Friday, June 21, 2013

Indie Publishing: Are You Willing to Do What It Takes?


I’ve promised to do more posts on indie publishing, so here’s another! Let’s call this one a reality check.

These days I can’t go a day without someone e mailing me or stopping me at whatever event I’m at, wanting me to tell them everything I know about indie publishing. This is on the surface good news for me, because it means I’ve made enough of a success at it that people want to know what I know.

But it’s also starting to piss me off.

Because what most of these people are asking for is a magic formula. They want a silver bullet, an easy answer to a vastly complicated question.

The fact is, I studied indie publishing methods for over a YEAR before I put out my indie bestseller, Thriller Award-nominated Huntress Moon.

Last week I did an indie publishing seminar at the West Texas Writers Academy. I spoke for an hour and a half. I think I communicated some of the pros and cons, made some new authors aware of some different choices writers have these days, and pointed people to some good resources to start with.

But did I sum up everything I learned in my year plus of research?

Not even close. Not even a scratch.

You don’t get that kind of knowledge by listening to a speaker for an hour and a half, or reading a couple of blog posts on the subject. You have to get your hands dirty.




Have most of the people who ask me how to indie publish even read Huntress Moon? Even to the extent of downloading a free sample of it? (although if you can’t pay $3.99 for a book by an author whose methods you’re studying, do you really expect anyone to pay for YOUR books when the time comes? Think about it. )

Have they even looked at the book’s Amazon page to see how I put together the book description, the reviews, the categories I’ve chosen to place the book in? Have they read the Amazon reviews to see how readers respond to the book? Have they looked at the pricing? Or the rank the book is in different genres and subgenres, and overall in the Amazon store?  

Have they gone further and looked at the same information for the sequel, Blood Moon?



Those are all things that I did myself in that year of self-teaching, that I trained myself to do by studying authors and books whose success I wanted to emulate. I did that kind of research extensively. That was just to start with. I then followed those authors and read what they had read, used the resources they had used. I never asked an author for advice unless I’d done all of that with their books first.

Indie publishing is a business, and you have to learn the business. There’s no magic formula. You have to have a basis of knowledge to work from so you can make informed decisions as they come up. It’s a huge investment of time and energy. But so is anything worth doing.

So ask yourself today - Am I willing to do what it takes? Or am I just looking for a silver bullet?

Be honest, because that's the first step. And if you are willing, then commit. Start the real research now.

- Alex

For further research, here is more on my indie publishing decision:

Here are some interesting recent blog posts by others in the field:













- An ITW Thriller Award Nominee for Best Original E Book Novel
- A Suspense Magazine Pick for Best Thriller of 2012

"This interstate manhunt has plenty of thrills... Sokoloff's choice to present both Roarke's and the killer's perspectives helps keep the drama taut and the pages flying."   -- Kirkus Reviews


$3.99 on Amazon

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FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can't believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of "accidents" and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.

Roarke's hunt for her takes him across three states...while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.

As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and must race to capture her before more blood is shed.


(I know, I'm sorry, exclusive to Amazon for the first three months.  It's the financial reality of it.  But you  know me - if it's a Nook or Kobo version you need, just e mail me at alex at alexandrasokoloff DOT com and I will get either or both books to you!).


For a limited time, Book II in the Huntress/FBI series, Blood Moon, is just 99 cents.

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Twenty-five years have passed since a savage killer terrorized California, massacring three ordinary families before disappearing without a trace.

The haunted child who was the only surviving victim of his rampage is now wanted by the FBI  for brutal crimes of her own, and Special Agent Matthew Roarke is on an interstate manhunt for her, despite his conflicted sympathies for her history and motives.

But when his search for her unearths evidence of new family slayings, the dangerous woman Roarke seeks - and wants - may be his only hope of preventing another bloodbath.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Setpiece scenes: the unlimited production budget


I’m headed off to teach a Screenwriting Tricks workshop in Texas next week, and I'm going to be posting some prep work for my class, so you guys get the benefit of it, if you want to play along!

One of the things I always hope people get out of my workshops and writing workbooks is the concept of setpiece scenes. I try to hit that hard up front in a workshop, and keep going back to examples during the day.

There’s a saying in Hollywood that “If you have six great scenes, you have a movie.” And I’ve said before that these six great scenes are usually from that list I’ve given you of the Key Story Elements.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? Scenes like The Call To Adventure and Crossing the Threshold (and on the darker side, the Visit to Death or All is Lost scene) are magical moments: they change the world of the main character for all time, and as storytellers we want our readers or audiences to experience that profound, soul-shattering change right along with the character.

Filmmakers take that “six great scenes” concept very literally.  These scenes are often called the “trailer scenes” or the “money scenes”  (as opposed to “money shots”, which is a different post, with a different rating!).  As incensed as I am personally about how trailers these days give every single bit of the movie away (I won’t even watch them before a movie I’m interested in seeing), I understand that this is essential movie advertising: those trailer scenes have to seduce the potential audience by giving a good sense of the EXPERIENCE the movie is promising to deliver.  The scenes that everyone goes into the theater to see, and that everyone comes out of the theater talking about, which creates first the anticipation for a movie and then that essential “work of mouth” that will make or break a film.

And do not for a second think that directors aren’t putting excruciating thought and time and detail into designing and staging those scenes.  There’s not a director out there who is not in the back of his (or her, but statistically mostly his) mind hoping to make cinematic history (or at least the Top 100 AFI Scenes of All Time list in whatever genre) with those scenes. These are scenes that often cost so much money that producers will not under any circumstances allow them to be cut, even if in editing they are clearly non-essential to the plot.

The attention paid to these critical scenes is not all an ego thing, either. We are not doing our JOB as storytellers if we are not delivering the core experiences of our genre. Genre is a PROMISE to the audience or readers; it’s a pact.

And a setpiece doesn’t have to cost millions or tens of millions of dollars, either, although as authors, we have the incredible advantage of an unlimited production budget. Did you authors all get that?  We have an UNLIMITED PRODUCTION BUDGET. Whatever settings, crowds, mechanical devices, alien attacks or natural disasters we choose to depict, our only budget constraint is in our imaginations.  The most powerful directors in Hollywood would KILL for a fraction of our power. Theoretically, they can’t even begin to compete.

However, directors can and do compete and top most authors on a regular basis because they know how to manipulate visuals, sound, symbolism, theme and emotion to create the profound and layered impact that a setpiece scene is.

So how do we take back that power? By constantly identifying the setpiece scenes in film and on the page that have the greatest impact on us personally and really looking at what the storytellers are doing to create that effect and emotion, so we can create the same depth on the page.

I’ve compiled some examples (and categorized them by story elements they depict) here and in my second Screenwriting Tricks workbook.

But just in the last week I’ve come across some great examples that have really stayed with me.

I’m on an Edith Wharton tear at the moment, and it’s striking how beautifully she sets her love scenes, on every visual and sensual level, like this setup from THE HOUSE OF MIRTH:

Selden had given her his arm without speaking. She took it in silence, and they moved away, not toward the supper-room, but against the tide which was setting thither. The faces about her flowed by like the streaming images of sleep: she hardly noticed where Selden was leading her, till they passed through a glass doorway at the end of the long suite of rooms and stood suddenly in the fragrant hush of a garden. Gravel grated beneath their feet, and about them was the transparent dimness of a midsummer night. Hanging lights made emerald caverns in the depths of foliage, and whitened the spray of a fountain falling among lilies. The magic place was deserted: there was no sound but the splash of the water on the lily-pads, and a distant drift of music that might have been blown across a sleeping lake. 

Selden and Lily stood still, accepting the unreality of the scene as a part of their own dream-like sensations. It would not have surprised them to feel a summer breeze on their faces, or to see the lights among the boughs reduplicated in the arch of a starry sky. The strange solitude about them was no stranger than the sweetness of being alone in it together. At length Lily withdrew her hand, and moved away a step, so that her white-robed slimness was outlined against the dusk of the branches. Selden followed her, and still without speaking they seated themselves on a bench beside the fountain.

On a different note, in the romantic comedy FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (a younger audience would call it a “lude comedy”, and I don’t disagree!), the hapless hero has his first kiss with the love interest at the Midpoint, of course, a classic “sex at sixty” scene (sixty minutes, that is, halfway through the film.).  Every kiss in a romance or romantic comedy is, or should be, a setpiece and the filmmakers give the lovers a typically gorgeous romance setting, in this case a cliff overlooking the ocean in Hawaii. But being as this is a comedy, the reckless heroine tells the hero, quite rightly, that they’re both in ruts and need to take a leap of faith, which she promptly does, off the cliff.  The hero doesn’t land quite so well, but after narrowly escaping death and possible castration on his slide down, he ends up in the water with her, for a beautiful backdrop to a sensual first kiss that is also a baptism that the hero has been sorely needing.

On the nose? Yes, but well-played and effective, and it does what the Midpoint is supposed to do – it kicks the second half of act two up to another level.

In the film of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, over and over the filmmakers use images of bridges and interesting corridors, or stepping stones in a creek, to underscore significant moments. The heroine first meets her love interest, The Chairman, on a bridge over a stream, with cherry blossoms in the background. Now, those of you with jaded eyes might look at that and think, ‘Oh, right, another “lovers meet on a Japanese bridge in an explosion of cherry blossoms’ scene, but the setting is utterly gorgeous, and I would be very surprised if most of the moviegoing audience even notices the bridge or the cherry blossoms – except subliminally, which is how these things are supposed to register.

And in a subsequent scene, the nine-year-old heroine has just realized what the desire of her life is to be, and runs through a long, curving passageway, another classic symbol of transition and birth, but the scene is filmed as an endless following shot in the psychedelically orange gateways of the Fushimi Inari shrine (just click through and look!), and truly delivers on the sensation of transformation that the moment is.

Now, filmmakers have location scouts to find these perfect physical settings for them, but I think it’s one of the great joys of my job as an author (as it was when I was a screenwriter) to be constantly on the lookout for perfect locations to use in current and yet-to-be-conceived storylines.  And they're all ours for the taking.

So you know the question.  What are some of your favorite setpieces and locations in films or books?  Come across any good ones lately?  Or – what is a location you’ve always thought would make a great setpiece scene in a film or book?

Alex


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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.



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If you're a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories.


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