Yearly Archives: 2009

Top Ten Tips To Make Sure This Sign is Not About Your Screenplay

While this is an “only in L.A.” billboard, having your screenplay unsold is a worldwide reality for many anguished writers. We know your pain. We offer you our hard-earned bits of wisdom to make sure you can prove Chase Bancorp’s marketing and advertising department wrong.

1. Read screenplays. SimplyScripts.com, the Internet Movie Script Database, and DailyScript.com all have a plethora of screenplays. You can learn as much from reading the scripts for B-movies as you can “Chinatown”. You’ll see how screenplays are constructed. A tip: Don’t put camera angles in scripts just because you saw them in shooting scripts. That happens once the producer buys your script and/or hires you to write another script. Similarly, the long blocks of description in, say “Spartacus” may have worked in 1960, but not today.

2. Proofread your script or hire someone to do it. This may sound obvious, but typos indicate a lack of professionalism.

3. Learn structure from Syd Field, Robert McKee, Linda Seger, Aristotle, and Chris Soth.

4. Too personal? Don’t assume everyone cares about your alcoholic parents or that you were raised by circus midgets — unless you can make it funny and commercial. “A boy starts his own circus to escape alcoholic circus midgets,” on the other hand, might inspire an agent or development executive to laugh. “But that’s not how it happened” shows a lack of imagination. Give yourself permission to rewrite your life — or someone else’s, if you have the rights to the story.

5. Have a clear protagonist (hero) with a clearly defined goal. Who is your lead character and what does he/she/it want? If you have an ensemble piece, you still have to have one main character — at least for casting purposes.

6. Don’t have your antagonist drown puppy dogs and steal money from orphans. A great villain, or even a great antagonist who’s not necessarily a villain, has motives for what he/she does. For example, Bill of “Kill Bill Vol. 1″ and “Kill Bill Vol. 2″ keeps the Bride, aka Black Mamba, alive instead of having her murdered by stealth because of his honor code. Although this gives the Bride time to plot her revenge against the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, Bill has his own motives for allowing her to do so.

Similarly, in “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” Vice-Principal Gene Wolters doesn’t decide to cut Mr. Holland’s music classes because Vice-Principal Wolters hates music and teenagers or wants to hurt Mr. Holland (although he admits to jealousy). His stated motive (supported by hisactions) is, “I care about these kids just as much as you do. And if I’m forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.” Even if Mr. Holland (and the viewer) feels that the decision is wrong, Vice-Principal Wolters has a motivation that stems from who he is: an administrator who feels he is doing is best with the resources he has.

7. Assume your audience is intelligent. Remember your alcoholic circus midgets? Don’t have your hero sit around and talk to his circus buddies (unless they’re circus animals) about how unhappy he is with his situation. Show us in a brief scene or two why the hero must change his circumstances, why he must start the circus. You don’t need to show us scene after scene of the circus midgets mistreating your hero. Give your hero other obstacles and smaller goals that complicate the quest — he needs to smuggle his favorite elephant out of the circus, for example–but watch the budget, you may have to change the elephant to a dog that wants to be an elephant.

8. Write more than one script. Your first screenplay is usually practice. Your second, third and fourth scripts are, most likely, practice. It’s usually a good idea not to send out your first screenplay.

9. Nonhuman characters must have their own personality and motivations. Pixar does brilliantly at this. “Wall-E” takes a nonhuman robot that barely speaks, and creates an endearing character who wants to escape his loneliness. The rabbits in “Watership Down” are far from happy, cute and cuddly bunnies. Some of them scheme and some behave like tyrants.

10. Hire a pro. To make sure your screenplay hits the right beats, that the format looks perfect, and that you have your pitch, e.g. alcoholic circus midgets, hire a professional ghostwriter who can (a) edit your dialogue/formatting or (b) polish your screenplay. Get an independent evaluation.

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High Blood Pressure Hits Amazon.com

Our ghostwriting and editing team has helped another expert travel that exciting and challenging road from expert with important advice to published author. Dr. Chad Rhoden’s new book Bringing Down High Blood Pressure is now available for pre-ordering from Amazon.com .

 

Learn straightforward solutions you can incorporate both immediately and in the long term. Focusing on lifestyle factors readers can change, Dr. Rhoden weighs in on alternative therapies for reducing blood pressure, while Sarah Schein brings her dietary expertise to the table with practical advice on nutrition, tips for healthy food selection and preparation, and 70 tantalizing recipes each with its own nutritional breakdown.

 

Kristin Johnson was the writer helping Dr. Rhoden find the right words to express the ideas and information he is conveying – vital information that everybody should read for their own health.

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The Frugal Book Promoter: Review

Authors who help, support and educate other authors are to be admired. This is the aim of the Book Publicists of Southern California IRWIN Award-winning book The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, a wonderful author and friend to authors who understands the need for authors to maximize their resources, especially in today’s economy.

I had the honor to review the book for MyShelf.com, and the review, reprinted for this blog, has become popular. MyShelf.com, founded in 1998, is a high-traffic and award-winning Web site that does a tremendous service to reading, literature, readers and writers. The dynamically designed and attractive site offers a plethora of thoughtful and thorough reviews (by a passionate corps of volunteers, several of whom have publishing credits and a desire to contribute their talents)  and Holiday Reading Lists, as well as monthly columns that explore literary genres and subgenres.  Each month it brings the love of the written word into homes and businesses with a newsletter and a network of discussion lists that are no doubt eager for their dose of MyShelf.com’s literary magic. Many thanks to MyShelf.com and to Carolyn Howard-Johnson!

The original review also included an Author of the Month interview.

The Frugal Book Promoter
How To Do What Your Publisher Won’t 
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
StarPublish
August 2004
ISBN: 1-932993-10-X
Self-Help/Writing

When Joyce Spizer’s Irwin Award winner Power Marketing Your Novel debuted in 2000, writers everywhere realized how much they didn’t know about book promotion.  How effective is Spizer’s book?  Even stellar promoter/self-publisher Dan Poynter gave it raves. After reading Spizer’s book I thought I’d need no other book on book marketing.

I was wrong.

Novelist/poet/columnist/reviewer Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s new book, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won’t, picks up where Spizer leaves off.   Armed with both Spizer and Howard-Johnson, writers can actually capture book sales.

Do you know about writing book reviews and articles–often for free–to get your name and your book out there in the press and, more importantly, into the minds of the vampire fans/bodice-ripper devotees/true crime aficionados you want to capture? 

Harlan Ellison once famously said, “Don’t give it away!”  As Howard-Johnson explains, you aren’t giving anything away, although with mailings, you’ll be spending your own money.  Oh, and creating a press kit.  And doing your own Web site.  Don’t have one yet?  Get one.  Send out advance review copies–your publisher won’t.   For that, you’ll need your own media contact list.

Howard-Johnson offers a hot tip that even seasoned writers forget: Meet the media face to face, from the crime beat reporter to the lady who writes a gardening column–for that matter, you can start your own column.  Or blog.  (If you’re working up to that, Howard-Johnson advises doing the next best thing, using Amazon.com to promote yourself, by writing reviews, lists in Listmania, and “So you’d like to…” guides, features I only began using as marketing weapons after my third book came out).  But when you take a breather from all this promoting, invite your neighborhood reporter to lunch. Howard-Johnson makes the point that relationships sell books.

Oh, and when you’re writing articles and reviews, don’t forget to add your tagline with information about your book, like my sample tagline in this review.  Free publicity may not be free, but you can start spending your publicity dollars wisely by buying The Frugal Book Promoter.

For more information, visit http://carolynhoward-johnson.com/.

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Editing gone too far

In the previous post, Kristin itemized ten key things to tell your editor.  A good editor is important to your success.  You want to make sure your words, tone and method of rolling out the story are consistent.  You want the action to feel real.  You want the characters to feel real.  And you want to remove unnecessary words that far too many people put into their writing. 

However, please don’t take this to government-secrecy extremes…

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Ten Critical Things to Tell Your Editor

“Black eyes” have been around forever. EEI Communications’ Editorial Eye newsletters feature reader-submitted black eyes, or mistakes in print. Imagine those mistakes on your cake, and you have the inspiration for 10 Unfortunate Cakes, which in turn inspired this blog post.

A birthday cake with a misspelled name or worse can be eaten without too much fuss (it is a cake, after all), but a manuscript filled with errors and contradictions is quite embarrassing. When you’re working with an editor, such as the ones here at The Happy Guy Marketing, or with a book editor, here are ten crucial ingredients to ensure that your book turns out in a way that does you and your subject credit.

Always tell your editor:

  1. The exact spelling of your name, or any important name in the book – especially in nonfiction. Just ask Geri in the article.
    Many ways to spell Geri

    Many ways to spell Geri

    The spelling of the name should be consistent throughout. The exception might be if you’re tracing a family name or noting errors in the recording of a name over time, in which case the editor should be alerted.

  2. Any important dates that need to be kept consistent.
  3. Precise place names. Angola, Indiana is different than the African nation.
  4. Foreign-language words, which can be embarrassing if misused. For example, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the wrong Russian word with her gift of the “Reset” button. (As an aside, Opechatka is Russian for ‘typo’).
  5. Any obscure term thrown in, such as a German beer law in a food article.
  6. Correct quote attributes. For example, a writer could write, “John Wayne said, ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’” Actually, the famous quote by Patrick Henry reads: “It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
  7. Any information from the Internet that is not yet verified.
  8. Whether or not your controversial scientific book has been peer-reviewed (vetted for accuracy). Medical terms always need to be checked.
  9. Photo captions that need to be checked. RegretTheError.com has some fine ones.
  10. Any copyrighted material that you need permission to use. You can slip in a poetic quote, but the editor might not realize that you’re copying Ella Fitzgerald’s lyrics. No joke. “Fair use” is misunderstood.

I can’t guarantee that writing and editing your book will be a piece of cake. However, communicating with your editor (and proofreader) will ensure that when you’re showing off your book to agents and publishers, you can feel proud of your book. A publishing contract will be…the icing on the cake!

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Social Bookmarking – the indispensable tool for writers

Whether you write novels or blog posts, marketing materials or business books, articles or self-help books, the Internet provides a wonderful resource for writers, and no aspect of the Internet provides such a versatile writer’s toolset as social bookmarking websites like Digg and Propeller and Zoomit. Some of the uses of social bookmarking website might be obvious to you; others I am sure you have never thought of. Without further ado, here are the ways a writer can harness the tremendous power of social bookmarking.

Understand how people think – headlines

You don’t have to spend very long on a website like Digg to see that there are certain headlines that attract more attention than others. There are a number of variables in the Digg algorithm, but obviously the headline plays a big role in a site where users vote on the popularity of the content. Take a look at the stories that make it “popular” (on the home page of Digg or on the main page of any of its major categories) to see what really works. 

Study the chapter headings of the posts with the most votes, and you will understand how to pique people’s interest. A few of my own observations:

  • First ever items attract interest
  • Precision attracts interest (“Seven ways to…” works better than “How to…”
  • Sex sells
  • Shock sells
  • Titles that appeal to topics of interest, even if the topic of the item is a little off
  • See what other patterns you can discern

These lessons will be most useful to marketing writers and blog writers, but really they are important for anyone writing a book or article on pretty much any subject. Headlines always have been critical to drawing the reader into the article or chapter.

Understand how people think – comments

It’s one thing to understand how people react to headlines, it’s another to see how they react to the content. For that, it’s worth reading the comments they leave at websites like Digg, because members often feel safe in their anonymity to say what’s really on their mind. Sometimes this leads to great thoughts; other times to pure rudeness.

If you want full-fledged, raw rudeness (say that ten times fast) try Reddit. There is more anonymity there (no avatars, less internal communication and relationship-building) and you’ll find sharper comments. I was going to post an image here, but let’s just say that if you are sensitive about language, you’ll thank me for not doing so.

For more polite option, try Propeller. But don’t get caught up in judgments; understanding the full range of reactions to various types of topics is a great way to understand your audience or even to develop characters (in the case of fiction). Uncensored feedback is gold.

If you are a blog writer, you’ll probably have encountered some reactions to your writing. Studying the comments on websites like Digg, Reddit and Propeller gives you insight into a wider range of reactions to a wider range of writing. It’s worth spending the time.

Research topics

Want to know what topics are of interest to a certain audience? Study the topics that make it popular within various categories at Digg and Reddit, or at specialty social bookmarking websites, such as Tipd for financial topics.

Research details

I won’t tell you that everything you find on social bookmarking websites is the most accurate; writer beware. But I will tell you that the most exciting and most popular sources are all there, and you might as well use information that the people have said they like – the stuff that really engages the reader – when you do your research.

Research reactions

Not to get too repetitive, but just as reading comments can give you an understanding of how people react to various kinds of information, studying comments on specific topics can give you an idea of how people will react to specific things you might write. Yes, you may now take out the eraser and rewrite that paragraph that might draw ridicule.

Seek feedback

I know writers who have built up a bit of a feedback circle. They post their poetry and prose, usually to Digg, and people let them know what they think. This extra feedback from people beyond their real-life circle helps them improve their writing and know when they have a winner. Here’s an example of feedback that MyscticDave received for one of his works (Click the image for the complete submission).

Promote your writing

And social bookmarking websites are the ideal place to promote your writing. This is obvious for blog writers, but you can also promote your book, chapters of your book, poetry and articles. Here is an example of an article that EnglishChick was able to share with social bookmarking (Click the image for the complete submission).

There are a number of other great social bookmarking websites, like Zoomit for Canadians and Mixx and Plime. For research, you don’t need to even join any of these websites. However, to really promote or get a decent amount of feedback for your writings, you need to get involved by voting for and commenting on the submissions of others and marking people as friends.

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Political Speechwriters Must Leverage Authenticity

What is the most important feature of a political speech?
  • Ideas?
  • Vision?
  • Alliteration?
  • Emotion?
  • Leadership?
  • Credibility?
No. No. No. No. No. No.  Authenticity is the key on which all of the above rest.  Our speechwriters capture the essence of who you are.  This is the one key ingredient that makes a political campaign successful – an ingredient most candidates overlook. 
Consider these two examples:
 
George Bush became President of the USA despite sounding hokey, despite malapropisms, despite the mockery of the media elite.  Why did so many people vote for a man that, even to this day, faces scorn and derrision in the media?  Why did they vote for him twice?  Because his hokey style was authentic.  People felt they could trust him, that he was revealing himself to them.  He was not pretending to be someone he was not.
 
Barak Obama was not supposed to succeed George Bush as President of the USA.  A lot of people forget this, but two years ago everyone was asking whether the United States would have its first female President.  Not to take anything away from Hillary Clinton, but she failed the authenticity test.  People felt she was trying too hard and was not revealing her soul to them.  Barak Obama, however, bared his soul.  People felt he was real.  People felt he was authentic.  Even people who usually didn’t vote, even people with racial concerns, even people with differing views warmed up to him — enough to make him President.
 
Not every speechwriter can create authenticity.  For that, the writer has to be able to capture the “you” in you.  She will need more than just information, she will need to understand you. Our speechwriters take the time and effort, and they have the skills to craft a speech the displays not just vision and leadership, but your authenticity.  Your audience will feel the connection and will warm up to you, not just to your message.
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New Year’s Resolutions for your Ghostwriting Project

Today on New Year’s, everyone makes resolutions for self-improvement. This year, more people are making resolutions that involve helping others.

One of the resolutions on your mind this year may be: I will write my novel/memoir/how-to/screenplay/business ebook, even if I’ve never written in my life and don’t particularly enjoy it. And after all the champagne and celebration, you might just add enthusiastically, “And I’ll hire a GHOSTWRITER! That will make it easier!”

By hiring a professional, you have just followed one of the experts’ tips about keeping New Year’s resolutions: Be realistic.

Think of it this way. If you want to get fit and toned/lose weight/stop smoking/get organized, you hire a personal trainer, consult your doctor or call a professional organizer. A ghostwriter is no different. Ghostwriters are the personal trainers of the written word.

After you make that resolution, however, I strongly suggest reading the following articles from The Happy Guy Marketing:

  1. Are You Ready For a Ghostwriter?
  2. Working With your Ghostwriter
  3. How Ghostwriters Can Help You Get Published

The next step is to resolve to gather your thoughts and any materials you’ll need. Here’s a tip: If you think you don’t need to tell about the murder suspect in a mystery or what the hospital smelled like when your identical long-lost twin, who you’ve just reunited with, was born, write that detail down.

Some experts recommend making a list of a series of small steps to achieve your goal. Your list might look like this:

  1. Read about ghostwriters
  2. Investigate ghostwriting agency
  3. Begin gathering thoughts and any documents (for fiction as well as nonfiction)
  4. Contact ghostwriting agency
  5. Discuss project with ghostwriter by phone or e-mail
  6. Organize ideas with clustering techniques
  7. Ask your ghostwriter about publishers, agents, producers

While it may sound like a lot of work, the steps you’ll put in (according to my experience) will bring you closer to your goal within weeks or the first two months of 2009 than you would be if you hadn’t made a list of steps and if you hadn’t resolved to hire a personal trainer for your manuscript.

Whether your project is a mystery plot you’ve been dying to write or something that will benefit mankind (or at least help someone through a difficult time), the goal is important to you. So make your New Year’s resolution specific, actionable. Investigate ghostwriting services or put your thoughts down on paper. Then you can look back on next New Year’s Eve and say, “I did it.”

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