Monday, December 31, 2007

Why We Strike

(I've been asked to repost my series on screenwriting and it follows, below, but first I wanted to make one thing perfectly clear. THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO TRY TO BREAK INTO SCREENWRITING. The WGA is on strike, and if you sell material to Hollywood you will be blacklisted from a screenwriting career until the end of days. So before you go on to read about how to go about your career in screenwriting, make sure you understand about the strike. This was my initial explanatory post on the subject, and this week I'll do an update.)

WHY WE STRIKE

(originally posted on Murderati.com)

By now all of the country and half of the world knows that the U.S. screen and television writers are on strike. Because of my work with the WGA, I’ve been living with strike plans and strike talk for three years, now, and my outrage is perhaps more quiet than my outrage usually runs. This has been a long fight, and it will be longer – as long as it takes for us to win. What we’re fighting for is the future.

Every three years the Hollywood creative guilds – actors, directors, and writers, renegotiate their contracts – that would be the MBA, the minimum basic employment agreement - with the studios who employ us. The contract includes among many, many other things: minimum payments, residual rates (this is the screen version of royalties), and pension and health contributions, as well as creative concerns. If we don’t reach a fair and acceptable agreement, then really our only tool to sway the studios is to strike – to refuse to work until they negotiate fairly.

I say studios, but the fact is, the old style Hollywood studios no longer exist. Vertical integration has been a fact of Hollywood for going on twenty years now and the creative guilds are actually being forced to negotiate for fair payment with enormous, multibillion dollar, multinational corporations. There is a good argument being made that by now this is in violation of anti-trust laws.

There has not been a writers’ strike since 1988 – before I was in the guild. There has not been a strike in large part because for various reasons, in the years when we needed to negotiate hard, the WGA has not been strong enough to even threaten a strike.

But this year, this contract, we needed all the strength we could get. There are dozens of important issues, but we are really only striking about one: internet downloads.

Anyone with half a brain knows that internet is the future of everything in entertainment. The corporations don’t want to pay writers, directors or actors for reuse of their work through the internet, and they think that if they squeeze us out of that now, that they’ll never have to pay us for that again.

That’s the bottom line.

Not only did the companies come to the bargaining table with a proposal that completely eliminated payment on internet reuse, but their initial proposal had 76 rollbacks of our previous contract, including separation of rights. Separation of rights is what screenwriters have instead of copyright: for example, it allows me to retain the right to publish a novel based on my original screenplay. It is one of the most cherished creative rights we have as screenwriters.

That’s just one of the proposals the corporations lay down which made it quite clear that they were not intending to bargain seriously or fairly.

That’s how weak they thought we were. We haven’t struck in twenty years and they probably assumed that we couldn’t pull it off this time. They thought this would be an easy win and they would be able to cut us out of internet profits once and for all time.

They were wrong.

As a former member of the WGAw Board of Directors, I have had the great pleasure of working with all of the current WGA west officers: President Patric Verrone, VP David Weiss, Secretary-Treasurer Elias Davis, WGAw Executive Director David Young, and most of the current WGA Board of Directors, and a great number of the WGA Negotiating Committee, East and West members, and they have been smartly and inexorably working toward this moment for three years, now.

Here’s when I knew we were going to win.

The strike of 1988 was a huge setback for the WGA in terms of residuals. Back then the issue was videotape residuals – videotapes were an emerging market and the WGA was striking primarily to get a fair share of the profits from videotapes. The WGA had previously (1985) agreed to a temporarily lower residual to help the companies build this "emerging market". The "emerging market" had taken off for feature film releases and accordingly the WGA asked for the higher residual rate in the 1988 contract. The companies refused - making that issue a strike issue.

But the WGA has traditionally been deeply divided between screen and television writers. There are many, many more TV writers than screenwriters, and our issues are different. In 1988 there were no TV shows being sold on videotape yet, and the television writers perceived the videotape issue as a feature writers’ issue. A group within the television writers persuaded the other TV writers to cave on the issue and the WGA didn’t get the residual rates it wanted on cassette tapes. Two months later the original STAR TREK series was released on videotape and the TV writers realized just how badly they had miscalculated.

This year we have the same situation with the internet.

But we no longer have the divide between TV and feature writers. This is EVERYONE’S issue.

Three years ago I saw the current WGA leadership begin a massive courtship of the most powerful TV writers we have, the showrunners – the producer/writers who create and control the shows. The studios can keep pumping out feature films indefinitely – they have a huge backlog of scripts that they can pull out of their vaults while the writers are on strike. But television is much more in the moment. A TV show needs product every single week to stay on.

The showrunners are overwhelmingly united this time around. And they’re not working, period.

More than thirty TV shows currently have no more than one episode left to air before they will have to shut down production. We’ll be going into reruns and reality momentarily.

The corporations have billions and billions of dollars to wait us out. But they have no stories without us. And without our stories, they’re going to be losing money faster and faster.

How long can this go on? As long as it has to.

What we’re asking for, as the creators of television and film content, is a tiny fraction of profit from internet use of our work.

That will be our living, in the future, and we’re not giving that up.

And now I’ll post some links to far more eloquent summations of the issues
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FAQ:

WHY ARE YOU ON STRIKE?


Payment for reuse of our writing has been a key part of our earnings for half a century. Now the studios are using the growth of the internet as a tool to take that away from us.


WHY SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT MORE MONEY FOR SPOILED, RICH WRITERS?

True, some writers are paid very well -- but in any given year, almost half of the Guild’s active writers go without any employment at all. They count on residuals to pay their mortgages and feed their families between jobs. These new pay cuts will be particularly devastating to our most vulnerable members. And right now, most of the writing for new media isn’t even covered by the Guild at all -- which means no minimums or pension or health insurance. That’s not fair, and it needs to change.


HOW LONG WILL YOU BE ON STRIKE?

Until we get a fair deal. Because the future -- the internet -- is at stake, this is the negotiation of a generation.


AREN'T YOU HURTING THE REST OF THE COMMUNITY BY STRIKING?

This concerns us deeply. But remember, we didn't want this strike; it was forced upon us by management. In fact, we even went so far as to take off the table one of our most important issues -- DVDs -- in hope of averting it.


ISN'T IT TRUE THAT IN A STRIKE, NOBODY WINS?

We're fighting not to lose. Management is trying to take so much away from us that if we don’t dig in and defend what we have, next time around they’ll be coming after our pension and health benefits. So we need to draw a line and stand up to them. In that sense, we’re fighting not only for writers, but for many others in our industry as well. We’re all in the same boat, and if we succeed, the pattern we set will benefit every other guild and union in Hollywood.


Strike Captains’ blog: United Hollywood

http://unitedhollywood.blogspot.com/


YouTube videos explaining the strike:


Why We Fight

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJ55Ir2jCxk

The Heartbreaking Voices of Uncertainty

http://youtube.com/watch?v=8a37uqd5vTw


Fade to Black

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFkFLf5OvpM

So You Want To Know About Screenwriting

PART ONE - THE JOB

(originally posted on Murderati.com)

JT Ellison has been after me to do this column for ages and I just happen to have gotten a lot of e mail and MySpace questions on screenwriting lately and, always one to go with the flow, I thought I’d at least start this discussion, and maybe make it a two-parter, so that people can come back next week with all their questions.

First, a brief background (and of course you can read more in depth at my website.). Before I sold THE HARROWING, I worked steadily as a screenwriter for ten years. I had a pretty typical screenwriting career, actually – I worked for every major studio (except Universal, for some reason) and some independent production companies, I sold original scripts and got hired on assignment to do novel adaptations, I made a good living, and in all that time I had one movie made - that I got credited for. What I didn't get credited for - well, we'll get to that.

Depending on who you talk to, it's estimated that 400 to 600 scripts are bought or commissioned for every one that gets made. Not good odds. Which is the second reason I started writing novels. The first reason is that I’m passionate about my work and not only was I sick to death of having things I wrote not made – I was sick to death of having things I wrote butchered – and THEN not made. I was sick to death of seeing other people’s great scripts butchered, too, but that’s another column. I’ll try to keep this one in focus.

For the purposes of this column, I’m going to be talking primarily about feature screenwriting, although I will mention television writing as well. (And I’m talking specifically about Hollywood feature screenwriting, not independent feature screenwriting, which is a completely different animal.) Feature writing and television writing are structured very differently, but what I want to point out right up front is that in television, writers have the power (not at first, but once you get into the higher ranks). In features, directors have the power and writers most assuredly do not.

We’ll get back to that, though.

I’ll start with the first thing you need to know about screenwriting, and the biggest misconceptions I find people have about it.

IT’S A JOB.

Authors – and aspiring screenwriters – rarely seem to know this about screen work. It’s a job in a way that writing novels just isn't. Employers (studios, producers) are looking for writers who are committed to doing the screen thing as a living, full time (double full time, is often the real case). They don't want to just buy your fabulous spec (meaning original script), pay you big money and never hear from you again. The chances are infinitesimal that they'll ever make your movie at all. Your script is just a sample to show that you can write the movie THEY want to make, which they will dictate to you, and which probably won't make a whole lot of dramatic sense, but they’re paying you to do it.

So, speaking now to authors who are thinking of toying with screenwriting - unless you're willing to move to LA (and it has to be LA, unless you want to do independent film, which pays even less than novels!) - and really go for it, it's probably not what you want to be doing. A lot of your time as a working screenwriter is taken up trying to GET jobs, and that in the end was the most frustrating thing to me - how much wasted time and writing was going on with nothing to show for it. Except, of course, I was making a living.

For the vast majority of novelists, it’s a much more viable idea to work on optioning your novels and getting some money from Hollywood without having to pursue a screenwriting career. Many more novels are optioned and bought outright than original scripts are.

On the other hand, if you’re fairly young (young is an operative word, here) and film or television is your passion, and you want to make a living exclusively at writing, it's a really viable job. You can get paid for writing, you can support a family, you can work in a glamorous business with wildly talented people (and a lot of jerks, too, but truly, a lot of brilliantly talented people) and once in a while you can get something done.

Another thing novelists never seem to know about screenwriting is that screenwriters are union workers. Working screenwriters belong to the Writers Guild of America – WGA – East or West, depending on which side of the Mississippi you live on. The WGA is a federal labor union and handles collective bargaining for screen, TV, game and news writers. The WGA has negotiated, through long activism, a very good MBA, minimum basic agreement, which ensures that WGA members get paid certain minimums for their work, including pension and health benefits. That’s why screen and television writers are paid so much more than novelists, on average.

But what, you ask, is the catch?

Yes, there is a huge catch. We got the contract, and salary minimums and benefits - but in order to do that, we gave up copyright. When studios buy your script, they buy your copyright. It’s their project. And from then on, you are an employee, and you can be fired off your own script at any time, for any reason or no reason, but the reason is almost always the same – the studio/producers will want a bigger writer on the project. In fact, they will want a whole series of bigger writers on the project, the more the better, somehow – it’s not unusual for two or three dozen writers to work on a single project (although only three writers or teams of writers are ever allowed to be credited on any one movie) and that, in a nutshell, is why movies are so bad these days. And that’s another column, too.

But I’m sure you’re not here to read about collective bargaining (even though it's kind of crucial). I’d like to say, though, that I’ve not just been a working screenwriter – I’ve also been tremendously active in the WGA, including a 2 year term on the Board of Directors, and administering a private message board for WGA members only. So when I speak in sweeping terms about what makes a screenwriting career, I’m not just speaking about how I did it, personally – I actually have had a ringside seat from which I see very specifically who does break in to the business and how they break in and how they sustain their careers.

Now, on to what you really want to know, what everyone wants to know:

HOW DO I BREAK IN?

The way you break in is: write a great script (and having a male lead doesn’t hurt), get a great film agent and have that agent market your script as a weekend read and hopefully get into a bidding war. I'll get into more details later, but that's the process in a nutshell. Chances are you won’t sell that script, especially because the spec market has been depressed for years (although a good time to sell a script may be on the horizon – more on that later, too).

But whether or not you sell the script, if it's good, even if all the studios and financing companies pass (and there are only about 10 real sources of money in Hollywood at any given time), you will be flavor of the month and they will want to meet you and you will then go through a couple dozen meet-and-greet meetings in which execs and producers will tell you the projects they're trying to get going and you can potentially get an assignment out of that - or you can work harder and go in with a pitch of your own that you might sell and be hired to write.

That is how the vast majority of screenwriters get started. That is precisely how I got started – great script (I thought!) got me great agent who sold it to Fox in a bidding war. Script never got made, but I was “in”. I got an assignment off that, and kept getting hired from there.

So, next question.

HOW DO YOU GET A FILM AGENT?

This is how I got my film agent. This is how most screenwriters I know (and I know a lot) got their film agents.

First, they lived in Los Angeles.

Second, they worked as story analysts, or readers, for a studio or agency or production company. A story analyst reads scripts and books that are submitted to companies for consideration for film or TV development, and writes “coverage” - a 2-10 page synopsis of the book or script (depending on the company’s requirements) and a one-page evaluation of the material’s potential as a film, complete with a grid that scores the script in terms of character development, story, dialogue, action, and other narrative elements.

People get those jobs by living in Los Angeles, where you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who works in the business.

I didn’t get my first job as a reader by throwing rocks at my neighbors, but I did get the job through a neighbor who was working as a reader herself and had too much work to handle. I ghosted some of her scripts, and when a reading job came up at her company she recommended me, and I got the job – it was that easy.

Working as a reader is tremendous training for screenwriting because you learn the format, you learn what works and what doesn’t, you learn how the business really operates from a writing point of view, and you learn who the agents are, out there.

When I was a reader I kept file cards on every single script that came in to my company and every single agent who submitted. So when I had my great script finished, I knew exactly which agents I wanted to approach. I made a list and cold-called those agents, and explained that I was a reader at this company and I’d read these scripts of the agent’s by these clients and I had a script that I thought that agent would respond to.

Every single one of the agents but one said to send the script. I got multiple offers of representation and picked the best one of the bunch, and he sold that script to Fox.

BUT WHAT IF I DON’T LIVE IN LOS ANGELES?

Well, as I said above, if you’re not willing to move to Los Angeles, you’re probably not going to have a career as a screenwriter. It happens, but rarely. At least in the beginning, you have to actually be there.

But – there is a tried and true way to get an agent and break into the business if you don’t live in Los Angeles. You will still have to move to Los Angeles to sustain your career, but you can take this road to break in without actually moving yet.

THE CONTESTS:

There are some established screenwriting contests and fellowships that have launched many a writing career. There are a million writing contests out there and most of them will not help you to a screenwriting career at all. But the following contests have consistently gotten the winners and placers good agents, writing assignments, or TV staff jobs:

- The Nicholl Fellowship - the most prestigious and best breakthough screenwriting contest out there. Many pros say it's about the only contest that can lead to a professional career. http://www.oscars.org/nicholl/index.html

- The Disney Fellowship and Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship – winners get an actual job and hands-on training. The Nick Fellowship grooms writers to work on one of their shows.

- The Warner Bros Drama Writers Workshop and Comedy Writers Workshop – a fast-track way into TV staffing. You write your hour spec and submit. They get about 600 scripts a year; they pick 25 to interview, and choose 13 for the program. You write a second spec under their supervision, and they get you interviews with current CW network and studio projects. About half of any given class gets hired on staff out of the program. Being in the program can get you a good agent if you don’t have one.

- For University of California students and alumni, the Goldwyn Award is also major. There is huge industry competition for the first-place winner, and the Goldwyns heavily promote the winners. Just about every winner becomes a WGA member and is working in the industry within a year of winning.

- TVwriter.com and WriteSafe contests: I know winners of these contests who have gone on to industry jobs. TVwriter.com is also just an excellent resource and community for aspiring TV writers. The film equivalent is Wordplay - Wordplayer.com - about which more next week.

AND JUST ONE MORE NOTE ABOUT BREAKING IN…

… because even though I've not even scratched the surface of this subject, I think I’d better let some of this stuff absorb and pick it up again next week. But since I’m on the subject of breaking in, I might as well say this.

Right now you can forget about breaking in to screenwriting because the WGA is on strike. (Go here for details). If you sell a script now, you will be blacklisted from a film career for the rest of your life. Don't do it.

However, traditionally the few months right after the conclusion of a strike has always been the very best spec market, with the very best prices paid. So IF the pattern holds, if you can write yourself a spec script and plan to take it out right after the strike you are in a really good position to sell/break in. (See, I told you collective bargaining was important!).

I hope some of this has been helpful. Please feel free to deluge me with questions. The ones I don’t answer today I’ll address next Saturday, and the Saturday after that if it’s warranted, and I hope our other screenwriters out there will jump in with their experiences as well.

Next week I’ll also talk about the craft of screenwriting.

- Alex

Added 9/14:  Here are some interesting statistics on spec script sales over the years. Women should particularly take note of the gross imbalance between scripts sold by male writers and scripts sold by female writers - compared to the even balance of male/female bestsellers on the NY Times list.  It's something to keep in mind when you're deciding between the two media.

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All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  Any format, just $3.99 and $2.99.



Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amaxon DE

Amazon FR

Amazon ES

Amazon IT



Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE



Screenwriting, Part 2: Craft

SO IF I WANT TO WRITE A SCREENPLAY, HOW DO I START?

I hear a lot of people say that screenwriting is a harder form than novels. This perplexes me. It’s definitely a more restrictive form than novels, and you really have to KNOW your story – you can’t throw dazzling and evocative prose at the reader to cover up the fact that your story doesn’t actually end - but I think it’s much harder to write a good novel.

What I think is, people are intimidated by the form because they’re just not used to reading it. Think about it. We’ve been reading books since we were four or five years old. We (well, the people reading this blog, anyway!) have read not just thousands of books, but probably into the ten thousands. Okay, I’m wretched with math, but I don’t think that’s an unreasonable figure for this crowd. We’re voracious.

And how many screenplays have you all read?

Exactly my point.

That’s why starting as a story analyst is such good training for a screenwriter. You read dozens of scripts a week. You absorb the form through osmosis.

So if you want to be a screenwriter, start reading scripts. Tons of them. And start doing the same kind of analysis that you do as a novelist. Barry Eisler does a great motivational seminar on writing – well, I’m sure he does any number of them, but in the one I saw he really, really emphasized the point that writers are primarily self-taught: they have to be constantly reading and analyzing what other writers do to make a story work.


FREE ONLINE SOURCES FOR SCRIPTS:

(remember, the writers don’t get any money from these sites, so if you enjoy a script, why not write to the writer and let her or him know it?)

http://www.script-o-rama.com/table.shtml
http://www.allmoviescripts.com/
http://home.online.no/~bhundlan/scripts/
http://www.dailyscript.com/
http://www.weeklyscript.com/
http://www.corky.net/scripts/
http://www.joblo.com/moviescripts.php
http://www.movie-page.com/movie_scripts.htm
http://members.fortunecity.com/rs8/
http://www.scifiscripts.com/default.html
http://simplyscripts.com/movie.html
http://www.subcin.com/
http://www.iscriptdb.com/
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/source-1411/
http://www.rosebud.com.br/scripts.htm
http://www.lontano.org/
http://www.wiredonmovies.com/scriptindex
http://www.moviescripts.de/
http://www.scriptpimp.com/screen...g/home.cfm
http://www.scriptcrawler.com/
http://www.movie-page.com/main.htm
http://onlygoodmovies.net/screen...ndex.shtml
http://www.moviescriptsandscreenplays.com/
http://www.blowsearch.com ( Enter Keywords: movie scripts online.)
http://www.screentalk.biz
http://sfy.ru/
http://www.seinfeldscripts.com
http://www.madmoocow.com


BOOKS AND CLASSES ON SCREENWRITING:

Unfortunately there are very few books I can really recommend on film writing, but -

I cannot say enough good things about John Truby's new book THE ANATOMY OF STORY. Truby's one of the main screenwriting gurus in LA, and for good reason. His class was the best I ever took on screenwriting, and he's finally gotten it all into a book.

It's useful to read Syd Field's SCREENPLAY. It's groaningly simplistic, but it will teach you very general basic movie structure and teach you how to work by putting your scenes on index cards, which is a great method of developing a story, especially a movie.

Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY is also worth reading. I’m sure other screenwriters here have useful suggestions, but I’ve read a lot of the how-to books and have really never have found anything like a definitive text on the craft.

I've heard good things about SAVE THE CAT! but haven't gotten around to reading it myself. Also people recommend Robert McKee's STORY - I haven't read the book, but got a lot out of his class when I took it, (many years ago now...)

And another plug for John Truby, if you like the book:

The best screenwriting course I've ever come across is John Truby's Story Structure class, which you can get in its entirety on DVD or CD online: truby.com (The master class is the one called “Great Screenwriting”).

It's not cheap but I don't think there's a film school in the entire country that is as good.

I do recommend taking classes, but I don’t recommend paying too much for them. Some of the people teaching out there don’t have any experience whatsoever in the business, so go to the first class, see if you think you can actually learn something from either the teacher or the other students, and if not, opt out.


BREAKING DOWN MOVIES FOR STRUCTURE

After you have at least read SCREENPLAY I would recommend that you take 10 movies you love in the genre that you want to work in and watch each one - first all the way through, then again, this time starting and stopping so you can write down every scene and what happens in it. Then look at your scene outline and identify the three acts and the turning points, or climaxes, of each. Then see if you can identify the 8 sequences that make up the movie (almost every movie at least roughly follows an 8 sequence structure – each sequence being 10-15 minutes long. The first act has two sequences, the second act, four, and the last act two shorter ones, or one continuous sequence and a capper. Do that with 10 movies in a row and, again, you will have gone through better writing training than most film schools will put you through.


SCREENPLAY FORMAT

Here’s a crash course in script format: pick a movie you particularly like and would like to have written, get yourself a copy of the script, and type the whole script from beginning to end, in the same screenplay format the script is in. That exercise will teach you what you need to know about script formatting and pacing.


WHAT IS “HIGH CONCEPT”?

High concept is a whole other column! But if you can tell your story in one line (this is called a LOGLINE) and everyone who hears it can see exactly what the movie is, that’s high concept. (Name this movie: A shark terrorizes a beach town during high tourist season).

One of the best classes I ever took on screenwriting was SOLELY on premise. Every week we had to come up with three loglines for movie ideas and stand up and read them aloud to the class. We each put a dollar into a pot and the class voted on the best premise of the night, and the winner got the pot. It was highly motivating - I made my first "screenwriting" money that way and I learned worlds about what a premise should be.

I highly recommend you try the same exercise - make yourself come up with three story ideas a week, and try to make some of them high concept. You'll be training yourself to think in terms of big story ideas - extremely useful for novelists, as well.

And now go here and read this essay on Mental Real Estate on Wordplayer.com

It's vitally important if you want to work in Hollywood that you understand what a premise and what a high concept premise is, and that article does a great job of explaining it. Then take some time (got a few years?) and explore the rest of the site. It’s a free mini-film school by two of the best in the business – Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott.

http://www.wordplayer.com/columns/wp42.Mental.Real.Estate.html

And for television: TVwriter.com

So I guess I will be continuing this series next week! Yes, yes, I’ll post a list of the questions I’ve gotten so far with answers, and I’m very pleased to announce that Paul Guyot will be back to guest blog about the TV side of the business, to further everyone’s educations in his inimitable – uh – style. Tune in next Saturday.

So again - ask away.

(Part One of this series is here.)



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All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  Any format, just $3.99 and $2.99.



Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amaxon DE

Amazon FR

Amazon ES

Amazon IT



Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE



Screenwriting, Part 3: The Dirty Little Secret

So I was going to write today summing up the differences between writing novels and doing film work as a career. Instead I ended up writing mostly about the one difference that ultimately drove me to novels. I didn’t even want to write about it because I find the whole idea so repellant, and just wrong, but it’s something a lot of people aren’t aware of about the process and reality of film writing and it’s something that novelists contemplating screen work need to know.

Well, what is the difference? Really?

In terms of the creative process – not all that much, really. A story is a story. There are many different ways to tell it. The format is different. Some emphases are different (screenwriting is very visual, novel writing is generally much more internal..). But dramatic structure, characters, dialogue, theme, subplots, action, pacing, business, sensory detail, the world of the story… the major building blocks are all there in both. Even, to some degree, voice. Much more noticeable in a novel but undeniably there in any good script as well, and, I would argue, just as crucial. Every script I’ve ever written could be a novel. With my scripts, I’ve had to leave out more of the story than I actually knew about it, going in. With my novels, I’m having to discover and work in more of the story than I actually knew about it, going in. But the story, in every case, is still the story.

But which should you do, novels or screenplays?

Well, the question is, what do you WANT?

No one can decide that for you.

If you find yourself going around saying “I just want to get PAID to write” (and I hear that constantly from aspiring writers) – then you probably want to think about screen or TV writing. Or technical writing, or journalism, or speechwriting, or nonfiction, or advertising (because, notice, that sentence doesn’t specify what KIND of writing you want to get paid for. When you make these kinds of life-altering wishes, you must be SPECIFIC.)

But odds are, if you’ve got the talent, and the drive (and that’s an enormous if), you can probably make more money in film or TV than in novels. I have no statistics to back me up about that, it’s completely and totally anecdotal. But I suspect the cold hard steel of truth in this quotation (if someone can provide the author, I’d be grateful): “You can’t make a living writing books – but you can make a killing.” This isn’t true of Hollywood. You can make a living, and you can make a killing.

What you do have to realize up front, though, is that there’s a lot of discrimination in film and television – racism, sexism and ageism. If you’re a woman, a person of any color except white, or over 40, your chances of working in the business are greatly reduced. And there is statistical proof of that - I was on the board of the WGA and I’ve seen the figures, and they’re not pretty, and they’re not getting better.

(Television writing in particular is a young person’s game. As I’ve said here before, producers and executives want writers in their 20’s and early 30’s who are willing to kill themselves doing the round the clock, non-stop work that TV writing is).

And if you do decide to go for the money in Hollywood, what you give up is creative power. What you give up is unique voice. What you give up is copyright. What you far too often give up is your soul.

Oh, right, I’m exaggerating.

No, really, I’m not.

I love film. I do. I love the form, I love the power of it. A great movie makes me want to drop to my knees in gratitude. When a movie actually hits that groove, it’s transcendent. But there are so many stupid, unnecessary complications ingrained in the business. I have seen so many great scripts mutilated, stripped of all power and individuality, ground into meaningless pablum… and I’m not even talking about my own, I really thank whatever gods are out there that the some of the scripts I’ve written HAVEN’T been made – I’m talking about the scripts of other writers I know, and writers I don’t know. When I think of all the brilliant movies that could have been made simply by shooting an even fair approximation of the original scripts, I just want to kill myself.

There are exceptions, of course – good movies do get made, and the exceptions are what keep passionate writers working. Sometimes miracles happen.

But less and less. I think - for two basic reasons.

One - the increasing vertical integration and corporatization of Hollywood. Novelists worry about, for example, Walmart’s increasing influence over what books get ordered, bought and sold, right? Well, that kind of thing has been happening in Hollywood for years, and it’s not pretty.

Two - is rewriting.

And I don’t mean rewriting as in “Writing is rewriting.” I don’t mean, rewriting your own work. I mean, rewriting other writers.

Rewriting is a concept that is alien to most novelists. After all – when JT Ellison turns ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS in to Mira, Mira doesn’t turn around and say, “Great story, has potential, we like it… but we don’t love it. Let’s get Lee Child in to do a pass to beef up the male characters, maybe bring in some international intrigue to help with foreign markets. Actually, female protagonists don’t do well in the foreign markets so let’s also have him switch the genders of the characters.” And JT is fired off her own book (her agent will deliver this news to her, because her editor (producers) and publishers (studio/executives) certainly won’t take the trouble to do it themselves. Then after Mr. Child has done his rewrite, the conversation might go like this: “International serial killer books are just not doing well right now, but medical thrillers are off the charts. Let’s make the detective a doctor and get Tess Gerritsen to do a pass. Oh, and also, 80% of books this year were bought by women so let’s make this doctor female.” So Mr. Child is fired, and Ms. Gerritsen is hired. And after Ms. Gerritsen has transformed this police thriller cum international serial spy actioner into a sexy medical thriller, the conversation might go something like this: “Stephenie Meyers' fourth book has been #1 on the NYT bestseller list for a year and a half now, and Stephenie has a window. Let’s get her in to revision this puppy as a teenage vampire story, and get this – the vampire is in med school! You know, a protégé. Um, prodigy.”

So Ms. Gerritsen is fired, and....

Repeat two dozen times until the final version, whatever the hell that is, is slapped up on screen, or in this hypothetical, print - or (as in the vast majority of cases) until everyone is so sick of trying to make the story "work" that they just shelve it. And no, I’m not kidding.

I wish I were.

Now, I love all the authors I’ve mentioned above. But I love them for their unique voices. I don’t want to read their half-assed attempts at trying to “fix” someone else’s writing, which in all likelihood wasn’t even broken to begin with.

Can you imagine? Barry Eisler being hired to layer some martial arts into the Irish tragedies of Ken Bruen…. Dennis Lehane being hired to pump up the urban reality in Neil Gaiman’s mythic fantasies… Heather Graham to weave a paranormal subplot into PD James’ psychological mysteries…

You have to understand this, though. That’s the main money that's out there to be made in screenwriting – rewriting other writers’ work, to studio specifications.

And then there’s another factor. I said before that only three writers (or writing teams) are allowed to be credited on a movie. But if three dozen writers have done a draft, or two or three, on this movie, who decides who gets credit? And how?

Well, that’s a huge subject, but basically, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has the sole power to determine credits. Studios may submit who THEY would like to see credited on the movie (guess who they’d prefer – the brand new writer who wrote the original script or the multimillion dollar writer they hired to replace her?) but the WGA has that call, through a process called credit arbitration, in which writers submit their own drafts of the script and their arguments about why they should receive credit, and a panel of writer/arbiters reads all the drafts and makes the determination whose names go on the movie.

There's a movie coming out this month that I wrote on that my name will not be on, because I wasn't awarded final credit in the arbitration. It happens to all of us screenwriters, all the time. But that's not the part that bothers me. I was paid well to do the job, and it wasn't my original script, and it was not a case of rewriting an original writer.

But here’s the really troubling thing. Back end compensation for writers, a huge part of the money you potentially receive for writing a movie, is completely tied to final credit. No final credit, no back end money. So a lot of the rewriting that gets done has NOTHING to do with what would be good for the story, but has to do with deliberate shifts in character and plot that will change the script enough for the rewriter to get credit. Writers go through and change all the names of characters, change characters’ professions, change locations, combine characters – and that’s just for starters.

(I won't even go see a movie if I see more than two writers listed on the poster, because I know all too well the kind of mess that signifies.)

So screenwriters are not just in constant competition with each other for jobs – they’re often engaged in battles over credit.

I myself couldn’t do it. I think it degrades writers - both the rewriter and the writer being rewritten. I think it dilutes or outright destroys the original and unique power of the story. I think it’s the prime factor in the reality that feature writers have no power in Hollywood.

And I think it’s a major reason that movies are so bad, these days.

It’s something to think about.

So what am I saying? I guess my advice is, if you just want to make money, be an investment banker. Yeah, right.

Actually I have no idea how to make money. I’ve done okay, but real money? I don’t have a clue. Real estate? The stock market? Well, surely you’ve noticed. Truly, I’m not the one to ask. That’s not the point.

The point is, if you just want to make money writing – go to hell. Really. I absolutely believe authors should make a good living. But books and films and television and games are too precious a resource to be left in the hands of people who are only doing it for the money. These are dreams we’re dealing with, here. As writers, we dream for other people. And if you’re not passionate about your writing, your OWN writing, the dreams you dream, I have nothing to say to you.

In terms of working for Hollywood, though, in the present climate, this is what I will say, and this is just completely my own opinion.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a new movie that enthralled me as much as some recent television: DEADWOOD, THE WIRE, ROME, and my current obsession, MAD MEN. (I was not a SOPRANOS junkie but yes, I understand, it was brilliant, too.) I believe that great television is happening right now, and if you want to work in moving pictures, that’s probably the place to go. The writer has power in television – the screenwriter does not have power in features. And HBO, in particular, has vision. I think it shows. And I believe television writing is a more honest and effective writing process because - at least - it’s collaborative up front. (But Guyot will certainly have his opinions on that, and I'll leave it to him.)

Otherwise, if you care about what you do, and what you are putting out into the world, I hope you’ll keep writing novels.

No matter what – be very specific about what you are aspiring to. If your dream is to make a great movie, make sure you understand what that takes and consider how you might be able to do it in the present corporate climate. Can you do it as an independent, instead? Can you do it as a TV series? Can you do it as a novel? If this for some reason was your one shot, how could you bring your story to fruition and die satisfied with the result?

Know what you’re getting into – and go for it.

Good luck.

Part One of this series (The Job) is here.

Part Two of this series (The Craft) is here.



------------------------------------------------


All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  Any format, just $3.99 and $2.99.



Amazon US

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Amaxon DE

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Amazon IT



Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

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Barnes & Noble/Nook

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

ITW Thrlller Awards - submit NOW

REMINDER

Re: International Thriller Writer Awards
Enter: NOW!

We're getting down to the deadline wire on entering books in this year's ITW Thriller Awards. To be eligible, books must be in the judges' hands on or before 12/1/2007, so it's time to move.

The contest has three categories:

BEST NOVEL (hard cover)
BEST FIRST NOVEL (hard cover)
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL (paper)

ELIGIBLE are books first published in English in calendar year 2007 by an ITW recognized publisher. (If your company is not on the list, email vkhinze@aol.com and we'll walk you through the process.)

WHO CAN NOMINATE A BOOK?

Anyone. (The majority are entered by Editors, Agents or Publicists. Author entries are welcome, too.)

HOW MANY BOOKS CAN BE NOMINATED?

There is no limit.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

There is no entry fee.

WHAT MUST I DO?

Email Vicki Hinze (vkhinze@aol.com) and request an entry form for a specific category (or, if entering multiple books, any/all categories). Vicki will send you the entry form, you complete it and send the books to the judges.

WHEN IS THE DEADLINE?

Novels must be in the judges' hands on or before December 1, 2007.

Direct any questions to Vicki Hinze at vkhinze@aol.com.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Happy Halloween... tour

Okay, call me slow, but it only just recently occurred to me that as a author of the supernatural I will never again be able to spend another Halloween at home.

I was wondering why I was suddenly getting so many appearance requests that I was having to turn things down right and left - and then I realized... duh... it's October.

Oh, I'm not complaining. It's going to be great to be in a different place every Halloween from now on. It's most exceptionally cool that this Halloween I will be in Salem. Yes, the Salem Witch Trials Salem. That's going to be some eye candy, for sure.

I'm also looking forward to some events in Stephen King territory (Maine) and the World Fantasy Con, this year in Saratoga Springs, NY - and the con theme is my favorite subject: Ghosts and Revenants.

But most thrilling of all is being included in so many library lists, this month, like "Ten Tales of Terror" and "Ghost Stories for the Ages". That definitely makes my Halloween - on the road or off.

Here's a list of my upcoming events, and at the bottom a trailer for THE HARROWING, out in paperback this weekend.

- Alex


October 15: DIE INSCHRIFT http://www.amazon.de/Die-Inschrift-Alexandra-Sokoloff/dp/344273634X

German translation of THE HARROWING, released in Germany by Random House, Bertelsmann http://www.randomhouse.de/book/excerpt.jsp?edi=206989

Thursday, October 25 – Wilmington, North Carolina
Cape Fear Crime Festival
http://www.capefearcrimefestival.org/
7 pm signing

Friday, October 26
Cape Fear Crime Festival
Appearances all day/evening

October 27 – Charleston, South Carolina
Lowcountry Romance Writers: Screenwriting Workshop
http://lowcountryrwa.com/programs/
Instructor
1 pm

7 pm - Signing, Cape Fear Crime Festival

October 28 - Wilmington, North Carolina
Pomegranate Books
panel discussion/signing - 2 pm

October 29 - Bangor, Maine
7 pm signing, Borders
with Sarah Langan

October 30 - Portland, Maine
7pm signing, Borders
with Sarah Langan

October 30, 2007
Wednesday, 10.30 AM EDT
Community Focus WTTB 1490 AM
Radio Interview

October 30 THE HARROWING released in paperback

November 1 – November 4, Saratoga Springs, New York
World Fantasy Con
http://www.lastsfa.org/wfc2007/

November 8 - Cary, North Carolina
Borders, store 132
Panel, signing, 7 pm

November 17, Burbank, California
Dark Delicacies
Signing with Deborah LeBlanc and Sarah Langan
Saturday, 2 pm.

November 16-19 – Los Angeles, CA and Orange County, CA
Two day bookstore signing drop-in tour, with Sarah Langan and Deborah LeBlanc

November 23, Charlotte, North Carolina
Borders, store 36
7 pm panel, signing

December 1, Raleigh, North Carolina
Borders, store 365
3 pm panel, signing

December 2, Raleigh, North Carolina
Boylan Heights ArtWalk
Signing, 410 Boylan Ave. 1-5 pm

December 6, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Borders, store 338
7 pm panel, signing


------------------------------------------------------------------------

Upcoming in 2008:

THE PRICE will be released in hardcover, January 30

Tour information to be announced.

February 15-18, San Diego, California
Southern California Writers Conference
http://www.writersconference.com/scwcmain.html
Workshop instructor, panels and signing

March 4, Gastonia, North Carolina
Gaston County Library
Reading/signing 7 pm.

March 6-9 Denver, Colorado
Left Coast Crime
http://www.leftcoastcrime.org/2008/
Panels and signing TBA

March 27-30 Salt Lake City, Utah
World Horror Convention
http://www.whc2008.org/
Panels and signings with the women of MUSE:
Sarah Langan, Sarah Pinborough and Deborah Le Blanc

April 5, Houma, Louisiana
Bent Pages Writers’ Workshop
Instructor

April 16-20, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania
Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention
http://guest.cvent.com/EVENTS/Info/Agenda.aspx?e=9048bd41-a548-4c7a-8d9f-2704d2161681
- Thriller panels
- Bookstore owners’ breakfast
- Club RT
- Signings
- Heather Graham’s Vampire Dinner Theater performance

May 27-31, New Orleans, Louisiana
Pen to Press Writers’ Retreat
http://www.pentopressretreat.com/index.cfm
Instructor

Also coming in Spring 2008: THE DARKER MASK
An illustrated noir superhero anthology from Tor Books, including
“The Edge of Seventeen”, by Alexandra Sokoloff


See THE HARROWING on YouTube: youtube.com/watch?v=bFpRLP_2J1A

Monday, October 15, 2007

Live dark women on The Lost and The Damned!

Tonight at 9 pm Eastern, October 15, dark suspense novelists Sarah Pinborough, Deborah Le Blanc, Sarah Langan and Alexandra Sokoloff will be chatting with moderator Monica Smith on The Lost and The Damned website. Come get spooked for Halloween!

Visit the Message Board: http://lostdamned.com/board/index.php

Chat Room: http://lostdamned.com/chat.htm

MUSE is the collective name for novelists Deb LeBlanc, Sarah Langan, Alexandra Sokoloff, and Sarah Pinborough. The four women met at WHC 07 and, despite coming from parts of the world as distant as the deep south and the UK, instantly recognised in each other a shared ambition, humour and drive along with of course a love of the, horror/suspense/thriller genres. An instant bond was formed, and after a flurry of emails, so was MUSE.The women are working on a very unique collaborative book project (soon to be announced), and will all be tutors at the 2008 Pen to Press Retreat in New Orleans as well as attending WFC 07 and WHC 08. They hope to undertake signing tours together and have a series of other exciting projects in the pipeline.

http://www.musefour.com/muse/index.php

Sarah Pinborough is the author of four mass-market horror novels, The Hidden, The Reckoning, Breeding Ground (nominated for a BFS Award for Best Novel),and The Taken, all published by Leisure Books in New York. The fifth novel, Tower Hill is due out July '08. She also has a novella 'The Language of Dying' due out from PS Publishing in the UK in Dec 08. Her short stories can be found most recently in 'Summer Chills' ed Stephen Jones. (Carrol & Graf), and the upcoming 'British Invasion' from Cemetery Dance. Publisher's Weekly has compared Sarah's writing to Dean Koontz and Bentley Little. When not writing, Sarah spends most of her time hinking about what to write next, talking to her cats, planning an escape to America and drinking wine…. Sarah Pinborough currently lives and works in Milton Keynes, England and is a member of MUSE.

Award-winning author Deborah LeBlanc, is a business owner, a licensed death scene investigator, and an active member of two national paranormal investigation teams. She's the President of the Horror Writers Association, President of the Writers' Guild of Acadiana and the creator of the LeBlanc Literacy Challenge, an annual, national campaign designed to encourage more people to read. Her latest book, MORBID CURIOSITY, is now available in bookstores, and her next release, WATER WITCH, is scheduled to be in stores in July 2008.

Sarah Langan is the author of The Keeper, a New York Times' Editor's Choice, and best first novel Stoker Award nominee.
Her second novel The Missing will be published in October, 2007, and has so far received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly, and sold out in the UK. Sarah's stories have been published or are forthcoming in The Best Horror, 2007, Cemetery Dance, Shivers, PS, Chiaroscuro, and Phantom. She has an MFAin fiction writing from Columbia University, and is currently pursuing her MS in Environmental Toxicology. She's lives in Brooklyn, where she is at work on her third novel, Audrey's Door.

Alexandra Sokoloff is a screenwriter who has sold original horror and thriller scripts and written novel adaptations for numerous Hollywood studios, for producers such as Laura Ziskin, Neal Moritz, David Heyman and Michael Bay. Her adaptation of Sabine Deitmer's psychological thriller COLD KISSES was filmed in Germany. She is the author of two new dark suspense novels from St. Martinâ€--s Press: THE HARROWING (2006), nominated for both a Bram Stoker award and an Anthony award for Best First Novel, and THE PRICE (Jan. 2008), and a story in the illustrated noir superhero anthology THE DARKER MASK (Tor 2008). Alex is a former Board member of the Writers Guild of America, West, and the founder of WriterAction.com, an online community and resource center for over 2000 professional screenwriters. She sings as a Killerette in the all-author Killer Thriller Band, performs with Heather Graham's Vampire Theater, and dances anywhere, any time, every chance she gets.

Visit the Message Board: http://lostdamned.com/board/index.php

Chat Room: http://lostdamned.com/chat.htm

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Internet Resources for Writers

INTERNET RESOURCES FOR WRITERS:

1. First, I highly recommend that every aspiring and new writer join these writing communities:

- If you’re an author: Backspace, the Writers’ Place: http://www.bksp.org/
Backspace is a message board for pre-published and published authors. Editors and agents are also members. You can post any question on any aspect of writing and publishing and two dozen informed answers in a day. It’s also a great, supportive community that exchanges and critiques work. There is a one-time $30 fee to join.

- If you’re an author: Murder Must Advertise – a free Yahoo list that discusses publishing and book promotion. No matter what your genre, you can benefit from this wealth of information.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MurderMustAdvertise/

- If you’re a TV writer: TVwriter.com (free) http://tvwriter.com/
Message board and contests for aspiring TV writers.

- If you’re a screenwriter: Wordplayer.com, http://wordplayer.com/ Zoetrope.com (both free)

- And specifically for horror writers: Shocklines.com (free)
http://pub117.ezboard.com/bshocklinesforum

These communities of writers will point you toward a wealth of other resources.

Also, if you've just sold your book (congratulations!) you will want to read Jacqueline Deval's excellent PUBLICIZE YOUR BOOK cover to cover to pick up a wealth of information on promotion

2. You should also join the professional organization in your genre (s) – and think inclusively about which genres you belong to. Most of these organizations have an associate membership status for pre-published writers – although some do not. RWA and Sisters in Crime do not require professional credits.

- Sisters in Crime
http://www.sistersincrime.org/
- Mystery Writers of America
http://www.mysterywriters.org/
- International Thriller Writers http://www.thrillerwriters.org/index.php
- Horror Writers of America http://www.horror.org/
- Romance Writers of America
https://www.rwanational.org/eweb/StartPage.aspx
- Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers
http://www.sfwa.org/
- Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
http://www.scbwi.org/

Once you have joined one of these organizations, you can join local chapters and/or online chapters, news groups, and reading groups in your own genre. I particularly recommend the Guppies (Great Unpublished) group, which you can join once you join Sisters in Crime, and which has propelled dozens of members to published status.


3. Here are just some great general blogs on various aspects of the publishing business. These and more are also conveniently compiled at Murderati: http://www.murderati.typepad.com/


- Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind http://www.sarahweinman.com/
- A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/
- Bookbitch http://bookbitch.blogspot.com/
- Evil Editor http://evileditor.blogspot.com/
- Buzz, Balls and Hype http://mjroseblog.typepad.com/buzz_balls_hype/


4. And every aspiring author should also go to Publisher’s Weekly http://www.publishersweekly.com/ and sign up for e newsletters in your particular field (sign up at bottom of home page).


FINDING AN AGENT

Here are three great resources to consult when you start looking for an agent:

1. Again, the Backspace forums: http://bksp.org

2. Here's a site with over 1500 agent listings and software to keep track of your queries: http://www.querytracker.net/

2; Always check with Writer Beware to make sure the agents you're approaching are legit: http://www.sfwa.org/beware/

And check out my much longer posts on finding an agent - linked on the right side of this blog under "Writing Articles."



ESTABLISHING A WEB PRESENCE FOR YOURSELF

Every author needs a professional website and/or blog. You should set this up BEFORE you publish, because many editors and agents are now immediately Googling new authors who submit to see if they have a web presence.

- To set up a website:

- Network Solutions (networksolutions.com) is a low-cost, build-it-yourself web hosting and software service with great customer support that requires no knowledge of code. Believe me, if I can do it, you can.

- If you have more money to spend, Cincinnatimedia.com is the best professional author website designer I've found at the lowest cost. They did my website http://alexandrasokoloff.com and I can't say enough good things about them. There are other examples here: http://www.cincinnatimedia.com/portfolio.html

- To set up a blog:

Blogger.com and Typepad.com are two of the most popular free blog sites - most authors I know use one or the other. If you're writing YA or Children's books, LiveJournal and Myspace are useful. Check out other author blog sites for examples:

- Alexandra Sokoloff (newly published) - http://thedarksalon.blogspot.com/
- JT Ellison (soon to be published)
http://jtellison.com/
- Joe Konrath (prime example of informational blogging and the power of giving away free stuff - plus a goldmine of info on marketing and publishing. Good for fiction and non-fiction http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/
- Heather Brewer (YA, to be published this year) http://www.heatherbrewer.com/bleedingink/ ; (Heather also does a blog from her character’s POV)
- Tess Gerritsen (bestselling) http://www.tessgerritsen.com/blog/
- Allison Brennan (new romantic suspense) http://www.allisonbrennan.com/blog/index.php
- Crimespot (links to all major and not-so-major mystery blogs) http://www.crimespot.net/


- Joining or creating a group blog (grog) takes the pressure of constantly creating blog posts off you, and also gives you more exposure.

Check out these very popular examples of grogs (which are also great resources for publishing and marketing information)

- Murderati (mystery, horror, includes TV and film info as well as publishing) - http://www.murderati.typepad.com/ ;
- Naked Authors (nystery) http://www.nakedauthors.com/index.html
- Hey, There's a Dead Guy in the Living Room (mystery, and includes a publicist and bookseller in the lineup)
http://www.heydeadguy.typepad.com/
- The Lipstick Chronicles (chick lit)
http://thelipstickchronicles.typepad.com/
- Squawk Radio (romance) http://squawkradio.com/
- The Debutante Ball (mainstream women’s fiction)
http://www.thedebutanteball.com/


- Another great way to start establishing an Internet presence is simply to comment on other popular blogs in your genre.

Commenting intelligently on other blogs will get your own blog linked to higher-traffic blogs, and might get you invited to join one of the more popular group blogs. Posting on message boards like Backspace (all genres and non-fiction) and Shocklines. com (horror and dark fantasy) also helps build your Internet presence.


CONTESTS FOR ASPIRING SCREEN AND TELEVISION WRITERS:

One of the best roads in to screen and TV writing is to win a fellowship or one of the major contests. I’ve listed titles and descriptions here – please Google for more info.

- The Nicholl Fellowship - the most prestigious and best breakthough screenwriting contest out there, and many pros say it's about the only contest that can lead to a professional career. http://www.oscars.org/nicholl/index.html

- The Disney Fellowship and Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship – winners get an actual job and hands-on training. The Nick Fellowship grooms writers to work on one of their shows.

- The Warner Bros Drama Writers Workshop and Comedy Writers Workshop – a fast-track way into TV staffing. You write your hour spec and submit. The get about 600 scripts a year; they pick 25 to interview, and choose 13 for the program. You write a second spec under their supervision, and they get you interviews with current CW netword and studio projects. About half of any given class gets hired on staff out of the program. Being in the program can get you a good agent if you don’t have one.

- For University of California students and alumni, The Goldwyn Award is also major. There is huge industry competition for the first-place winner, and the Goldwyns heavily promote the winners. Just about every winner becomes a WGA member and is working in the industry within a year of winning.

- TVwriter.com and WriteSafe contests: many winners of these contests have gone on to industry jobs.

If you were at the Write2Publish panel last week, please feel free to post specific questions!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Trinoc Con in Raleigh this weekend

I'll be doing an unnerving number of panels and events at the Trinoc Speculative Fiction Con in Raleigh this weekend.

August 3 – 5, Raleigh, North Carolina

http://www.trinoc-con.org/index.htm

Friday, 6 pm: Reading
Friday, 8 pm: Meet the Guests
Saturday, 11- 1 pm: Writing Workshop
Saturday, 3 pm: Signing with Scott Nicholson and Mark Rainey
Saturday, 5 pm: Panel: Scriptwriting Across Media
Sunday, 1 pm: Panel: Storytelling Across Media
Sunday, 2 pm: Panel: Heroes and Villains

Looking forward to paneling, signing and hanging with Scott Nicholson, even though I'm still mad at him for not making it to Thrillerfest, and Mark Rainey!

Lots of interesting SF/F and horror writers in attendance.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Anthony nominations... yes, THE HARROWING

Well, I have to say I didn't see this one coming. I am running into furniture and it took me three tries to parallel park this morning. Me. A Los Angeles native.

So honored to be in this awesome group!



ANTHONY NOMINATIONS, Bouchercon 2007

BEST NOVEL:

KIDNAPPED, Jan Burke, Simon & Schuster
NO GOOD DEEDS, Laura Lippman, Harper
THE DEAD HOUR, Denise Mina, Little Brown & Co.
THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS, Nancy Pickard, Ballantine
ALL MORTAL FLESH, Julia Spencer-Fleming, St. Martins

BEST FIRST NOVEL

THE KING OF LIES, John Hart, St. Martin’s
HOLMES ON THE RANGE, Steve Hockensmith, St. Martins
STILL LIFE, Louise Penny, St. Martin’s
A FIELD OF DARKNESS, Cornelia Read, Mysterious Press
THE HARROWING, Alexandra Sokoloff, St. Martins

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

ASHES AND BONES, Dana Cameron, Avon
47 RULES OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE BANK ROBBERS, Troy Cook, Capital Crime
Press
THE CLEANUP, Sean Doolittle, Dell
BABY SHARK, Robert Fate, Capital Crime Press
SHOTGUN OPERA, Victor Gischler, Dell
A DANGEROUS MAN, Charlie Huston, Ballantine
SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN, Naomi Hirahara, Bantam Dell - Delta

BEST SHORT STORY

“Policy” Megan Abbott, DAMN NEAR DEAD, Busted Flush Press
“The Lords of Misrule” Dana Cameron, SUGARPLUMS AND SCANDAL, Avon
“Cranked” Bill Crider, DAMN NEAR DEAD, Busted Flush Press
“Sleeping with the Plush” Toni Kelner, Alfred Hitchcock Mag
“My Father’s Secret,” Simon Wood, Crime Spree Magazine, Bcon Spec
Issue ’06
“After the Fall,” Elaine Viets, Alfred Hitchcock Mag

BEST CRITICAL NON-FICTION

MYSTERY MUSES, Jim Huang/Austin Lugar, Editors, Crum Creek Press
READ ‘EM THEIR WRITES, Gary Warren Niebuhr, Libraries Unlimited
DON’T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY, Chris Roerden, Bella Rosa Books
THE BEAUTIFUL CIGAR GIRL, Daniel Stashower, Dutton
THE SCIENCE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, E.J. Wagner, John Wiley & Sons

SPECIAL SERVICES AWARD

Charles Ardai, Hard Case Crime
George Easter, Deadly Pleasures
Barbara Franchi & Sharon Wheeler, reviewingtheevidence.com
Jim Huang, Crum Creek Press and The Mystery Company
Jon & Ruth Jordan, CrimeSpree Magazine
Ali Karim, Shots Magazine
Lynn Kazmarik & Chris Aldrich, Mystery News,
Maddy Van Hertbruggen, 4 Mystery Addicts

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pen to Press Writers' Retreat

I'll be an instructor at the Pen to Press Writers' Retreat in New Orleans in the spring - along with an amazing group of authors, agents and editors. Information below:

About Pen to Press

Announcing a one of a kind writers' retreat that you simply can't pass up! Come excited and leave inspired, ready to improve your writing and get that manuscript published!

Pen to Press Retreats are five intense, hands-on, inspiring days that teach participants how to shape and present a saleable manuscript. You'll learn in a variety of settings, from workshops to one-on-one mentoring sessions to seminars. To that end, you will write and revise, have your manuscript critiqued, and revise some more. This is a remarkable opportunity to transform your writing!

To top it off, throughout the last two days of each retreat, all of our participants are given exclusive, one-on-one time with agents and editors to whom they can pitch their work!

With this retreat under your belt, who can stop you? You'll be off and ready to publish in no time!

Activities

Participants will be assigned to a class of 20 and a team instructor. (Our instructors are all successfully published authors, many NY Times Best-sellers, award-winners, and excellent teachers.). With this group, you will spend five days working on specifics to improve your manuscript. During classes and panel discussions, you'll learn details about characterization, plot, dialogue, pacing, voice, marketing, pitching, contract negotiations, etc., all of it geared around your specific work.

Agents and editors will be on hand the last two days of the retreat, and they'll be there to spend one-on-one time with you, our participants . . . writers who now have a polished pitch for a promising work!

Join Us

Interested writers must submit a two page synopsis of a completed novel or novel in progress along with the first five pages of that novel. From those submissions, 160 participants will be selected. Good luck and we hope to see you there!

For more information on our 2008 Pen to Press Writers' Retreat, visit:

http://www.pentopressretreat.com

Monday, July 09, 2007

So what about self-publishing?

Link to Murderati discussion on self-publishing:

http://murderati.typepad.com/murderati/2007/06/so-what-about-s.html

(For those who were at the Regulator panel this weekend - more discussion on the topic here).

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Internet Resources for Writers

As promised, here's my list of essential resources for authors, screenwriters, and TV writers. I'll keep adding to it.


INTERNET RESOURCES FOR WRITERS:

1. First, I highly recommend that every aspiring and new writer join these writing communities:

- If you’re an author: Backspace, the Writers’ Place: http://www.bksp.org/
Backspace is a message board for pre-published and published authors. Editors and agents are also members. You can post any question on any aspect of writing and publishing and two dozen informed answers in a day. It’s also a great, supportive community that exchanges and critiques work. There is a one-time $70 fee to join.

- If you’re an author: Murder Must Advertise – a free Yahoo list that discusses publishing and book promotion. No matter what your genre, you can benefit from this wealth of information.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MurderMustAdvertise/

- If you’re a TV writer: TVwriter.com (free) http://tvwriter.com/
Message board and contests for aspiring TV writers.

- If you’re a screenwriter: Wordplayer.com, http://wordplayer.com/ Zoetrope.com (both free)

- And specifically for horror writers: Shocklines.com (free)
http://pub117.ezboard.com/bshocklinesforum

These communities of writers will point you toward a wealth of other resources.


2. You should also join the professional organization in your genre (s) – and think inclusively about which genres you belong to. Most of these organizations have an associate membership status for pre-published writers – although some do not. RWA and Sisters in Crime do not require professional credits.

- Sisters in Crime
http://www.sistersincrime.org/
- Mystery Writers of America
http://www.mysterywriters.org/
- International Thriller Writers http://www.thrillerwriters.org/index.php
- Horror Writers of America http://www.horror.org/
- Romance Writers of America
https://www.rwanational.org/eweb/StartPage.aspx
- Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers
http://www.sfwa.org/
- Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
http://www.scbwi.org/

Once you have joined one of these organizations, you can join local chapters and/or online chapters, news groups, and reading groups in your own genre. I particularly recommend the Guppies (Great Unpublished) group, which you can join once you join Sisters in Crime, and which has propelled dozens of members to published status.


3. Here are just some great general blogs on various aspects of the publishing business. These and more are also conveniently compiled at Murderati: http://www.murderati.typepad.com/


- Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind http://www.sarahweinman.com/
- A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/
- Bookbitch http://bookbitch.blogspot.com/
- Evil Editor http://evileditor.blogspot.com/
- Buzz, Balls and Hype http://mjroseblog.typepad.com/buzz_balls_hype/


4. And every aspiring author should also go to Publisher’s Weekly http://www.publishersweekly.com/ and sign up for e newsletters in your particular field (sign up at bottom of home page).


FINDING AN AGENT

Here are three great resources to consult when you start looking for an agent:

1. Again, the Backspace forums: http://bksp.org

2. Here's a site with over 1500 agent listings and software to keep track of your queries: http://www.querytracker.net/

2; Always check with Writer Beware to make sure the agents you're approaching are legit: http://www.sfwa.org/beware/



ESTABLISHING A WEB PRESENCE FOR YOURSELF

Every author needs a professional website and/or blog. You should set this up BEFORE you publish, because many editors and agents are now immediately Googling new authors who submit to see if they have a web presence.

- To set up a website:

- Network Solutions (networksolutions.com) is a low-cost, build-it-yourself web hosting and software service with great customer support that requires no knowledge of code. Believe me, if I can do it, you can.

- If you have more money to spend, Cincinnatimedia.com is the best professional author website designer I've found at the lowest cost. They did my website http://alexandrasokoloff.com and I can't say enough good things about them. There are other examples here: http://www.cincinnatimedia.com/portfolio.html

- To set up a blog:

Blogger.com and Typepad.com are two of the most popular free blog sites - most authors I know use one or the other. If you're writing YA or Children's books, LiveJournal and Myspace are useful. Check out other author blog sites for examples:

- Alexandra Sokoloff (newly published) - http://thedarksalon.blogspot.com/
- JT Ellison (soon to be published)
http://jtellison.com/
- Joe Konrath (prime example of informational blogging and the power of giving away free stuff - plus a goldmine of info on marketing and publishing. Good for fiction and non-fiction http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/
- Heather Brewer (YA, to be published this year) http://www.heatherbrewer.com/bleedingink/ ; (Heather also does a blog from her character’s POV)
- Tess Gerritsen (bestselling) http://www.tessgerritsen.com/blog/
- Allison Brennan (new romantic suspense) http://www.allisonbrennan.com/blog/index.php
- Crimespot (links to all major and not-so-major mystery blogs) http://www.crimespot.net/


- Joining or creating a group blog (grog) takes the pressure of constantly creating blog posts off you, and also gives you more exposure.

Check out these very popular examples of grogs (which are also great resources for publishing and marketing information)

- Murderati (mystery, horror, includes TV and film info as well as publishing) - http://www.murderati.typepad.com/ ;
- Naked Authors (nystery) http://www.nakedauthors.com/index.html
- Hey, There's a Dead Guy in the Living Room (mystery, and includes a publicist and bookseller in the lineup)
http://www.heydeadguy.typepad.com/
- The Lipstick Chronicles (chick lit)
http://thelipstickchronicles.typepad.com/
- Squawk Radio (romance) http://squawkradio.com/
- The Debutante Ball (mainstream women’s fiction)
http://www.thedebutanteball.com/


- Another great way to start establishing an Internet presence is simply to comment on other popular blogs in your genre.

Commenting intelligently on other blogs will get your own blog linked to higher-traffic blogs, and might get you invited to join one of the more popular group blogs. Posting on message boards like Backspace (all genres and non-fiction) and Shocklines. com (horror and dark fantasy) also helps build your Internet presence.


CONTESTS FOR ASPIRING SCREEN AND TELEVISION WRITERS:

One of the best roads in to screen and TV writing is to win a fellowship or one of the major contests. I’ve listed titles and descriptions here – please Google for more info.

- The Nicholl Fellowship - the most prestigious and best breakthough screenwriting contest out there, and many pros say it's about the only contest that can lead to a professional career. http://www.oscars.org/nicholl/index.html

- The Disney Fellowship and Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship – winners get an actual job and hands-on training. The Nick Fellowship grooms writers to work on one of their shows.

- The Warner Bros Drama Writers Workshop and Comedy Writers Workshop – a fast-track way into TV staffing. You write your hour spec and submit. The get about 600 scripts a year; they pick 25 to interview, and choose 13 for the program. You write a second spec under their supervision, and they get you interviews with current CW netword and studio projects. About half of any given class gets hired on staff out of the program. Being in the program can get you a good agent if you don’t have one.

- For University of California students and alumni, The Goldwyn Award is also major. There is huge industry competition for the first-place winner, and the Goldwyns heavily promote the winners. Just about every winner becomes a WGA member and is working in the industry within a year of winning.

- TVwriter.com and WriteSafe contests: many winners of these contests have gone on to industry jobs.

If you were at the Regulator panel this weekend, please feel free to post specific questions.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

"How to Get Published" panel

If you're in the Raleigh/Durham area, I'm doing a panel on "How to Get Published" at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham this evening at 7 pm: details here. Yes, the event is at seven, not three.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Disney Writing Fellowship

This is one of the few fast tracks to a screen or television career - highly recommmended.


OPEN CALL FOR A REJUVENATED DISNEY WRITING FELLOWSHIP

Deadline: 7/1 - Application materials/info: http://www.disneyabctalentdevelopmen...ms_writers.htm.
If you're a great writer, getting your material in front of the right pair of eyes can be just as hard as writing the next great American screenplay. The 2008 Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship provides programs and opportunities for writers at
various stages of their careers, from talented newcomers to seasoned pros. This year, the fellowship will offer $50,000 grants to 14 culturally and ethnically diverse writers (up from four last year) selected for both the motion picture and the television side of the fellowship.

The fellowship began in 1990 in partnership with the Writers Guild of America, West. It has become one of the industry's best known and most respected writing fellowships. More than 200 alumni number among Hollywood's elite, including screenwriters, directors and television showrunners. A limited number of full-time fellowships are available each year for both feature film and television projects. Fellows receive a weekly salary for a one-year period, subject to change, but (currently amounting to $50,000/year plus benefits). The program is an intensive, hands-on experience that involves workshops, seminars and mentorships with creative executives from ABC, ABC Television Studio, Disney Channel, ABC Family, Lifetime and Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group. No previous
professional experience is necessary, but strong writing samples are required.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

BEA schedule

I'm off to New York tomorrow for BEA - I'll be at the Expo all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and signing here:

3:45 – 4:15 pm Friday with Jason Pinter, booth #2750.

2:00 - 3:00 pm Saturday, booth #4776

Hope to see people! (No real fear about that...into the madness....)

X

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Scholarship for debut authors

Are you a debut author with a book out in 2007 or 2008? Would you love to attend ThrillerFest 2007 in New York City but haven't quite figured out how to pay for it?

ITW is offering two scholarships for debut authors to attend ThrillerFest 2007 in New York City July 11-15. The scholarship is for the conference registration fee, CraftFest, and the Thriller Awards Dinner. Lodging and transportation is not offered as part of the scholarship.

CRITERIA:

You must have a book published or scheduled for publication in 2007 or 2008 by an ITW recognized publisher.

You do not have to be an ITW member to apply.

To apply, you must send the following information to the Scholarship Committee Chair, Allison Brennan at allison@allisonbrennan.com:

Name
Contact information (address, phone number and email)
Pen Name (if any)
Book Title
Publisher
Editor
Release date (tentative is okay)
Brief synopsis (one page or less)
Essay telling the committee in 500 words or less why you would like to attend ThrillerFest and what you hope to gain from the experience.

All submissions are blind. Only the committee chair will have the identity of the author; the synopsis and essay will be sent "blind" to the committee for review and discussion.

The deadline for applications is May 31, 2007. The two scholarship winners will be notified by June 7, 2007.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Romantic Times and LA Times Festival of the Book

I'll be running all over the country again in the next two weeks:

APRIL 25 - APRIL 28: Houston, TX

Romantic Times Booklovers Convention

- THURSDAY, April 26:

...9 - 10:30 am Bookseller Event

...11 am-12pm panel: "Thriller: Hooks that Shock" -
with Carole Nelson Douglas, Heather Graham, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Rick Mofina, Jason Pinter, Alexandra Sokoloff

...4pm-5pm: Club RT: signing and chat

- FRIDAY, April 27 8:30 pm performance:

Heather Graham's Vampires of the Wild, Wild West dinner theater (not to be missed!)

- SATURDAY, April 28 -

11 am- 2 pm signings: Katy Books, bookseller

then...

SUNDAY APRIL 29 - Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

Signings:

12-1 pm: Mysterious Galaxy booth
1-3 pm: Sisters in Crime booth #355
3-4 pm: The Mystery Bookstore booth #411
4-5 pm: Sisters in Crime booth #355

And then...

MAY 1-4 - Malice Domestic, Arlington, VA

Monday, April 23, 2007

Thrillerfest 2006, Day 1

Reposting my recap of LAST year's inaugural Thrillerfest, for those who are asking questions about this year!

(In which I add my voice to the furious blogging about this incredible event. I will try to figure out how to link to other articles and photos. I will have to do this in manageable chunks, since I'm still trying to sort out all the wonderfulness and also have about eight hundred and seventy-two e mails to catch up on. Seriously thinking of changing my name and disappearing.)


DAY ONE:


Arrive at Arizona Biltmore, a Frank Lloyd Wright palace of a hotel on a golf course in the middle of a desert. Jaw drops in awe at first sight. I've toured many a Wright building, house, church - but this one hits me like a sledgehammer. The concrete deco detailing alone - beautiful and haunting. Fevered, is what I keep thinking. It's a little terrifying to walk into a manifestation of this man's mind.

Lobby: quadruple-planed fountain. Native American mosaic in stained glass. A deco grandfather clock that is going home with me somehow. COPPER ceiling glowing two and a half stories above. Unbelievable. And very aesthetic bellhops to match. (Yes, as a matter of fact you can help me with just about anything you can dream up, thanks...)

Room is not ready (and is rumored to be in Utah) so on to MacArthur ballroom for registration. Landscaping is as staggering as the architecture - desert deco. I'm never going home.
.....................................................................................

MacArthur lobby: glacial AC, thank God - after a five-minute walk in 110 degree heat I am on the verge of passing out. There is iced tea in huge silver urns. I almost knock over Erica Spindler, whose creepy BONE COLD I just finished a week and a half ago. I start to fawn. A bear of a man comes up and gives me a big hug. Towering, sexy, vital, killer eyes. I don't know him from Adam, but who the hell cares? He starts talking about rehearsal (that would be band rehearsal, about which much more in a minute) and I realize this is Michael Palmer. MICHAEL PALMER. I have at least seven of his medical thrillers lined up on the top shelf of the right-hand bookshelf beside my desk for easy access. How in the world does he know me?

I register and drift in the lobby in a daze. Tall, lean, devastating Englishman over there MUST be Lee Child. I have not started drinking yet and resolve I WILL NOT gush like a tedious fan girl. I will play it cool - let him come to me (I can dream, can't I?).

It is beginning to dawn on me that I have crash landed in the Valley of the Giants. Must get hold of self - the party's just starting.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I find my first panel of the day - one of the few I will be able to attend because so much of the conference will be spent rehearsing (I'm getting to it, I'm getting to it...). I am really looking forward to this one: BUZZ YOUR THRILLER, with MJ Rose, David Montgomery and Sarie Morrell.

MJ is a knockout - funny, sexy, savvy, stylish - clearly has left hundreds of dazed and delighted conquests in her wake. Just for one day I would love to be inside her head (and body). David is a class act, who I understand is responsible for much of the TF programming - stupendous job, there. And even after that staggering amount of work, he stepped up and helped the band schlep equipment when we were desperate for help. I love this man. Sarie Morrell is a beauty, and everything you would want in a publicist.

I am taking notes wildly all through this one. MJ says bluntly what I'd been suspecting - that a new author should take their advance and spend it ALL on promoting that first book. Sobering. And so we make a living exactly how? Food for thought for our own panel tomorrow. She also says that you have to realize that you're not going to be able to do everything (in fact she says quite clearly that it would be impossible to do everything that JA Konrath advises. Quite a relief, there.).

After the panel I meet my fellow New Author panelists Robert Gregory Browne, Phil Hawley, Brett Battles, and Marcus Sakey. Actually we have all bonded by e mail going on months before and they simply feel like family already.

Phil Hawley radiates doctorness. Great hands. I mean, bedside manner. I mean - right. Better quit while I'm ahead. Umm - did I mention he's a snappy dresser? Brett Battles has that far-off look of international espionage - distant, brooding... and then he suddenly breaks into a smile and it's like the sun. Rob Gregory Browne is the man behind the camera for the weekend, documenting TF on film - truly a labor of love and good karma. An elegant watcher. Also could be a spy, or a martial artist, or a hired killer. Very masculine energy.

All total sweethearts. Oh, and talk about sweet - Jason Pinter, who I meet here for the first time. Huggable! I am also thrilled that Paul Guyot is here - a great writer I know from the WGA trenches, and a friend of Dr. Hawley's. Worlds are starting to collide...

Now, much has already been made in the TF post-mortems about Marcus Sakey's attractiveness. It's true. A very young Paul Michael Glaser, the same self-effacing hotness. Women will be throwing underwear and hotel keys at his readings. But I'm here to tell you that he's more than just a pretty face. The man is a dyed-in-the-wool deviant. The very first night he will buy me a drink then steal my TF badge and my mesh shawl and pretend to chivalrously return them to me the next morning and cheerfully confess to going through the pockets of the badge pouch looking for incriminating personal details about me. Also, my lipstick is still missing. I feel instantly at home in the company of such authorly amorality (it's not just me, then...)

Also at this panel I meet two women I've admired from their blogs and instantly adore in person: JT Ellison, Killer Year founder and Murderata (singular feminine of Murderati, right?) and Allison Brennan, brand new author with three thrillers out within three months of each other - could you kill her? These are goddesses for sure - earthy, funny, crackling with life. Feel like I've known them before.

I start thinking - and will continue thinking all conference long - about the difference between screenwriters and authors. Now, I love me my screenwriters. I always get the sense being in a room full of them that I'm surrounded by thoroughbred horses. They're edgy, antsy, explosive.

As a species, authors are so much more sweet, somehow. I don't know how else to describe it. Not so much to prove, because it's all there on the page. Not so much need for the edge. I'll think about it and try to be more clear.

Wish I'd had so much more time with ALL of them - but band rehearsals were about to start...