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February 1, 2010

The Link Between Method Acting and Writing Believable Characters

In one particularly funny episode of the TV series, Monk, a production company is filming a movie based on one of Mr. Monk’s cases. The method actor (played by Stanley Tucci), cast to play the detective, studies him so intensely, he develops the same phobias, quirks, and crime-solving skills.

We’ve all heard of method actors “inhabiting” their characters, but what does that have to do with writing? If you’re writing character-based narrative, more than you might expect.

For my current project, co-authoring a doctor’s memoir, I spent probably hundreds of hours in interviews, probing her thoughts, experiences, remembrances of places and people, and learning more about her from additional interviews with those close to her. The process was only complete when I felt able to imagine what it was like to be in her skin, experiencing what she experienced.

I joked with her that it’s a little like Mr. Spock’s Vulcan mind-meld. But I was half serious too.

Because when you’re writing from the point of view of a character, real or fictional, you can’t do the character justice unless you become so enmeshed, it’s as if you’ve seen through the character’s eyes.

If you can’t inhabit the character to some degree, what you write from that character’s viewpoint won’t feel real to the reader.

– Anita Bartholomew

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October 26, 2009

Sales of ebooks nearly triple from 2008 to 2009

The headline says it all. E-Reads reports that, from August 2008 to August 2009, ebook sales shot up from $5 million to $14.4 million.

This may be bad news for traditional publishers but it has the potential to be excellent news for the small publisher, especially the one-person shop, publishing his or her own title.

It means that there is a market for ebooks and that market is growing like kudzu.

It does not mean you can simply publish and hope that people find your books, buy them, and recommend them to their friends. You still have to publish a book that is compelling enough to rise above the pack, with a great story, well-told, and a satisfying ending. You still have to promote the hell out of the book. Otherwise, no matter how great it is, nobody will know it exists.

But if you can turn out something that others will want to read and if you know how to reach potential readers, you have an easier entry now that at perhaps any other time in history.

– Anita Bartholomew

October 25, 2009

How Demand Studios’ exploitation of writers turned it into a billion dollar company

Wired has a fascinating article about Demand Studios, one of the word factories that regularly advertises for writers, only to exploit them. You can’t claim Demand pays writers peanuts. It’s more like peanut husks.

It’s worth reading the article to learn how this sweatshop-type operation makes such big bucks. But here, we’re only concerned with the pennies it pays to the people who made it possible for Demand to become the billion-dollar enterprise it now is. The snippet below provides a hint:

It’s the online equivalent of day laborers waiting in front of Home Depot. Writers can typically select 10 articles at a time; videographers can hoard 40.

Nearly every freelancer scrambles to load their assignment queue with titles they can produce quickly and with the least amount of effort — because pay for individual stories is so lousy, only a high-speed, high-volume approach will work. The average writer earns $15 per article for pieces that top out at a few hundred words, and the average filmmaker about $20 per clip, paid weekly via PayPal. Demand also offers revenue sharing on some articles, though it can take months to reach even $15 in such payments. Other freelancers sign up for the chance to copyedit ($2.50 an article), fact-check ($1 an article), approve the quality of a film (25 to 50 cents a video), transcribe ($1 to $2 per video), or offer up their expertise to be quoted or filmed (free). Title proofers get 8 cents a headline.

Don’t write for these — or any — exploiters. Leave these crumbs for the amateurs. I know it’s tempting, as newspapers die, and magazines fight for survival, to take whatever work is available. But writers who do so help perpetuate their own exploitation.

Write a book, instead. Either shop it to agents and publishers or invest in publishing and marketing it yourself. There are plenty of new publishing opportunities to explore, from the Espresso Book Machine which is rolling out a few new locations and may soon make the printing of a single book as cost-effective as printing in bulk, to ebooks, which already eliminate the costs of distribution, warehousing and shipping.

– Anita Bartholomew

September 22, 2009

Noooooo, not Heathcliff, too

I loved Interview With The Vampire, but that was probably the last vampire novel I could say anything remotely as positive about. Yet, I know I’m in the minority. Friends and colleagues swoon over Charlaine Harris’s vampire series and the Twilight books have probably outsold Harry Potter by now.

But can’t we draw the line somewhere, people? Must it really come to this? Publishers Lunch reports the latest vampire novel sale:

Sarah Gray’s WUTHERING BITES, a retelling of Wuthering Heights in which Heathcliff is a vampire, to John Scognamiglio at Kensington, in a very nice deal, for publication in September 2010, by Evan Marshall at Evan Marshall Agency (World).

– Anita Bartholomew

September 9, 2009

Wall Street Journal says that Amish romance novels are hot

Can Quaker military histories be far behind?

Snippet:

… Amish love stories, which are a booming new subcategory of the romance genre. The books, written by non-Amish writers, are aimed at a mainstream audience. But Ms. Woodsmall researches her stories among the Pennsylvania Amish, and she has a loyal Amish following.

The plot of her 2006 novel, “When the Heart Cries,” revolves around Hannah, a young Amish woman who falls in love with a Mennonite and hides her plans to marry him from her strict parents. The lovers struggle to overcome the cultural divide, and actually kiss a couple of times in 326 pages: “His warm, gentle lips moved over hers, and she returned the favor, until Hannah thought they might both take flight right then and there. Finally desperate for air, they parted.”

August 5, 2009

Why writers shouldn’t bet their careers on magazine writing, part II

Article fees are stagnating at best. Numerous magazines have lowered their per-word rates. I hear reports all the time from  writers that magazines assign an article at, say, 1,000 words but demand extra reporting that can require the writer to up the submitted word count by 50 percent or more, with no extra pay.

Writers, brace yourselves. This is your future if you continue to bank on magazines. Magazines were hurting before the economic downturn and you can’t assume that the situation will reverse once the economy stabilizes. See this article from Min on the prospects for consumer magazines — or simply read the following sobering excerpt:

Magazines did not come into the recession from a position of strength, with a [Compound Annual Growth Rate] at a meager 1.1% from 2003 to 2008.

Virtually all of the main revenue drivers for this industry are being depressed by a shifting media economy and digitization, such that magazine advertising will decline 15.6% in 2009 to $10.53 billion and a [Compound Annual Growth Rate] of -6.6% for the 2008-2013 period. This will leave the ad spend on magazines at $8.87 billion in 2013, the lowest level since 1995.

Ever-shrinking ad revenues mean that articles fees must also continue to shrink.

And for those who say, “no problem, I’ll write for the web,” I have to ask: haven’t you noticed that most websites pay less than even the struggling magazines? While some web publications pay at least something, too many are paying so little, the fee offered is an insult. And you can’t pay your bills with the proceeds  of insultingly low fees no matter how quickly you write.

So, what’s left?

My guess is that the writers who continue to make a living from writing will be writing books. Some will get traditional publishers. Some will publish their own books as book publishers also tighten their budgets.

The Espresso Book Machine, or something like it, if it catches on, will make any bookstore that has one a print-on-demand center. That will make it possible for good writers to become publishers without the overhead of warehousing and shipping, and with a lower per-book printing cost than current POD options. But only those who master marketing and publicity will earn enough to make a living.

I know this isn’t a cheery post but I read too many cheery proclamations from writers who keep doing what they’ve been doing while their incomes shrink. We all need to think ahead, not just to the end of the year but to five years from now. Where will publishing be? And where will you be in publishing?

– Anita Bartholomew

May 13, 2009

Is Amazon becoming a publisher — or simply promoting its self-publishing options?

From its press release, announcing the new venture:

Amazon customers raved over “Legacy,” a self-published novel by 16-year-old Cayla Kluver, with customer review titles such as “loved it, loved it,” “rich lyrical tapestry and story” and “breathtaking in scope and execution!” Despite winning several prizes from literary groups and accolades like this from readers, Kluver’s debut novel achieved only modest sales. Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) today announced a new program, “AmazonEncore,” to help readers discover exceptional books from emerging authors, such as the program’s first book, “Legacy.”

AmazonEncore is a new program whereby Amazon uses information such as customer reviews on Amazon websites to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors that show potential for greater sales. Amazon then partners with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers. This summer “Legacy” will be revised by the author and re-issued as an AmazonEncore edition in print on Amazon websites around the world, in physical bookstores, as a digital download from the Kindle Store in less than 60 seconds, and via spoken-word audio download on Audible.com.

There’s no word on what Amazon means when it says it “partners” with authors. Amazon may, indeed be acting like a traditional publisher and offering advances, royalties, etc. But AmazonEncore may, instead, be a re-branding or expansion of Amazon’s current self-publishing tools. It’s not clear yet. But, what if Amazon is merely selecting certain self-published books for more favorable design, distribution and marketing treatment? And what if it’s using this as a marketing tool to promote its self-publishing arm?

That seems more likely to me — and, if so, appears to be a smart marketing move.

I hate to be a cynic but, stay tuned for the details.

– Anita Bartholomew

May 5, 2009

Mystery Writers of America celebrate Poe bicentennial

Edgar Allan Poe would have been 200 in January. The Mystery Writers of America were in New York City at the end of April to hand out Edgar Awards for the worthiest mysteries of the year while (belatedly) celebrating the birth of our first mystery novelist.

April 22, 2009

What Dan Brown can teach us all (don’t laugh) about writing

Dan Brown’s follow-up to his The Da Vinci Code — which was the bestselling hardcover novel of all time —  is set to release in September.

First, let’s get the issue of writing skill out of the way because, if you’ve read The Da Vinci Code, and you’re a writer, you probably believe you can out-write Dan Brown with half your talent tied behind your back.

But, Brown teaches us that there is more to being a successful writer than having a way with words. It’s Brown’s stories that have made him a success, along with his expert use of tension.

The Da Vinci Code appeals to readers who enjoy a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. That’s what Brown delivers. He also lets readers figure out the various mysteries a page or three before his protagonists do, making the reader feel satisfied in his or her deductive skills. And perhaps most important to his success, Brown seems to reveal intriguing secrets hiding in plain sight.

In other words, he has nailed a winning commercial formula. All he left out were interesting characters and appealing prose.

– Anita Bartholomew

March 10, 2009

What’s worse than a rejection letter? A public rejection “tweet.”

As if it weren’t stressful enough to send out that manuscript you worked on for years and then wait for an agent’s or editor’s reply. Now some authors have to fear public shaming. A couple of literary agents, Lauren E. MacLeod and Colleen Lindsay,  have been mocking the pitch letters of aspiring authors on Twitter.

Okay, so not every pitch is a hit. But, c’mon guys, play nice. This is the author’s baby you’re ridiculing. It may seem like a hoot to you but put yourself in the writer’s place.

Meanwhile, authors, make certain that you follow an agent’s guidelines to avoid incurring wrath and ridicule.

“I know writing and querying are hard,” MacLeod tweeted. “So my queryfails have been chosen from people who did not follow submission guidelines.”

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