Saturday, May 31, 2008

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.

If you've sold your first book (congratulations!)and are looking for information on what you will need to do to promote it, I highly recommend Jacqueline Deval's excellent: PUBLICIZE YOUR BOOK,


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 I particularly recommend the Guppies (Great Unpublished) group, which you can join once you join Sisters in Crime, and which has propelled dozens of members to published status.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), particularly Publisher's Lunch (free).


FINDING AN AGENT

Here are some 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/

3. Subscribe to Publishers' Lunch, a free newsletter that you can sign up for on the Publishers' Weekly site, and start a notebook in which you list agents who have sold books in your genre that week and the editors and publishing houses they have sold to.

https://www.publishersweekly.com/subscribe.asp?screen=ai1

3. Continue to build your targeted list of agents by finding 10 or 20 books in your genre and finding the names of those authors' agents in the ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.

4. If you need help finding current, successful books in your genre, ask your local librarians and independent booksellers, who are your best friends.

5. litmatch.net. contains hundreds of agent names--and can single out agents in specific genres such as "mystery" and "thriller". It also lists each agent's requirements for submission.

6. Always check with Writer Beware to make sure that other agents you're approaching are legit: http://www.sfwa.org/beware/

7. Go to writing conventions in your genre that agents will be attending, especially if you can sign up for pitch sessions. Meeting agents face to face in these situations is the best way to establish the connection that can lead to signing with an agency. Google the Shaw Guides for a list of conferences and conventions, nationwide; and/or Jacqueline Deval's excellent book PUBLICIZE YOUR BOOK has a comprehensive list of conventions in the back.


HOW TO WRITE A QUERY LETTER:

Folio Literary Management
has an EXCELLENT blog on all aspects of agenting, publishing, and writing careers.

Check out this post on the perfect query letter: http://foliolit.blogspot.com/2008/04/on-query-letters.html

And then go ahead and delve into the other posts!



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- http://thedarksalon.blogspot.com/
- JT Ellison
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 (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 yesterday, please feel free to post specific questions!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

What's your premise?

So I was at some author event the other night and doing the chat thing with people at the pre-dinner cocktail party and found myself in conversation with an aspiring author who had just finished a book, and naturally I asked, “What’s your book about?”

And she said – “Oh, I can’t really describe it in a few sentences– there’s just so much going on in it.”

WRONG ANSWER.

The time to know what your book is about is before you start it, and you damn well better know what it’s about by the time it’s finished and people, like, oh, you know - agents and editors, are asking you what it’s about.

And here’s another tip – when people ask you what your book is about, the answer is not “War” or “Love” or “Betrayal”, even though your book might be about one or all of those things. Those words don’t distinguish YOUR book from any of the millions of books about those things.

When people ask you what your book is about, what they are really asking is – “What’s the premise?” In other words, “What’s the story line in one easily understandable sentence?”

That one sentence is also referred to as a “logline” (in Hollywood) or “the elevator pitch” (in publishing) or “the TV Guide pitch” – it all means the same thing.

That sentence really should give you a sense of the entire story: the character of the protagonist, the character of the antagonist, the conflict, the setting, the tone, the genre. And – it should make whoever hears it want to read the book. Preferably immediately. It should make the person you tell it to light up and say – “Ooh, that sounds great!” And “Where do I buy it?”

Writing a premise sentence is a bit of an art, but it’s a critical art for authors, and screenwriters, and playwrights. You need to do this well to sell a book, to pitch a movie, to apply for a grant. You will need to do it well when your agent, and your publicist, and the sales department of your publishing house, and the reference librarian, and the Sisters in Crime books in print catalogue editor ask you for a one-sentence book description, or jacket copy, or ad copy. You will use that sentence over and over and over again in radio and TV interviews, on panels, and in bookstores (over and over and OVER again) when potential readers ask you, “So what’s your book about?” and you have about one minute to get them hooked enough to buy the book.

And even before all that, the premise is the map of your book when you’re writing it.

So what are some examples of premise lines?

Name these books:

- When a great white shark starts attacking beachgoers in a coastal town during high tourist season, a water-phobic Sheriff must assemble a team to hunt it down before it kills again.

- A young female FBI trainee must barter personal information with an imprisoned psychopathic genius in order to catch a serial killer who is capturing and killing young women for their skins.

- A treasure-hunting archeologist races over the globe to find the legendary Lost Ark of the Covenant before Hitler’s minions can acquire and use it to supernaturally power the Nazi army.

Notice how all of these premises contain a defined protagonist, a powerful antagonist, a sense of the setting, conflict and stakes, and a sense of how the action will play out. Another interesting thing about these premises is that in all three, the protagonists are up against forces that seem much bigger than the protagonist.

Here’s my premise for THE HARROWING:

Five troubled college students left alone on their isolated campus over the long Thanksgiving break confront their own demons and a mysterious presence – that may or may not be real.

I wrote that sentence to quickly convey all the elements I want to get across about this book.

Who’s the story about? Five college kids, and “alone” and “troubled” characterize them in a couple of words. Not only are they alone and troubled, they have personal demons. What’s the setting? An isolated college campus, and it’s Thanksgiving - fall, going on winter. Bleak, spooky. Plus – if it’s Thanksgiving, why are they on campus instead of home with their families?

Who’s the antagonist? A mysterious presence. What’s the conflict? It’s inner and outer – it will be the kids against themselves, and also against this mysterious presence. What are the stakes? Well, not so clear, but there’s a sense of danger involved with any mysterious presence.

And there are a lot of clues to the genre – sounds like something supernatural’s going on, but there’s also a sense that it’s psychological – because the kids are troubled and this presence may or may not be real. There's a sense of danger, possibly on several levels.

The best way to learn how to write a good premise is to practice. Make a list of ten books and films that are in the same genre as your book or script - preferably successful - or that you wish you had written! Now for each story, write a one-sentence premise that contains all these story elements: protagonist, antagonist, conflict, stakes, setting, atmosphere and genre.

If you need a lot of examples all at once, pick up a copy of the TV Guide, or click through the descriptions of movies on your TiVo. Those aren’t necessarily the best written premises, but they do get the point across, and it will get you thinking about stories in brief.

And now that you’re an expert -go for it. Write yours.

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I have succumbed and put the Screenwriting Tricks workbook up for Nook and on Smashwords, where yes, you can finally download it as a pdf file or whatever format you want. Any version - $2.99!



- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)