Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Just a Reminder: New Address

Hey guys,

I was reminded today that a lot of you get the blog via newsfeed, and you might not realize I've switched over to a new site. So! If you're getting this in your newsfeed - or have been wondering WHY you haven't gotten anything in your newsfeed (I know, because you don't have better things to wonder about), just a reminder that the blog is now at:

See you over there!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mama's Got a Brand New Blog

So some exciting news in my cyberworld - I have a brand new website, and a brand new blog to go along with it. Well, not really a brand new blog, as I'll be doing the same Ask Allison stuff, but just from a different address.

So, if you get here via blogspot, please know that in the future, you'll find this blog at:

If you've so generously added my blog to your blog roll, please take a teeny, tiny second from your day and update it. (I know it's a pain, and I thank you in advance!) Also, I believe that all of you who have subscribed to the RSS feed will be transferred over to the RSS feed on my new site, but if not, I apologize, and you just have to sign up again. I'll keep you posted on that one. Regardless, wherever you find me and however you get here, thanks for coming!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Are You Made of Win?

Question of the day: Although part of me gets inspired from reading all the "stories of success" of various authors, I can't help but feel totally defeated and discouraged at the thought of just how MANY people there are out there scrambling towards the same goal, where there's really only standing room for a few of us in the genre particularly, but in the market as a whole. How do you stay confident and inspired? Or more importanly, motivated?

Yes, well, this is the conundrum of being an aspiring writer. Not only that there are so many people out there trying to do the same thing, but also not knowing if a) you're good enough to rise to the top and b) whether or not being good enough really matters. Because let's face it: there are plenty of good authors out there whose work will never see the light of day. Not all of them, probably not even a ton of them, as I do believe that most truly talented writers get a break at some point, but yeah, not everyone, which is what makes this whole venture truly damn scary.

I've often said on this blog, and I can never repeat it often enough, that it takes a certain temperament to endure this career, and I stand by that. Years, YEARS can go by without success, and the rejection can diminish even the most confident among us. The only way that you will endure is to surround your ego and your confidence with steel armor, armor that might get occasionally nicked in the face of defeat but is basically impenetrable. I think you likely either have this disposition or you don't. But I also believe that you can at least learn to shrug it off, to get knocked down but stand up and face it all over again.

I was probably born overconfident. This has not always worked to my benefit (trust me - ending relationships was never my strong suit, as I always believed I could find a way to work things out), but in this career, yes, it has been. I simply never doubted that I could succeed. Which I know sounds ridiculous, but that is truly how my brain functions. I remember once, many years ago, when I was still finding my freelancing sea legs, my husband gently suggested that if I didn't start to get more work, I should perhaps start looking for a JOB job. I scoffed, literally scoffed at him, because I couldn't believe that he didn't KNOW, as I did, that I'd get 'er done. To paraphrase Captain Kirk: I don't believe in no-win situations.

And surely, when defeaning silences amassed from freelance editors or when my first agent and I agreed to part ways (UGH!), this way of thinking buffered me from what might have been an impulse to spin on my heels and bolt the other direction. Look, this is a tough, tough, tough business. Other than acting, I can't think of one that might be as difficult. So you either have to resolve that you're going to do your best and stick with it, or you get out. Because if you take rejection to heart and let it diminish you, your confidence will suffer, your writing will weaken, you'll present yourself as less of a package than you are.

And what should you do if you're not born with natural armor? I'd remind you to not take any of this personally. Ever. Rejection of your idea or your novel often has nothing to do with you. Agents, for example, are looking for whatever fits their specific criteria; magazine editors aren't dwelling on whether or not they think your query was poorly written. They have a product to push and sell, and they're looking at whether or not you add (or don't) to their business. This is a business. Period. Don't ever forget that. Another tip? While you're waiting to get published, keep writing. In my opinion, writing is the best way that you are going to get better. My first manuscript wasn't published and looking back, it didn't deserve to be. My second one was better, and resulted in my debut novel. My third was even better (IMO), and it's a New York Times Best Seller. There's no shame in putting something aside and recognizing that it was a learning experience, the end.

I hope this post doesn't come off as making me sound like I'm some narcissistic ego-maniac. :) I'm actually not! LOL. But, just to give you some perspective as to why I promise that I'm not, when I was a kid, whenever I had some sort of competitive activity, my dad used to sit me down and say, "What's your last name?" I'd roll my eyes about a dozen times, and finally, after much prodding, would say, "Winn." (Get the play on words?) Looking back on it now, I'm grateful that he did this. It wasn't that he turned me into a competitive freak, it's that he let me know that I always held that win inside of myself, that I was always capable of coming out on top. Even if your last name is Brown, Smith or Weinberg, the same theory can hold true for you...and I think it's a critical one for success as a writer.

Wow, long post. Anyone want to chime in on how you keep your confidence afloat?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Getting to Know You

Question of the day: I'd be interested to know the type of 'relationship' you develop with a character before weaving them into a story. I have read about authors literally becoming obsessed with a character. To be honest, as far as I'm concerned, my characters are really just the tools allowing me to do the job - and while I feel a growing interest in them, I haven't felt the need to list their likes/dislikes/food allergies in any level of detail. Should this too be something that develops organically during the writing rather than the planning process - or am I missing a trick here?

This is a very good question, not least because I'm still learning A LOT about character development. I recently read a book, Hyatt Bass's, The Embers, which I'll discuss more once it hits bookstores in two weeks, that had the most in-depth, fleshed out characters I think I might have ever read. I mean, I was reading it, and I was so just impressed because truly, I don't know that I'm capable of going that deep. Well, maybe that's not fair; maybe I'm entirely capable, but I'll be frank in saying that I felt like her analysis of her characters blew mine out of the water.

But. To be honest, I guess maybe I'm okay with that. :) At least for the books I've written thus far. I finished her book and thought, "Wow, someday I'd like to write like that," but for now, what I've done with my characters has really worked for my writing process and for my books. My process is this: I primarily start with an emotional connection with these characters, which maybe sounds a little pretentious if you haven't written fiction before, but
for me, at least is the most important ingredient in my writing. I've stopped and started several manuscripts because I just didn't GET these characters, and when I don't GET them, I can't figure out all of their other little choices: their likes/dislikes/food allergies, etc. :)

So I start there. Once I'm inside their brains - and to be honest, one of the reasons the first part of book #3 took so long was that I really had to wrench myself into my protagonist much more so than in my other books - the rest of it falls into place when I'm writing. Maybe my characters could stand for some deeper probing, I'm not saying they couldn't. Again, I was truly so in awe of the Bass's character development. But for me, I sort of just connect with them, understand who they are, and then inform their choices as I go.

But as I said, I'm still learning a lot of about this - so how do you guys deal with character development? Anyone have a handy habit chart that you want to share?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Want to Win Some $$$

Of course you do! Eileen Cook, awesome writer, even funnier person, is running a contest over on her blog in which you can win a $75 gift certificate, which can buy you a slew of good reads, all to commemorate the six-month anniversary of the release of her book, What Would Emma Do?

Head on over to Eileen's website for details. Happy weekend!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

It's All About Distribution

Question of the day: How do books get in which stores, their placement etc? I've heard authors say if they don't make it in Walmart or Target, they expect to take a huge hit in their total sales. And that makes up a tiny slice of their total sales. Can you explain a bit more about this process?

Ah yes, this is one of the big secrets that many soon-to-be published authors don't uncover until they're published: distribution (and print run) are king. In many, many ways, much of the success of a book is determined long before it hits shelves, and is up to a team you might not even have thought much about - the sales team.

Here's what happens: you write your book, you and your agent deem it genius, you and your editor deem it genius, and then...from there...a lot of it is out of your hands. Hopefully the art dept gives it a fabu cover, and hopefully the marketing and PR team come up with an incredible campaign, but what really has to happen is that the sales team has to believe that this book can sell the hell out of itself, and thus, when they take it to Barnes or Borders or Amazon or Ingram or Target or Walmart, etc, their buyers want to place big orders. If the sales team just isn't as jazzed up as it needs to be or if they can't sway the buyers to place big orders, your book simply isn't going to get in enough places to make much of a dent. You can hustle the hell out of it and if buyers can't find it, well, they can't buy it now, can they? (I would say that this might be the single biggest complaint you hear from published authors - that no one can find his/her book, and if you feel like complaining, just know that you have company on this one.)

As far as what really makes the biggest hit, in terms of sales? Yes, Target, Walmart and Costco are biggies. In fact, I was just informed that Target placed a big order on the paperback of TOML and named it a Breakout Book from Aug-Oct, and my team (ugh, not to sound pretentious) is jazzed. Because the support of one of these biggies can completely change the trajectory of your sales and your success. That said, can you hit a best-seller list without it? Well, sure, my hardcover did, but you still need a strong distribution throughout the major chains (again, up to your sales teams and the store buyers). There are few things more frustrating than getting great reviews and great press and knowing that people WOULD buy it if they COULD find it, but since they can't find it, they forget about it, and voila, there goes the momentum that a prominent review might have held.

So how do buyers make their decisions? I'm not a buyer, but from what I can tell, it is partially based on previous sales, partially based on trade reviews, partially based on the amount of support and $$ that your publisher is throwing behind you. So they place an order, and these cumulative orders determine your initial print run. If Target or Walmart decides to place a biggie order, it can significantly boost your print run and generate a ton of enthusiasm which trickles down to your entire team...and thus, might help them sway other buyers to place bigger and better orders.

As far as Amazon, I think it depends on the book. I found that Amazon orders made up about 15% of Time of My Life hardcover sales. But then, I had strong distribution in stores, so maybe people preferred to literally get their hands on it when purchasing. Others might find this percentage higher if their book is harder to find or lower if their book is available everywhere (airports, grocery stores, etc).

It's funny to realize how much of this process is out of your hands. Well, maybe funny isn't the right word for it. :) But so much of it depends on outside factors: what buyers think will sell, other books that are launching the same month that yours are, how much marketing dough they're throwing your way, etc. I guess my advice is to go into it with realistic expectations: almost every author I know (barring the biggies) has gotten those emails saying, "I want to buy your book but can't find it!," and it is so, so frustrating, but it is simply how this game is played. Hopefully, your sales team is doing a kick-ass job (a HUGE shout-out to mine for landing me Target - I freaking LOVE THEM!!), and that's all you can ask for at the end of the day.

Other authors want to weigh in? I'm sort of fascinated by this subject.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

FIlm Agents - Yay or Nay?

Question of the day: I have often thought that my story/book would make a great movie (especially for Lifetime!), and my question to you is when it comes to books that are made into movies does that come about from your agent shopping the book around to film agents or you wait and see if interest comes to you?

While I don't have any concrete figures, I would say that 99.9% of the time, of books that actually get made, a film agent has shopped it around. Let's rewind a bit to discuss why.

I've said here before, but I'll say it again because I think I have a lot of new readers: getting your book published is a very, very difficult task. Getting it made into a movie makes getting your book published almost easy. In order for it to hit your local cineplex, an almost serendipitous stream of events have to occur. Including (but not limited to): 1) a film agent has to agree to take it on. So after finding a book agent, you now have to be vetted even further...these agents take on even fewer project than lit agents, AND there are fewer of them out there, so...the odds are small. 2) A producer (or director or some sort of behind-the-scenes figure) has to want to option it. 3) A studio has to agree to give this producer money. 4) A script has to be developed that all parties agree on. 5) The studio/producers has to decide that despite steps 1-4, it is still worth their time to pay everyone involved their big payouts by greenlighting the project. 6) You have to overcome a wide variety of snafus throughout the process (including but not limited to: weak scripts, temperamental directors, temperamental actors, temperamental producers, studio bankruptcy, etc, etc, etc.)

Phew! And those are seriously just SOME of the steps that come to mind. There are about a dozen others.

Film agents, like book agents, act as a filter between authors and producers/studios. The best agents (and I count mine among them - I'm very fortunate to have her), have relationships with producers, studios, directors, etc, and know what they're looking for, in the same way that lit agents have relationships with editors. Sure, of course, someone could read your book and contact you and want to option the rights. Definitely. But the odds that they'd have all of the other linchpins in place to actually get the movie made? Probably not high. I'm not suggesting that Steven Spielberg doesn't read books and contact authors - he might (though again, I'm guessing it's not his standard way of finding material - he has a team, I'm sure, who is always actively looking), but this route is sort of climbing up and over a mountain when there is a tunnel that offers direct access. But yeah, that tunnel has a pricey toll and doesn't allow everyone to pass through.

Sorry for the bad analogy. Anyway, I wish that I had other news; I wish I could say, yes, I know a dozen writers who have been contacted by legitimate producers who have then not only paid them fairly (I'm not talking about these ridiculous options for basically no money) but have gone on to get the movie made...but I can't. In fact, I know very few writers who have sold movie rights to begin with. Some, sure, but most? No.

But readers, correct me if I'm wrong. What say you? Possible to get your movie adapted without a film agent?