums, tweet, do some guest blogging, or write short online articles that have something to do with your chosen sphere.

4. Post regularly enough that you start building a readership that values what you say and that turns to you for "spherical" inspiration or information.

5. Continue writing your book. Then, when you approach agents and publishers with it, mention your platform and launch yourself to the head of the "consider" pile.

So there you have it: a simple 5 Step Plan for building a workable FicPlat.

Joanna Penn, who writes The Creative Penn has an excellent primer on building an online writer's platform. And hers is only 3 steps!

Also from the Creative Penn (which often has useful writing-related posts), comes this interesting downloadable podcast with Roger C. Parker on how to successfully build an author’s platform.

There is no time like the present to develop your platform. Here's to yours!