Thursday

Check Points to Turn a Novel into Film - Ken Atchity

ken-atchity-featured Ken Atchity has made hundreds of film and television deals for storytellers wanting their books to be films–including movies, series, and reality shows–since he began producing in 1987 after retiring from his tenured professorship at Occidental College. Also, as literary manager his authors have logged nearly twenty New York Times bestsellers. His own most recent novels are The Messiah Matrix and Brae Mackenzie. Dr. Atchity is also the creator of the free on-demand webinar presentation “Sell Your Story to Hollywood” for aspiring storytellers available at realfasthollywooddeal.com.


Common Problems in Novel-To-Film Adaptation

  • “There’s no third act…it just trickles out.”
  • “There are way too many characters and it’s not clear till page 200 who the protagonist is.”
  • “I can’t relate to anyone in the book.”
  • “At the end, the antagonist lays out the entire plot to the protagonist.”
  • “There’s not enough action.” Not just action but dramatic action.
  • “There’s nothing new here. This concept has been used to death.”/“We don’t know who to root for.”
  • “The whole thing is overly contrived.”
  • “There’s no dialogue, so we don’t know what the character sounds like.”
  • “There’s no high concept here or a new way into a familiar concept. How do we pitch this?”
  • “There’s no real pacing.”
  • “The protagonist is reactive instead of proactive.”
  • “At the end of the day, I have no idea what this story is ”
  • “The main character is 80, and speaks only Latvian.”
  • “There are no set pieces.”
ken-book-cover
Of course anyone with the mind of a researcher can list a film or two that got made despite one of these objections. But for novelists who are frustrated at not getting their books made into films that should be small consolation and is, practically speaking, a futile observation. Yes, you might get lucky and find a famous Bulgarian director, who’s fascinated with the angst of octogenarians, studied pacing with John Sales or Jim Jarmusch, and loves ambiguous endings.
But if you regard your career as a business instead of a quixotic crusade, you should be planning your novel at the drawing board to make it appealing to filmmakers.

Characters

Characters are the most important element of the story and should generate the action, the setting, and the point of view. Your job as a writer is to give us insight into each and every character in your story, no matter how evil or virtuous his or her actions may be. Characters are the heart of the drama.
    1. Give us a strong protagonist whose motivation and mission shape the action and who, good or bad, is eminently relatable—and who’s in the “star age range” of 35-50 (where at any given moment twenty male stars reside, and maybe ten female stars; a star being a name that can set up the film by his attachment to it).
    2. Make sure a dramatist looking at your book will clearly see three well-defined acts: act one (the setup), act two (rhythmic development, rising and falling action), and act three (climax leading to conclusive ending).
    3. Express your character’s personality in dialogue that distinguishes him, and makes him a role a star would die to play.
    4. Make sure your story has a clear-cut dramatic premise, e.g., unbridled ambition leads to self-destruction or you can’t go home again.
Have someone in the film industry read your synopsis or treatment before you commit to writing the novel.
Revise accordingly.
Though I’ve observed the phenomena for several decades now, it still surprises me that even bestselling novelists, even the ones who complain that no one has made a film from their books yet, don’t write novels dramatic enough to lend themselves easily to mainstream film. It’s a well-known, but lamentable, phenomenon in publishing that, with very few exceptions, the more books a novelist sells the less critical his publisher’s editors are of his work. So time and again we read novels that start out well, roar along to the halfway point, then peter off into the bogs of continuous character development or action resolution.
A publisher invests between $25,000 and $100,000 or more in publishing your novel. A low-budget feature film from a major Hollywood studio today costs at least $50 million. There is, from a business point of view, no comparison. Risking $50 million means the critical factor is raised as high as can be imagined when your book hits the “story department”—much higher than the critical factor of even the biggest publishers. Hollywood studies what audiences want by keeping track, in box office dollars, cents, and surveys–what they respond best to.
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Friday

5 Worst Tips on How to Find a Literary Agent

By Nish Amarnath

The business of fiction writing is very instinctual. Against that backdrop, there is no definitive formula for success in finding a literary agent.

Authors have been seeking my advice on how they can land a literary agent. At this point, many are desperate for a yes from an agent. I feel their pain. More than five years ago, I was in that oblivion too. It’s easy to get distracted and/or feel disoriented by all the noise out there on what to do, what not to do, query letter tips, #hownottoquery tips and so on. But, here are five positively worst bits of advice authors have been getting on how to ink that deal.

Worst Tip 1: A perfect query letter leads to a big yes


The ‘query letter’ phenomenon is overrated. A query letter is really no more than a form of collateral, which flows from two key factors: Story and Voice.

A masterful story rests on the strength of its plot purpose and its characters. As literary icon Albert Zuckerman notes in his book, Writing the Blockbuster Novel (and I strongly recommend reading it), the forbidden desires, inner conflicts and motivations of a story’s characters must be embedded into the novel’s outline. Some may balk at the prospect of an outline and/or prefer to flow along with the story, and this may be fine to an extent, but drafting and finalizing an outline at some point or the other, can make all the difference between a breakout novel and a mediocre one.

Voice refers to a writer’s personal representational style of portraying characters, dialogic techniques and scenes of fateful events, actions and/or emotional voltage to tell a story.

One of the worst pieces of advice that I have heard is, ‘Your pitch note mustn’t include any sentence that exists in the form of a question.’ For instance, ‘Will she be able to save herself before it’s too late?’ is supposedly a no-no; a better way of conveying the same message is believed to be something along the lines of, ‘She must find a way to save herself before it’s too late.’ That’s not true. When you’re deciding whether to have a question as part of your pitch note or not, it’s best to consider whether said question will work in the context of your novel, and how the rest of the narrative in your query letter flows.

Think about the backside blurbs of novels you sift through on Amazon or pick up in bookstores. Your pitch note is like that. Writing your letter from the heart is more likely, than perfecting a marketing pitch, to get the right literary agent to request for your full manuscript.

Worst Tip 2: The numbers game holds true


Image Credit: Write It Sideways (www.writeitsideways.com)
Many authors have developed or been fed the idea that they need to query at least a hundred agents, if not more, before standing a chance of interactions that culminate into an offer of representation. One author told herself she would hang up her boots if she did not get an offer of representation by her hundredth query. Despite a few close calls, she didn’t get an offer by her hundredth query. She queried more than 140 times before landing an agent.

Let us look at the key takeaways here. Believing that authors need to query hundreds of agents and/or wait for years before landing one is quite dangerous. That’s because it creates psychological blocks that can hold you back. Psychological blocks are driven by a scarcity mindset – a subconscious focus on ‘lack’ and ‘wanting’ – which may attract more situations that reinforce your belief in and/or focus on that ‘lack.’

Larger numbers of query letters do not necessarily translate into an offer of representation. The converse is also true. For example, I had queried roughly ten or eleven literary agents before an offer of representation came along, and my relationship with that agent has been a rewarding one, which culminated into a publishing contract with HarperCollins.

It is ultimately about whether your voice resonates as strongly enough with an agent to make him/her feel the music in your prose. So, it doesn’t matter if you’ve queried four agents or four hundred.  Everyone’s journey is different.

Worst Tip 3: Authors must state their genre and word count while querying


Not every novel falls exactly into one specific genre and/or one sub-genre. For instance, Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ is sometimes pegged as literary fiction. Sometimes, it is categorized as a dystopian love story. Sometimes, it is classified as sci-fi and/or magic realism. Quite a few novels meander through different genres.

I had never described my novel, Victims For Sale as a crime or suspense thriller when I first queried; it evolved into one. I did keep in mind that the book would carry a strong psychological component and elements of thrill, but I wasn’t too fixated on its genre at the get-go. What matters is how best the story can be told, how high the stakes are for your characters and which genre(s) will do that story most justice in the way that you choose to tell it.

And then, we have the professed ‘word count reference in the query letter’ “rule”, which stirs up a groundswell of anxiety. We know that a novel’s word count keeps changing through the editing process with your agent as well as your publisher, when you land one. Secondly, the word count of a novel is highly subjective. Preti Taneja’s debut novel, ‘We That Are Young,’ which won the Desmond Elliot Prize in 2018, went to press at more than 130,000 words.  

Of course, this does not mean you can show up with a 500,000-word novel while querying. But, keeping your story tight, crystal-clear and cutting out the flab, as much as you possibly can, whether it’s at 120,000 words at the outset or 70,000, is not the same as being fixated on whittling your draft down to 80,000 words before you start querying. And it’s not necessary to mention the word count in your query letters, unless explicitly specified as part of an agent’s submission guidelines.

Worst Tip 4: Third-party editing services will boost your chances of representation


No. They don’t. Unless you are a truly terrible writer and/or extremely bad with the English language, the only thing that can come out of paying a third-party agency to edit your manuscript is a gaping hole in your wallet.

Image Credit: Griffin Paul Jackson
Third-party services charge a bomb for what they call ‘manuscript editing’ and ‘manuscript analysis.’ One such service charges authors $750 for every 25,000 words of the manuscript. This means a 130,000-word manuscript (and quite a few first, or even second, drafts are usually at least that long!) would cost you roughly $4,000, if not more. Many such services do not even provide agent yearbooks, referrals, databases and/or other forms of assistance that match authors with agents. Don’t fall for this trap if you strongly believe in your work.

Self-editing is critical when you are querying literary agents. A third-party editing service cannot possibly know your story better than you. They cannot know what inspired your narrative. They cannot know all the feelings that went into it.

More editing is usually done with your agent when you get representation. And this process continues with your publisher. It’s true that you can’t be the only one editing your own work with no external help until you get an agent. Therefore, between your own self-editing and the editing that happens with a literary agent you may sign with, it is helpful to seek feedback, for free, from trusted writer-friends and/or beta readers who often go through your novel in exchange for you reading theirs. This mutually symbiotic relationship will also help you build your audience as a writer, upping your chances with an agent or publisher.

Worst Tip 5: Authors who are social media stars find it easier to get an agent. 


In the realm of fiction, that’s a fallacy. What a truly good agent cares about are your story, your literary prose and your voice as a writer. 



You could fail to elicit agent interest even if you have close to 10,000 followers on Twitter or 20,000 on Instagram. Many such followers could be men who admire your beauty, or women who think you are handsome. Wouldn’t you want an audience of people who will buy your next book? Building your social media presence is a long, slow and organic process that hinges largely on the uniqueness and quality of your content. Re-tweets, shout-outs and support from social media influencers do help, assuming these come from goodwill and/or happen organically. Paying for social media promotional services along these lines makes little, if any, difference.

You can reach out to me through www.nishamarnath.com if you would like personalized guidance, free of charge. I also recommend that you follow @themillennialchick, a brand new page for writers.

Note: Statements and/or references made in the context of individuals, organizations and/or institutions whose names have been mentioned in this article are either publicly available or have been disclosed with consent. Certain individuals and/or organizations have chosen to be anonymous, and their identities remain undisclosed with a view to protecting their privacy.


Nish Amarnath’s novel, Victims For Sale, published by HarperCollins and represented by Red Ink Literary Agency, was nominated for the Bombay Film Festival Awards. She is now working under the guidance of New York-based Writers House founder Albert Zuckerman, who has groomed various bestselling authors, including Ken Follett, Michael Lewis and Nora Roberts. Nish has spoken at various forums including Algonkian NYC’s New York Pitch Conference and those of U.S. State Department affiliates, British Council outposts and the United Nations. Her writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, International Business Times (Newsweek), TheStreet.com, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money and India Today, among others. She holds post-graduate degrees in media communications and journalism from the London School of Economics and Columbia University, where she was a James W. Robins Reporting Fellow. She lives and writes in the New York area.   


Monday

Finding Success As a Novelist – A Bestselling Author's Realistic Five-Step Guide towards Nailing that Book Deal

By Nish Amarnath

It Lies in your Lost Half

You’re a splendid writer. And you have a breakout novel at the ready. But, these are just half of the ingredients for perfecting your recipe and nailing that book deal. So, where’s that other half? What do you think that other half might be? Take a guess before reading any further.


Well…it’s delusion!

That’s right. If you’re convinced that you were put on this planet to be a writer, it helps to be delusional. Being delusional does not mean being “crazy.” Delusion is a way of being true to yourself. And that involves breaking free from your past – aspects of your childhood, cultural upbringing and various forms of social conditioning – that may be holding you back from the true essence of yourself and the life you want to create today. Being delusive means honoring your feelings, daring to dream and exploring the forbidden. And that is your lost half.

Landing a Literary Agent: Authors as Entrepreneurs

Finding a literary agent and/or publisher cannot come from a place of desperation. It comes from a place of being connected to yourself. And that’s where your role as an entrepreneur – or authorpreneur – comes in.

Let’s say you are writing a love story set in the future. There are thousands of love sagas and sci-fi stories out there in the form of novels, memoirs, films, documentaries, TV shows and more. What makes yours different and unique? How are you going to get literary agents and publishers to read your work? One answer to that question lies in thinking about why your readers should care about your novel and your characters. Perhaps, you want your readers to see a bit of themselves in your protagonists. This kind of thinking goes a long way in setting you apart from the rest of the tribe. Getting a good book deal today involves exploring multiple avenues. But you are now exploring each of those avenues with the aid of your lost half a.k.a from a place where you know you are being true to yourself.

Avenue 1: Building your voice across multiple online platforms

One day, you want your novels to grease the wheels for social, cultural, economic and political change, whether said change involves a ban on at-will employment clauses or a policy to check price increases on life-saving medicines. That’s what literary agents are looking for too. The legwork for that starts now.

You have to be out there on social media, contributing to ongoing debates on every issue that you think is pertinent to your lifeblood as a writer. It is true that your follower base is one of the metrics that literary agents consider in deciding whether you have enough of a foothold that gives you the kind of credibility that will elicit their interest in representing you. But, you want an audience of people who will buy your next book. That does not mean your audiences have to run into the thousands either. It could be as low as a hundred real followers who will read your next book. A real literary agent will understand that.

Simultaneously, you need to be seen blogging on your author website and, where applicable, other relevant platforms and websites you’re writing for. It is also helpful to submit your fiction writings and/or poetry to various literary journals.

Avenue 2: Stay on the radar outside social media

Networking isn’t about attending wine-soaked book launches and book-readings or ponying up in registration fees for literary events…only to beg for an agent or publisher. It’s never about begging or asking. It’s about connecting with people whose interests mirror your own as a writer. That involves dropping all your masks and building sustained relationships with each of those people. Sometimes, they could be book-lovers whose day jobs involve medical imaging or writing about municipal bonds. They could be your friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues, former classmates and/or their significant others. It’s important to think laterally and see how you can tap into your own networks, while connecting with other newer people at writers’ conferences, book fairs and literary festivals.

Avenue 3: Connecting beyond the physical

People like to be heard and feel understood. Be quiet and listen to them when they open up to you. Those are the moments they would remember if they decide to move mountains for you. And give gratitude when they have helped you in some way.

I found my own literary agent roughly five years ago through Sage Publications India’s CEO Vivek Mehra, who is an alumnus of my alma mater, Columbia University. At the time, I was leading a public diplomacy mandate for the UK government as an Associate Director at a consulting group (and yes, that was a full-time job!). Vivek, who has a passion for fiction, offered to introduce me to his friend, Anuj Bahri who, he said, might be interested in my work – a novel called Falling Bridges that I had completed writing as what I vaguely labeled a psychological thriller. Anuj Bahri leads India’s legendary Bahrisons Booksellers and runs the Red Ink Literary Agency, which is India’s top literary agency and one of the top ones in the world. Falling Bridges was evaluated by three editors at Red Ink before I was offered representation.

Falling Bridges, reborn as Victims For Sale, was released worldwide by HarperCollins as a crime and suspense thriller to become a paperbacks bestseller in India and one of only two fiction books on HarperCollins’ list, which was getting repeat orders from hundreds of bookstores and multi-product retailers across the country, less than three months after its publication. By then, it had sold in thousands, far superseding the average 300 books-per-year sales mark recognized by Publisher’s Weekly. Through this all, I have not forgotten Vivek. We continue to meet up. When we can't, we communicate over phone or email. We have had several conversations about our respective lives and what we continue to make of it.  

Avenue 4: Recognize that there’s no such thing as a perfect manuscript

There are tons of services out there, which charge hefty fees for the “perfect, professionally edited manuscript.” Signing up for such a service will not only likely yield no returns of any sort for you, but is also an action, which reflects that you do not believe in your work and your talent. Every good novelist is a writer, researcher, editor and proofreader rolled into one.

Write. Edit. Restructure. Edit. Repeat the cycle. I write and edit simultaneously, scene by scene, and I was particular about using this approach while completing my next novel, TWIN FLAME, in roughly seven months amid two overseas book tours and tons of domestic travel. I have found that this approach works well for me because it is efficient. Not that it may work as well for everyone else. But, the key here lies in finding your own balance with the writing and editing process. Keep the proofreading and word-length trimming to the end. You first need to believe in your manuscript for an agent or publisher to get hooked to it. That brings me to my fifth point.

Avenue 5: Recognize that there’s no such thing as a perfect query letter

A query letter is as perfect as it feels to you. Do not pay for services that promise you the perfect query letter. That will not guarantee an agent or publisher.

The essence of a compelling query letter lies in the log-line of the novel you are seeking representation for.  A log-line is the elevator-pitch for your novel – in one or two lines. My log-line for ‘Victims For Sale’ was: “An aspiring TV reporter fights to expose a crime ring where mentally challenged women are being sexually abused.” A log-line must be addictive. It helps to think about the key elements of conflict and/or exotic appeal embedded in your narrative, and cull them out for your log-line! And  the blurb of your novel is no more than an extension of the log-line. The purpose of the log-line and the blurb is to entice the literary agent or publishing editor to read further or ask you for more. Offering a snapshot of your background in a distinctive voice will be a huge shot in the arm. This isn’t the same as your bio, but it should point to other relevant works of fiction that you’ve published in other journals, and/or those fiction titles that have fetched you awards, as well as authors you have admired, and most importantly, what personal and/or professional experiences you’ve undergone, which inspired the novel in question.

Finally, if you know that you’re in it for the long haul, it helps to be realistic about the landscape out there and explore all five avenues simultaneously while being delusional enough within yourself to visualize – and know – that you will make it. 


Nish Amarnath is an award-winning American author, journalist and speaker based in New York. Her latest book, Victims For Sale, published by HarperCollins, is a bestselling crime thriller. Nish has written for The Wall Street Journal and was Managing Editor at one of Europe’s most prolific magazine publishing groups. She holds post-graduate degrees in media communications and journalism from the London School of Economics and Columbia University, where she was a James W. Robins Reporting Fellow. You can learn more about her at www.nishamarnath.com.
You can also follow her on Twitter at @nishamarnath and on Instagram at @themillennialchick, which is a brand new page for writers, authors, novelists and poets. 


Friday

Interview with Warwick Gleeson, Author of "Piper Robbin and the American Oz Maker"

The following is an interview between Charlene Castor of WE and an SFF author from Del Sol  Press, Warwick Gleeson, discussing the debut novel in his upcoming series: Piper Robbin and the American Oz Maker. DSP requested this interview, and we couldn't be happier about it after reading the actual novel.

May the best evil win.

Beta readers were floored by this unique, face-slapping, mind fuck of a novel. As a writer of fantasy, or science-fantasy, you've birthed from the void, or so it seems. What is the origin of Warwick Gleeson?

I've been writing screenplays, short and long fiction, and poetry for many years. I've used various pseudos, lived in LA, NYC, worried about being homeless, the usual. Much of my work has been published, most was never published. I love SFF in all its forms, especially work that pushes us out of the solar system for a few thousand light years. I was the major writer, creator, and senior story editor for another project published by DSP called War of the World Makers that debuted a couple years ago. It has since won four national novel awards (two first place and two place) for SFF.

How did you invent the unpredictably bizarre world of "Piper Robbin and the American Oz Maker"?

A synergy of things seeking resolution at the right time. The AOZ represents my need as a writer and reader to explore something wildly new in the context of an old trope that I dearly love--Oz. Thus, we have the setting of AOZ, its beings, lands, beauty, and terror. Piper Robbin, on the other hand, represents my need to develop a fantasy heroine with a unique spin to her past and psychology. She's youthful and ancient at once, sprightly and stately by turns. She wants a new life in old New York. She wants to try out for parts on Broadway, and work to willfully humble herself. She desires to forget her past, at least temporarily, but fate dictates otherwise. Her father returns from deep space with a homicidal alien on his tail. She must once again assume her old role as Grand Sorceress and once again fight to save the world.


THE LAST ONE TO GO WILL SEE THE FIRST 
76,984 GO BEFORE HER!


Do you see Piper Robbin as primary heroine for a series going forward, your Harry Potter or Percy Jackson so to speak?   

Yes, and as a matter of fact, I want Piper to be the adult version of Potter, and then some. She and the novel are meant to appeal to an older SFF readership, for the most part (even though some of my best fans are young adults), the kind of reader who grew up with Potter and the Hobbits, Narnia and the like, but who now desires something refreshingly complex, less predictable, and more mature... more thematic, however you wish to put it, and yet, without neglecting to contain an insane cast of characters, dark atmosphere, cool magic, and thriller-like action scenes... the kind of elements we SFF fans love.


The novel's action scenes are mega intense. Did you draw inspiration from SFF films or television?

Absolutely. I drew inspiration from a variety of film and TV sources, everything from Terminator II to Gotham. One scene towards the end might even remind you of old Doctor Who, that is, darkly ridiculous yet effective. Both the novel and film versions of War of the Worlds played a role, plus various space-aliens-attack-California flicks, and good space opera or military SF like The Expanse... And of course, a primary inspiration during the actual period of writing was Emerald City, and not just for energetic scenes, but in terms of dark tone and narrative verve... God how I miss that show. I was shocked when NBC pulled it.


What do you see as the theme of this novel?

The search for true human utopia is a worthy goal and must be pursued whenever and however possible, but in reality, can only be achieved in part, and for a relatively brief interval of time because on a cosmic level, the universe isn't sympathetic... A major form of entropy--in the context of the psycho-social condition--creates circumstances that perpetually erode peace, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in any given human society. Specifically, these erosive circumstances are caused by an established and identifiable set of disruptive human personalities who by means of greed, hubris, and callousness work relentlessly to tear down the world around them in order to force adaptation to their selfish needs. They're like viruses always attacking the human body, causing illness and disease for their own gain. When the smoke clears, ambition and power are far less important to survival than the human virtues of wisdom, courage, and compassion. These virtues are the strongest antidote to the viruses (known as "Deplorables" and "assholes" in the novel).

Would you say a horror element exists in your narrative, perhaps even in your major sex scene?

Interesting question... in the sex scene? If you mean the long sex scene that involves Piper on the methane planet, then no, that is unless you believe heterosexual sex is evil or the existence of it in fiction is horrific by default. However, I'd say that certain scenes contain horrific elements, yes, such as the mass killings on board the New Humanity ships. They're rather grisly.

Who are your literary influences?

My comparables right now are NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman meets OATHBRINGER by Brandon Sanderson, but this paring is rather arbitrary. Overall my influences begin with authors like H. G. Wells and R.E. Howard, phasing to the likes of Ray Bradbury and Joe Haldeman, then soaring madly into the J.K. Rowling and Sanderson era. I can't honestly leave out Frank Baum. How could I? He is the father of Oz. What I don't like are the one-trick ponies of contemporary fantasy we see so much of today, the same type of heroine and love story, again and again, and if I have to read about one more wizard school I'm going ballistic.

Can you give us any spoilers for the next book in the series?

Earth's "left behinds" and old political systems, still existing outside the confines of the Seven City-Worlds of Oz, will demonstrate a dystopian transmogrification which will evolve as the series moves forward. The enemy will use the "left behinds" and their growing hatreds, murderous religions, and seething resentments in order to fashion a guerilla resistance movement.

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