Category Archives: industry poop

For Authors of Indie Presses #2: Book Store Reading Reality

Life has been so utterly cuckoo I am just now getting the second post out of a series I started two weeks ago. I initially thought of this as tips for Indie Authors and Authors of Indie presses, but really, I should just call it REALITY CHECK.

The series was inspired by my own reality check as an author, as well as an excellent interview I heard by Cory Doctorow

This post is a continuation of the last one on making public appearances.

#2 Bookstore Reading Reality

Many debut authors dream of that successful bookstore reading: a packed house, a line of people out the door waiting to get their books signed. Even I was prone to such fantasies.

You may be surprised to learn that for a debut author (especially an indie author or author of a small press), bookstore readings are really not the best way to go. Not even close. Especially in a town where you don’t have many friends or much family.

empty chairs

Think about it… how many times have you gone to a bookstore reading by an author you aren’t familiar with? You may have heard new and unfamiliar authors read at conventions and festivals or at readings where they were featured with other authors you knew, but generally, one doesn’t drive across town to a bookstore for an unknown author. The author may be brilliant, but people just have too many other things vying for their attention.

You will realize this after your first bookstore reading with 5 people in the audience (and one is your publisher/mother/spouse/best friend).

Don’t despair. Once after a reading of low attendance, one of the bookstore workers told me the first time he ever hosted Chuck Palahniuk, only one person showed up.

The best way, I think, to get an audience, is for you to find an audience that already exists. For instance, if you can do school assemblies, you have a built in audience. There are also book clubs who like author guests and regular reading series that pair open mics with featured readers. Readings at conventions and festivals can still be iffy if you are unknown, so see if you can read within an event that features several authors. That way you all increase your audience.

If you insist on having a bookstore reading, here are a few tips to make it go better:

**stick with smaller, indie bookstores
(unless your chain store is very community oriented)
**find out from the store what nights have generally brought in more people
**pick a store close to where lots of your friends and family live
**use some kind of e-invite or facebook event page to invite folks
**DO YOUR OWN MARKETING (don’t expect the bookstore to take care of this)
**if your book is special interest, contact that community to let them know
**do OTHER events around the community so people will know who you are

The best bookstore reading I did was a packed house at Ms. Figs after I had done two school assemblies in the area. The kids got excited and brought their family and friends.

Even authors with large publishers and multiple books sometimes have trouble getting audiences at bookstore readings. I think it’s best to find the audience rather than have the audience find you.

5 Comments

Filed under indie worlds, industry poop, novel adventures, Tips for Indie Authors, writing life

For Authors of Indie Presses #1: Public Appearances

I’ve been mentally jotting what I’m learning about the realities of authorship since the launch of my first children’s novel with Hydra House (not Random House’s new ebook imprint Hydra). I deliberately chose to work with a small press for various reasons and I’ve been enjoying the ride ever since, though it is a long, slow, challenging ride.

I had enough jottings to put together a list of Tips (AKA “reality checks”) that I hope you find useful.

#1 – Make Public Appearances

Make as many public appearances as possible. Social media is competitive. Large presses have bigger advertising pockets. People are inundated with information and marketing ploys. Put a face to your work, make relationships, and support others. Appear at other writer’s readings and book launches. Be the support you want to have.

Offer to be on panels, propose courses at local conventions, visit schools and festivals and literary arts centers. Be gracious and grateful. Be nice to have around. I’ve often bought the work of authors I’ve met simply because I enjoyed our conversation or thought they had some useful insight.

(Here’s a bonus tip for those who have trouble being consistent bloggers because of time constraints: work your posts into a series)

4 Comments

Filed under indie worlds, industry poop, novel adventures, Tips for Indie Authors, writing life

Indie Bound, Indie Books

Last year at a writers’ conference, a small press publisher was giving a talk and mentioned that her press doesn’t sell their books at Chapters (or Borders or Barnes and Noble). You could see the audience of writers collectively twitch. What did she mean? How could her press afford NOT to have books at any of the major chains?

The issue is, that they cannot afford TO sell them there.

She explained:

Borders has over 500 stores. Lets say that they require you to send 5 books per store. That’s 2,500 books. And lets say only 2 books sell per store and they return the rest (to make room for new titles). Guess who pays for the shipping BOTH ways. The indie publisher. Not only that, the returned books are very often damaged. If this indie publisher only comes out with 3-4 titles per year it will most likely LOSE money by selling at major chains… unless they garner a major hit. And garnering a major hit is difficult for an indie publisher that can’t afford to have a separate marketing department. There might be only 2 people doing all the work.

Most people know there is a huge discrepancy between indie music and film production and the big budget music and film producers. The same holds true for the book industry as well. The internet has leveled the playing field for the indie music scene (you can create a grassroots movement online through MySpace) and technology has made it much easier to make a film for under $1 million dollars. However, it’s still extremely difficult to get your indie film into major theaters because all the space is taken up by big budget films that have major marketing campaigns. Let’s face it, indie filmmakers usually blow their wads making the actual film and can’t compete with the $20 million advertising budget of a large studio. Heck – it costs $500 just to get one bus shelter ad in Vancouver.

Internet distribution models and Print on Demand publishing have leveled the playing field somewhat for indie publishers. Especially since so many people buy books on line (it’s not like shopping for clothes, you want a book, you buy it)… but still, the discrepancies are there and because of the economy, many larger publishers aren’t taking risks on new writers.

Indie publishers are a wonderful service to up-and-coming writers. And Indie Bookstores are a service to the indie publisher and indie author, often supporting local and regional writers in ways that Borders or Chapters don’t. I remember the irony of being a featured reader at an event set up at Borders Books. I couldn’t get my books into that store. I asked them why not? I was doing a reading there, after all. I was told they didn’t deal with small presses.

I’m writing this today to remind folks that writers and publishers have to start somewhere. They have to be able to find homes other than just on line. They need places to read and interact with the public and stores that will support their work. Not everyone can get the publicity of Stephanie Meyers or Stephen King. Indie bookstores can also supply material for niche markets… like Banyan Books (spiritual/personal growth books) or KidsBooks.

I’m not saying don’t ever step into a Borders or Chapters ever again. Just think about exploring your local indie booksellers so that you might discover something new. Indie bookstores means more choice, more diversity, not just buying what the big pub houses want us to. They also put money back into the local community. I read somewhere that 20% more of your money stays local when you shop at an indie bookstore.

A great place to look for indie bookstores is INDIE BOUND, an online community of indie booksellers and other indie businesses. It’s also a great resource if you’re an indie author planning a book tour, because you can pick up the phone and talk directly to the person who can help you set up a reading. And they will even carry your books on their shelves… possibly as a featured author.

1 Comment

Filed under do something different, industry poop

Brigitta is on the Loose (or, the History of the Accidental Novel) – Part Two

(continued from the PREVIOUS POST)

I am not ashamed to admit that the original Brigitta of the White Forest screenplay was written for the purpose of making money. I had made the decision that writing was not a hobby and that if I didn’t start making a living from it sooner rather than later, I was going to get seriously depressed. Since my dark indie dramadies weren’t pulling in the dough, I figured if I wrote something totally commercial, simply to sell and get back to my passion (i.e. dramas with dark comedic elements), I could support myself doing what I love to do. Plenty of artists did commercial work to support their other projects, right?

The problem came when I fell in love with my creation. I spent one too many moonbeats (a measure of time in my imaginary world) hanging out with Brigitta and her sister Himalette and creating an entire faerie history. I grew very attached to it and had strong feelings about the way I wanted it to be produced.

I was positive it had to be a live-action film ala Chronicles of Narina… which I knew was a hideously expensive proposition for an unknown property (as opposed to a KNOWN property like Chronicles of Narnia).  I had also worked so hard to create this world and wanted to explore it some more! When a company became interested in the script, my agent told me they would probably want the entire rights to it. The whole thing. Which meant good-bye to any plans I had for it. When that same interested company started talking about it being an animated film, I decided it was time to rethink how I wanted to release Brigitta into the world.

As I mention in my About section, a screenwriter friend of mine had adapted one of her original screenplays into a novel. The novel was published, which ironically got the screenplay optioned. I asked if she would consider adapting my screenplay into a novel. She told me to take a year off and write it myself.

But I’m not a novelist, I said.

Neither was I, she responded.

I took a year off of screenwriting and birthed the novel version of Brigitta of the White Forest. I took another year and wrote a few more drafts. The story got deeper and darker and my imaginary world got richer. I realized I really liked writing novels and that this imaginary world had many more stories that needed telling.

I started sending out my agent queries and that’s when things got wonky. I was taken on by a fabulous agency in the UK, Brubaker and Ford. Two gregarious and generous men run that boutique agency, and I was in writer heaven with the amount of affection they poured forth. They left voicemail messages sending love and praising my work. I saw success right around the corner! This was it!

Only the book wouldn’t sell. We were told the fantasy market was oversaturated. We were told the economy was uncertain. We were told new technologies were changing the book industry. We were told nobody was taking financial risks with new authors. Nobody said they didn’t like the story. Most of them praised the writing. I was so confounded that I was literally pulling my hair out (see trichotillomania) – luckily, I have a lot of hair.

After a year of approaching all the big houses and it not selling, we parted ways, as much as it broke our hearts. I decided to do one more rewrite to get rid of a bit of the exposition, and then run it through a focus group of teenagers to see if I was crazy thinking this thing was any good! B & F had suggested I find another agent and submit the new version back to the same big houses under another title. I started querying again, but my heart wasn’t in it. I got one offer for representation and I turned it down b/c it just didn’t feel like the right fit.

I decided the hell with agents and big publishing houses. Did I really want to wait three more years for this book to come out? I had already drafted the sequel! I was ready to take the show on the road! I approached a few boutique publishers and Tod McCoy of en theos press (who has published my books of poetry in the past) decided it was just the new direction he wanted to take his small press. Not only is this a person I trust, I was going to be involved in the whole process, something that doesn’t happen with a larger publisher. This made the control freak side of myself very happy indeed.

Another rewrite later and I was in much better spirits. I was actually THANKING the universe that the previous version of my novel wasn’t published because this version was so much better! After some very positive feedback from my pre-teen focus group (some begging to see the 2nd novel as soon as possible), and a significantly smaller rewrite and editing, it was finally done. Done done. Off to the copy editor done.

It only took 7 years from the day I received the idea to the day I let it go.

2 Comments

Filed under behind the scenes, Brigitta of the White Forest, industry poop, novel adventures, writing life

Artless PSA by BC Filmmaker

It’s happening across north america, the tendency to let arts funding go (in schools, in our cities) when in an economic crunch because it isn’t deemed vital to society. Here in BC the government has been steadily making ridiculous cuts to arts funding and will continue to do so over the next few years.

This is so short-sighted on so many levels. Not even taking into consideration how art enriches our lives, the arts and cultural sectors and B.C.’s creative industries generate $5.2 billion each year and employ 78,000 people. I’m one of them. And so are most of my friends.

What kind of mixed-message is BC sending when in its bid for the 2010 Olympics, our government boasted about our province’s vibrant arts and culture scene?

A friend of mine, director Kryshan Randel, created this beautiful piece to demonstrate, visually, what an artless life would be like:

Leave a comment

Filed under aw... poop, industry poop, pop / culture, truth and beauty

The Accidental Novelist becomes the Accidental Assistant Director

Oh where, oh where, has Danika been??

About a month ago I “accidentally” became the 1st A.D. on a low budget indie feature film.  If you know anything about feature film-making, then you know I have not had any life outside of the film since then. It means 14-16 (even a few 18 )hour days and that my “day off” is never really a day off.

Being a low-budget indie also means we have no 2nd, 3rd, or 4th AD’s… so I’m it in the AD department. It means being the contact person on and off set, creating the shooting schedule, call sheets, keeping everything moving on set, and being the director’s right hand woman.

I’m having the time of my life. I’m exhausted a lot of the time, but not stressed, because behind it all is the thrill of doing something that I absolutely love. It’s chaotic and magical at the same time. It’s also extremely collaborative due to the nature of the shoot. This is why I like indie filmmaking… it tends to be less hierarchical and people tend to take on multiple roles.

Our heroes:  Stephanie (Michelle Harrison) and Mike (Kirk Caouette - also the writer-director)

Our heroes: Stephanie (Michelle Harrison) and Mike (Kirk Caouette - also the writer-director)

This is the first time I’ve been this hands-on in the creation of a feature film. It’s better than any film-making program I could have attended.

I have never been any level of AD on a feature film. The reason I can do this job is because I have been on set in many capacities and I used to produce events for a living. During the events I was always the only person who knew what was going on in all departments, what was going on behind and in front of the scenes, and I acted as the point person for everyone.

The film is a little gem, too. A great crew, a great cast, a great story. There is a musical aspect to the film and the songs are quite lovely. A sort of Cat Stevens feel to them. I know the CD will be beautiful.

The guerrilla aspect to our filming creates a bond that one might not get on another set.

The film has a WEBSITE with PHOTO GALLERY and a blog if you’d like more info.

Pieter Stathis (DOP) and Me (AD)

Pieter Stathis (DOP) and Me (AD)

5 Comments

Filed under film biz, industry poop

Training for the CyberSpace Open: A script per day!

When I started my 10 day screenwriting challenge the other day, little did I realize how this might get me in shape for one of the most interesting screenwriting contests I’ve seen:  Screenwriting Expo’s CyberSpace Open.

The contest is set up in round-robin (elimination) style. Each round the participants must write a five page short script around a specific premise. You can write from anywhere. To win you need to survive 3 rounds, each with a tighter deadline than the last.

In the final round, the top 10 writers have only 90 minutes to write a 5-page script. Whew!

logo

I’ve been writing a short script per day for the past 7 days. I missed one day, so I only have 6 scripts. I was hoping to write 2 today, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

I may actually keep doing it for 2 weeks. We’ll see if I run out of steam.

I will post my favourite script of the 10 (or 14) right on this site. 🙂

5 Comments

Filed under Calls for Submission, contests, cool poop, film biz, industry poop, screenwriting, serious play, writing exercises

Pitching Tips from Pamela Jaye Smith

A great article on INKTIP (a great resource for screenwriters):

7 Pitching Tips from Ancient Myth to Modern Media

reel scrpt

Leave a comment

Filed under film biz, industry poop, pitching your script, screenwriting

G.A. Pitchfest Pt. 3 – So What Happens at a PitchFest?

The pitchfests I have been to were a cross between pitching and speed dating.

You line up for the company you want to pitch to and when you get into the room, a bell goes off, giving you 5 minutes to find your table and make your pitch. When the five minute bell goes off, you leave so the next person can sit down.

cartoon director

Some of the newbies at The G.A. PitchFest were concerned about those five minutes. The thing is, if you have your pitch down tight, it shouldn’t take you more than a minute or two (genres are usually faster/easier to pitch, drama takes a bit more time). That means you can take 30 seconds to introduce yourself at the beginning and get comfortable, and take some questions at the end.

Tell what your story is about… not everything that happens in it (that takes too long). You can’t tell the story as well as your script can. The key is to get them intrigued enough to read it and find out for themselves.

When you’re done they’ll either want to see it or they won’t. If they don’t, let it go and move on. So what if you thought your story was perfect for them, they didn’t.

If they do want to see it you generally leave a one sheet, not the actual script, and contact them later. If you think about it, it makes sense. If they take 60 pitches that day and want 10-15 scripts, well, that’s a lot of scripts to be lugging around. I never print off scripts for pitchfests, only one-sheets.

There are some pitchfests where you pay PER appointment/pitch. I don’t recommend these. For instance, I paid $250 for G.A. and got to pitch to 12 companies, my friend pitched to 14. So let’s say $250 / 13 pitches = less than $20 per pitch. You’d pay more than twice that amount if you paid per individual pitch.

clapper

CONCERNS GOING INTO A PITCHFEST:

Make sure the people taking the pitches are actual DECISION MAKERS, not assistants of decisions makers, but people who are actually a step along the way to getting the film made. One of my complaints about G.A. was that I pitched to two assistants. One looked so uncomfortable I felt sorry for him. It seemed like he’d been in the industry for 2 weeks. I had absolutely no confidence in his ability to pitch my story to his higher ups.

This doesn’t mean that assistants aren’t valuable or able to suss out good stories. It really depends upon the assistant. If an executive has had an assistant working with her for 5 years and this person has been involved in development, that’s great. But it’s really hard to tell that from a profile. So just be aware.

If you read the profiles, it SHOULD tell you what the person’s position is. Look for terms like President, Director of Development, Development Executive.

Make sure the festival will give you a PRINTED BOOK of all the company/DM profiles. This year at G.A. they decided to cut corners and give out CD’s with the information and you could pay for a book if you wanted them. I’m sure they meant well, but it was not a good move. Having a printed book with you is VITAL because you can make notes in the margins and can do some quick changing if a line is too long or a company doesn’t show.

The Great American Pitchfest in Los Angeles last month had about 115 companies available to take pitches for one day. Supposedly the Hollywood Pitchfest has 200 over 2 days. The Hollywood Pitchfest is more expensive and they claim to ONLY have DM’s, no assistants. Perhaps next year I’ll try them.

The thing is, you can only pitch so many times whether there are 50, 100, or 200 DM’s. I pitched 12 times in 6.5 hours and there were usually 3 or 4 people ahead of me in line. That means the there was a good ratio or participants to DM’s.

PitchMarket West (happening this November in Vancouver, BC) will have far fewer DM’s, but the same ratio, meaning you’ll never have to stand in line for more than 15-20 mins (unless it’s a HUGELY popular company like Dimension or Miramax Films, which happens). I decided not to stand in long lines, but go for the numbers.

BTW – I am co-producing PitchMarket West, so if you have any questions, let me know.

More pitching DO’s:

RESEARCH the company you are pitching. Sometimes at pitchfests you don’t get all the information regarding a company until the last minute. Even so, do the best you can to look up the company on-line so you can learn something about them (i.e. tone, audience, budget). Then make sure you READ the profile they turned in for the pitchfest. They may have just completed 5 action films but are now looking for comedy.You’ll look pretty dumb if you don’t know this and it’s right there in their profile.

PRACTICE your pitch. I hate doing this. Most writers do. But it helps, it really does. Over the days before we pitched, my friend and I would take turns pitching to each other and asking helpful questions.

The most difficult question I got at G.A. was “So how is this story different than all the others?” (I was pitching a fantasy adventure). It sounds like an easy question to answer, but it’s not. Practice.

And have fun.

Leave a comment

Filed under film biz, industry poop, screenwriting, tv biz

G.A. Pitchfest Part 2

The Do’s, Don’ts, Myths, Facts (around the industry, pitchfests, and pitching)

This post is a collection of things heard straight from the pros mouths and from my own observations of what I consider “bad behavior” – meaning things that will  make you annoying and appear difficult or amateur.

The last thing you want to do is appear difficult to work with or ignorant of the industry. I don’t care how good your script is, if people decide off the bat that you are going to be a pain in the ass, you’ll never get your brilliant script read. You are asking them to invest precious time, energy, and money in your project, working with you for many months, even years… if you don’t sell yourself first, you certainly won’t sell your script.

reel scrpt

Do NOT…
… pester executives / decision makers at networking parties. The first thing out of your mouth when you meet someone at an industry event should not be a pitch. How do you know you even want to work with this person if you don’t get to know them?
… carry the DVD of a movie you made around with you trying to show it to everyone you meet.
… go to a pitchfest if you are not a serious screenwriter. Serious screenwriters have more than one script and many more in their heads. Serious screenwriters have spent time on their craft. They know how to edit and they know how to take criticism. They understand that filmmaking is a collaborative process. If you aren’t in it for the long haul (and it is a haul), you’ll be wasting everyone’s time.

reel scrpt

Myths

-NO ONE IS GOING TO STEAL YOUR IDEA. If you are afraid to pitch to an executive because you think they’re going to steal your idea you need to get over it. First off, they are professionals. If they got caught stealing ideas, their reputations would suffer. But even more practical than that… the portion of the budget that goes into the script/writing is minimal. It makes more financial sense for them to buy your idea from you than risk going to court.

(BTW – When I was teaching a screenwriting course, one of my students didn’t want to share her story with the rest of the class because she thought they might steal it. First of all, if you took that idea and gave it to 10 people, they’d end up with 10 different scripts. Second, after they wrote it, they’d have to spend months/years polishing it and pitching it and somehow get someone to produce it (where it would be changed again). Sounds like a lot of effort to me towards someone else’s idea. But also – you’ll never get the feedback you need if you don’t share your script.)

-Whoever has said your script won’t get read/made if over 100 pages is misinformed. Keeping it tight is a must (i.e. 130 page scripts tend to put people off), but if it’s a tight script at 115 pages, and it’s a great script of course, people won’t care. A great script is a great script.

-Big agencies are not always better. They could be too big for you. They might not have the time to really work with you. They are really looking for the NEXT BIG SCRIPT. You may be better off with a boutique agency.

reel scrpt

DO!

Network!  Get to know people and get to know the people that you know. You don’t have to know a lot of executives to get assistance in the industry. Start with the people you know already. If you have a friend who is an assistant director, take them out to lunch and ask them for advice. People are suprisingly more helpful than you might think. You just need to ask.

-Take chances and be flexible!  Don’t be married to your ideas (could the protagonist be the magician rather than the orphan?) or with your vision of what your career looks like. If someone asks you to write a commercial for a petstore and you think this is beneath you, you could be missing the opportunity to make a good impression on people who might offer you more work.

-Love what you write. Whether high concept or art film, it’s going to be with you for a long while. Everyone can smell inauthenticity in a script written simply because you thought you were following some formula for a blockbuster.

-Enter reputable contests. Although not the “golden key” to production, they will get you noticed and management companies do care. BE CAREFUL of scammy contests with no professional merit or valuable offering for the winner. The Reel Breakthrough panelists all mentioned Cinestory, Fade In, and the Nicholl Fellowship. One panelist said she entered a contest and didn’t win, but one of the judges optioned her script.

3 Comments

Filed under contests, film biz, industry poop, random poop, screenwriting, serious play