Our charter publication Writer’s Digest literally “wrote the book” on writing and getting published. For more than 90 years, the experts at Writer’s Digest have been publishing books, magazines, competitions, conferences and distance education materials for writers who want to polish their skills and hone their craft.
One of the things that amuses me about publishing my first graphic novel is that prior to engaging in this project a few years ago, I had never read one. I had some sense of graphic novels, of course, but I paid them no heed. Truth be told, I suppose I even looked down on them as if they were somehow beneath a “real” writer, reader and book lover such as myself. However, when I was approached about converting my memoir, published in 2003, into a graphic novel, I had to face my ignorance and arrogance. Here are some things this graphic novel neophyte learned through his baptism of fire.
Graphic Novels Are Rising in Popularity
While still not fully mainstream, you have probably already noticed the proliferation of graphic novels where you shop for books. NPD Bookscan reports that comics and graphic novels have seen “compound annual unit sales growth of 15 percent over the last three years, making it one of the highest growth categories in the trade book marketplace.” In other words, it’s not just stereotypical comic book nerds buying graphic novels.
I have experienced this sales surge firsthand. I have dozens of family, friends and colleagues who chose not to read my narrative memoir but who have already read the graphic novel version. The easier to digest, visually driven stories are more inviting for some. I assume this is due in part to the fact that we live in a world awash in imagery, from streaming movies and TV shows to social media where video, photos and infographics reign supreme. Whatever the root causes, the key reason graphic novels sell is that they are entertaining and artful, some of them as much as any other book of any other type.
I first told my story—one about how, as a child, I misdiagnosed my hallucinations caused by a seizure disorder as demonic possession—via a feature-length magazine piece. I then wrote a narrative memoir, and now, some fifteen years later, it’s also a graphic novel, published by London-based Markosia. (I tease my writer friends that the next embodiment of my story will be an animatronic themed park ride.) My point: Perhaps the book you’re writing could also be “re-packaged” as a graphic novel. Or vice versa.
If your story, true or not, is filled with visually interesting scenes and characters, it may be particularly suited to the graphic novel format. My hallucinations, in which I “saw” things such as alligators and famous people like Abraham Lincoln, certainly lent themselves to some interesting visuals. In fact, this is why I was encouraged to convert my narrative memoir into a graphic one.
Getting Used to Thinking in Pictures
It can hard for those accustomed to communicating in words to think and express themselves in pictures, especially if you’re not the one actually drawing them. I didn’t draw mine. (That’s a good thing because even my stick figures are lame.) My story was illustrated by Jim Jimenez, an experienced graphic artist with credits such as “X-Men” and “The Mask.” (Jim needed to be directed, though; more on that in a moment.)
So much of a good story is rooted in how writers describe people, places and things for the reader to see in her mind’s eye. With a graphic novel, the visuals do virtually all of that heavy lifting. As such, far fewer words are needed. The tried-and-true advice to “show, don’t tell” applies to graphic novels as much any other kind of book, but also applicable is the counsel: don’t show and tell. In other words, no need to communicate the same information through images and words. That’s a story-killer called redundancy.
Through the process of creating my graphic novel, I thought of it less as traditional writing and more like creating a storyboard for a movie, for which I was writing captions. This helped me to “see” the story in images rather than just words.
The Layers of Graphic Novel Creation
In creating my graphic novel, I received professional help from an experienced graphic novel scripter, Charles Santino of Marshall Holt Entertainment. (A simple Google search will identify people like Charles who can help you for a fee or a portion of the sales.) Working collaboratively, Charles and I prepared the book’s script in sections—what you could think of as chapters—broken down by page and then by the “panels” on each. (Page through any graphic novel and you’ll see that most deploy different sized panels, some bigger, some smaller, on each page. Some panels may have multiple captions, and some none at all.)
The script describes the images for the artist to capture in each frame (along with providing the caption that will accompany it), while leaving plenty of room for his or her imagination and talent to enhance the scene. In some cases, we also provided the artist with some reference material, such as photos of my family, neighborhood, school and church.
Here’s a sample script page:
The artist would then provide a rough sketch for my approval, that looked like this:
Next would come a black-and-white version of that page, which looked like this:
Then another person, who was not the artist, would add the color. (Two colorists contributed to my book.)
And then the captions are added, a process called lettering. This is a specialty in its own right and is typically done by someone other than the lead artist. My project engaged two letterers. Here’s a sample finished page:
Perhaps needless to say, we made edits and changes along the way, though we always worked hard to get each stage right before moving on to the next, as it’s much more efficient to make changes to visuals before they are colored and the lettering is added.
I so enjoyed this process, and now feel comfortable with it, that I am planning to write another graphic novel, a work of fiction set in a post-apocalyptic world. I am also now a regular reader—and advocate—of graphic novels. (For a nice overview of some of the best graphic memoirs, check out this article on Mashable.)
If you’re not reading graphic novels, take it from me: you’re missing out. And if you’re not thinking about writing one, your readers—and potential readers—will be missing out, too.
Steve Kissing is an award-winning magazine writer and published poet who also runs a communications firm in Cincinnati, OH called Wordsworth. His recently released graphic novel is available on Amazon and in select bookstores.
Don’t miss our special preconference workshop, Writing Comics & Graphic Novels, at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference! The workshop features individual sessions with Eisner–nominated comics and prose writer Alex de Campi; Valiant Entertainment Executive Editor Joe Illidge; and Starlight Runner CEO Jeff Gomez—and wraps up with a moderated panel discussion featuring all three instructors answering your questions.
A survey of public libraries in the United States revealed that $1.22 billion was spent on collection expenditures, with more than 60 percent of that being spent on print materials, including books.
With that much money being spent on books, it’s an opportunity for indie authors to get their books in libraries. But how do indie authors rise to the top and grab the attention of librarians? Start with the 4 Ps of Marketing: Product, Price, Promotion and Place.
Consider Your Product:
It’s your book and, of course, you want people to read it. Librarians have a similar goal, stocking their shelves with books that people want to read, which drives traffic into their library.
As you’re writing your book, consider other aspects of your book that make it the complete product—professional editing, the copyright page, spine/binding, and professional design, including the cover. Another item to consider is whether the book will be hardcover, which tends to last longer, or paperback, which is typically more affordable for librarians, or both.
Price Your Book Competitively:
The total purchasing power of librarians is staggering and they all have a responsibility to make wise purchasing decisions. And you can help! When determining the price point for your book, make it competitive and offer an option to return.
Also consider offering a standard industry discount, which is typically around 55 percent. If you’re using a self-publishing platform such as IngramSpark, you can set up the industry discount on your dashboard.
Spotlight Your Book with Promotion:
When searching for books to stock their shelves, librarians want to select books that will be popular with guests. Help librarians see that your book is popular and already in demand by securing reviews.
As soon as your book is available on Amazon, set up your Author Central page. Among other things, this page will help increase your Amazon search rankings and page views. It will also be a hub for reader reviews of your book. Many librarians browse Amazon reviews before ordering books in bulk.
Another type of review that librarians will search for is an editorial review. If you have a publisher, they may submit your book for review, but you can still do that yourself, and should do that yourself if you are self-publishing. Reach out to popular industry outlets such as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal.
Distribute Your Book in the Right Places:
Like consumers, librarians shop for books; the difference is where librarians shop. While some will order from Amazon, most order from wholesalers. It’s recommended that authors list their book with a wholesaler first to enable librarians to order in bulk from multiple publishers. One of the easiest ways to do that is to get your book listed with distributors like Ingram Content Group or Baker & Taylor.
If your book is self-published, depending on the platform you used, your book may already be available from a distributor. For example, if you published on CreateSpace and chose the “Expanded Distribution” option, the book is already available through Baker & Taylor. Similarly, if you published on IngramSpark or Lightning Source, it is available through Ingram Content Group.
Once your marketing strategy is implemented, there are two ways to get your book into libraries: one-by-one or en masse.
Getting in the Door:
If you can help libraries get more people in the door, you’ll have a better chance of having your book available there. Start by connecting with the libraries in your area and let the librarians know you’re willing to do a book reading or signing that will bring in your existing fans.
Reference the promotional aspects you’ve already accomplished with your book, including your online and editorial reviews. This approach could also turn you into a local celebrity, increasing your popularity and furthering the likelihood that librarians will want to put your book on their shelves.
Once you’ve established yourself as a local celebrity, start expanding your outreach to libraries in your county, region and state. If your success continues there, keep expanding your geographical reach.
If the one-by-one approach isn’t appealing to you due to the time commitment, or if you’d prefer to reach the masses quickly, consider direct mail advertising. This includes things like postcards, flyers and brochures designed to provide detailed information to a specific audience.
Another option is marketing through e-newsletters, such as LibraryBub. This service offers a feature in its weekly newsletter that is sent to thousands of librarians, helping them discover indie and small press books that they can then stock in their library.
Once you’ve successfully marketed your book, determined the best ways to reach librarians and secured library space for your book, you’ll be well on your way to increasing exposure and gaining sales.
Alinka Rutkowska has sold more than 80,000 books and she teaches others how they can do the same. She’s helped USA-Today best-selling authors, CEOs and movie stars with their book marketing. She created multiple 6-figure funnels that start with a book and she can help you do the same. She’s the founder of LibraryBub, which connects indie authors with more than 10,000 librarians. She’s the CEO of Leaders Press, which publishes books by CEOs who’ve been in business for 25 years. Her marketing expertise has been featured in Entrepreneur magazine, IBPA, ALLI and many more. To emulate Alinka’s success sign up for her free book marketing class at authorremake.com and discover the #1 mistake you might be making that’s jeopardizing your author career.
indieLAB, a new Writer’s Digest event, is an interactive gathering for entrepreneurial authors, freelance writers and independent publishers seeking to develop a publishing strategy, build a platform, grow an audience and get paid for their work. Join us September 29-30.
Procrastination can be a writer’s worst enemy. But here, Jenna Blum rethinks her approach to self-distraction and shares seven creative ways writers can productively procrastinate.
By Jenna Blum
Procrastination: as endemic to and dreaded by writers as writers’ block. Before writing this piece, for instance, I did laundry, took out the recycling, refilled the dog’s water dish, and made a cappuccino with perfect foam.
This ain’t my first procrastination rodeo.
Over my three decades’ procrastination, I’ve probably wasted more time lambasting myself for procrastinating than I do procrastinating. With my latest novel, The Lost Family, when I caught myself lamenting the familiar holding pattern of doing anything but writing, I thought: Wait. Since I’ve been doing this my whole authorial life, why not embrace it? Why not accept that for every hour of writing I do, there’s a preceding hour of productive procrastination? Why not schedule it and make it work for me?
Because sometimes it already does.
Here are seven forms of procrastactivities that kept me plugged into the fictional dream even when I wasn’t in The Chair.
Productive Procrastination: 7 Creative Activities to Distract Yourself from Writing While Staying in the Fictional Dream
Henry James said, “When you can’t create, you can work,” and research is legit work. You can do it in person: for my first book I went to Germany three times; for my second, tornado-chasing with a professional storm tour company. You can read. Watch movies. Learn your characters’ languages. Venture online. Many writers express fear of the Internet rabbit hole, that they might, for instance, key in “women’s dresses in 1940s” and emerge three days later with a whole new wardrobe from ModCloth. (No, this isn’t autobiographical, why do you ask?) The infinite capillaries of online research can be seductive. But since you are world-building, it’s a valuable way to spend your writerly time. (Just make sure you know when to stop: research will help you create virtual reality for your reader, but your knowledge will never be perfect.)
When I’m working on a novel, I never disclose what I’m reading, because it’s a reveal: it’s always related to my NIP. With my latest novel, The Lost Family, I read dozens of chef memoirs that taught me about my protagonist’s profession; Fear of Flying and Diary of a Mad Housewife for his conflicted feminist wife; all my favorite novels from I was 14 (hello again, Tiger Eyes) so I could remember, when writing the teen daughter, what being that age felt like. I stay in constant contact with my characters by reading about their worlds and the books they themselves would have read.
William Styron has a great essay called “Walking With Aquinnah,” in which he extols the virtues of a stroll with the dog for freeing the mind. When I was writing my first novel, Those Who Save Us, I used to trot along Boston’s Charles River with my black Lab, Woodrow, first indulging in thumb-sucking writer comfort fantasies, like who would play what character when my NIP was made into a movie, which scene would be shown at Oscars, what I would wear… and, eventually, I’d reach a higher elevation of thought that had me envisioning actual scenes.
4. Do something physical related to your novel.
While I was writing The Lost Family, because my protagonist is a chef/restaurateur, my fiancé said, “Wouldn’t it be great if you had menus for the book?” He probably asked rhetorically, but what a wonderful procrastination opportunity! I read 1965-era cookbooks, invented recipes, tested them on my fiancé and black Lab, and used the successful ones on The Lost Family’s menus—which I created on menu-formatting software and hung on my wall. This process was not without dangers: explosions from hurling ice cubes into the oven to create crispy baguettes; torching cherries flambé atop a chocolate torte—explosions with fruit and liquor. But we survived mostly unscathed, ate well (more walking); and I had excellent knowledge of what it was like to work in my character’s kitchen. Your book might not inspire culinary detonations, but performing some physical task your characters do will ground you in their world.
5. Create and listen your book’s soundtrack.
While walking (No. 3), I listen to my NIP’s soundtrack to stay in the zone. My books’ playlists are songs that remind me of the novel and that my characters would have listened to (more research: looking up Casey Kasum’s Top 40 for various years!). The Lost Family is set in 1965, 1975, and 1985, so I had three different playlists, which I’d listen to based on which character I was writing. This helped keep me within the auditory environment for my novel, and bonus, I got to relive the 80s (George Michael, rad!).
If non-writers (and probably some writers) had seen me doing this, they would have said, “Are you insane?” For each character I wrote, I papered my study with images from that character’s life. With The Lost Family, I spent several delightful days downloading and printing photos from 1965, from the famous New York City blackout to highballs and miniskirted supermodels, and taping them on my walls. (I also included Jon Hamm, since I hope he’ll play the protagonist in the movie version—plus, Jon Hamm.) When I wrote 1975 and 1985–when people’s hair and shoulder pads consumed the room—I swapped out the images. Surrounded by photos of cars, ads, food, people who resembled the characters, I had no trouble visualizing the scenes.
7. State your intent.
I never had accountabilibuddies before, but for The Lost Family, I had two, K and W. Each day before writing, we’d email what we intended to work on; when done, we’d email, “Done.” We could also write how we felt about the day’s task, say, “Nailed it!”, or curse how wretchedly it had gone. It was fascinating to glimpse the clockwork of my writer friends’ novels-in-progress and comforting to know they were laboring simultaneously in the trenches. But what helped most, surprisingly, was the statement of intent. I’d sit at my desk thinking, I don’t feel like writing-writing, so I’ll send K&W the daily to-do, then go bake a bread. What happened was, I discovered I knew more than I’d thought about the formerly nebulous-feeling scene. Once I had that map of the day’s work, I’d write it.
I hope these procrastactivities are helpful—and that you find more ways that work for you. Make a list of activities that keep YOU tethered to your creative world and put it where you can see it every day—like right in the center of your image board. And let’s begin.
Jenna Blum is the New York Times and # 1 international bestselling author of novels Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers and the novella “The Lucky One” in Grand Central. Jenna has taught novel workshops for 20 years at Grub Street Writers in Boston, where she earned her M.A. at Boston University. In addition to interviewing Holocaust survivors for the Shoah Foundation, Jenna is a public speaker and avid cook: she creates and tests all the recipes in her novels. Please visit Jenna on her website, www.jennablum.com, and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@Jenna_Blum).
In the workshop, you will be able to finish either a decently developed half draft (of half of your novel) or a rough “in-progress” full draft. However, you’ll learn all the tools needed to complete the full first draft. At the end of this workshop, you will have accomplished every writer’s goal – an “in-progress” working first draft. Learn more and register.
We asked agents from our annual roundup to weigh in on some of the most popular genres they represent—talking trends, common weaknesses, series potential and more. Here’s how to stand out in the science fiction genre.
Compiled by Cris Freese
How has the science-fiction genre evolved in recent years?
Annie Hwang, Folio Literary Management: Both writers and readers are becoming much more sophisticated—writers in terms of concept and tone, and readers in terms of their understanding of what the genre entails. As a result, there exists this cycle in which writers are challenging readers’ preconceived notions of what “science fiction” is and readers are in turn expecting more from writers and books. The genre itself has come to feel a lot more expansive and inclusive for readers and writers of all types, which is a great thing.
Quressa Robinson, Nelson Literary Agency: Crossover/mainstream appeal has increased with this genre, [with breakout titles such as] The Expanse by James S.A. Corey and The Martian by Andy Weir. [Books such as] The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu and Ken Liu and Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie have also shown how authors can push boundaries—and that science fiction can feel fresh even when dealing with common/standard themes.
Justin Wells, Corvisiero Literary Agency: It’s becoming more accessible—I’ve heard of many writers writing science fiction when they originally thought they would never be interested in it. As science and our own curiosity continue to develop, we will always have something new and interesting to feature in science fiction. This is part of what makes the genre so much fun.
What about a submission inspires confidence that you’ll be able to find the work a home with a publisher?
Wells: It needs to be well-edited, it needs to fit what I am currently looking for, and it needs to be interesting. Aside from that, I need to work with my knowledge of what editors are looking for. If I find something I want to represent, it is important that I go into it having a good idea as to which editors I will want to pitch the manuscript to.
Hwang: The thing I love about science fiction is that it enables a dialogue on the role of technology within society, so it’s especially promising when I see that a writer both understands and can navigate that conversation well. Beyond that, it really comes down to three things for me: 1) that the concept feels fresh, timely and accessible, 2) that the writer knows their intended audience well and 3) that the writer has a deep understanding of why and how their project fits into the current conversation within the genre itself.
What common weaknesses do you see in submissions?
Robinson: Submissions that feel dated—[like] the science-fiction stories that were published a decade ago. Or it is clear that the author has never read science fiction and is trying to jump on a perceived trend.
Hwang: Common weaknesses I see are usually the result of focusing too much on the world-building and failing to get me to connect with the characters inhabiting this world or to properly convey what’s really at stake for them. This is not to say that world-building is not important, but rather that a lack of emphasis on convincing characters can really pull me out of a perfectly crafted world.
Wells: There is often not enough of a difference with how certain ideas are used. This leads to many submissions sounding similar, and it makes it difficult to find something that really stands out.
What do you want to see more of in your inbox?
Hwang: Literary sci-fi and underrepresented voices. Being the child of immigrant parents, I am always on the lookout for experiences that grapple with questions of identity and a sense of belonging—or not belonging.
Robinson: I would really love a great space opera. I’m a huge fan of “Firefly”and Serenity. A space Western would be cool, too. And if they featured an all-female crew or female leads, even better!
Wells: I would really like to see submissions that also have a lot of humor, and ideas that take on more of the “possible” versus the “impossible” in the world of science.
How specific should writers be in attempting to identify their subgenre in queries?
Robinson: It’s important for me to believe you know the market; this means you should have a clear understanding of what subgenre your book is. If you are a bit of a genre bender, you should be able to explain that and what subgenres your book overlaps. Much of this will also be clear in a writer’s [stated comparative titles].
Film adaptations aren’t typically in the plotline of a debut year, but two new thriller/suspense authors—Kathleen Barber (Are You Sleeping, 2017) and Rea Frey (Not Her Daughter, 2018)—have capped their debut dreams with film contracts for books seemingly written for the screen.
Barber’s Are You Sleeping is described as “Serial meets Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood in this inventive and twisty psychological thriller about a mega-hit podcast that reopens a murder case—and threatens to unravel the carefully constructed life of the victim’s daughter.”
Suspense and plot twists continue with Frey’s Not Her Daughter, described as “Gripping, emotional, and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother―and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.”
I chatted with the authors about what it’s like to have their debut novels go Hollywood.
What’s the current film status of your book?
Kathleen: I’m thrilled to say that Are You Sleeping has been picked up by Apple for a 10-episode series! Produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine and Chernin Entertainment/Endeavor Content, the series will be written by Nichelle Tramble Spellman and star Octavia Spencer. To say that I’m over the moon about the amazing team working on the project is an understatement. There’s not yet a premiere date for the series (or for any of Apple’s original programming, as far as I’m aware), but things are moving behind the scenes!
Rea: We literally just closed the option deal for Not Her Daughter, so it’s in early stages! On my initial call with Argent Pictures, they asked me if I’d like to see this as a feature film or a series. Though I am open, this reads to me more like a film to me, so that’s the direction I hope we take.
When during the publishing process did you get your film agent? Who procured the agent?
K: Shortly after I sold my book, my literary agent (Lisa Grubka of Fletcher & Company) called to say some film agents (Michelle Kroes and Michelle Weiner of CAA) were interested in the book. It was such a surprise to me—I was still getting used to the idea of this story I’d written actually becoming a book, and so the notion that someone thought it might make a good film made my head spin.
R: I have been incredibly lucky. The head of Holloway Literary, Nikki Terpolowski, happens to be the film agent for the agency, so I didn’t have to do a damn thing. From what I do know, it’s a pretty hands-off experience with the author, but this deal came to me very organically (through a friend who thought my book would be perfect for Argent), so nothing about it has been by the book.
Once you have a film agent, how is submitting a book for a film adaptation different from submitting to a book publisher?
K: This was something my film agents handled for me, so I’m not totally sure on the process, especially in the early stages. Later on, after my film agents had identified some parties with interest, we had a series of creative calls. These reminded me of the calls I had with editors during the book submission process, in that it was a chance for me to see what they had in mind for the adaptation and also a chance for them to see what I might be like to work with.
R: I was actually asked to help create a logline for the book, some comps, and a description. It’s very similar to how your literary agent pitches an editor for your book. They send the packet and wait to see if anyone bites. For me, I had a friend who knew the CEO of Argent. She had an early draft of the book and let him read it. He reached out two weeks later and wanted to schedule a call with the entire team. The author is usually not involved in initial calls, but I’m so thankful I was, because I really got a feel for who Argent is and what they stand for.
Wait, what’s a film option?
K: Rea explained the option concept perfectly! The option gives the production company exactly that—the option to create a film based on the book.
R: Think of an option like renting a book. A production company has a period of time to essentially hold your book. They pay you to “rent” the book. If, in that period of time, they start to make the movie, they then purchase the book based on the set price. There’s usually a clause to extend the option as well if they don’t make it in the first option period. So, just because someone options your book doesn’t mean the movie will get made. However, in my case, Argent works on one or two projects at a time. They don’t just purchase projects and sit on them. So, while so many factors have to fall into place for a movie to get made, I have confidence they’ll get it done.
How long do you wait before you know one way or another? So much waiting in publishing!
K: Because selling the option doesn’t guarantee the film gets made, I tried really hard not to think about it while I was waiting to hear news … but I didn’t often succeed, ha. I don’t really know how long these things usually take (or if there even is anything that can be considered “usual”), but, in my case, I think it took about a year from the time I orally agreed to enter into the option contract until the announcement that Apple had requested the series be developed, and then another four months or so until Apple made the series order. It certainly felt like a long wait to me (mostly because I had been instructed to keep things under my hat and all I wanted to do was tell people!), but I know that, on the film side of things, everyone else was working really hard. Film is a much different beast than novel writing and involves so many more people and moving parts.
R: Writing is waiting. And apparently film is waiting too. For me, my initial option period is 18 months. However, it can take years for a movie to get off the ground. And they have the option to renew for another 18 months if they don’t get it off the ground within the initial period.
How does payment work for authors whose books get optioned? Does it change if it’s actually made into a movie, or is that all covered in the option?
K: I can’t speak for everyone, but my contract states a purchase price of x. When I sold the option, I received 10% of x. Assuming production commences as defined in the contract, I’ll receive the other 90% of x. Like a publishing contract, my contract includes royalties and bonuses if certain conditions are met.
R: In my deal, I get paid an initial fee for the option period of 18 months. This is essentially like placing a hold on the book. If they begin to make the movie during that time, they purchase my book (minus the initial fee). From there, I get a percentage of the production budget and a percentage of net proceeds of the film as well. (Come on, mega million blockbuster!)
Kathleen, as a lawyer, you have a background working with contracts. Did that come in handy at all during this process? Do you have any advice for non-lawyers going into this sort of thing?
K: My familiarity reading contracts came in handy only in the sense that I was familiar with how wordy contracts can be, ha. I’d never seen an option contract before this—much like I’d never seen a publishing contract before I sold my book—and so I didn’t know what I should expect to see there, what I should I want to see there, or what I should be wary of. I chose not to retain an entertainment lawyer to review the contract for me because the contract was undergoing legal review on my literary agent’s end and my interests were aligned with hers—after all, the more rights I retain means more rights for my agent to sell to other parties—but I encourage anyone faced with an unfamiliar contract to consider consulting an attorney with expertise in that area. I would urge all authors, whether facing an agency, publishing, or option contract, to read EVERYTHING and ask questions before signing. Don’t just read the exciting parts and assume everything is fine; make sure you understand what you’re agreeing to if things don’t go fine. If you have any doubts, consider consulting an attorney.
I’ve heard that some authors retain virtually no rights relating to a film adaptation, while others negotiate different levels of involvement. Can you tell us if you have any input on the adaptation?
K: Like Rea, I was asked how involved I wanted to be in the project during the creative calls. I didn’t pursue a role in the adaptation process—I want to focus my time on writing more books, and I also felt that the project had the largest chance of success if it was left in the hands of film professionals. Everyone I’ve spoken with at Hello Sunshine and Chernin has been amazing, and I have the utmost faith in them. Moreover, the writer, Nichelle Tramble Spellman, is brilliant. I know the adaptation will differ from the novel, but I’m really excited to see how my story is reimagined by these extremely talented women!
R: Argent asked me up front what level of involvement I’d like to have—if I wanted to be hands-on or hands-off. While I’d love to learn about film, I also trust that they are professionals and they will do their job. I would hate it if someone didn’t trust me to write my book or do my job. However, as the author, it was important to me to read the screenplay. I know this isn’t standard, but Argent was nice enough to write into the contract that I get to read all drafts of the screenplay.
Rea, as a brand expert, I’m sure you’ve thought about the value of an author’s brand going into a potential film deal and how it will be important after getting an option and beyond. I’m sure you could write a blog series on this topic, but what quick advice do you have for other authors?
R: As a former nonfiction author, I quickly realized it was ALL about an author platform (which I didn’t really have at the time). It’s changed so much in such a short period of time, and these days, even fiction authors need an audience to sell books.
It can be daunting every time you log onto social media and see these influencers with 100k+ followers, and you feel totally out of your depth. Gone are the days when writers can just write. Now, we have to be publicists, salespeople, social media gurus, etc.
However, there’s a difference between scrambling to get a brand built and doing it in a way that feels authentic. I can’t stress enough that you need to start MONTHS in advance of your book launch. My advice would then be to pick ONE medium that feels good to you. Don’t try to do it all. That’s not only overwhelming, it can feel forced.
For book sales, Facebook is still king, though personally, I enjoy Instagram (and it’s where I have my biggest audience). It’s also not about selling—it’s about ENGAGING with real people (i.e. readers) and doing that well before you have a product to sell. At my branding agency, we do something called the hologram, which focuses on who you are, what you do, how you do it, and why it works. If you’re a writer, what do you like about writing? What can you talk about intelligently? What do you have to offer an audience besides your book? People want to connect to people, not products.
Another piece of advice I’d offer is if social is not your thing, focus on an INFLUENCER campaign for your launch. Chances are you know 1-5 people who have big brands and would be happy to push your book if you can’t reach a large enough audience on your own.
Lastly, I still think word-of-mouth is the most successful aspect of selling anything. You are trying to build a readership as much as you are trying to sell your book. Think of your first book like growing a business. You’re building slowly and putting the work in now so that when your career grows, your readers will be waiting.
Sorry that was not quick advice, was it?
Do you have any fun Hollywood anecdotes from your experience so far? (Please feel free to name drop or mention fancy restaurants—I won’t judge.)
K: I spoke with Reese Witherspoon on the phone! Definitely one of the more surreal experiences of my life!
R: Okay, she just took my dream answer! (I have such a girl crush on Reese!) We’re too early in the process, but I hope to have some fun stories about rubbing elbows with major celebs, talking shop.
What is a book-to-film that you’ve absolutely loved?
K: I was really impressed by the adaptation of The Girl on the Train. Having read (and loved) the book, I was interested to see how the story translated to the screen, especially since it had three different POV characters, and I thought they did a great job with it. I also really liked the adaptation of The Virgin Suicides, which is one of my favorite books.
R: Oh, there are so many. To Kill a Mockingbird, No Country for Old Men, Fight Club, Brokeback Mountain, White Oleander. It’s always such a thrill when you read a book and then see it come to life in just the way you imagined it…I’m hoping the same happens for Not Her Daughter!
Jennifer Klepper is a member of Authors 18, a group of novelists debuting in 2018. Her debut novel, Unbroken Threads, releases August 21, 2018. You can connect with Jennifer at www.jenniferklepper.com or on Facebook.
indieLAB, a new Writer’s Digest event, is an interactive gathering for entrepreneurial authors, freelance writers and independent publishers seeking to develop a publishing strategy, build a platform, grow an audience and get paid for their work. Join us September 29-30.
I’m the sort of person who deadbolts the door of our apartment when taking the laundry down to the basement washing machine and prints out a map of the high ground when we go to the beach just in case a tsunami happens to hit. In high school, I was the guy nauseated by anxiety as others jumped off the second-story deck into a swimming pool. When I got a tattoo in college, I sat my mother down as if about to reveal a horrific medical diagnosis and solemnly passed her a folder containing a picture of the illustration … after spending months carefully considering the choice on my own.
There’s a natural tendency for scribes to seek control—to act with calculation. After all, our pastime of choice is to construct organized worlds from the chaos of ideas that cascade through our minds. But as I’ve learned firsthand, there’s something to be said for approaching your writing life with a little more audacity.
After graduate school in Chicago, my now-wife accepted a job offer and we moved to Cincinnati—not exactly a magazine-publishing mecca. Hungry for employment, I struggled to find work for months. I tried cold pitching publications, but without any clips to my name, I couldn’t land an assignment. As that frustration came to a boil, I vented those emotions into an essay about being a “stay-at-home boyfriend,” detailing my feelings of inadequacy, shame, resentment. It was more personal than anything I’d written before, and frankly, it was pretty damn embarrassing. On a whim, I submitted the full piece to a major venue. Not only did they purchase the essay, but to my surprise it went viral, provoking waves of reader comments. That essay opened the door to robust, regular freelancing opportunities—and ultimately landed me a position at the national niche publication Family Tree Magazine. Not even a decade later, I’m the editor-in-chief of Writer’s Digest.
To be bold in your writing means something different to each of us, both on the page and in the world. Your daring act may be dramatic, like quitting your day job to pursue full-time freelancing. It may be something subtler, such as writing your first short story from a new POV. Perhaps it means experimenting with a despicable protagonist, exposing yourself through self-promotion or facing the fears responsible for your writer’s block head-on. In my case, it was opening myself up to the same vulnerability prescribed by Maria Walley in her piece “Bare Your Soul.”
Courageous writers are constantly challenging themselves in some way or another. With that idea in mind, we built the September 2018 Writer’s Digest around the theme Write Boldly: Taking Risks & Daring to Dream to push you outside of your comfort zone and into exciting new territory. As Newbery Honor–nominated author Jacqueline Woodson says in this month’s WD Interview: “I think every writer needs some bravery and boldness, and a little bit of a unicorn in them to make it.”
For today’s prompt, write a number four poem. I’ll give everyone precisely four seconds to figure out what inspired today’s prompt, but there are so many ways to incorporate the number four in a poem: four-syllable lines, four-line stanzas, four-stanza poems, or write four poems with all these elements (which I might dub The Big Four–and see if it sticks). Beyond that, your poem could happen at four o’clock (a.m. or p.m.), could include four people, mention four objects, or any number (though mainly the number four) of other possibilities.
Get Published With Poet’s Market!
The 2018 Poet’s Market, edited by Robert Lee Brewer, includes hundreds of poetry markets, including listings for poetry publications, publishers, contests, and more! With names, contact information, and submission tips, poets can find the right markets for their poetry and achieve more publication success than ever before.
In addition to the listings, there are articles on the craft, business, and promotion of poetry–so that poets can learn the ins and outs of writing poetry and seeking publication. Plus, it includes a one-year subscription to the poetry-related information on WritersMarket.com. All in all, it’s the best resource for poets looking to secure publication.
Note: If you don’t care to read the history behind this prompt, skip to the end.
July 11 is Bowdler’s Day, which in equal parts honors and ridicules English physician and philanthropist Thomas Bowdler for his famed prudery. He is responsible for the publication of a book called The Family Shakespeare in 1807. Finding Shakespeare’s works too bawdy and inappropriate “to be read by a gentleman in the company of ladies,” Bowdler censored Shakespeare’s works to make them less offensive for women and children, with the assistance of his sister Henrietta. (You can read the full text of The Family Shakespeare here.)
While Shakespeare’s plays are indeed brimming with naughty puns, murder, rape, suicide, etc., Bowdler’s sanitization seemed nearly as bizarrely puritanical then as it does today. Since then, the word “bowdlerize” has been used as a word meaning “to censor or expurgate,” especially in notably absurd or destructive ways.
He not only nixed about 10% of the text, which contained 20 plays across four volumes, but also replaced some of the language and scenes within the plays: Blasphemous declarations of God! or Jesu! became Heavens!, and in some editions he altered Lady Macbeth’s famous cry of “Out, damned spot!” to “Out, crimson spot!”
Some of the more infamously dirty jokes and double entendres were mangled or eliminated:
In Othello, Iago’s line “… your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs” becomes “… your daughter and the Moor are now together.”
In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio’s dirty joke, “… for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon,” becomes “… for the hand of the dial is now upon the point of noon,” and some of the subsequent lines are eliminated.
Some of Hamlet’s naughtier language to Ophelia in Act III is dropped entirely.
He also deleted a prostitute character from the text of Henry IV, Part 2, and he tweaked some of the tragedies to make them less tragic or problematic: e.g., Ophelia’s drowning in Hamlet was made accidental (instead of a scandalous suicide).
Despite the rampant censorship, Bowdler noted in the introduction that Measure for Measure, Henry IV, and Othello were still too foul for some audiences—or “incapable of being completely buckled within the belt of rule.”
Therefore, this week’s prompt is dedicated to Thomas Bowdler.
Writing Prompt: Bowdlerized
Write about a situation involving an attempt to explain something illegal, outrageous or lewd to someone who might find it offensive, disturbing or problematic.
Post your response in 500 words or fewer in the comments below.
Funny You Should Ask is a humorous and handy column by literary agent Barbara Poelle. In this edition, she answers a reader’s question about the struggle of finding an agent who falls head-over-heels for your manuscript, and why literary agents don’t approach their profession more like Hollywood agents do.
I am getting a lot of requests to see my full manuscript, but so far the rejections say, “While I love your writing, concept, plot, etc., I have to be 5 bajillion trillion percent in love with a project to take it on.”
My question then is: Why don’t literary agents act more like Hollywood agents, who may not see you as perfect for a certain role, but believe in your talent and send you on other auditions? Why don’t literary agents say, “This project may not be for me, but I see that you can write and are a professional”? Why not invest in the talent and potential for future earnings?
Landing upon an agent who happens to fall madly, passionately, absurdly, ludicrously in love with my project sometimes seems as likely as finding a unicorn.
Underappreciated in Arizona
This question is so delicious that I printed it out and ate it.
You managed to include my favorite percentage, a unicorn reference and a subtle underlying coyness laced with a soupçon of ennui. It’s like I Scott Bakula’d into your body and wrote this question to myself. The mention of Hollywood slyly clues the reader in as to the best way for me to frame the response: by performing a one-woman show titled Bajillion.
INTERNATIONAL LITERARY AGENT OFFICES. DAY.
(Numerous novel covers are framed on the wall and there is a very large bar cart upstage left. Enter BARBARA, a 30-coughcoughcough-year-old agent.)
BARBARA (on cell phone)
“You are the best, you are my favorite, I kill for you, I die for you. Now go write! The world is waiting!” (Shehangs up, addresses audience.) “No idea who that was.”
(BARBARAunbuttons a $1,500 Burberry coat and throws it in the corner. She picks up a crystal decanter from the bar cart, sloshes some liquid into a glass and slugs it. Moving to her desk, she opens her laptop.)
“Pass, pass, pass, yawn, pass, boooring, pass, yuck, pass, pass twice, pass pa—wait a minute.” (Music swells as she picks up the laptop and holds it adoringly.) “I love you. I love you. I love you 5 bajillion trillion percent!” (She kisses laptop passionately. Lights down.)
That, folks, is how you win a Tony.
Totally accurate depiction of how I work. I mean, not the liquor part—who even has time to use a glass anymore?—but the rest is spot on: I have to love it. And you want me to! Imagine this: You are choosing a nanny for your children and are down to the final two candidates. One nanny says, “Looking for a paycheck, daddy-o, and this will do just fine!” And the other nanny says, “Um, is it me, or are your children geniuses? I love them 5 bajillion trillion percent.”
I can speak only from my own experience, but if I see something spectacular in the writing but not the project, then I do call up the author and howl, “Yes! I mean, not this plot. Or these characters. Or … any of this. But do you wanna play with me?”
Take, for example, Sarah Nicole Lemon. She attended a WD Webinar I was instructing and submitted a women’s fiction partial. I told her, “You are wildly talented, but I think your style is better suited to young adult. If you’d like to write a YA novel, I’ll sign you now—because I believe in you that much. You in?” And she was! And I sold it! (Done Dirt Cheap, published March 2017.)
I’ll have to ding you a little bit on that Hollywood agent comparison, too—because I have a secret past in Hollywood (really), and it’s not that different. They might look at skills first and roles second, but you do need to blow an agent away for them to sign you. If you take a pie in the face and fall over a potted plant, they don’t think, “Well that’s the guy for Season 3 of ‘True Detective.’” They ground their choices the same way we literary reps do: in a little bit of industry knowledge and a lot of gut instinct.
Believe it or not, our hearts rise and fall with every swell and break right alongside our clients’—so, like you, we have to have some love in the game in order to keep on rowing. Any artist’s advocate would be underserving his clients if he didn’t have the same passion to see his people succeed.
All of this is to say: I absolutely hear your frustration—because it is accurate, in a sense, but for all of the right reasons. And what I would also add is that if your main complaint is that your current work is not “lovable” enough, but that you have the kind of talent that can write something that is? Then write it! Pen something new, then get out there with another project.
I’ll be waiting, wrapped in Burberry—a couture unicorn. WD
ASK FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK! Submit your own questions on the writing life, publishing or anything in between to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Funny You Should Ask” in the subject line. Select questions (which may be edited for space or clarity) will be answered in future columns, and may appear on WritersDigest.com and in Writer’s Digest magazine.
In advance of our 4th Annual Science Fiction and Fantasy Virtual Conference, four of the participating presenters share their best quick tips for writing fantasy and science-fiction.
As a lifelong lover of science fiction and fantasy, I am thrilled to tune into Writer’s Digest’s 4th Annual Science Fiction and Fantasy Virtual Conference, coming July 21 and 22, 2018. This exclusive event is back and better than ever: Seven of our favorite experts on sci-fi and fantasy will present for an hour each on topics including world-building, writing dystopian fiction, crafting action-packed scenes, and infusing your out-of-this-world fiction with real-world believability. Plus, four experience sci-fi and fantasy literary agents will be waiting to review and critique attendees’ query letters.
In advance of the event, I’ve been exploring tips from the authors and experts who will share their expertise with conference attendees. Check out some of their top tips and insights for perfecting your sci-fi and fantasy fiction:
Making the Unbelievable Believable
In terms of the SF and fantasy genres in particular, consistently applied internal logic is absolutely essential. Genre readers want to believe, and your readers are happy to suspend their disbelief while your characters travel through hyperspace or battle the twenty-headed liger, but where they’ll start to turn on you and begin to complain that your SF and fantasy is “unrealistic” is when your characters spend three days in hyperspace to travel eight light-years in chapter one then get home again in fifteen minutes in chapter nine. You’ve established that the trip takes three days, how can they suddenly go faster and why didn’t they do that before? Now our entirely created FTL drive is “totally unrealistic.”
– Phil Athans, New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation, as well as Writing Monsters
Developing Your Dystopia
The key to a dystopia is the breakdown in self-policing. In a sane society, people keep each other in check. When that self-policing breaks down the State replaces it with something—surveillance drones, Robocop, brain implants replacing violent thoughts with a compulsion to dance the Macarena—standard Dystopian stuff.
– Jeff Somers, author of nine novels, including the Avery Cates series of noir-science fiction novels, as well as Writing Without Rules
Exploring Character Evolution Amid Revolution
[Try] playing with the idea of what makes a hero. Who takes a stand against the enemy, what decisions do they make when civilization is falling apart, and how are they affected by it all? My characters have to suffer, fall down, fall in love, and most of all evolve. If I’ve done a good job, readers will want to follow them into the next book!
If you’re writing a series—especially a sci-fi or fantasy series—the trilogy is a wonderful format. It provides a natural story structure to which genre fans are already accustomed. … When writing a trilogy, you need to continue the story from book one while escalating everything—conflict, tension and stakes—to pull readers along to the finale.