Why 2017 Lacked Posts

We know there were no posts to the Tameri blog for 2017. We had a lot hap­pen­ing, not the least of which is the com­ple­tion of my (Scott) mas­ter of fine arts degree in film and dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy. We did main­tain post­ing to the Facebook page and to our Twitter account, but we didn’t blog. We know that it was a mis­take to let the blog go stale.

It’s nev­er good to neglect a blog for a year. Followers assume it has been aban­doned for­ev­er and some RSS appli­ca­tions mark the blog as dead. Subscribers leave, unless they hap­pen to fol­low you on Facebook and Twitter. Do fol­low the Tameri Guide social media feeds. We are active on Facebook dai­ly.

Now that the MFA is com­plete and some per­son­al mat­ters are set­tling down a bit (a lit­tle bit) we will revive this blog with posts about our favorite books and writ­ing.

Oh, and I co-edit­ed a book and wrote a chap­ter for anoth­er text.

Using a Spreadsheet to Write

Beat sheets, out­lines, sto­ry­board, and oth­er tools help me orga­nize my thoughts when writ­ing. Too many writ­ers stick with word proces­sors as their sole “dig­i­tal tools” when many oth­er great appli­ca­tions exist — and “appli­ca­tions” for var­i­ous appli­ca­tions, too.

How can you use a spread­sheet to write? And why might you try this?

A spreadsheet’s columns and rows, a reflec­tion of the ledger books they replaced, make an ide­al way to track your pages, words, min­utes, or oth­er met­rics. My writ­ing spread­sheets range from sim­ple check­lists to com­plex sheets with cal­cu­la­tions reflect­ing how much I need to cut or add to parts of sto­ry. (Scrivener’s out­line view is sim­i­lar to this, so allow me to plug Scrivener yet again.)

My basic sto­ry sheet resem­bles the chart on our web­site page “Plot and Story”.

Some plot points should be reached at spe­cif­ic pages, espe­cial­ly ear­ly in a sto­ry, while oth­ers should be reached with­in ranges of pages, as a per­cent­age of the over­all work. Using a spread­sheet helps me track these per­son­al ideas.

For exam­ple: I like to have the “per­ceived prob­lem / chal­lenge” and the “real prob­lem” with­in the first ten pages of a 90 minute screen­play or stage script. In a book, I might want those with­in the first “ten per­cent” of the work. Express each plot point in 25 words or less.

Major Beat 3 -> Perceived / Immediate Challenge -> Bomb tick­ing in a sub­way tun­nel
Minor…
Major Beat 4 -> Real Challenge -> Corrupt lead­ers cre­at­ing the chaos to gain pow­ers
Minor…

Using Excel or anoth­er spread­sheet, I include columns reflect­ing page counts, min­utes, real time, lit­er­ary time, and more. These met­rics help me pace my sto­ries.

Do you have a check­list? If not, cre­ate one. Every cre­ative writer using nar­ra­tives should have a beat sheet, because it forces you to rec­og­nize when things are miss­ing from a sto­ry.

Comments and Marginalia in Manuscripts

As I was writ­ing a post about “com­ments” in com­put­er pro­gram­ming source code, I not­ed that I like com­ments and mar­gin­a­lia when I write for “human” read­ers. Even when writ­ing for myself, I like to pre­serve my notes. One of the things we lose with the tran­si­tion from paper to dig­i­tal media is the mar­gin­a­lia and oth­er marks read­ers and writ­ers leave as they read and write.

Reading and Marking

My wife and I both love books. We revere books. Because of this respect for the print­ed page, nei­ther of us is an active high­lighter, anno­ta­tor, or scrib­bler. When I took a class that required mark­ing in a book, it pained me to be destroy­ing the pages with green and orange high­lights.

When I buy a book, espe­cial­ly a text­book, I don’t want someone’s marks on the pages. First, the pre­vi­ous reader(s) might have marked the wrong pas­sages as impor­tant. Second, it is dis­tract­ing. I want to read and think about a text on my own, at least ini­tial­ly.

I do take notes, and I use Post-It flags to mark impor­tant pas­sages. But, I can­not push myself to mark on the pages, no mat­ter how use­ful that might be. I real­ize that most of the books I own have lit­tle resale val­ue, but some are valu­able. They are all valu­able to me, regard­less.

However, I real­ize that writ­ing notes and high­light­ing strate­gi­cal­ly are good study skills. These are skills I wish my stu­dents pos­sessed. It would help most of them earn bet­ter grades and, more impor­tant­ly, con­sid­er texts more thought­ful­ly.

When I do see a student’s text marked, the pages are near­ly sol­id mark­ings. I have to explain to a stu­dent, yes, authors should make every word count, but you high­light­ing every word doesn’t help you focus on the most essen­tial pas­sages. If more than a quar­ter of a chap­ter is marked, there is no way to review and study the con­tent effec­tive­ly in the future.

Here are some sug­ges­tions for mark­ing and mar­gin­a­lia I offer my class­es:

  1. Limit marks to less than a third, ide­al­ly less than a quar­ter, of any chap­ter or sec­tion.
  2. Use more than one col­or to code the text in a mean­ing­ful man­ner.
  3. Mark words or phras­es that rep­re­sent the essence of the con­tent, espe­cial­ly tech­ni­cal jar­gon.
  4. Annotate when a sec­tion refers back to anoth­er sec­tion, with a page num­ber and word or phrase. (For exam­ple: “Ref’s c2p23: con­ti­nen­tal drift.”)
  5. Compare your notes to the index and table of con­tents, because titles and index ref­er­ences reflect major con­cepts in most texts.
  6. Outline using the marks you made, updat­ing mar­gin­a­lia as nec­es­sary.

Marking a text seems tedious to many stu­dents. And, if they are avid read­ers and book lovers like me, they might resist mark­ing direct­ly on a page. That is why I also demon­strate using Post-It flags and notes for book lovers.

Unlike when I was an under­grad­u­ate, today stu­dents and teach­ers car­ry note­books and tablet com­put­ers. I rec­om­mend using ded­i­cat­ed out­lin­ing soft­ware, either while read­ing or while review­ing marks. Many word proces­sors have an out­line mode, and you can use any text edi­tor for notes, but a pro­gram such as OmniOutliner lets you orga­nize and reor­ga­nize your thoughts. I demon­strate OmniOutliner and sev­er­al free alter­na­tives to my class­es when I dis­cuss the val­ue of out­lin­ing after read­ing a text.

For books that are in dig­i­tal for­mats, most e-read­er soft­ware has high­light­ing and com­ment modes. I scan some old­er, more frag­ile texts and “mark” the PDF copy. When I can work with a dig­i­tal copy of a text, I write a lot of notes to myself.

Notes While Writing

I make notes to myself while writ­ing. Not a few notes, either. These notes help me when I edit, reor­ga­nize, and revise any text. Sadly, many writ­ers work­ing at com­put­ers don’t take notes. In the dark ages, a writer would write in long­hand or type and make all man­ner of marks on the pages. Those marks and notes were help­ful, but that prac­tice is fad­ing.

Tangent: My the­o­ry is that long­hand and typ­ing force writ­ers to go slow­ly, to think about every word. When writ­ing each word takes a bit of effort, I write less — but I write bet­ter. That’s why I write on legal pads and in note­books, espe­cial­ly when writ­ing fic­tion. There are few­er dis­trac­tions and less temp­ta­tion to gen­er­ate high word counts on paper.

When I do open the lap­top or pull out the key­board draw­er, I keep mak­ing notes while I enter text into my text edi­tors and word proces­sors. I spend part of a class meet­ing on using the “com­ments” fea­ture in var­i­ous pro­grams because I want my stu­dents to devel­op this note tak­ing habit. By the end of the semes­ter, stu­dents are thank­ing me — as if some great mys­tery had been rev­eled to them. (Most claim to be mas­ters of Word, yet have lit­tle aware­ness of tem­plates, styles, macros, or basic automa­tion tools.)

Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages both sup­port com­ments. When you print, you can con­trol whether or not to print the com­ments — but there’s no need to delete the com­ments before you print the doc­u­ment! Too often, my stu­dents delete com­ments that might be use­ful lat­er. If you must remove com­ments and oth­er marks from a doc­u­ment before send­ing it to anoth­er per­son, make a copy of the file first.

Do not place notes as text with­in the doc­u­ment, not even as “hid­den” or “non-print­ing” text. Comments in a doc­u­ment will alter the lay­out, page count, and word count. Learn to use your word proces­sors and edi­tors prop­er­ly.

One rea­son I love Pages and Scrivener is that they save “ver­sions” and “snap­shots” of doc­u­ments. If you decide that what you have been typ­ing for the last four hours isn’t what you want­ed, not a prob­lem. You can “revert to pre­vi­ous” or “restore snap­shot” and get back the ver­sion you liked. The edits are not lost, either — they are stored as com­ments and notes.

Additional Notes

I encour­age using com­ments, and I also encour­age keep­ing all oth­er notes tak­en dur­ing the writ­ing process.

Good writ­ers plan. They out­line. They research. As they write, they revise and reor­ga­nize what they’ve already writ­ten. I’ve always kept a phys­i­cal fold­er for each writ­ing project, and I try to use a sin­gle note­book or legal pad for my hand­writ­ten notes, that way the notes for more than one project don’t end up inter­min­gled. I’m usu­al­ly work­ing on more than one project, so keep­ing orga­nized is essen­tial.

I advise all writ­ers, espe­cial­ly my stu­dents, to keep every­thing for a project togeth­er, both phys­i­cal­ly and vir­tu­al­ly. How you orga­nize the mate­ri­als should reflect your work style, but be orga­nized. It nev­er seems to fail that the notes you thought you didn’t need any­more become essen­tial to a pas­sage you are writ­ing or revis­ing. Even when you fin­ish a project, keep the notes.

Every writ­ing project has to poten­tial to become anoth­er project. For exam­ple, I’ve had short sto­ries become stage plays, and then morph into screen­plays. I’ve tak­en nov­els and turned them into scripts, and vice-ver­sa. The notes I’ve main­tained along the way have enabled me to adapt works effec­tive­ly. Adaptation is hard work, be it an old short sto­ry that inspires a nov­el or a nov­el that might work well as a film. Without my notes, I might not remem­ber why I made var­i­ous choic­es.

Non-fic­tion also changes. I’ve writ­ten arti­cles that lead to oth­er arti­cles. You don’t want to “reuse” ear­li­er works, but you do want to draw from them. Good research for an arti­cle remains valu­able even if it is con­tra­dict­ed by lat­er research find­ings. Having old notes, there­fore, helps con­struct bet­ter argu­ments in lat­er works.

While I love phys­i­cal fold­ers, notepad, and note­cards, even­tu­al­ly you type a man­u­script or research paper. Since my ear­li­est com­put­ing days, I’ve orga­nized my projects care­ful­ly. At first, each project was a sin­gle flop­py disk — or set of disks with labels of the same col­or. Multicolored disks were a great inven­tion, too! Once hard dri­ves became afford­able, I cre­at­ed a “writ­ing” direc­to­ry (fold­er) and cre­at­ed fold­ers with­in that for each project.

Today, I sill keep fold­ers with­in fold­ers, care­ful­ly named for quick search­es. The fold­er approach is good, but for a few years now I have tak­en this to the next step by using Scrivener for drafts of most writ­ing projects. If you write a lot, buy Scrivener (http://www.literatureandlatte.com). I also sug­gest buy­ing Bookends (http://www.sonnysoftware.com) if you need to pre­pare bib­li­ogra­phies and track sources. Without writ­ing a review of Scrivener (there are many online, since it is a great pro­gram), I’ll explain my endorse­ment sim­ply: it orga­nizes any writ­ing, and all the research for that project, in a nice “binder” with sec­tions.

Whether a writer uses Scrivener and Bookends or some oth­er com­bi­na­tion of tools, keep­ing notes is invalu­able.

It is easy, too easy, to delete a doc­u­ment or project from dig­i­tal media. A click or a key­stroke and away the file goes, the bits to be reclaimed and reused for oth­er data. With hard dri­ves, USB mem­o­ry sticks, and oth­er media so afford­able, there real­ly is no good rea­son to delete doc­u­ments or oth­er files. Resist the temp­ta­tion, unless you have a very, very good, extreme­ly good, rea­son to do so. And even then, I’d dis­cour­age dele­tion.

What if You Become Famous?

That might seem like a sil­ly ques­tion, but it is seri­ous to schol­ars.

When writ­ers worked on paper, libraries and uni­ver­si­ties could archive the mate­ri­als of famous indi­vid­u­als. While some writ­ers’ notes were destroyed (Jane Austen) and oth­ers hoped their notes would be destroyed (Franz Kafka), the man­u­scripts, notes, jour­nals, and cor­re­spon­dence left behind by writ­ers are use­ful arti­facts for schol­ars.

E-mail is unlike­ly to be saved, so we are like­ly los­ing the notes writ­ers exchange with edi­tors, pub­lish­ers, and agents. We are also los­ing most of their per­son­al cor­re­spon­dence. (Granted, most emails isn’t wor­thy of being archived, but not all hand­writ­ten or typed let­ters were impor­tant, either.) E-mail, text mes­sages, and oth­er elec­tron­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tions quick­ly fade, though some ser­vices like Twitter do offer their archives to the Library of Congress and uni­ver­si­ties for research.

Sadly, even archived data can be ren­dered use­less.

The flop­py disks, old hard dri­ves, and oth­er media stored in our base­ment can­not be accessed by our cur­rent com­put­ers. I have no flop­py dri­ves, no tow­er cas­es with IDE inter­faces, no way to access the odd media that seemed so amaz­ing 15 years ago (Zip and LS-120 dri­ves).

I try to remem­ber to migrate old doc­u­ments and files, includ­ing those I haven’t used for years, to each new sys­tem I buy or hard dri­ve I install. I’m sure I’ve missed some files over the years, though. In those cas­es, I should still have print­ed doc­u­ments in file fold­ers.

Do your part to keep com­ments and mar­gin­a­lia alive.

Marketing a Book (or any Creative Work)

You as a Brand

If you are a writer or artist of any kind, you are a brand. I tell my stu­dents, every per­son is a brand: you become asso­ci­at­ed with a prod­uct or ser­vice. Your rep­u­ta­tion for integri­ty and qual­i­ty will pro­ceed you. I could write a long essay on the val­ue of being hon­est, hard­work­ing, and so on.

Writers rely on build­ing a fol­low­ing, usu­al­ly based on con­sis­tent­ly good works. But, even that’s not enough. You also have to get peo­ple inter­est­ed enough that they will read or see your works. Marketing mat­ters.

One of the mis­takes authors and artists make is assum­ing that a pub­lish­er, pro­duc­er, agent, or some­one else will deal with mar­ket­ing and pro­mot­ing the work — and your career. You might tell your­self, “My suc­cess is their suc­cess.” Unfortunately, you’re like­ly one of many. Yes, you might be viewed as a com­mod­i­ty by the peo­ple you expect to mar­ket you.

Agents, pub­lish­ers, pub­lish­ers… they do love you while your career is hot. Become the next big thing, and every­one will be more than hap­py to work to pro­mote you. This is not because every­one is greedy or self­ish; it is more com­plex. Since these peo­ple rep­re­sent dozens, hun­dreds, or thou­sands of artists, they have to invest their ener­gy (and mon­ey) wise­ly.

An author recent­ly told me that he didn’t want to be the one pro­mot­ing his works. It felt like pride or con­ceit to be claim­ing peo­ple should buy his book. As an artist, you cre­at­ed your work for an audi­ence, though we some­times tell our­selves dif­fer­ent­ly. You must reach out to that poten­tial audi­ence, some­how.

The Marketing Steps

Step 1: Ask Permission

Be hon­est with your agent or oth­ers involved in pro­mot­ing your work. Ask if you can do some of the leg­work to pro­mote your­self and your work. Keep things pos­i­tive, explain­ing that you under­stand your work is one of many and you sim­ply want to help.

Step 2: Review Existing Plans

You should know what has been or will be done to pro­mote your work. Compare any exist­ing plan to the remain­der of this quick and sim­ple mar­ket­ing guide. Only do those things that won’t under­cut the efforts of mar­ket­ing experts. Just as you should let an edi­tor do what an edi­tor does best, let the mar­ket­ing pro do his or her job. But… you might need to help fill in some gaps.

Step 3: Web Presence!

If you don’t have an “offi­cial” web­site and/or Facebook page, cre­ate those. (If you need help, we are avail­able to guide you.) If your works are avail­able on Amazon, also cre­ate an Amazon “Author’s Page” and link that to your oth­er Web pres­ences.

Have your online sites com­plete and ready before mov­ing to the next steps. You should include links to your web­site and Facebook page with­in your email sig­na­ture, on busi­ness cards, and in any mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als.

Step 4: Create a Media List

Create a list of the local media. Starting local is much eas­i­er than try­ing to con­tact nation­al media. Start with local news­pa­pers and broad­cast media. Once you iden­ti­fy those orga­ni­za­tions, iden­ti­fy par­tic­u­lar colum­nists, reporters, and show hosts with a his­to­ry of cov­er­ing authors and artists. Sending press releas­es, mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als, and review copies of a work to “Editor” or “Manager” is inef­fec­tive. You need spe­cif­ic names. You also need to know enough that you can con­nect your work to oth­ers the media per­son­al­i­ty has men­tioned.

Step 5: Write a Template Letter

Personal let­ters work bet­ter than press releas­es. Compose a tem­plate let­ter that can be cus­tomized to each media per­son­al­i­ty you hope to reach. The tem­plate will be the “body” of the let­ter, and then you will write cus­tom open­ings and clos­ings for each recip­i­ent. Today, most peo­ple will send an email. Still, use the tem­plate approach instead of send­ing “off-the-cuff” let­ters to strangers.

Step 6: Customize the Template

Your cus­tomized let­ters should begin with a men­tion of some the media per­son­al­i­ty has done that enjoyed and that con­nects to the work you are pro­mot­ing. For exam­ple:

Your inter­view with Beverly Smith, author of Knights of Nowhere, was a great intro­duc­tion to a mas­ter of young adult fan­ta­sy. As a fan­ta­sy author, I appre­ci­at­ed your respect for the genre. My new work, Middling Squire No Longer, was recent­ly men­tioned by Smith on her web­site.

End the let­ter with a sim­i­lar con­nec­tion to the per­son­al­i­ty.

Step 7: Contact… and Follow-Up

After you are sat­is­fied with your tem­plate let­ter and the cus­tomized ver­sions, start send­ing them. Send only two or three at a time, instead of send­ing every let­ter at once. Keep a week or two inter­val between the mail­ings, until you have con­tact­ed every media out­let on your list.

Two weeks after each mail­ing (or email­ing), send one fol­low-up note to each per­son­al­i­ty con­tact­ed. Do not con­tact any­one a third or fourth time, unless you are asked to do so.

Step 8: Local Organizations

As you con­tact local media out­lets, also begin com­pil­ing a list of local orga­ni­za­tions with a his­to­ry of hav­ing guest speak­ers. As a writer or artist, libraries and muse­ums are cer­tain to be on this list. Search online for oth­er orga­ni­za­tions, too. Sadly, many peo­ple have for­got­ten local ser­vice orga­ni­za­tions are still active: Lions Clubs, Rotary, Soroptimists, and oth­ers. (Maybe you should join some groups, too.)

Additional Suggestions

Never say “No” to an inter­view or pub­lic appear­ance, no mat­ter how small the group or media out­let. Remember, you need an audi­ence — read­ers, view­ers, lis­ten­ers, et cetera. They have plen­ty of choic­es. Be acces­si­ble and it will be reward­ed over time.

Help oth­er writ­ers and artists with kind words — and online links. On your web­site, Facebook page, and else­where, be sure to sup­port oth­er writ­ers and artists.

Participate in any “niche” orga­ni­za­tions relat­ed to your works. If you write romance, join the Romance Writers of America. If you are a play­wright, join the Dramatists Guild of America. Connecting to col­leagues builds a net­work that will help your career. Do not mere­ly join groups, either — be an active mem­ber.

Be patient. Marketing takes time.

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Book Reviews, Part III

Concluding our sur­vey of book review for­mats, I want to explore the “analy­sis” or “cov­er­age” that pub­lish­ers and edi­tors some­times pro­vide to authors. In the film indus­try, script cov­er­age is some­thing many screen­writ­ers pay a con­sul­tant to pro­vide. Knowing what oth­ers think about your man­u­script helps iden­ti­fy when you didn’t quite accom­plish your goals.

Too many of the aspir­ing writ­ers I meet con­fuse pro­fes­sion­al cov­er­age with tra­di­tion­al reviews. One writer recent­ly told me, “Friends and col­leagues love the man­u­script. The cov­er­age I received couldn’t be right.” Yes, it could be right. You can sub­mit the best writ­ten lit­er­ary work of all time — and it could receive a thumbs-down from the read­er.

Coverage Analysis versus a Review

Only one cri­te­ria mat­ters to an edi­tor or read­er pro­vid­ing cov­er­age: Will a work attract a large audi­ence? No audi­ence, no book, play, or movie. Publishing and pro­duc­ing are expen­sive endeav­ors. If your work isn’t going to appeal to a suf­fi­cient num­ber of peo­ple will­ing to pay mon­ey for it, noth­ing else about the work mat­ters.

No sin­gle fac­tor decides what will or will not have a mar­ket. Some works with aver­age plot­ting have a mar­ket thanks to appeal­ing char­ac­ters. Other works are sim­ply well-timed to the mar­ket­place. The tastes of pub­lish­ers and pro­duc­ers also mat­ter.

I’ve had writ­ers ask what the point of a cov­er­age and analy­sis report is, espe­cial­ly if the cov­er­age isn’t meant to make you a bet­ter writer. The real ques­tion is how you define “bet­ter writer” and why being bet­ter mat­ters. Better at what? Coverage defines bet­ter as “mar­ketable” and inter­est­ing to the largest pos­si­ble num­ber of peo­ple.

A lit­er­ary crit­ic has dif­fer­ent under­stand­ing of bet­ter writ­ing, often reflect­ing his or her aca­d­e­m­ic ground­ing. Some crit­ics embrace exper­i­men­tal lit­er­a­ture and film, while the audi­ences for such works is rel­a­tive­ly lim­it­ed. Magical real­ism might impress a lit­er­ary crit­ic, and obtuse ref­er­ences to lit­er­ary tra­di­tions might warm anoth­er critic’s heart. But, will the work sell? A lit­er­ary crit­ic is sup­posed to focus on what the pub­lic should read and watch, not what they actu­al­ly con­sume.

If you would rather be a lit­er­ary great than a com­mer­cial suc­cess, don’t pay for cov­er­age of a man­u­script. Instead, take some cours­es at a good MFA pro­gram.

SUMMARY OF EVALUATION

Formal cov­er­age begins with a few sen­tences stat­ing if the work should be published/produced. If the eval­u­a­tor has con­cerns, he or she might men­tion them in the sum­ma­ry. Some pub­lish­ers and pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies use a sim­ple “A through F” grad­ing scale. A work with an A or B grade moves for­ward, while every­thing else is tabled.

I’ve seen one-sen­tence cov­er­age sum­maries, both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive. Some of these have been humor­ous, prob­a­bly unin­ten­tion­al­ly. A sci­ence-fic­tion writer I know received the fol­low­ing sum­ma­ry: “Good sto­ry, inter­est­ing char­ac­ters, no way it would sell.” Welcome to the busi­ness.

MARKETABILITY

When con­sid­er­ing a mar­ket, there are var­i­ous groups read­ers con­sid­er. Does the work appeal to every­one? There are works called “tent-poles” because they are expect­ed to turn a huge prof­it, prop­ping up a pro­duc­er or pub­lish­er. These are sum­mer block­buster films and Oprah list books. They aren’t made or pub­lished to stand the test of time: they are meant to sell, and sell big.

Film stu­dios also describe films in terms of male/female, youth/mature, YA, tween, fam­i­ly, and so on. The “four-quan­drant” work promis­es to deliv­er men and women of all ages. The “key demo” (the ide­al demo­graph­ic) in film and TV remains the 18-to-25 block. In pub­lish­ing, you want either the YA (young adult) or the “mom­my” read­er. Yes, “mom­my fic­tion” is deroga­to­ry — the Fifty Shades of Gray trend is called “Mommy Porn” for a rea­son though. We know that the largest read­ing seg­ments are girls and women. The YA group from 12-to-18 and the 25-to-45 group dri­ve book sales. (Maybe the col­lege years are too busy for mass mar­ket book read­ing?)

Think about your audi­ence, even as you decide what to write. Romance books sell. Think about the two types, though. We have the Twilight series and the Fifty Shades books. Right now, para­nor­mal is hot, with dis­tinct seg­ments in the YA and adult mar­kets. It is dif­fi­cult to mar­ket books to men. Movies for men? Much eas­i­er to sell, from raunchy come­dies to action films, young men are a good mar­ket for screen­plays.

If you don’t know your mar­ket, don’t expect the cov­er­age read­er to tell you what the mar­ket is for a man­u­script.

GENERAL LITERARY ELEMENTS

Don’t expect a read­er to offer much in the way of lit­er­ary crit­i­cism; they focus on the poten­tial mar­ket, not the poten­tial for a last­ing lega­cy. Still, read­ers offer min­i­mal guid­ance for writ­ers. You tend to receive more feed­back the clos­er a man­u­script is to being optioned. If you receive a lot of com­ments, that’s a good sign. Readers don’t waste time with hope­less caus­es.

PLOT

Expect to be told when the plot’s pac­ing is off, espe­cial­ly if events move too slow­ly or events don’t advance the plot in any clear way. What you might believe to be an essen­tial event might not be so obvi­ous to a read­er.

STORY

Stories are wrapped around plots and char­ac­ters. Readers focus on if the sto­ry appeals to the widest pos­si­ble audi­ence, or a well-defined (and prof­itable) audi­ence. Read about log­lines. If your sto­ry can­not be con­veyed as a log­line, read­ers will like­ly give a pass to the man­u­script — and I don’t mean a pass­ing grade, either.

http://www.scriptologist.com/Magazine/Tips/Logline/logline.html

POINT OF VIEW

Readers look for a “sym­pa­thet­ic” point-of-view when they pro­vide cov­er­age. The assump­tion is that audi­ences want to see a sto­ry told through a lik­able, trust­wor­thy char­ac­ter to whom they can relate. The point-of-view does not need to be that of the hero; com­pan­ions are often the guides through a film or book. The key is that the per­spec­tive should be con­sis­tent.

Film presents a bit of a prob­lem, since your pri­ma­ry guide might not appear in every scene. In books, the com­mon mis­take is mix­ing point-of-views with­in a chap­ter or scene. Think of every scene as a self-con­tained nar­ra­tive, from one character’s per­spec­tive. That char­ac­ter can only know what he or she expe­ri­ences.

Try to empha­size the scenes with the pri­ma­ry guide. Viewers and read­ers try to imag­ine what the main char­ac­ters do and don’t know. When the audi­ence knows too much, because you’ve let the point-of-view slip to an antag­o­nist, then some of the mys­tery and sus­pense is lost. Your audi­ence wants to be on the edge of their seats. Controlling the point-of-view allows you to con­trol the audi­ence.

THEME

Popular books and movies tend to have sim­ple, easy to appre­ci­ate themes. Good wins, usu­al­ly, and the theme is obvi­ous. Don’t con­fuse a theme for a the­sis or moral, which is an argu­ment sup­port­ed by the work. A theme might be “Accepting peo­ple despite dif­fer­ences.” A the­sis would be, “Accepting oth­ers leads to a bet­ter under­stand­ing of your­self.” Yes, pop­u­lar sto­ries teach a les­son, but the theme is what you can sell in a short log­line.

STRUCTURE

To sell a work, start with a three-act struc­ture. It should have a begin­ning, mid­dle, and end. Furthermore, I sug­gest con­cen­trat­ing on the “Hero’s Journey” mod­el for your struc­ture. That’s not because there aren’t oth­er for­mu­las, but because cov­er­age read­ers like the jour­ney mod­els taught in film schools.

I’ve argued this with emerg­ing writ­ers and lit­er­ary writ­ers: struc­ture mat­ters when you want to sell a sto­ry. That asser­tion does not imply every sto­ry must adhere to the for­mu­la cov­er­age read­ers expect. You are free to break what­ev­er rules you want — but don’t expect an easy time sell­ing a work that doesn’t adhere to the sim­ple three-act struc­ture.

CHARACTERIZATION

Make your char­ac­ter dis­tinct. You don’t want char­ac­ters that are sim­i­lar to each oth­er. Also, the pro­tag­o­nist and antag­o­nist in a sto­ry need moti­va­tions. They need back­sto­ries. You should know the details of a character’s life, even if those details are nev­er in the sto­ry. Coverage is going to focus on whether or not an audi­ence is going to enjoy a char­ac­ter.

Not every “enjoy­able” char­ac­ter is good. Darth Vader is enjoy­able. Freddy Krueger is enjoy­able. Characters that are odd, a lit­tle quirky, and dis­tinc­tive are enjoy­able. An audi­ence should want to fol­low your char­ac­ters, good and bad, because they are larg­er than life.

DIALOGUE

Dialogue sells books and movies. Since film has drift­ed away from nar­ra­tion (voice over), books are start­ing to do the same. As a result, the dia­logue between char­ac­ters is how read­ers learn what a char­ac­ter is think­ing. Write good, tight dia­logue; every word mat­ters.

SETTING

Coverage read­ers look at set­tings in two ways: 1) How expen­sive would it be to film? 2) How much will audi­ences care about the set­ting? Cheaper is bet­ter for film, while more elab­o­rate and amaz­ing is bet­ter for some types of book. Remember, books are an escape from real­i­ty for many read­ers — and it costs noth­ing to cre­ate a set­ting with words.

If the set­ting is essen­tial to the sto­ry in a book or script, be sure to research the details. If the sto­ry could take place any­time, any­where, then you’ll be focused on the char­ac­ters.

DESCRIPTION

Script read­ers want min­i­mal descrip­tion and nar­ra­tion in a film or stage script. As they say, “Let the direc­tor do his (or her) job.” Scripts are sparse, only 4500 words or so for a full-length fea­ture. That’s the length of a short sto­ry. You can­not afford to get lost in detailed descrip­tions.

For a book, paint with words. Be as descrip­tive as pos­si­ble. You are the direc­tor, the cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er, the set design­er, and more. The book author is all-pow­er­ful. Use that pow­er, but use it wise­ly. A man­u­script analy­sis will indi­cate if you need to add descrip­tion. Rarely does an analy­sis sug­gest less descrip­tion, but it does hap­pen. Describe what mat­ters.