Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors II


This should make a lot of people here deliriously happy: the second Screenwriting Tricks book is up now - just $2.99 for any format.

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE



Now, let me be clear. This is not a book on writing romance.

What it is is a greatly expanded follow-up to Screenwriting Tricks For Authors - with a special focus on the key story elements and structure tricks used in writing love (including love subplots). The ten story breakdowns in this book are all romantic comedy, romantic adventure, period romance and romantic suspense. (I'm going to have to save urban fantasy and paranormal for another, darker book).

I started the book as a general revision of STFA, to incorporate all of the new discoveries I’ve been making from writing my own novels, from teaching workshops, and from interfacing with my workshop students and all of you here about your story problems and discoveries. One of the things I most wanted to do, at the requests of quite a few of you (you know who you are!), was include more examples from love stories and comedies. Yes, I’m a thriller writer, and most of you are aware that my teaching examples can run toward the - um, homicidal.

But as I was reviewing a lot of romantic comedies and romantic suspense for great and teachable examples of key story elements and other points I’m always trying to make, it dawned on me how much more useful it would be to let the first workbook stand as is and move forward by concentrating the new material in this book, and each subsequent book, on just one genre at a time.

One thing I love about this new book is that it really demonstrates that idea I'm always trying to get across about working with a Master List, that Top Ten list of your own favorite stories in your specific genre. So it made sense for me to organize the book by making my own list of ten love stories and analyzing those in-depth, looking closely at how these films handle key elements, both of general storytelling and those elements specific to love stories.

So yes, it should be very useful to romance writers, but I hope writers of all genres will be able to get almost or just as much out of it, too.

There are ten full story breakdowns in this book:

While You Were Sleeping
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Sense and Sensibility
Groundhog Day
Sea of Love
The Proposal
New In Town
Leap Year
Notting Hill
Romancing the Stone


(And if you ask me, that alone is worth the price of the book, no matter what genre you're working in!)

As I worked my way through the list I was finding patterns and elements of love stories that I’d never been consciously aware of before, but after my third or fourth story breakdown I realized how very common certain elements are to love stories of all kinds, and how helpful it is to know and name those elements every time you start out to write a love story — or love subplot. And that goes for ANY genre you happen to be working in.

I know some people are going to ask - "Which book should I get?"

Why oh why do people ask these things of authors? You should get BOTH, of course, you can have them both for less than the price of a paperback. Plus, then I can eat. My cat will thank you, too.

But if you want to know which to START with, well, it depends. If you're writing romance or anything close to it, then definitely get Writing Love for all the love story examples. If you're writing the darker genres, you will want to have the first Screenwriting Tricks for the darker examples. If you are brand new to this blog or to writing, and not particularly writing love, then you will probably want to read the shorter STFA first; there is so much more material in Writing Love that it might be overwhelming. When you're just starting out, less is often more.

If you've been reading the blog for a long time, and/or if you already have STFA I, then you definitely want Writing Love - it's twice as much material and twice as many breakdowns.

Please let me know what you think. The great thing about e publishing is that it's all so alterable!

- Alex

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- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Brave New E World, part 2

So to continue some thoughts and links on indie publishing...

I tend to overwork, to put it mildly, but this summer is really crazy. In addition to working on a traditionally contracted trilogy, and an adult thriller that I'm writing on spec, I am learning the entire business of e publishing. And it is a business; I look at it as starting a new division of my publishing career.

I do have to say it's getting easier. I’d already worked through the process with the SCREENWRITING TRICKS FOR AUTHORS workbook, with about a dozen very patient author friends who had already been through it talking me off the ledge... I mean, through the steps.

This week I put up THE SPACE BETWEEN, my spooky YA thriller, and the process was easier and faster because I’d already been through all the steps, and am starting to internalize that there IS a process and steps, and it's all fairly logical. (Which I will set down, in order, in another post).

And I know all of it is going to get easier and easier. Except, of course, writing the books. That part hasn’t changed, unfortunately.

So that's the first point to cover, today.

FIRST, LAST AND ALWAYS, IT’S ABOUT THE BOOK.

This is a project that was very close to me and very hard to write. You know, every book is different, but I know from my own experience and from talking to a lot of author friends who started publishing at about the same time, that sometime around about your fourth book you start getting restless and you just want to stretch.

So I was experimenting with a lot of things with SPACE. It’s my first Young Adult, my first book in present tense, my first book set in California even though California is where I’ve lived for practically all my life (apparently I had to leave it to be able to write about it).

Also I was adapting my own short story, “The Edge of Seventeen”, which won the Thriller award for Best Short Fiction two years ago.

I’m not new to adaptation, it was half the work I did when I was a screenwriter, but I really had to open up the story. That was the best part, it turned out – I always felt there was much more to the story I’d initially told, but I really surprised myself with how much more there was. Enough for at least one sequel, as it turns out.

Add to all those challenges the fact that for the last two years I’ve been dealing with a devastating family illness and death. It’s easily been the hardest time of my life.

I guess it’s no surprise, then, that when I’d finally nailed the book, it was…. How to say this?

Dark.

Really, really dark. Which I tend to be anyway, but under the circumstances… well, it was dark.

And it's about high school. Now, I personally had a better time in HS than most, because we had such a great theater department that that's what I did. But that doesn't mean I wasn't acutely aware of the horror and misery going on around me, and that's what I write about in SPACE. And when you’re dealing with a sixteen-year old protagonist, everything seems all that much darker.

So that brings us to the second point.

WHY GO INDIE?

The first thing is always writing a great book. But once you have that great book, there’s the decision of how to market it. In traditional publishing, this has a lot to do with your agent deciding which editors are the best potential buyers at each house, But with the rise of indie publishing, one of the new decisions is "Indie or traditional?"

Well, here's one of the things that’s so cool about e publishing - that you can use it for those slightly off projects that I KNOW all you great slightly off people have. In this case, I was writing a YA that was - even as edgy as YA has gotten – edgy enough to give me and my agent pause about submitting it to editors.

Not that it wouldn’t be totally great to have a banned book in my bibliography, but… I was writing from the perspective of a 16-year old who has seen WAY too much, just like the 16-year old that I was. And while I myself was reading things that were way too old for me when I was - well, seven, actually, but certainly when I was 16 – what that meant was that I was reading adult books that were way too old for me. Because when I was a teenager there weren’t really that many YAs that were too old for anyone except for that twisted Flowers in the Attic series. And those were twisted in a way I was familiar with from my friends’ lives, unfortunately, so I didn’t really understand why the books were considered so twisted. I mean, why get upset about the books? Try getting upset about incest and child abuse in real life, and DOING something about it, why don’t you…

Um, sorry, where was I?

Oh, right. Nowadays there is a ton of edgy YA out there – edgy being the encompassing word for books that cover incest, rape, cutting, eating disorders, mental illness, child abuse of any kind, teen criminal behavior, school shootings, suicide… no taboo is left, actually. But in THE SPACE BETWEEN I cross a supernatural thriller and edgy YA, which takes things a little further out there.

Now, that didn’t discourage my agent. But because of the life interruptions of my last year, I’m in the interesting position of having several interrupted spec books that I’m just now getting back to. So because THE SPACE BETWEEN is my first and only YA, and one of my others is much more along the lines of my other adult thrillers, only even more mainstream, and because my agent is really aware of and supportive of my desire to get into the indie publishing business, we decided that I would indie publish SPACE, and he will shop the adult thriller traditionally (if that still makes the most sense when I finish that book. Which is a serious question, these days).

It’s an experiment – because at least at the moment YA is not generally a great seller in e books, so it could be that a traditional publishing deal would be a better way to go. But things have changed so much in publishing in a year that e publishing first does not preclude doing a traditional publishing deal later; in fact it’s more and more common for traditional publishers to pick up indie books for traditional publishing.

I’m in the lucky position of having multiple projects and a steady income from previous contracts, so I can take some risk.

So here's another point.

YOUR AGENT IS YOUR BEST FRIEND. At least if you’ve chosen well. You and your agent make these decisions together. (It horrifies me to hear people admit that they're hiding their e publishing from their agent. What kind of a relationship is that? And do you really think that's going to stay a secret? What are people thinking?)

If you don’t have an agent and are considering doing directly to indie publishing, I would strongly suggest that along with writing the best damn book you can write, you be doing reading every day on what indie publishing actually entails so you are going into it with real knowledge.

Speaking of agents, this is an interesting article by Barry Eisler on a new trend.

Here are the most essential resources I know of for indie publishing information:

- A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing

Not that anyone here doesn’t already know, but Joe’s is the one essential site on e publishing.

- The Kindleboards

Browsing this message board a couple of days a week will give you a very practical crash course on everything from cover design essentials (what works for traditional publishing is NOT what works at thumbnail size), to promotion, to what indie authors’ actual sales figures are. People on the boards are friendly and helpful; I also found my two great proofreaders there. It’s also interesting to see the politics of indie vs. traditional publishing; personally, I just don’t see it as an Either/Or proposition.

- The Business Rusch Publishing series

Everyone, and I mean everyone, should read Kristine Rusch’s incredible series on the essentials of publishing and the changes in our world.

- I’ve also been hearing plugs for Digital Book World, but I haven’t read enough to give a personal recommendation.

Okay, I think that’s enough reading for now. What I'll be doing - maybe not next by soon - is compiling a step-by-step guide of what I've learned about prepping a book for e publication and getting it up and published: editing, formatting, cover design, pricing, distribution, promotion, and the kitchen sink.

- Alex


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THE SPACE BETWEEN



Buy for Kindle:

Buy on Smashwords

Buy for Nook

On Amazon UK

On Amazon DE

$2.99, any format


Sixteen-year old Anna Sullivan is having terrible dreams of a massacre at her school. Anna’s father is a mentally unstable veteran, her mother vanished when Anna was five, and Anna might just chalk the dreams up to a reflection of her crazy waking life — except that Tyler Marsh, the most popular guy at the school and Anna’s secret crush, is having the exact same dream.

Despite the gulf between them in social status, Anna and Tyler connect, first in the dream and then in reality. As the dreams reveal more, with clues from the school social structure, quantum physics, probability, and Anna's own past, Anna becomes convinced that they are being shown the future so they can prevent the shooting…

If they can survive the shooter — and the dream.


THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN





Buy for Kindle


Buy on Smashwords

Buy for Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE

99 cents, any format.

Monday, July 04, 2011

The Space Between

I know, it was a holiday weekend, but I've been busy with the OTHER revolution: I just put my first original e novel up for sale.



Buy for Kindle:

Buy on Smashwords (which includes the ability to read online and/or download as a pdf).

Buy for Nook

On Amazon UK

On Amazon DE


$2.99, any format






Sixteen-year old Anna Sullivan is having terrible dreams of a massacre at her school. Anna’s father is a mentally unstable veteran, her mother vanished when Anna was five, and Anna might just chalk the dreams up to a reflection of her crazy waking life — except that Tyler Marsh, the most popular guy at the school and Anna’s secret crush, is having the exact same dream.

Despite the gulf between them in social status, Anna and Tyler connect, first in the dream and then in reality. As the dreams reveal more, with clues from the school social structure, quantum physics, probability, and Anna's own past, Anna becomes convinced that they are being shown the future so they can prevent the shooting…

If they can survive the shooter — and the dream.


I am definitely portraying the darker side of high school here - the book is for older teens (and younger ones whose reading tends toward Stephen King and Shirley Jackson!) and adults.

The Space Between is based on my short story “The Edge of Seventeen”, which won the Thriller award for Best Short Fiction two years ago, and I've also put that up online, because that's what we can do, now!





Buy for Kindle


Buy on Smashwords

Buy for Nook

99 cents, any format.







I just got back from teaching a week-long workshop in Texas and I found myself talking a LOT about e publishing, something I never would have done just a year ago, but I wasn't kidding about the revolution; we're in the middle of one. And I've realized I need to start talking about all of this on this blog, so I will be, starting this week.

But please take a moment to click through the links - buy the book, "Like" the book on Amazon, download a free sample. Remember, I don't get paid for writing this blog - I get paid when people buy my books. All support is truly appreciated!

Hope everyone had a fabulous holiday!

- Alex

Friday, July 01, 2011

Brave New E World

Last post I threatened to start a series on e publishing. I'm NOT going to be doing this pretending to be an expert - I'll be pointing you all to much more comprehensive resources while talking about my own experiences. But I just got back from teaching a five-day workshop, rare for me, and I surprised myself with how much time I spent talking about e books and indie publishing, and it it made me realize that I need to be doing more of that on this blog. We're in the middle of if a revolution.

But I've realized I don't have the faintest idea how many readers of this blog are crossover readers from Murderati. A few? A lot? I know I wouldn't have time to read two blogs a week, so I can't really assume anything.

So I think I need to backtrack and post something I've already discussed on Murderati, because it sets up the more specific e publishing post I'm going to post next.

A career is always evolving, I guess, it’s not just a writer’s career that does. And it’s interesting to look back over my career and see how certain patterns emerge. Today I'll be looking at the fairly positive ones, not the horrific soul-crushing mistakes that take years to recover from. That's another post!

So a first really clear pattern is that every 5 to 10 years I have moved from one medium to another, always incorporating what I’ve learned from each previous incarnation.

I started off not as a writer but in theater, at eight or nine, first acting (a lot of it) and dancing, then directing and choreographing. I didn’t start writing until college. But in theater, without meaning to, I was learning all the jobs required to write: acting, directing, set design, lighting design, choreography, musical direction, props…. I also did a stint in video production in there somewhere.

I graduated from college and worked for a couple of years in an improvisational theater ensemble, which was more great training, and a totally fabulous time. But I started getting these– feelings. Whispers, you might say. They weren’t all that coherent really, but I was picking up on a message that sounded suspiciously like: “No one’s ever going to pay you to do political theater in Berkeley.” It’s a coals to Newcastle kind of thing.

So since I’d already been to New York, and I knew I didn’t want to write for Broadway (or Off-), I decided - not all at once, but in a sort of gradual tipping point from “maybe” to “okay, let’s just do it” – that I’d move down to LA and become a screenwriter. Yes, just like that. You really have to love California; from birth we are completely inundated with T-shirt and bumper sticker messages like “Follow your bliss!” “Do what you love and the money will follow!” “Feel the fear and do it anyway!”

Even more amusing- we actually believe all that.

So I moved down to LA and became a screenwriter. Pretty much just like that. Well, I worked in development for about a year and a half while I was writing my first script, and of course I was working my ass off learning the craft and the town and everything it takes to actually accomplish it all, but it really did happen pretty much like that.

This is another example of a pattern that established itself early in my life. I’d be subliminally pushed to do something and then I’d power down, one might say obsessively, and make it happen. I directed my first full-length play at 16 by pretty much the same process; I landed an unheard-of gig (for a 17-year old!) in college directing a full-scale musical every year with an actual budget and in fantastic theater venues. The Universe is very supportive of inspiration, I find.

I won’t go into my Hollywood years, it’s too convoluted a story for one blog and I still have the PTSD issues. (You can read a little about it here, though...) I’ll just say I made a good and sometimes great living as a screenwriter for a long time until I started getting those feelings again– this time more like something was going terribly wrong in the industry. A lot of this was coming from being on the Board of Directors of the WGA, the screenwriters’ union, and getting an insider look at changes happening in the film business. I started getting whispers again– something like: This is insane. Save yourself. Get out. Or at least, diversify, as they say in the financial business. And so I wrote a book. At night. Screenwriting became my day job as I sweated over the novel, one page at a time. Sometimes one paragraph or one sentence at a time. But that’s how a book gets written.

And The Harrowing sold and was nominated for a couple of awards and suddenly I was in another career. Just at the right time, I have to say, given what’s happened in the film business since I wrote that first book.

So now for the last five years I’ve been making my living at books. I have five published novels out, with numerous foreign editions, and the non-fiction workbook of my Screenwriting Tricks workshops. I have contracts for four more books, and every day I am incredibly grateful to be making a living at what I love (or some days, love to hate) in the middle of this terrible recession.

But - I’m getting that feeling, again. That – “Time to change” feeling. “Diversify,” the voice whispers. Sometimes it’s not much of a whisper; sometimes it’s a bolt straight upright in bed with a voice in my head screaming DO IT!!!! kind of thing. I mean, I have contracts for now, but what’s the business going to look like in a year?

Yes, I am talking about indie publishing.

I already have a toe in the e book business. Screenwriting Tricks For Authors is up at Amazon for Kindle, and I’ve been loving getting that direct deposit to my bank account every month; it really helped back there around Christmas when my advance check was taking about forever to show up. And a few weeks ago I finally buckled down and figured out how to get the book up on Smashwords, in all those formats that Smashwords does, and on B&N for Nook. And once I did, I felt like a complete idiot for not having done it before. It is instant money that I could have been getting all along.

Back to the portfolio analogy for a moment: it’s an income stream. As a professional author, I have many income streams. I get advances for my new books, I have a backlist that generates royalties, I have royalties from foreign publishers, and now I have e book income, soon to have much more, if things go as I’m planning - all in concert with my agent, of course.

The thing writers don’t talk about enough, I think, is how we actually manage to make that combine into a real living. Well, I can tell you for myself, and for most of my friends who have NOT broken into the huge advance category but are still making a full-time living at writing books: how it’s done is by constant, grueling work to get more product out there to create more income streams – on top of writing the best book you can write every single time. It’s not very pleasant, truthfully – it means firing on all four burners 24/7. But that’s nothing new - it seems to be the job description. Everyone I know does it.

Now, e books are a freaking ton of work that I’ve just added to an already overflowing plate. I am now responsible for lining up all kinds of support people that my publisher has always provided: proofreaders, editors, cover designers, formatters, technical services – and there’s a lot of new technical stuff I’ve had to learn myself, which I must say is not my forte. It’s overwhelming, which is why I haven’t fully done it before now. But I think it’s going to be crucial to have some eggs in that basket, so I’m biting the bullet, for real. To mix all kinds of metaphors, as you all know I love to do.

And honestly, the control and flexibility you get with indie publishing is exhilarating. One thing I’ve discovered is that you can create your own formats. For Screenwriting Tricks, I have been working on and off for most of the past year on an extensive revision of the first book, incorporating all the things I’ve been learning in my own workshops. And then I realized – Why revise the first one? At a $2.99 selling price I can put out another book that has a different focus, and people can choose which book is best suited to their needs, or get both – two whole workbooks for the price of one paperback novel! That’s an incredible thing. And I can price it that way and still make money because the royalties are so high.

So, I've just released my spooky new original e book novel: The Space Between – plus the Thriller Award-winning short story that I based that novel on: The Edge of Seventeen (you can read more about those here.) The second volume of Screenwriting Tricks will be up - pretty sure - next week. And I’m going to write some posts documenting the process I’ve been going through and the resources I’ve discovered that helped me do it all.

It’s a whole new world, but it’s an exciting one, and I hope I can convey it in a way that might open some doors for other people thinking of taking the plunge.

So, a couple of questions. Do any of you do periodic reviews of your careers to see how far you’ve come and where you want to go from now? Do you find patterns?

And what about this e book thing? Have you done it? Are you thinking of doing it?

- Alex

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




Buy for Kindle:

Buy on Smashwords (which includes the ability to read online and/or download as a pdf).

Buy for Nook

On Amazon UK

On Amazon DE


$2.99, any format






Buy for Kindle


Buy on Smashwords

Buy for Nook


On Amazon UK

On Amazon DE

99 cents, any format.








- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE

$2.99, any format (Eur. 2.40)