Monthly Archives: October 2008

A tale of two clients – so you want to get published.

A lot of clients seem to think that when their book is written, it will get published, and that’s a wonderful idea too. It’s what we all hope. Note the operative word – hope. It won’t get published if you don’t get out there and hunt a publisher down, or indeed have one lined up before hand.
No one will publish your book if they don’t know it exists. Take two clients of mine. Both books were similar in that they dealt with the same topic – child abuse. Both were deeply distressing stories and affected each client differently. One was determined that others should not suffer as she did and immediately did the rounds to get her book published. It will be in the shops come February. The other wanted to prevent such abuses occurring again, but her whole life was so affected by her experiences, that once she had used up her energy telling her story, she had no more for the exhausting business of attracting a publisher. Her story languishes for the moments when she can be bothered to do something about it, which is a great shame, because although there was little to laugh about in these two histories, the as yet unpublished client managed to find some wonderful humour in hers.
Sure, I try to help her with advice etc. whenever I can, but I am a writer, not an agent, and I write for a living, which leaves little time for me to run around after someone who doesn’t make the effort to help herself.
So what’s required after you get your manuscript back from your ghost?
First, know thy publisher. Send it to as many publishers whose interests are appropriate to your story. You wouldn’t send an ‘adult’ book to a children’s publisher, so why send your fictional work to an academic publisher? Why send your memoir to a publisher of science fiction? If you cannot find an appropriate publisher at home, try another country.
Second, consider hiring an agent. The ones who are well established with the biggest mainstream publishers take a cut of the book’s profits. They take no up-front payments. They can be as hard to find as a publisher, so make sure they represent your genre of book before contacting them. Again some of them can be unimaginative, yet others can be wonderfully helpful.
Third, be prepared to accept rejection. I had a rather snooty publisher say of one of my books that the characters were flat, yet the same book was snapped up the very next week by another publisher who found the same characters ‘fulsome and rounded’. Remember publishers are people too, and one man’s meat and all that …
There are some very famous writers who will tell you about all the reject slips they got. Shall I just slip in the name J. K. Rowling? Yep! Harry Potter’s creator! Some unimaginative publishers cringe every time they hear her name. So don’t give up. I heard of a very famous writer of scary books who apparently had to wait for five years before someone took him on.
Fourth, there are e-publishers, many of whom are pretty good. Just make sure that you find one that doesn’t mess with your rights to the book. There are a few who magically bankruptcy attorney phoenix your copyright theirs, so be aware of the problem.
Finally don’t give up trying to get your book published. If it was worth your paying a ghostwriter to knock it into shape for you, why would you not seek a publisher just as energetically? Fortune favours the brave!

GD Star Rating
loading...
GD Star Rating
loading...

Novelizations

In teaching a virtual seminar for the Muse Online Writers’ Conference about “Writing the Short Screenplay from Concept to ‘Fade Out,’” I’ve read the following comment in online forums: “I wrote this as a short story/novel, but I think it would be better as a screenplay.”

I’ll talk about adaptations of books to movies in another blog post. Everyone out there has an opinion of books on film. Sometimes the movie actually improves on the book, or at least offers a true translation–by that I mean it keeps to the essence of the book without reproducing it word for word (the “Harry Potter” films, especially the last one, “Order of the Phoenix, accomplished this magic.)

What about the reverse—the novelization of a screenplay? It’s a growing business. “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry himself wrote the novelization (with curious academic-like footnotes) of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” from 1979, the one every critic has panned. Studios hire writers to novelize popular movies such as the “Batman” franchise. Then there are all those kids’ adaptations of kids’ movies such as “The Incredibles,” “Cars,” “Underdog” and ”Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” the movie that launched the new animated series on Cartoon Network.

 It’s difficult enough to transmute a publicly beloved property into fiction. For a ghostwriter, the pay may be great and the challenge satisfying, especially if you happen to be a fan of the franchise, because after all, the characters are the stars. Nobody cares who transcribes the words of Anakin Skywalker (or his feisty female apprentice Ahsoka Tano), Lightning McQueen or Captain Kirk.

However, when the script in question is personal, when a ghostwriting client hopes to have both a book and movie based on characters he or she has created, the challenge is greater, and in many respects even more rewarding despite the long hours at the computer.

David Leonhardt made the announcement last week about our client Alan Truax’s novel Mercedes being published. Alan has been a delight to work with. I rarely meet ghostwriting clients, but I had the privilege of dining with Alan and his wife last December. It was a wonderful evening. Alan is a remarkable man who believed in his story enough to condense a 300-page screenplay trilogy to a two-hour movie and to transform it into a novel.

As both a screenwriter and a novel writer who has adapted my own novel to a screenplay (and award-winning short story to a play), I understood the specific demands of the project. I understood that:

  1.  Not everyone enjoys reading screenplays—especially not producers and agents. This is because they usually have a stack of scripts to read and each year 50,000 scripts are registered with the WGA (Writers’ Guild of America). I do enjoy reading screenplays.
  2. Screenplays have to be minimalistic. Emotion has to be conveyed through dialogue and action, unless you have voiceover. Plot is sometimes conveyed through details—a sign, a phone call, a UFO suddenly descending. In that respect, writing a screenplay teaches you how to write fiction: show, don’t tell. However, novels can have diversions, side trips, and moments that, because of tiem constraints, wouldn’t make the cut.
  3. There are many times when telling/painting what a character is feeling and thinking is important. Example: Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City”. What would the TV show and movie be without Carrie’s voiceover columns dishing about her friends’ adventures? In a novel, you can be Carrie Bradshaw. Nicholas Sparks and J.K. Rowling convey characters’ interior emotions and thoughts—in J.K. Rowling’s case, usually all Harry Potter’s.
  4. A novel gives you the opportunity to explore characters beyond the confines of a movie frame. In the case of MERCEDES, we could explore the thoughts and motives of some unsympathetic characters such as the title heroine’s first husband Dirk or another character named Helga, a Nazi supporter in 1930s Germany. We could add chapters and scenes in a point of view other than the heroine’s. A screenplay is told chiefly through the protagonist’s POV. By that I mean everything revolves around the protagonist. The screenplay is about the main character wanting something and achieving or failing to achieve it. The antagonist (not necessarily a villain) or group of antagonists (in Mercedes’ case, her ex-husband and the Nazis) acts against the protagonist, but is not the star of the story—even though the antagonist must be compelling, such as the shark in “Jaws” or Major Strasser in “Casablanca” (although you could argue Rick Blaine is his own antagonist), or even, in a comedic sense, Robert De Niro in “Meet the Parents”. Robert De Niro, as the father of the woman Ben Stiller loves, is the antagonist who threatens to keep them apart. In a novel, you can explore other POVs. Fantasy epics such as the Wheel of Time series by the late Robert Jordan excel at this.
  5. A novel allows you to “connect the dots” and talk about what a screenplay doesn’t express—within reason. After all, “Chinatown” says plenty when Jake Gittes confronts Evelyn Mulwray and produces the explosive revelation, “She’s my sister and my daughter!” However, many people get frustrated and think, “What was he thinking? Why did she do that? They never explored this, they never explained that,” and so on. Having sat through many movies with some of my friends, these are the questions I frequently have asked and heard. We don’t need to be spoon-fed, but some movies just defy understanding. Much of that may not be the scriptwriter’s fault. The editing and directing play a huge role. The studio certainly plays a role. In a novel, you are the producer and director—even though you may have to answer to a publisher and certainly you follow the client’s wishes. In MERCEDES, we could explore the relationship between the heroine’s father and his best friend. We could get into the head of Rick Willson, the man who wants to interview Mercedes for (surprise) a screenplay, and learn why he is doing what he’s doing.
  6. With freedom comes challenges. For example, we decided against a passage I had written regarding one of the characters’ used authentic rolex as a driver in post-WWII London. I spent too much time on incidental background that didn’t ehance character or story. It’s easy to get sidetracked, although explorations can sometimes yield different possibilities that a ghostwriter might pose to the client. However, the client is, as always, the one who has final say.

In a future blog post I’ll talk about “Identity Crisis: Helping the Client Decide If It’s a Novel or a Screenplay”.

GD Star Rating
loading...
GD Star Rating
loading...

Mercedes – another ghostwriting success

We are celebrating another ghostwritten book off to the publishers: Mercedes, by Alan Truax.  This one is a thriller epic set in the…oh, why not just read the official synopsis below.  Kristin, one of our best ghostwriters and a frequent blogger here, helped Alan bring this novel to life.

MERCEDES is a multi-generational epic which begins in Germany at the brink of WWII and ends seven decades later in the California Napa Valley wine region. Several memorable characters contribute to this intriguing saga of the human spirit, but the primary protagonist is Mercedes Steinberg, who is born in the backseat of a new 1934 Mercedes Benz Tourenwagon.  The life of this resilient woman, and the car in which she is born, become entwined as she escapes Nazi Germany for a life in London, Paris and California, all the while pursuing her unrelenting quest  to love a daughter the way she was once loved by her parents.  Her dream is simple, but its achievement is not.  But despite many challenges such as living as a Jew in Nazi Germany, a failed marriage, and the deaths of loved ones, Mercedes Steinberg never gives up her dream.  While her story involves the drama of life’s injustices, it also presents the joy that comes from being with those you love, and confirms that the love of family and friends is the best cure to healing the wounds of life’s hardships. And it reminds us that it is never too late to realize one’s dream.

If you wish to pre-order a copy and be one of the first to read Mercedes, just complete the form below and send it to Alan Truax at allynntruax [a] sbcglobal.net  (replace the [a] with @, of course).

MERCEDES

FIRST EDITION ORDER FORM 

Name:

Address:

City:

Sate:

Zip:

E-mail Address: 

Order Quantity
Please send me _____  copy/copies of MERCEDES 

Billing
Bill me a total of $_______ for the quantity of books above at $20 each (includes shipping)

Referral Acknowledgement.
Mercedes was recommended to me by ___________________________
 
Signing Option

No author’s autograph___

Author’s autograph only___

Please bullying books signing to (person’s name):___

Please include specific message (1-3 sentences):
[Example:  Your good friend Mary thought you would enjoy this story.  She and I both wish you a very happy 45th birthday!]

GD Star Rating
loading...
GD Star Rating
loading...

Yes, Even Warren Buffett Can Be Boring for a Writer

I was reading BARRON’S over the weekend and came across a book review of a Warren Buffett business biography, to which the book’s author was apparently assigned.

Buffett’s Great, This Book Isn’t

What? How could a book about the philanthropist Oracle of Omaha, who saves companies, advises Barack Obama, and refused to get sucked into buying bad mortgage CDOs, be boring?

First off, I am a book reviewer as well as a writer and ghostwriter. Like Andrew Bary, I have struggled in the past to like some books that should have been good. An example of this is BAD BOY BALLMER, an exploration of Microsoft CEO Stev Ballmer. The anti-Microsoft bias damaged the book in my opinion. The author took exception to my review even though I attempted to be positive—because I’ve been in the trenches. I know what a feat it is to complete a book, especially one with a complex subject. One memorable line from the book “Ballmer is large. Ballmer contains multitudes.” I also know what an even bigger coup it is to get a book published, by a major publishing house at that.

And when the subject, such as Buffett, has been extensively written about, and by his own admission doesn’t have any outside interests or juicy stories (the article by Bary admits this), writing an 838-page book (an even more Herculean achievement) is bound to be an uphill task. You are going to annoy some people with the way that you do it and never mind the hours of wishing that you’d never chirpily agreed to take it on, because after all, how hard could it be with a famous subject?

What, you may be asking, does this have to do with ghostwriting? As ghostwriters, we often start out with a subject we think is going to be fabulous, phenomenal, the stuff of dreams and blockbusters. David Leonhardt notes in his post “Ghost writers need to eat, too” that clients often come to us with an idea they think will make a bestseller even though there’s no money now.

I’ve taken on pro bono work because I believed in the cause.

I rarely do it now. 

It’s all too easy to spend hours getting carpal tunnel syndrome and backaches and ignore the outside world, then lose the fire and stubbornly continue because you’re stuck. It happens in our own projects, except we can usually set those aside without guilt. When there are other people involved, it’s harder to clear all moorings and push off from the desert isle of No Name where all once-glittering novels and screenplays languish. I’ve had a few clients/friends realize on their own that they weren’t ready for prime time.

Was the Buffett book this author was commissioned to write ready for prime time? I’m going to reserve judgment, as I haven’t read the book.

I can speak in defense of the author from a purely practical standpoint, however. Once again, I have been there.

I have written about subjects I had no attachment to and could care less about (coin collecting, for example), but had fun with them at times. I have done writing jobs that were so obscure only five people who knew about the subject would be interested. This does not describe any current THGM clients.

Word to ghOStwriters and ghostwriting clients: The most exciting and glamorous subject or personality in the world can become as difficult a project as, to use David’s example, ditchdigging. There are several reasons for this.

  1. The subject is already completely well-known, as with Warren Buffett, Elvis, “Star Trek” (with its legions of love-to-argue fans), Bill Gates, Martha Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Marie Antoinette (Antonia Fraser’s book, which inspired a movie, is reputed to have broken new ground). An essay of mine, “Abraham Lincoln, YouTube and History Reconsidered,” excerpedt in a forthcoming Lincoln Bicentennial anthology (NLAPW), reexamines Honest Abe in the context of modern politics. But chances are that your subject has been so well-covered that you might have difficulty finding something new to say–unless you’re interviewing Abe’s ghost.
  2. The subject is completely controversial, or the angle is opposite to the accpeted view, and you are certain to risk offending people, to the point of death threats, government interference and, even worse, media/publisher ostracism. My dear friend Joyce Spizer Foy and Claude Rogers wrote THE CROSS-COUNTRY KILLER about serial killer Glen Rogers, Jr–Claude’s brother. I won’t go into the eye-opening experiences Joyce had in writing and promoting this book that she calls “a blueprint for how to raise a serial killer”.  Joyce and Claude didn’t pull any punches, but many people, faced with a controversial subject, may water down the book or shrink from revealing details that would ruffle feathers. The ghostwriter may be forced to fill pages with regurgitated facts, unless the contract and the personal rapport (and the publisher and/or agent, if applicable) allow the ghostwriter to push for more flexibility.
  3. The subject or the subject’s representatives won’t tell certain facts, or try to impose their own ideas about a book, which may not always be interesting to write, let alone read, and therefore may not be marketable. I’m aware that some poorly written and ho-hum books  have been marketed and sold to publishers and the public because of successful promotion and a sexy subject. However, as ghostwriters and clients we want to aim above that. Right?
  4. The people bankrolling the project or producing/publishing the project have their own agendas, and by the time they’re through designing a horse by committee, the writers are completely burned out and just want to move on to the next gig (or do their own writing on a tropical beach with no cell phones). This is why so many movies start out with a dream cast and a great story and end up boring you to death and/or being panned by the critics (these chapter 7 bankruptcy lawyer phoenix arizona not always connected).

I’m not saying that the above apply to the process of writing the new Buffett book.  The BARRON’S article simply struck a chord in me. I hope it’s of some help to my fellow ghostwriters and their current and prospective clients.

GD Star Rating
loading...
GD Star Rating
loading...