Backwards Books

Qualifying for an obscure facts about books award, is an article in The Daily Telegraph with the title ‘How Book Lovers Turned Things Around’ by Anita Singh.  Appearing on 19/4/17, it said:

“If you want to display books on shelves the traditional way, try turning your books back to front.  Placing books on shelves with the spines facing outwards is a relatively recent phenomenon, according to Mark Purcell, former libraries curator for the National Trust who now oversees the research collections at Cambridge University Library.

Mark Purcell

“‘Until fashions changed in the 18th century, book titles and authors were not printed on the spine but written in ink on the edge of pages.  The turnaround happened when the wealthy decided having titles embossed in gold leaf would add a certain cachet.  If you’d gone to almost any library in England, Wales or Scotland until 300 years ago the books were kept backwards,’ Purcell said at the Hay Festival.  ‘In those days the cultural supposition was that books had the title printed on the edges of the pages in ink.’

“The first known English book with a title gilded on the spine was printed in 1604, he said, and that was considered ‘cutting edge’.  Then followed, in the 17th and 18th centuries, what historians call ‘the great turnaround’, where the method of display was reversed.”

I suspect that a change in binding technology may also have been partially responsible for this change.  It may have simply been more difficult to print the author’s name and the title of the book on spine of the book.  But, judging by the picture above, it is easy to see why book owners preferred to display their possessions with the title and author’s name on the spine.

 

National Book Foundation

There was an interview in Time magazine a couple of months ago with the first black female to be named executive director of the National Book Foundation.

By way of background, the National Book Foundation website says:

“The mission of the National Book Foundation and the National Book Awards is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.

“History: On March 16, 1950, publishers, editors, writers, and critics gathered at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City to celebrate the first annual National Book Awards, an award given to writers by writers. The American Book Publisher’s Council, The Book Manufacturers’ Institute, and The American Booksellers’ Association jointly sponsored the Awards, bringing together the American literary community for the first time to honor the year’s best work in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

“In 1986, the publishing community established The National Book Foundation, a not-for-profit organization to oversee the Awards, diversify their base of philanthropic support and expand their mission. The Foundation board then hired Neil Baldwin—an author, and Manager of The Annual Fund at The New York Public Library—to become the Founding Executive Director of The National Book Foundation and help determine its agenda for the future. ”

Wikipedia says this about Lisa Lucas: “Lucas was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey.  Lucas attended the University of Chicago, where she studied English.  Reporting on Lucas’s 2016 appointment to executive director of the National Book Foundation, NBC said: ‘With Lucas at the forefront of the National Book Foundation and Awards, the future of publishing looks very bright.’  The Los Angeles Times said Lucas ‘is clearly poised to bring the organization to a new level…ideally suited’ to promote the foundation. She is the third director in the history of the foundation, ‘one of America’s key literary institutions,’ and the first woman and the first African-American to lead the organization.”

Lisa Lucas

In the Time interview, Lucas was asked: “What’s going to be the role of American literature in the new political era?”

Lucas: “People keep saying we’re postfact, and I think that books are the special place where we can go to understand the world we live in.”

Time: “In 2014, 27% of Americans didn’t read a single book.  How can we change that?”

Lucas: “People who make and market books probably assume that 27% of people aren’t going to bother with our product.  That’s the place where you first start correcting.  Assume everyone reads.  Lately, people have been talking a lot about book deserts, places where there isn’t access – how do we encourage people to open bookstores in these communities?”

Time: “What book would you recommend to our President?”

Lucas: “We were so lucky to have such a wonderful reader in President Obama, who said that reading novels helped make him a better citizen.  I can only hope that President Trump is as interested in our stories, lives and literature.  I’d recommend some books that have recently been celebrated by the foundation: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen; John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell’s March; Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land; and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning.

The full interview is on page 48 of the January 30, 2017 issue.

Promotion

Now that I have a new novel out, it’s time to think about promoting it, right?

Actually, one has to think about promoting a novel before one starts writing it.  Probably, the first question to ask is: who’s going to read it?

Let me give you a summary of my experience using various promotion channels.  And I should confess that while I have a marketing background, I would much rather write than promote (because I think I’m better at writing than at selling and I enjoy writing more)

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Press Release: My publisher writes a draft press release which I edit and it goes out to ‘thousands of libraries, book shops, media outlets’.  Fortunately, it’s in an electronic form, so that no trees are actually killed (not even from recipients printing it out, which, as far as I know, has never happened).

Website:  I have a website (www.williampeace.net), which I share with the publisher.  At the moment, I’m waiting for the publisher’s IT guru to add Seeking Father Khaliq.  Then, I’ll ask my IT handyman to add some real content.  Essential?  Yes.  Has it sold any books?  Doubtful.

Blog:  Here we are!  For me the main value of a blog is the work I have to do each week – other than writing – to prepare something which might be stimulating.  And, I very much enjoy it when someone responds!

Twitter:  Pass.  Unless you’re a big name author and people want to know what you had for breakfast, I doubt that 140 characters per day sells many books.

Goodreads & Amazon Author Pages:  Yes.  They even run my blog down the side – as does my website.

Facebook Pages:  Yes.  I have a personal page, an author’s page and there’s a page for each of my books.

Advertising:  Yes.  Five of my books have regular advertisements on Goodreads.  What I’ve got to do now is to revisit the advertising copy on some of the ads because the click-through-rate is too low.  There have been quite a few books added to readers’ lists.  Currently, I’m running a Facebook ad which covers the commuter homebase north of Manhattan.  Lots and lots of ‘Likes’.  Sales?  Hard to say.  The Facebook ads are expensive.

Giveaways:  I ran a giveaway on Goodreads last year.  Over one hundred people applied for ten books.  After I sent the books out, I got one semi-literate review, instead of the ten I should have received.  Don’t they do book reports in school any more?

Brick & Mortar Bookshops:  Bookshops will carry books only if they are bought on a sale or return basis.  That way, they get left with zero unsold stock.  My publisher offers a ‘deal’ where the author underwrites the cost of returns from bookshops.  When I pointed out that since they had something to gain from sales to bookshops, they ought to participate in the underwriting.  Their response was to put a cap on my potential exposure.  I signed up to that for a while, but there was no evidence that any bookshops bought copies.  I’ve offered to carry the stock for several independent bookshops in London, but there was no interest in even a sample book. I approached Barnes & Noble about carrying one or two of my books in selected stores.  No interest.  With (very) rare exceptions brick and mortar bookshops buy from traditional publishers.  Period.

Book Signings: A few years ago, my publisher would arrange book signings.  In fact I was offered a signing at a rural bookshop in Maine, but I had to buy and carry 50 books with me.  This service has since been discontinued.  In fact, I have the impression that book signings work only for non-fiction accounts of a juicy scandal written by one of the perpetrators.

Awards:  This is a semi-major project area for me. I’ve stopped submitting to the outfits that run multiple contests with unidentified judges.  That still leaves about one contest per month, and I’m getting recognition about half the time.  (No serious money yet.)

Reviews:  You may know that Amazon has cracked down on pay-for-review outfits: they won’t let them post reviews.  This makes some sense in that the money might be trying to buy a good review.  The problem is that there isn’t enough review capacity in the industry.  Willing and educated reviewers tend to flock to the best sellers.  Bloggers who offer  reviews typically have a very long waiting list.  Reciprocal reviewing services are an option, but, to be fair, one has to reading some marginally interesting stuff to win a hasty review.  Recently, I tried a different approach to the literary editors of large newspapers.  I had previously sent a few of them samples of my latest book.  No response.  I identified about fifteen literary editors of major newspapers in the UK, US and Canada, and I sent them carefully crafted messages about Seeking Father Khaliq, inviting them to review it.  There were two polite ‘no thank you’s.

So let me end with a fantastic offer!  If any of my readers would like to receive a free copy of Seeking Father Khaliq with an obligation to publish a brief, learned review, please email me at  bill(at)williampeace(dot)net!

Designing a Cover

I probably wrote about this subject quite a while ago, but it’s close enough to my heart that it warrants a re-exploration.

My publisher will produce two cover designs, and the author can have his/her choice.  To facilitate the process, there is a questionnaire for the author to fill out.  It includes such questions as:

  • what is the book about?
  • what ideas do you have for the cover?

I usually respond with a fairly detailed cover idea.  In the case of my second novel, Sin & Contrition, I didn’t have an idea, and I probably told the cover designer that the cover should reflect sin and repentance.  What came back was amazing, and I liked it immediately:

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But with the five novels that have followed since, I have had to make more of a personal effort.

My latest novel, Seeking Father Khaliq, is a modern allegory about one man’s search for spiritual fulfillment.  It is set almost entirely in the Middle East, and many of the issues involve Islam.  As the title implies a difficult search, I told the designer that I wanted a Middle Eastern maze with the Dome of the Rock (the famous mosque in Jerusalem) positioned at the end of the maze.  What came back was a modern, three-dimensional maze with the Dome of the Rock floating on the horizon.  It just didn’t work.  Next, I found two, antique two-dimensional mazes to choose from, and I suggested that the Dome of the Rock (in miniature) be positioned at the success point in the center.  This also didn’t work; I gave up on the maze.

While browsing dreamstimes.com’s collection of mosque photos, I came across a single photo of some people ascending a long flight of stairs toward the Dome of the Rock.  That’s it.  But meanwhile, my wife, who has a much better eye for things artistic than I, had objected to the font proposed by the designer for the cover: “It’s a dated Western font; there’s nothing Arabic about it!”  So, on a page offering ‘free Arabic fonts’, we found one we liked.

What came back from the designer was a lot better, but I asked that the photo be enlarged and positioned at the top of the cover, and that the white highlights be eliminated from the font.  We’ll see what comes back, and I expect to introduce the book and its cover to you when it goes to press within a month.

It is true that one can’t judge a book by its cover, but the cover can play an important role in introducing the book to the reader!

Amazon’s First Bookstore

Amazon opened its first physical bookstore in Seattle, Washington on 2 November last year.  At first glance it looks like any other bookstore, but there are important differences.  All the books are priced at the same prices as on amazon.com.  The books are shown cover-out, rather than spine-out.   The books are arranged by genre and by the number of stars received on Amazon.com.  Included by each book is a review that a customer has placed on the Amazon website.  The photos below are from Time Magazine.

Customers shop inside Amazon Books in Seattle, Washington, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. The online retailer Amazon.com Inc. opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Seattle's upscale University Village mall. Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

General View of Amazon’s First Bookshop

A customer shops at Amazon Books in Seattle, Washington, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. The online retailer Amazon.com Inc. opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Seattle's upscale University Village mall. Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

Reminder about price policy

A customer shops at Amazon Books in Seattle, Washington, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. The online retailer Amazon.com Inc. opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Seattle's upscale University Village mall. Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

Notice the reviews below each book

Customers shop at Amazon Books in Seattle, Washington, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. The online retailer Amazon.com Inc. opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Seattle's upscale University Village mall. Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

There is also a Kindle station

Inside The First Amazon.com Inc. Brick And Mortar Bookstore

There is a Most-Wished-For section reflecting habits on amazon.com

Inside The First Amazon.com Inc. Brick And Mortar Bookstore

Behind the checkout counter, Amazon displays books that are popular that week.

In the store, customers can try out Amazon’s electronic gadgets: including the Fire TV streaming device, Fire tablet and Kindle electronic reader.

The prices, the cover-out displays, the star ratings and the customer reviews will certainly be attractive to many customers.  Will other book sellers move to copy Amazon?  I doubt it.  The prices, star ratings and customer reviews are unique to Amazon, as are its electronic gadgets.  Over the weekend, I visited a Waterstone’s bookstore near home, and a found that selected books have a small card below them on which were hand-written comments by store employees.  While the cover-out display is attractive, I doubt that it is a feature which will be widely copied, because it results in a dramatic reduction in the number of titles which can be displayed is a store of a given size.

Still the store format does an excellent job promoting the Amazon brand, even it, at the prices charged, the staff employed, and the brick and mortar rental, it will probably lose money – unless the store sells a lot more than a conventional bookstore of the same size.

Book Piracy

There was an article in last Sunday’s Telegraph by author Robert Colville explaining how the electronic black market threatens authors’ livelihoods:

“There are two things you do when your book first gets published.  First, bookmark your Amazon page, for obsessive checking of sales rankings.  Second, set up a Google Alert, in case anyone is talking about it.  Or, as it turns out, stealing it.  A couple of weeks after I became an author, I got an automated email: a free version of my book had popped up on a site called DailyUploads.net.  A few hours later, my inbox pinged again: I’d been pirated.

“The reaction came in several stages.  First, outrage: they’re pirating my book!.  Next, a curious kind of pride: they’re pirating my book.  Finally, pure bafflement: why are they pirating my book?  At the time, the American edition – the one that had been copied – was 309,607th on Amazon.  This wasn’t giving the public what they wanted: it was giving them what they didn’t even know existed.

“My mistake, it turned out, was to imagine the pirates as anglers, plucking the juiciest titles.  In fact, they’re trawler-men, sweeping their nets across the publishing schedules. . . .

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“If you buy an eBook on line, it will come in a format that can’t be shared.  But there are free software tools that strip those protections away.   The resulting files are distributed across the internet – not for profit, but out of a conviction that people should be able to read what they want without paying for it, just as they should be able to watch films or listen to music.  And, like everything else, it’s speeding up.  In 2008/9, titles took 19 weeks to hit the electronic black market.  This year, Lloyd Shepherd, a British author of historical thrillers, published his fourth novel – and found a ‘boxed set’ of all four available for download within 72 hours.

“So who are these pirates? When Shepherd received the dreaded Google Alert, he went onto the forums to find out what motivated them.  ‘The people who are doing this systematically have got some very odd justifications for it’, he explains.  ‘Many insist that the information should be free.  Others have a sense that writers are wealthy and publishers are wealthy, and therefore they’re entitled to steal from them.’  In fact, as Philip Pullman, president of the Society of Authors, has pointed out, they’re poor and getting poorer – something that Pullman links directly to piracy.

“. . . according to government research, only 1% of UK internet users are reading eBooks illegally, compared to 9% for music or 6% for films.  But, says Stephen Lotinga, CEO of the Publishers Association, this still amounts to 7.2 million titles per year or 10% of eBook sales.

“Publishers need to play a constant game or Whac-a-Mole with the illegal sites, because the more convenient it is to download illegally, the more people will be tempted.”

I just completed a troll through the Google search of the titles of my six published books.  I found seventeen suspected pirate sites dealing in at least one of the six, with a maximum of five sites for one of my published novels.  This count doesn’t include foreign sites which were selling my novels at near market prices (my publisher has a substantial foreign rights network).  It also doesn’t include sites to which I sent a DMCA (Digital Material Copyright Association) infringement notice.  In the past, I have had a good response from these notices: to ignore them is illegal, and usually my title will magically disappear.  But many sites do not have a link to a DMCA notice, and some that do have a link over complicate the process.  I’ve sent my publisher the list of the seventeen for them to work on.  After all, they have may more books than my six at risk!

Famous Books Turned Down by Publishers

There was a column in The Daily Telegraph last month by Charlotte Runcie, who, as far as I can tell, is a poet and freelance journalist.  Her column includes five egregious examples of famous authors whose books were turned down by publishers.

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Charlotte Runcie

Carrie

Stephen King received so many rejection letters for Carrie that he kept them all on a spike in his bedroom.  When it was first published in 1974, it was a runaway success, and the paperback sold more than a million copies in its first year.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

J K Rowling’s first Harry Potter manuscript was snubbed by 12 different publishers.  Eventually, Bloomsbury took a chance on the debut novelist: they offered an advance of £1500 and suggested she get a day job, just in case.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

John le Carré’s Cold War classic was brutally rejected by a publisher whose dismissive verdict was that the writer hadn’t ‘got any future’.  Still, it fared better than William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which was turned down 20 times.

Lolita

This daring novel was rejected by so many American publishers, including one who recommended ‘it be buried under a stone for a thousand years’, that Vladimir Nabokov eventually published it in France – a more enlightened market.

Moby Dick

Herman Melville’s manuscript was dismissed with a despairing note from a publisher who said, ‘First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?  While this is rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers.  For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous maidens?’  The book was eventually published, whale and all, but Melville had to fund the typesetting himself.”

As Andrew Michael Hurley said about the frustrations of writers finding a willing publisher, in a previous post: “So many times you feel like giving up and thinking, this isn’t going to happen.  But it does. It absolutely does.”

Publishing Success

There is a story in The Daily Telegraph last month about how Andrew Michael Hurley achieved success with his first novel, The Loney which won the Costa Prize for the year’s best first novel.  This May, it won the Book of the Year award at the British Book Industry Awards.   Hurley is a former teacher from Preston (northern England).  He self-published two collections of stories before taking up part-time work as a librarian, so that he would have time to work on a novel.  He spent almost four years working on The Loney before showing it to friends and colleagues.

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Andrew Michael Hurley

The people who read it, he recalls, “Said it was great – but where would it go in bookstores?”  (The novel is set on a wild stretch of northwest English coast, and mixes captivating descriptions of the landscapes with a mixture of the ridiculous and the terrifying.)  The article says, “It follows the activities of a small group of hardline Catholics – the narrator, his developmentally challenged adult brother, his fervently religious parents and two elderly friends – as they mount an expedition to a holy well in the company of their new parish priest.”

Three years ago, Mr Hurley couldn’t find a publisher anywhere.  “He sent it to agents and small publishers, all of whom responded either with silence or with polite notes of refusal.  Eventually, searching the internet for possible publishers, he came across Tartarus, a small press specialising in ‘literary supernatural/strange/horror fiction’ and run from a house in the Yorkshire Dales by the writers Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker.  ‘It was just one of many books when it arrived,’ says Russell.  ‘Ros read it and loved it, but I was slightly sceptical, mainly because over the years we’d had the impression that our customers preferred short story collections.  But as Ros said, the whole idea of Tartarus was to publish books that we liked – and if we liked then, hopefully other people would as well.’

“In London, the sharp-eyed publisher Mark Richards at John Murray read the book and recognised it, he says, as ‘a first novel of extraordinary assuredness.  It felt like the work of someone who had been writing for 40 years.’  He made contact with Hurley and the proprietors of Tartarus and arranged ‘to bring it to the mass market audience that the book could definitely reach.’

“Hurley says, ‘I’m 41 now, so it’s been a long time coming.  I’m very grateful that I can concentrate on doing something that I love more than anything else.  All the rest is just an added – though very welcome – extra. . . . I’m terrible at giving advise on writing,’ he says, ‘but perseverance has to be the key.  So many times you feel like giving up and thinking, this isn’t going to happen.  But it does.  It absolutely does.'”

When Your Book Becomes a Movie: Rewards and Pitfalls

Carol Pinchefsky has an article under the title Wizard Oil on the Intergalactic Medicine Show website about the pros and cons of having your book become a movie. She is a freelance writer of technology, games, and geekery for various publications living in New York.  Extracted below are some of the key points she makes.

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Carol Pinchefsky

The Lord of the Rings films and the combined Harry Potter films have earned $7.3 billion. Both sets of movies were adapted from books.  Royalties from her adaptations have helped make Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling the second richest woman in entertainment, as well as the richest author in history. This number is higher than the gross domestic product of some small countries, including the Bahamas and Mongolia, enough to keep an author in orchid-scented paper and gold-dusted typewriter ribbon for several lifetimes. Most science fiction and fantasy authors are happy to get by on a fraction of that amount.

“Here’s how it works: a producer or production company ‘options’ a book — that is, buys the rights (typically for several thousand dollars) to adapt the book for a period of time (typically from eighteen months to two years). If the producers have not adapted the book when the agreed-upon the period of time lapses, the rights revert back to the author.  Few books that are optioned are actually produced; some books get optioned more than once. Although most optioned books languish in “development hell,” with promises of big-name stars dangled in front of the author, only to have the project stymied for years on end, sometimes these promises come to life.  . . . For some authors, seeing their books turned into extravagantly funded film is the culmination of a dream.  But is having a book adapted a good experience for the author?

“Financially, yes. The option fee is like free money: thousands of dollars for what amounts to almost no extra work. And if the book gets produced, the author receives royalties–even more free money.  Plus, books adapted for film or television also get an exposure and recognition that other books do not; curious cinephiles often find their ways to original material of a show they’ve enjoyed. This can catapult an author from a position of moderate success into bestsellerdom.

“But adaptation is not without potential hazards: comically bad acting, stupefying dialog, and a complete and utter lack of understanding of the original book have made their way into the cinema and onto the television…all bearing the name of the author.  (This happens with such frequency that fans of a particular book are reluctant to watch adaptations of their favorite books. Even though they would like to share their passion with the world, fans can bitterly resent shoddy or inconsistent portrait.  The author has no recourse, except to divorce him/herself from the production. But by then, her/his name has become linked to a disaster. For some, no amount of money can heal a wounded reputation.

“However, several authors can proudly bear witness to successes, where they’ve sat on set, consulted with the director, and even contributed to the script. More important to them, they have seen the characters and the worlds they’ve created come alive. “I went to visit the set, and my characters are there, only everybody else can see them too,” says Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files, now a new series on the SciFi channel.  Butcher’s joy did not end there. ‘I got to be an extra in one of the shots, I get to be one of Butters’ assistants and morgue guys and I help carry out a coffin.’

“Tanya Huff, author of Vicki Nelson Investigates series, says that not only was she treated well by the producers and asked her opinion on casting decisions, ‘I was so incredibly honoured to be asked to write a script for the show.  I’d never written a script…writing for television being very, very different than writing for print.’

“Despite their positive experiences, some authors were not completely unscathed. Although Mike Mignola, author of the Hellboy, was not present during initial talks with producers, he found that part of the process slightly uncomfortable: ‘They’re dissecting and reassembling your child. You don’t want to be in the room for that.’ For Butcher, ‘if anything, the worst thing has been critics. Apparently now that there’s success, the critics feel much more free to whip out the scalpels and go at you to draw blood.’  But those negative experiences pale next to the worst-case scenario that happened to acclaimed author Ursula K. Le Guin.  The adaptation of her Earthsea series had only a passing resemblance to her original material, for example, dark-skinned characters were made white. Le Guin disowned the made-for-TV movie.  ‘Despite lavish ‘promises’ of consultation, I was entirely excluded from the process. Both films were exploitive, using my books merely for the name and some character names and ideas, but arbitrarily changing and ‘stupidifying’ the story,’ says Le Guin.

“Authors find it flattering to know that people with money care enough about their book to spend months of their lives and millions of dollars on it. But this balm to the ego should not replace common sense. The authors whose books have been adapted have advice:

“Butcher says, ‘Make sure you’re working with an agent you can rely on. Make sure you stay in close contact with your agent. Make sure you read all the contracts, because they say things and you think you know what they mean and you don’t.’

“Le Guin says, “When it comes to the actual contract: If they tell you they love your marvelous book and are going to put it straight onto the screen just as it is, if they promise to send you the screenplay and listen to your reactions to it because they know you are greater than Shakespeare, if they give you a fancy title such as Creative Consultant–even if they give you some money to be Creative Consultant–if they tell you they will consult with you on all important points–don’t believe them…. Mostly the rule for the author is ‘Take the money and run.’ And never look back.’

“Huff says, ‘If the process goes off the rails, as sometimes it does, give your readers credit enough to realize that you had nothing to do with it. And if, as in my case, it’s a wonderfully realized extension of your work, smile and say thank you.’

“Authors with a specific vision as to how their works should be portrayed, and are not willing to compromise, should not allow their books to be filmed–no matter how tempting the financial reward (potentially billions of dollars, but more likely in the tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands). Know yourself.  Mignola says, ‘You have to remember film is an entirely different medium…. I think hopefully nobody is so naive that they think their work is going to be preserved as is on screen. And you don’t want them to mess with it, don’t let them have it.’

“But many authors would like to see their books reach a larger audience while concurrently lining their pockets. How does an author get her/his books turned into the next Hollywood blockbuster?  In all cases, my interviewees were approached by a production company, rather than contacting a production company themselves.  Literary agent Joshua A. Bilmes says this is almost always the case. ‘Just about every project that I have sold to Hollywood has been from somebody finding their own way to a property and wanting it.’

“‘You have to contact someone who has contacts in the film industry. There’s not a lot of forums for unsolicited work to get seen by the film industry,’ says Eli Kirschner, who works for Created By, a management company that specializes in adapting popular books into movies.  Kirschner says the best way for an author to get his/her works adapted is ‘getting your books publicized…. If a writer isn’t really well known or doesn’t get an Entertainment Weekly and Publisher’s Weekly review…I’d say that they do kind of have to know someone in the film business.’ Failing that, ‘If an author believes in his work, he can make a trip to LA and get his book in the hands of people who can do something with it,’ says Kirschner.

“Having a novel adapted is an arduous, lengthy process for an author. And for those who create their own universes and tend to work alone, the loss of control can be unsettling.

“But for some authors, the potential rewards outweigh the very real risks. As Huff says, ‘I have had my character, Henry Fitzroy’s, teeth at my throat. It doesn’t get better than that.'”

 

Writing Contests: A Cautionary Tale

Warren Adler published the following article, extracted below, on the Huffington Post Books page in June of last year.  Until I read it, I hadn’t realised there was such explosive growth of on-line writing contests.

Warren Adler is best known for The War of the Roses, his masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated dark comedy hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito. Adler’s international hit stage adaptation of the novel will premiere on Broadway in 2016. Adler has also optioned and sold film rights for a number of his works including Random Hearts, The Sunset Gang, The War of the Roses – The Children,Target Churchill, Residue, Mourning Glory, and Capitol Crimes.

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Warren Adler

“When I started the Warren Adler Short Story Contest in 2006 I had rather lofty ideas about integrity and fidelity to the goal of resurrecting the popularity of the short story which was in decline. I appointed qualified people, meaning people who were either authors themselves or teachers of literature or creative writing with the taste and experience to judge the submissions honestly.

“It was a difficult chore at best and I wanted to guarantee that those who were the chosen winners were the very best of those who submitted their work. I offered cash prizes out of my own pocket. The first Prize Winner received $1000 and prizes were offered for our second and third choices. The submissions were free of charge.

“In addition to the cash prizes I promised that the prizewinning stories would be published as an e-book anthology on Amazon and offered for sale with royalties given to the authors of the stories. My hope, of course, was to give a boost not only to the short story format but also to the writing careers of the talented writers who participated. The book, as promised, is available on Amazon.

“The digital publishing revolution was in its infancy and I believe I was the first novelist to ever create such a contest on the Internet. As the cyber world grew so did the submissions. It became difficult and time consuming to read all of the offerings and finding enough quality judges to devote the time to honest assessment was becoming exceedingly burdensome to administer. The last thing I wanted to do was jeopardize the integrity of the contest.

“Eventually I had no choice but to begin charging a small submission fee designed to perhaps curb the number of submissions as well as to provide judges with a stipend that would make it worth their time. Above all, the goal was to maintain the integrity of the contest and further the original goals of the enterprise.

“After seven years of sponsoring the contest, I opted for a hiatus. It was a victim of its own success. To do it right required time, personnel and resources. I finally suspended the contest. I had no desire to create a startup and it was interfering with my own busy writing career.

“What I didn’t imagine was the tsunami of writing contests that it inspired. Worse, I never suspected that it would serve as a business model for entrepreneurs to get into the game just for profit.

“I am somewhat suspect of the value these contests hold for participants.

“Self-publishing requires self-promotion. It is an absolute necessity and comes with the territory, requiring time, effort and funding. The goal is “discoverability.” Most never achieve it, regardless of the quality of their work.

“The rise of self-published fiction authors has been spectacular. Unfortunately the glut has made it difficult for them to stand out from the crowd however excellent their writing is. Genre writers with promotional skills along with lots of money and time might find a niche, although the odds of making enough money to give up their day job is long.

“These writing contests, with their prestigious sounding names, offer the impression of quality promotion for the winners and, of course, bragging rights which can be dubious and of suspect value. One wonders who the judges are that are taking on such a massive amount of submissions. Few of these contest sponsors reveal their methods or the people who read this mass of material and make their judgments. It is often true of the most prestigious awards like the Pulitzer and the Nobel and I often wonder how some of the winners have reached the attention of the judges and who makes the screening decisions.

“By and large, internet-based contests tend to always charge a submission fee, which accounts for the sponsor’s profits as well as its proliferation. Considering that these contests are expanding they must be profitable for the sponsors and are inspiring others to create mirror image money-making opportunities using a similar business plan. Their targets are vulnerable, aspiring writers desperate for recognition and the realization of their dreams.

“Most of these contests are based upon dreams of literary glory, popularity, riches and movie adaptations on the part of authors. All truly believe that their work is deserving of recognition, popularity and prestige. Many probably fit that description. Indeed the sponsors know this and exploit it. It is the key to their monetary success.

“There is a great deal of literary talent out there who go unrecognized and do not attract the traditional publishers. Of course it works both ways. The traditional publishers sometimes gamble on first novels and often lose their bets in the sales arena. Such is the nature of the beast.

“This is not meant to be a blanket condemnation of writing contests. But since the Internet is a vast swamp of snake oil salesman hawking worthless schemes, products and ideas, consider this a cautionary tale.”

My experience of writing contests is very similar to the picture Mr Adler paints.  I have entered a number of contests with most of my books, and I have won some ‘awards’ – but no money.  Even winning first place in a genre did not merit a financial award.  So, I have a wall covered with award certificates.  Invariably, I had to pay an entry fee.  To me, this doesn’t seem unreasonable: there are administrative costs and (presumably) judges fees to be paid.  But, I have never learned how the judging would take place, let alone the identity of a single judge.  I attended one award ceremony in London, at which I expected a journalist or two to be present: there were none.  Attendees consisted of some of the authors who won awards and two low-ranking admin people representing the contest.

Having said this, I still try out new contests that appear to offer more value, particularly those that offer a critique of the work submitted.