Your Baby Is Ugly

April 16, 2013

Just a had a guest post on editing published on the Book Elves blog. This is probably one of my favorite blog posts I’ve written. Enjoy.

The #1 Mistake When Meeting a Producer for a Potential Writing Assignment

August 20, 2012

Okay, the title of this post may be somewhat of an exaggeration. But given the veritable cornucopia of information out there on how not to act like a complete a-hole when you meet a producer, I’ll give you enough credit to assume that you’re at a slightly higher level of competence, that you’re actually able to maintain reasonable relationships in the film industry, even if you haven’t sold anything just yet.

Thus beginneth my tale:

Last October I met with a producer/director who was looking for a writer on his newest project. I’d actually met him for the first time a year earlier, and he had mentioned the kind of projects he was interested in pursuing. I didn’t really have anything to show him at the time, but we connected on Facebook, and I’d sent him a writing sample many months later, and although he remembered none of that by the October in question, I was very polite and understanding about it, remembered the kind of projects he was interested in, and asked him how they were going. So far, so good.

He told me that he now had a premise for the story he wanted to do, though it was very rough, and he was actively looking for a writer to develop the project with him. Again, so far, so good.

I re-sent him my sample, and he read the first thirty pages of it on his iPad that evening, and liked it enough that we set up a meeting for the following day. So far, so very good.

We met for well over an hour. He talked about the idea that he had, and I bounced some thoughts off of him. He wasn’t crazy about anything I said, but he felt that I had a good sense of what he was looking for, so I said I’d work on it some, and I’d send him a treatment when I got the chance. I was working on a bunch of other projects at the time, so I told him it would be at least a few weeks, or maybe a month, before I got the chance to look into this and send it to him.

He was fine with that. But here’s where it went south.

I don’t remember how long it actually took me to look at my notes from our meeting. What I do remember is that by the time I was done working on those projects that had held me over in the first place, I had other projects in the works. And then others. And the couple of times I did look at my two pages of notes on this particular project,  I was completely uninspired to work on it, and had neither the time nor the ideas to develop the concept any further.

Thus beginneth the lesson: assuming, as I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, that you’re not a complete a-hole, the number one mistake you can make when meeting a producer who’s interested in working with you on a writing assignment is waiting.

There will always be other projects to work on. And when you’ve got a system in place to get daily writing done and hard deadlines in place to work on those other projects, those other projects will likely get done. But when someone pitches you a new project, take the very first opportunity you have to work on it and get something into him. Not because he’s expecting it straight away, and not because you’ll be damaging the relationship if you don’t, but because that’s the best way to ensure that the work actually gets done.

Unfortunately, I didn’t learn this lesson six months ago, I just learned it today, when I realized I’d made this mistake for the second time on a completely different meeting with a completely different producer. Granted, this time the offense wasn’t nearly so egregious: the meeting was not 9 months ago but 5 weeks ago, and I walked away with three-and-a-half hours of interview footage, as well as stacks of books, court documents, letters, and other material relating to the subject in question, all of which can (and has) helped me to get back into the mindset of the project as I’m trying to wrap my head around it. But the fact remains, when I left that all-day meeting 5 weeks ago I had the beginning of the film in my head, as well as the ending, and it would’ve taken only a few hours of work to come up with a pretty solid middle that would’ve gotten us at least moving in the right direction. Instead, I worked on other things, and now I’m having to play catch up, spending hours or even days re-familiarizing myself with the material so I can get back to where I was.

So don’t wait. If you’re meeting with someone for a potential writing assignment, carve out the rest of the day and night to get some writing done. Otherwise, plan on carving out the next several months.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Self-publishing Mistakes You Should Never Make

July 2, 2012

This week I was on vacation in the D.C. area, and happened upon a book signing by someone who had some very prime real estate. By which I mean, the book was about fighter pilots, and he was standing in front of the gift shop at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. I was interested in the book, until I took a closer look and discovered that the summary on the dust jacket was riddled with typos – I caught three or four in about fifteen seconds. A minute or two later (after the author was done talking to me), I said, “I’ll think about it,” and I walked away.
In many instances, a pro will be able to tell you almost instantly if a book was self-published. Usually, a non-pro will be able to tell, too, although they might not be able to language it quite as clearly. But if they could, here are some of the ways, editorially, to make sure your book doesn’t get dismissed off-hand:
  • Proofreading – When you’re self-publishing your book, don’t hire a proofreader, hire seven. For the last book I edited, I performed 3 substantive edits and then hired a copy-editor, a pre-layout proofreader, 3 post-layout proofreaders, and 4 post-proofreading volunteer proofreaders. And they all caught different things. So spending the money on proofreading is absolutely worth it.
  • Ellipsis – An ellipsis is three dots in a row: “…” So many self-published books will have their ellipses look like this: “I stood there … and waited … .” And it’s actually dead wrong. This error is supported by the fact that if you type in three dots in Microsoft Word, it will transform into a single ellipsis character. So although you typed this: “…” Microsoft Word is giving you this: “…”. You may not be able to tell the difference, but when you start playing with font types and spacing in between words (as in the example above), it starts to matter. The correct way to do it, according to Chicago style (which is used for most books, excluding academic publications), is to insert spaces between the periods, with an extra period before or after if it’s marking the end of a sentence: “This is right . . . as is this . . . . These are the right ways to do it. . . .” The distinction between the second and third examples (i.e., whether you include a space after the last letter in the sentence) is subtle, but basically it’s determined by whether the sentence is trailing off before the pause happens, or whether the sentence ends normally, and is then followed by a hesitation. It’s important to note that spacing it like this will likely result in occasions where a line breaks in the middle of your ellipsis. You correct this by forcing the line break either before or after the ellipsis. Which is why you should hire a professional to do your interior layout.
  • Em-dashes, en-dashes, and hyphens – In my first book, a parenthetical phrase was offset by a space, an en-dash, and then another space, like this: “When we first started south – the direction of the mountain – the slope was quite shallow.” But this is incorrect. First, for the uninitiated, a few definitions:Hyphen: –
    En-dash: –
    Em-dash: —See the difference? An en-dash is the width of an “n”, an em-dash the width of an “m,” which is why they’re called those things. Now, here’s how they’re used: A hyphen joins two words into a compound word: The well-made play, a low-budget movie, etc. An en-dash joins two numbers: He won by a score of 41–38, this school is for 12–16 year olds, etc. An em-dash (without spaces!) offsets a parenthetical: “When we first started south—the direction of the mountain—the slope was quite shallow.”
  • Spacing after periods – One space after a period. Not two. If you type with two spaces after a period, get out of the habit now, because it’s wrong. “But why?!” You ask. “When I learned how to type, it was always two spaces after a period!” Well, the only reason you say that is because you (a) learned to type on a typewriter, or (b) learned to type from someone else who learned on a typewriter. Here’s your history lesson: For hundreds of years, typography has dictated one space after a period. But when the typewriter was invented, since it technologically has to move the same distance every time you strike a key, they had to create a special font where all letters were the same width. This led to the invention of Courier and other monotype fonts. Suddenly, an “m” and an “n” were the same width, as was an “i” and a period. This made it harder to distinguish between sentences, so people started adding in extra spaces, making it easier to read.But even thenm at the height of typewriter usage, when someone’s typewritten manuscript was turned into a bound book, the typesetter used a proportional font (where the letters are all different widths), and would remove the extra space after the period, displaying everything the way they had done for centuries (and the way that, quite frankly, looks better).

These are the big ones that I see on a regular basis. Don’t let these sorts of things be the reason someone just “thinks about” buying it. Correct them now, and have them know they’re going to buy it.

Publishing Predictions for 2012

January 4, 2012

Last week, Author Media produced a post predicting how the publishing industry will change in 2012. Some highlights:

  • eBook sales continue to go up (duh), and may comprise more than half the fiction market in 2012.
  • “a pricing structure will emerge in which price is proportional to quality.  The market will reward books that are priced “correctly” on the price-quality curve and the market will punish those books that are priced either too high or too low.”
  • Major shakeup in companies – a lot of smaller publishers will be bought or squeezed out of the market, self-publishers and (their freelance service providers) will continue to become more popular, and at least some of the Big Six will finally realize that they need to rethink their publishing models if they want to survive.

Of course, my favorite part of this is the prediction that freelance editors, like myself, will have banner years, and that “entre-authors” (entrepreneur authors) will do well while people who “dabble at writing will see decreased success.” Combine this with the fact that the Year of the Dragon usually brings prosperity, and I’m feeling pretty good.

Internet Killed the Newspaper Star

March 16, 2011

I don’t usually pay attention to the Cafferty File, but today I saw a piece about Japan, and from there followed a link to a piece asking the question, “Will the Internet eventually kill newspapers?” By the time I got to it, comments were already closed, but I wanted to add my thoughts here, mostly because my viewpoint is contrary to most of those posted.

Of the 43 comments, I counted 33 yeses, 3 nos, 3 “I hope not”s, and 4 others. Here’s my take on it: radio didn’t kill the newspaper. Television didn’t kill the newspaper. And the Internet, though it’s certainly given them a lot to think about, hasn’t killed the newspaper yet either.

It’s definitely true that people are going to turn more and more to the Internet for their late-breaking news. But what that means is that editorial content — opinion pieces, news analysis, in-depth coverage, and so forth — will more and more so become the standard for the printed page. How much of a printed newspaper today is actually hard news? Very little. You’ve got features about interesting businesses, sports commentary, crosswords and comics, Dear Abbey. I haven’t done the research on it, but I imagine all of these things were first invented as a reaction to people getting their news from radio and TV, as the newspaper companies tried to find a way to add value.

The invention of television didn’t kill the film industry, it just changed it. A fraction of the people go to movie theaters every week today, compared to the 1930s and 40s. But the studios figured out a way to repurpose the content and thrive with the new technology environment. News outlets have had the same challenge with this new technology. At this point have figured out that they need a strong Web presence in order to survive, and for many of them that’s become the major driver for their business. As long as they continue to recognize that, repurpose their content, and add value to their print edition that can’t be found on the Internet, they’ll continue to survive.

Playing a Big Game

January 1, 2011

This time last year I discussed successes & failures from 2009, and began to create goals for 2010. Met some of them, didn’t meet others. As I begin to create a strategic plan for 2011, it’s time to complete on my plan from 2010, to see what worked and what didn’t, to acknowledge what I’ve accomplished and create a new one for next year.

For 2010:

  • What I said I’d do: “I’d like to continue my existence/time management structures. The goal is to have my time measured every day, without gaps. Realistically, I will get upset with myself some day for not doing something I was supposed to do, will make myself wrong, and won’t do it. But I will be back on track within a week, because I have enough people holding me to account for doing it. If I can go the entire year having missed, 30 days, I get a bronze star, 20 days a silver star, and 10 days a gold star.”
    What I did: I actually went quite a bit further with this, and began to train myself in Mission Control, a well known time-management system. As soon as I implemented it I got super-productive, so then I took on more to do, and immediately got confronted again by how much I had to do. Ratfarts. Anyway, I am now pretty reliable for tracking billable hours and scheduling my time.
  • What I said I’d do: “Finish the novel I’m working on with my dad, a short story/novella I started right before my dad’s and my scheduled start date, and Charisma.”
    What I did: I did finish that short story, although we ended up quitting on the novel pretty quickly because it wasn’t very good. And I still haven’t finished Charisma – Barely worked on it last year. I have, however, been working on some other projects, and I just finished the bible and first three episodes for a Web series, which I’m going to begin shopping around.
  • What I said I’d do: “Exceed this year’s 64 blog posts and 407 4th-quarter visits, without being one of those annoying people who posts what color shoes they’re wearing every day.”
    What I did: 55 blog posts, which was a little bit less but still respectable. But my big win, I blasted through my 4th quarter visits goal with over 1,000 4th-quarter visits.
  • What I said I’d do: Attend, in some capacity, the 2010 Writer’s League of Texas Agent’s Conference, the Austin Film Festival, San Diego Comic-Con, two comic book conventions closer to home, and two more authors/publishers conferences/conventions.
    What I did: Attended WLT Agent’s Conference and AFF, but not the others. AFF in particular proved to be extremely valuable for me this year.
  • What I said I’d do: Continue reading every day and log every book I finish.
    What I did: Don’t think I read every day, but I did log the books I finished, ending the year at 21. Perhaps not a lot for a professional writer, but I’m continuing to develop the habit.
  • What I said I’d do: Come up with a marketing plan for Ups & Downs that gets the two stacks of books out of my office as a result of sales.
    What I did: Um. No.

Other accomplishments not reflected in the above:

  • Closed my first ghostwriting contract, developed my website in such a way that it’s proactively driving customers to me, started leading workshops on how to write a nonfiction book, and performed stand-up comedy–doing very well at it.

Goals for 2011

  • 55 blog posts and  average 500 visits a month for the 4th quarter.
  • Finish three screenplays, one in time to submit to AFF, Nicholl, and several other screenplay competitions.
  • Attend San Diego Comic-Con, Austin Film Festival, WLT Agents’ Conference, the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, and the WLT Summer Writing Retreat, as time allows (some of those my be on conflicting dates).
  • Start acting again. And get paid for it. God I miss acting. And getting paid for it.
  • Edit 12 books.
  • Close sales on two more ghost writing projects.
  • I want to produce $25,000 in revenue in the month of January. This will require, rather than just surviving at the game of being a professional writer, growing a pair of balls and creating something completely new. It’ll mean finding clients who  really recognize what good content is worth, and who recognize that I can provide it.

Here’s to 2011.

10.21 – A Texan in Hollywood

December 31, 2010

Several weeks ago I attended the Writers League of Texas Christmas Party. As part of the party, there was a grab bag – for $5, you could reach in and grab a present, which would be a book, or perhaps a signed book, or perhaps, if you were really lucky, a really awesome book with a $25 gift certificate to some local business.

I got just a book. And given the books that WLT has to give away (It’s not uncommon for them to get a box of books dumped in their office with a note saying “I’ve got 500 of these in my office, please, just take it!”), I was fully expecting it to be a pretty lame one.

But I was very pleasantly surprised.

The book I unwrapped was Call Me Lucky: A Texan in Hollywood by Robert Hinkle, a West Texas cowboy who wound up as a stuntman, dialect coach, actor, writer, director, and producer. In 1955, when George Stevens asked him, “Do you think you could teach Rock Hudson to talk like you do?” he became the dialect coach for Hudson, Jimmy Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and a young Dennis Hopper for the movie Giant, and then did the same for Paul Newman and the cast of Hud as the Academy Award-winning film’s cultural consultant. He made friends with the likes of Elvis and LBJ, and helped with Evel Knievel’s rise to fame. He doubled for John Wayne, Charlton Heston, and Robert Mitchum.

Of course, an interesting life/career doesn’t necessarily mean that the book will be good. But this one was. You really hear the West Texan voice coming through in the writing. Each chapter was introduced with a quote that would show up sometime later: for example, at the top of Chapter One, “Mr. Stevens, to tell you the truth, I’ve been going to a speech coach to try to lose this damn accent.” Each chapter featuring its own main storyline, not worrying so much about a chronological telling as much as telling the interesting anecdotes in interesting ways.

As I’m ghostwriting someone else’s memoir right now, this helped me along some. It’s let me get away from the rigid way I’ve been thinking about structuring this book, and maybe taking a completely different tack–having the memoir be about the author’s journey in re-telling his life story, rather than just being about the story itself.

So four stars to Robert Hinkle and his ghostwriter/literary agent Mike Farris, who’ve produced a really solid specimen in the memoir genre. Well done.

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