You Can't Love All the Parts of Your Story Equally
Author Orson Scott Card has a string of bestselling books to his credit, and he's a fan favorite among lovers of science fiction. He's known as a master storyteller with a flair for building strong and enduring characters. Recently, Card wrote an article about story structure for Writer's Digest magazine. What his philosophy?
All stories contain four elements that can determine structure: milieu, idea, character and event. While each is present in every story, there is generally one that dominates the others. Which one dominates? The one that the author cares about most. This is why the process of discovering the structure of a story is usually a process of self-discovery. Which aspect of the story matters most to you? That is the aspect that determines your story's structure.
It's a refrain heard over and over again in acting circles. Many actors want to direct. The question is, why? Why do they want to give up the glamour of being in front of the camera for the responsibility and grind of being behind the camera and the script and the crew, etc.? What drives actors to become directors? The Boston Globe recently asked that very question.
Tony Goldwyn, who directed the upcoming film "Conviction" (about a Massachusetts woman, Betty Anne Waters, who helped free her wrongly convicted brother), says he started directing because he wanted to have more influence over his career and the projects he was interested in developing, a common refrain among actors-turned-director. As a rising young actor, he had watched his career heat up fast in the early '90s with films like "Ghost," but then struggled to land good material.
Explore the career paths of some legendary musicians in Davis Guggenheim's new film, "It Might Get Loud." The film features Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White chatting it up about their lives as guitarists in rock-and-roll bands. What makes them tick? Is there a common thread that propels them? According to the Edge there is.
I guess what the three of us all have in common, for different reasons, is a restlessness. We're all trying to get at this unattainable sound in our heads. You need tension, something at odds with itself, to make good music. Whenever it's easy or straightforward, it's boring. It's why playing in a band is such a great thing, because everyone is after something different, which often takes you somewhere unexpected, which is usually the most interesting place of all.
If Only Jonathan Franzen Had Gotten Some Advance Publicity for His New Novel!
It must be tough being Jonathan Franzen these days. His new novel Freedom became a literary topic of debate weeks before it even hit the bookstores. Time magazine and Newsweek both did stories on it. The Huffington Post has chimed in and The New York Times did two reviews of the book in seven days. What's the big hubbub? Could it be the anti-Oprah effect?
It's a noisy near-debut for a book that will come nearly nine years after Mr. Franzen's previous novel, "The Corrections," a blockbuster success that sold almost three million copies worldwide. "Freedom," like "The Corrections," is a microscopically close inspection of a loving but flawed Midwestern family. It was with the earlier book that Mr. Franzen first drew wrath from some in literary circles when he suggested that having the seal of the Oprah Winfrey book club on the cover of his novel might keep readers - especially men - away.
Why are some movies destined to be classics? What elements turn a story told with actors, lights, cameras and crisp, clean dialogue into a timeless masterpiece? It's rare when everything comes together and delivers a film that audiences come back to over and over again. The Guardian picked a few films considered to be classics and defined what makes them great.
As screenwriter William Goldman famously said of film-making, "nobody knows anything." The art of cinema is, by definition, a cocktail of disciplines: writing, acting, shooting, scoring. But on top of that, there is that indefinable, intangible something that makes a movie special. It's not about budget, or James Cameron's Avatar would be everyone's favourite. It's about much more than that: a classic movie is quite simply a phenomenon, a lightning bolt trapped in a bottle, a colossus to be aped but never equaled, no matter how hard its rivals try. So how can we define a classic?
There are fewer slots for bands and artists at major labels these days. How are hopeful indie musicians adapting to the dwindling opportunities? They are embracing their indie status. With distribution less of a barrier these days, musicians are turning up their entrepreneurial spirit and taking their music directly to the people.
Flea, the bass player with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, one of the most successful L.A. bands ever, said the old daydreams of rock are outdated: "When I was young, it was about the magical record-label guy who tapped you on the shoulder and suddenly you're playing the Forum, riding around in a limo, getting that shiny tour bus. All of that doesn't exist anymore."
You've probably heard me and other authors talking about the importance of social networking, personal videos, and blogging in order to build your personal brand. But what does living the Web 2.0 life really entail? It can be demanding trying to manage all three elements, and I don't want to suggest that you should abandon your off-line, real-world efforts to market your book. But I do think it's important for you to master the virtual world in order to sell books. The most effective use of your time online is to create a synergistic plan that incorporates all of your virtual real estate.
I can best illustrate this by using myself as an example. I belong to a group of like-minded individuals on Facebook. It has close to 7,000 members, and I contribute to the discussions quite a bit. I recently did a video that I thought the group would find interesting, so I wrote a blog post about the video and embedded it on my blog. I then logged in to Facebook and put a link to my blog post on the Facebook group's wall. What happened? I got a lot of traffic from the Facebook group that day. But not only from members of the group. Some of the members shared the link to my blog with some of their Facebook friends outside the group. This image is a screenshot of my blog statistics shortly after posting the link. It shows the Web sites referring traffic to my site.
As you can see, most of the traffic at the time was coming from Facebook. Now, the benefit for me is that they were all introduced to my books once they visited my blog because I have them prominently displayed. My job now is to get them to come back over and over again, which isn't too difficult because at least I know where to find them.
Web 2.0 is a great tool if you're actively involved in all three fronts, and you're relying on synergy to build your personal brand. What are some of your own tips for success in the Web 2.0 world?
Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.
The man who puts the "gu" in marketing guru has decided to take his brand and go home. In essence, Seth Godin, bestselling author of close to a dozen books on marketing and social trends, has decided to cut out the middleman and self-publish his books. He's spent a number of years building his online platform and has developed a direct (albeit virtual) relationship with his readers. Godin's primary message in marketing is to react quickly to trends and technology, a philosophy that prompted this bold move.
Mr. Godin, a public speaker and proponent of nimbleness and the need for speed in marketing goods, has long delighted in shaking up traditional thinking. One of his many concerns about the current publishing market is that the process often takes 12 months or more to get a new title into the hands of his readers. Mr. Godin's most recent book, "Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?" has sold 50,000 copies to date since its release in January, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 75% of the retail book marketplace. Adrian Zackheim, publisher of Portfolio, said that "Linchpin" is Mr. Godin's fastest-selling book but declined to comment further.
Once upon a time, the debate raged over the quality of analog filmmaking compared to digital filmmaking. Digital was long thought to be the inferior format, but digital technology caught up and the naysayers slowly started to appreciate the new medium. Now the debate has shifted to the 3-D world. There are some who believe the analog 3-D technology used in the 1950s is far superior to the digital 3-D methods used today.
An irresistible topic of discussion among film industry pundits these days is whether the current multiplex 3-D wave has crested since the release of "Avatar" in late 2009. Starting Friday, Film Forum will state a persuasive case for the notion that 3-D movies peaked in quality 50 years before this debate even began, with a two-week, 15-film survey of Hollywood's first detour into depth-manipulating filmmaking from 1953 to 1954.
Trying to determine what caused the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has almost become a cottage industry. There's an odd curiosity focused on the circumstances of his passing that started shortly after his death and still lingers today. Scholars, physicians and music lovers alike have dedicated a good deal of time and research to uncovering the mystery. Was the genius composer murdered or did he die of a mysterious ailment? Here's an excerpt from a New York Times article on the subject.
Scholars have also examined accounts of Mozart's ailments in letters written by family members, especially his father, Leopold, to uncover signposts regarding his final sickness. Speculation about an abnormality in the shape of his ear has even led some to suggest that kidney failure was likely, since urinary tract deformities are sometimes related to ear abnormalities. The indirect evidence itself rests on a quicksand of changing medical definitions, sometimes mistranslated phrases from original testimonies and leaps forward in the understanding of diseases and how the body works.
I'm often asked by self-published authors just getting started what they should charge for their books. It's a tough question to answer because there are certain variables to take into account. Beyond trim size and page count, you have to know your market and demographic. Generally, a book with a narrow market will have a higher price than a book geared toward a broad market. Why? Because narrow-market titles usually have less competition. For example, not as many people write about proper diamond cutting techniques as they do about how to start and manage a small business. As a result, the two books may have significantly different prices, even if the binding, trim size, and page count are identical.
Now, I write for a broad market so my goal is to make my pricing as competitive as possible. When I was researching on what to charge for my books, the first thing I did was look at what other books in my genre were selling for by visiting various online retailers and local booksellers. Usually there was very little discrepancy in book pricing among titles in the same genre. Next, I consulted two other pricing resources.
BookStatistics.com - This is a site created by Dan Poytner, a highly regarded authority on self-publishing. Dan has collected various statistics pertaining to publishing over the years, and his Web site is a kind of dumping ground for that data. He doesn't add comment or catalog it in any particular order, so it really is just raw data. It was on this site where I found a study done by the Book Industry Study Guide in 2001 that revealed some interesting answers to the question: How much do people like to pay? The interesting part was when you took mass market paperbacks out of the mix, there was no clear preference on pricing.
The School Library Journal - The SLJ does an annual report on average book pricing to help librarians create acquisitions budgets every year. It's a great tool because it gives you pricing according to binding type, category, and intended market. The report gives you an excellent sense of pricing within the entire publishing industry.
No one can tell you the best price for your book, but if you do a little research, you can come up with a price that should make you competitive without selling yourself short.
Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.
Few authors pursue a career in writing because they long to read their work on a public stage. In fact, many writers turn to writing to limit their need to appear and read their work in public. But in today's publishing world, the need to put a public face on books conflicts with many writers' lack of desire to be so public. What is such an author to do? Ben Myers of The Guardian has a few ideas.
So how does the performance-shy writer compensate? Well, fortunately it's the 21st century and there are many alternatives. Personally I've signed up to social network sites, built up mailing lists, and worked to maintain contacts with journalists and readers. With each inane tweet my dream of being a Salinger-esque enigma diminishes, yet it still feels a necessary evil. I've also schmoozed booksellers and chain stores' buyers, made audio recordings and printed up postcards that I leave in strategic places. It's shameless really.
So you usually make bank at the box office. You're the creator and executive producer of a popular HBO series. You have legions of fans all over the world. Getting a movie made should be no problem, right? Not so fast. Mark Wahlberg has a movie called "The Fighter" coming out in December for which he had to fight to get studio backing. Wahlberg spent four years trying to get backing.
Back in 2007 Paramount almost made "The Fighter" based on drafts by a pair of original writers, Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy, with later script work by Lewis Colick, with Darren Aronofsky directing, and Matt Damon playing the half-brother, Dick Ecklund. But Mr. Damon moved instead to other projects, opening the door to a monthslong flirtation with Brad Pitt, and more writing at various points by Paul Attanasio and Scott Silver. Eventually Mr. Pitt dropped out, as did Mr. Aronofsky, who in the interim had made "The Wrestler"and decided against another trip to the ring. Mr. Bale then agreed to play Mr. Ecklund, a former boxer who helped train his younger half-brother, and whose addiction to crack cocaine was portrayed in the documentary "High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell." "It was always in danger of collapse," said David Hoberman, who with Todd Lieberman, his partner in Mandeville Films, originally took "The Fighter" to Paramount, and ultimately saw it through production on location in Massachusetts.
The Grateful Dead that is. The Grateful Dead are known for being at the top of the counterculture, yet they had (and still have) mass commercial appeal. How does something like that happen? According to David Meerman Scott, it takes a lot of good old fashioned marketing that begins with making a connection with their fans.
The Grateful Dead was a touring band that happened to sell records too. Most other bands of the time toured to support record sales. Artists today need a true connection to fans. That might be by doing what the Dead did and create improvisational shows that were each unique and then tour a lot to build a rabid following.
What do you do with the kind of talent that leads a premier author and writing mentor to personally pick up the phone and call you? Well, if you're Tom Grimes you let it lead you down a path of subtle ruin. Grimes has written a memoir that maps his journey from the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, directed by Frank Conroy, to his painful brush with success that eventually led to a bout with paranoid delusions that had him convinced the FBI was after him because he broke a lease years before. Grimes laments began with the very first book he published.
His editor at Little, Brown soon left, however, orphaning his book. He and Conroy had trouble attracting jacket blurbs from big names. (Norman Mailer declined, writing Conroy: "Every other day there's a new genius on the block. It's too hard to keep up.") An early review in Publisher's Weekly was brutally negative. There were some upbeat signs. People magazine took Mr. Grimes's photograph. But "Season's End" was marketed as a baseball book rather than a literary one, Mr. Grimes writes ruefully, and got lost in a pile of other baseball books. His book tour was tiny. The New York Times didn't devote a major review to the novel (though it did give it 140 words in the "Books in Brief" column in The New York Times Book Review). It barely sold. It did not go into paperback. Essentially, it vanished.
Ashton Kutcher is one of the few Hollywood movers and shakers who have successfully harnessed the power of Twitter to create a mega-career. He's gone from that guy who used to prank his buddies on MTV to a leading voice in the rising wave of new media. And, to hear him speak, social media is going to change films in a very simple yet powerful way.
At the Australian premiere of his new romantic comedy Killers, where he stars opposite Katherine Heigl, the 32-year-old was adamant he could maintain a dual career as Hollywood heart-throb and new media mogul. "Theatre co-exists with television, which co-exists with film," he said. "I think multimedium of entertainment will always be relevant because I think people like to consume things in different ways. The big thing that's going to affect this future is going to be the pricing model and what people can afford to do and what that does to production values."
Break Out That Old Mix Tape because It Looks Like They're Relevant Again!
The mix tape used to be a guy's way of telling a girl how he felt about her without having to actually talk to her. When the CD came along, the technology changed and put a crimp in an entire generation's style. We males held on by a thread with the mix CDs, but then came the digital downloads and the game seemed to be over. Well, hold onto your mullets and Flock of Seagulls hairdos, because the cassette tape is making a comeback.
"Tape orders have definitely picked up from almost nothing in the last couple years, and it's been almost entirely indie bands," said Michael McKinney, the president of M2 Communications, the Pasadena-based CD and DVD duplication plant where Burger(Records) presses its cassettes. M2 issues between 6,000 and 10,000 tapes a month at around 70 cents apiece, McKinney said, a number clearly down from its '80s heyday of hundreds of thousands but up from its '90s and '00s doldrums of virtually zero.
On this blog, we've talked quite a bit about how to market your book. When it comes to marketing, not all ideas are created equal, and it is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. A marketing strategy that works for one type of book may not work for another. In addition, some ideas are tailor-made for some personality types and ill-fitted pursuits for others. The secret to making marketing work for you is to know yourself and know your genre.
While not every idea fits, there is one marketing move that I feel is a surefire way to sink your career before you get it off the ground. It is a tactic that is generally frowned-upon, and it doesn't tend to sit well with other writers, publishers, retailers, and in particular customers. I haven't brought it up before because I thought it wasn't necessary to discuss, but I've seen and heard some marketing experts advocate the practice online lately, and I find it unsettling.
So what is the marketing strategy I think you should avoid at all costs? That would be reviewing your own book on retailer sites, message boards, other authors' Web sites, on radio shows, anywhere. I know most of you who just read that probably said to yourself, "Of course not. Who would do that?" Unfortunately, with the growing number of titles available for sale each year, some authors will feel tempted to do so.
That's not to say you shouldn't encourage others to read and review your title online. But you definitely shouldn't favorably review your book in online channels under the cloak of Internet "anonymity." Others have done it, and when they were found out (as they so often are), it caused an ugly backlash of Internet chatter that irreparably soiled their brand.
Your brand is your ticket to book sales. Don't take shortcuts that may jeopardize it.
Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.
I find it interesting that in Mashable's story about the results of their online poll concerning what their readers prefer to read, print books or e-books, they chose the headline: Mashable Readers Choose Real Books Over E-books. The title itself suggests a certain bias. So, does paper make a book real, or does the content make a book real? Regardless of the answer to that question, the results of the poll are interesting.
The printed word scored the victory! With 41.9% of the tallies (898 votes), the printed book was the clear favorite over the e-book's 23.24% of the ballot (498 votes). Interesting enough, a lot of you voted that you like both formats for reading your favorite novel; 34.86% of you (747 votes) said that it was a tie between the e-book and the print book.
Should One Really Strive to Be a Suffering Artist?
So can misery and pain breed ambition and longevity? According to Jay Roach, it's been the key to his success. The star director has had a string of successes, but those came after traveling a long, hard road of obscurity. What's his secret to making it big? Keeping your head down and taking your lumps.
"It just hasn't gotten remarkably easier to get a new film launched, even at the level we're working at. So I guess all those years of working in the darkness were great preparation." He laughs the bittersweet laughter of the late bloomer. "It was good to learn to be miserable and be OK with it," he says finally. "Nothing scares me anymore. After what I've been through, I don't lose a lot of sleep. I feel I can handle anything now."
When Lyor Cohen took over Warner Music Group's North American recording business, his mother gave him some very sage advice: quit. She had been tracking the music business, and in her mind, working in the industry was a dead-end proposition. But Cohen ignored her advice and stuck with it. Since things didn't seem to be working the traditional way, he took the label in a new direction.
And today, WMG is on the verge of cracking the media world's most pressing business riddle: how to successfully replace analog dollars with what Goldman Sachs analyst Ingrid Chung calls a "river of nickels." Cohen's trick has been a clever twist on what the music biz calls a "360 deal," a full-service contract with artists that includes touring, merchandise, Web services, and more.