Thursday, January 28, 2010

Submitting MSS - An Overview

Rob Parnell

It's weird to me that I still get asked, probably three or four times a week, how does a writer get published?

My suspicion is that, given the Internet age, young writers especially assume there is some quick and easy solution out there - some secret that need only be discovered - and that the answer can't be so obvious.

Because the answer is obvious - and it's the same as it was ten years ago, fifty, one hundred, two hundred years ago.

You have to submit your manuscripts to publishers.

That's it. No secret. No magic formula. No way around it. And still the most preferred method of submission is off line - snail mail, real world paper, envelopes and stamps.

There's a reason for this: namely copyright.

Publishers prefer a paper trail and the trouble with email submissions is that a) they tend to get lost, deleted and / or overlooked and b) having a writer's manuscript on their hard drive can expose a publisher to accusations of plagiarism if the writer can prove the publisher owned a digital copy of their MS on, for instance, a particular date before a similar work was written.

I think the other reason writers don't want to be told they must serially submit their MSS to have any hope of publication is that, well, it all seems too hard.

But that's actually the point I think.

What better way to avoid receiving hundreds of new manuscripts than to make the process as difficult and time consuming - and fraught with disappointment - as possible.

Plus, of course, many publishers are traditionalists. It's the way it's always been done - and despite it being a cumbersome, slow and involved process, it has worked for a couple hundred years, so why, they ask, would they change it?

Indeed, recent attempts by Random House and other companies to compile on line repositories of submitted MSS have failed dismally to find any books worth publishing.

A couple of years back an inventive TV production company tried a writerly version of "Idol" that involved writers submitting potential blockbusters to a competition. The result? The show was canceled due to the lack of good manuscripts submitted.

Real writers with talent it seemed, weren't going to get involved with anything so crass as a reality show, even when instant fame would normally be enough of a carrot for anyone, right?

Apparently not for us, camera shy, writers.

No, the serious writer must abide by the rules.

And the rules state that you must send your paper manuscripts in to editors, publishers, agents and anyone else who may be interested in your writing. I guess it's the care and attention to the process that ultimately shows how seriously you take yourself.

And of course by limiting the means of access, you curb the masses who might clutter the system if you made it any easier!

So what's the answer?

Firstly, you need to ensure you have the time and inclination to submit your work. And here arises the first hurdle. In reality the confidence to submit your work comes from self belief - an all too rare commodity in the emerging writer.

How long have you spent agonizing over whether you believe your manuscripts are strong enough to show anyone?

It's a dilemma. Because, if you think too hard about the question, you'll end up never sending out anything. But then, if you ignore the nagging doubts about your ability, are you really going to be sending out work that's good, effective and commercial?

Assuming you have work that you believe, at the very least, is ready for professional eyes - and maybe deserves a shot - what's the next step?

Finding a suitable audience.

Again, not as easy as it sounds.

A casual search through publishers' guidelines - a process that I personally still find distressing - and you would be forgiven for thinking that no-one is really interested in manuscripts of your type.

New writers can feel unwanted. It's clear that agents and publishers, on the whole, already have all the writers and manuscripts that they could ever want or need - and more besides.

But we must take comfort in the knowledge that this is how it has always been - and that every writer must go through this experience to progress.

And beyond, there is one very simple premise that we need to embrace: that if you haven't had your work published yet, you simply haven't sent it out to enough people - or you haven't sufficiently pursued all the angles and directions you might need to take to get your work into the public arena.

You need an almost maniacal need to be published in order to achieve your aim. You need to be hopelessly resilient and be able to adapt with chameleonic tenaciousness to be continually in the running.

In short, you need a strategy - one that is flexible - but more importantly, is consistent.

Create a spreadsheet containing all the publishers and agents you might want to submit to. Add more as you find them. Research and find more. Then systematically submit ALL of your best work to ALL of them ALL of the time.

Make thinking about your submissions a daily activity. And make one submission at least once a week, whether it's a short story or an article or a pitch for a novel or non fiction work, or whatever.

As the saying goes, You Have To Be In It, To Win It.

So, here's my best advice (to myself too!):


1. Banish self doubt.

2. Summon your courage.

3. Commit to improving.

4. Be flexible and patient.

5. And submit, submit, submit.

Keep Writing!


rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Interview With Doc Hollywood

Rob Parnell

When we launched The Hollywood Connection last Monday, we got a slew of questions from new subscribers to this fabulous - dare I say - unique opportunity.

I felt it was important for Doc himself to answer those questions himself. Here they are:


Question 1: Why the anonymity, Doc? I'd really like to know who you are.

Doc: I understand your wanting to know. I would too.

But while developing projects, anonymity is the producer's best friend. It's important to control the time and place when a project is announced. I'm currently working on projects in both Australia and Los Angeles and would like to keep as low a profile as possible; it's for this reason that I'm unable to give you more information.


Question 2: Can you give me a clue? Any films / movie stars / projects you can actually name? I just need something, Doc.

Doc: Producers are traditionally very quiet about the projects they are working on. If we feel that an idea has merit we want the time and space to develop the full potential of the story/script with the
writer.

My goal with this project is to help and discover new screenwriting talent. Without anonymity this would be nearly impossible. I hope you can understand that.


Question 3: How do I know that Doc Hollywood isn't just Rob Parnell? Why didn't you just go it alone - and just use his Writing Academy to promote your services?

Doc: I've known Rob for just over a year now, a mutual friend in
Hollywood introduced us. I'm impressed with the work he has done with the Writing Academy and the help he has given aspiring writers.

During a conversation, we had the idea to offer a resource for screenwriters unfamiliar with, and wanting help, in Hollywood. Like a lot of producers in Los Angeles I've begun looking to Australia for new talent, and working with Rob has made this possible.


Question 4: I've never heard of coverage before - how do I know it's a bona fide reality?

Doc: Wikipedia has a short article that should help answer your questions. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Script_coverage)


Question 5: How can coverage really help me?

Doc: It's not uncommon for writers working in Hollywood to pay readers anonymously for coverage; I've done it myself. The idea is to hone your project for the best possible reception.

Friends and family are great for encouragement but lousy for constructive feedback. Fresh eyes on a project can sometimes fine tune an already good idea or take a weak idea in a more productive direction; this is my goal with this project.

It's important to remember that with all good coverage you'll get both good and bad news, it's all part of the process.


Question 6: Can I use the coverage you give me to get a movie deal?

Doc: Nobody can guarantee you'll get a deal, and if someone does,
they're lying. What I can tell you is that at some point during your
project's journey, a reader will do coverage on it, and it's best to be prepared for this moment. The coverage done for a studio or production company can be the beginning or the end of your story.

My job with this project is to help give you a fighting chance with this process.


Question 7: What's the deal with "Search for a Blockbuster"? Is it for real?

Doc: Hell yeah! The film "Paranormal Activity" cost fifteen thousand dollars to make and has already made one hundred and seventy five million dollars at the box office. Like every other producer in the world, I'm looking for the next big thing and hoping I find it with this project.

I can't recall ever hearing another producer tell me, "I like spending my time making small and underperforming films." If a producer says this, they are either lying or an idiot.

The industry is full of cynical filmmakers hurling stones from behind cover at the projects that make it well over the line. It's a little like resenting the Germans for making good vehicles!

If by "Blockbuster" we're talking about a very successful film, then yes, I'm looking for a blockbuster.


Question 8: How do I know you just won't steal my ideas and rip me off?

Doc: I'm glad I got this question. I can't think of one writer that I
know who has ever had a story stolen.

The last thing a producer wants or needs is a huge legal battle over the material. Making films is hard enough.

I have a copyright on every project that I've ever written or worked on, and so should you. You've spent the time writing your treatment or script, now take some time and protect it with a copyright or other device. You can register your ideas, story and / or screenplay at the Writers Guild of America - which I recommend. (www.wga.org)

After protecting your work your objective is to get an 'option agreement' from a producer. The option agreement is a legal document between the writer and the producer that gives the producer the sole right to develop and shop your screenplay for a specified amount of time.

You should investigate option agreements online, Wikipedia will
help with this, 'Option (filmmaking)' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Option_(filmmaking)).


Question 9: The Release Form seems OTT - do I really need to sign these things in Hollywood?

Doc: Hollywood is an industry that trades in ideas. It's important that you protect your work just as producers protect themselves. The worst thing anybody can have happen in Hollywood is a legal battle over material. It's for this reason that contracts abound.

Most contracts are straightforward depending at what stage you are at. In the case of this project I need for the submission process to be very clear and open.



Question 10: Is my copyright totally protected? How do I know for sure?

Doc: What you've got to understand about copyright is that it's innate. You own it the moment you put words on paper.

Technically you don't need to even register it - it's yours, forever, just because you wrote it and anything you sign should say that.

Movie deals are actually traded on the expression of ideas, not just the ideas themselves. If you're the writer and you're the one doing the expressing, you're protected.

And remember, even when other writers use and develop your idea, you're still in the loop: you should still get paid.

But don't just take my word for it. Talk to a lawyer if you want full clarification of the issues.


Question 11: Do you really want to help writers - or is this just some sort of scam?

Doc: I've been working with writers for nearly as long as I can
remember. Let me give you one example. A few years ago I was introduced to a young novice screenwriter that was looking for help. I read his screenplay and gave him my feedback.

I said, "I have good news and bad. The good news is that you have the patience, skill and temerity to write a screenplay, the bad news is that it needs a lot of work."

I gave him my notes and he my left office crestfallen, but he did the right thing by asking for help. He went back to the drawing board, fixed the script and sold it - and is now writing two other scripts for a producer in Los Angeles based on his ideas.

Filmmaking is a huge gamble for everybody involved, but with the right help and guidance, nothing is impossible.

*
I don't know about you, but I want to sincerely thank Doc Hollywood for spending the time to answer these questions for you.

It's all fascinating to me. For more information about submitting your story ideas or screenplays to Hollywood, go here: http://www.dochollywood.biz

Keep Writing!


rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Four Questions

Rob Parnell

I bought some software last night to help us constructing stories.

In the help file I found a useful note on the four questions we need to ask ourselves about a story before we start writing. These questions help clarify our idea and also let us know whether we have a story that is compelling enough to start work on.

Many ideas falter at this stage - which can useful because doubt can alert you to the weaknesses in an idea and to stop you from pursuing a story that may lose impetus half way through.

We all know there's nothing worse than starting a story, then running out of steam when it seems to go nowhere or end up in a hole. Getting stuck during the writing of a story is no fun at all.

However, answering the following questions can also help you solidify an idea into a story worth telling.

Question One: Who is your main character?

Often we may be tempted to think that it's a combination of characters that make a story interesting. True - but usually not from the reader's point of view.

Readers like to identify with just one person - usually the one with the most to lose in the story.

You need to be able to personalize your story and show it from a protagonist's perspective.

And don't think you can have a story to which you can bolt on any old characters. It doesn't work that way.

Effective fiction is character driven. You need to have a person in mind - a fictional type at least - and get to know them well. See this as your first task in any story writing pursuit.

Character first. Who are they? What do they want? What do they look like? Where do they live? What do they do? What is important to them?

Think through all of these aspects before you ponder anything else.

Question Two: What is he/she trying to accomplish?

For years now I've been saying that it is 'agenda' that defines a character's purpose and effectiveness in a story.

A fictional personality in a story must want something - whether that be a new car, a girl, to save his family, to cure cancer, anything, as long as it is an easily identifiable goal, and something a reader can identify with.

Characters who do not have goals - even nebulous and seemingly inconsequential aspirations - are not interesting to read about.

If you've ever started reading a story and lost interest it's usually because either you don't care about the main character's agenda - or you haven't been able to identify it.

Hence, when answering this question, make sure you come up with something compelling to the character, and make a decision to weave the opening of your story in such a way that the reader will be aware of the primary motivation of the protagonist within the first page - at least.

And, when editing, try to place your hero in the act of being in their world AND demonstrating their agenda in the very first paragraph.

Question Three: Who is trying to stop him/her?

As you will know - at least from having it repeated to you often - there is no drama (that is, no compelling reason to be captivated by a story) if there is no conflict. And in order to have conflict you need characters' agendas to be at odds with each other.

There may be a hundred and one obstacles to a hero's journey throughout a story but the easiest and best way to consolidate those obstacles is to personify them into an antagonist.

Yep, the bad guy. Now, this character doesn't have to a serial killer or an evil scientist - but he/she does need to be a serious threat to the main character's agenda.

There's little point to a story where the protagonist gets what they want easily and with no significant hurdles to jump.

We all know this instinctively - though it may seem formulaic to you to simply insert a bad guy because Rob says it's a good idea...

However, research has shown that stories are way more effective, entertaining and ultimately satisfying to readers if there is someone the protagonist must defeat in order to win his/her prize.

This is true in any genre, whether the antagonist is a natural disaster, a rival lover, or even a set of unhelpful circumstances.

Think hard about this question because the more compelling the antagonist's agenda, the harder the hero will need to work, grow or change to achieve his/her goals.

Question Four: What happens when he/she fails?

This question is crucial because it defines your story idea. If there are no consequences to a character's actions and reactions, then there is no 'point' to a story. Again, we know this instinctively, yet often we may fail to grasp its fundamental importance.

In the most blatant scenarios, the death of characters close to the protagonist are the most dreaded consequence. The death of the hero too, is an obvious bad thing!

It could be that smaller, less catastrophic events may be significant to your story. The loss of a lover, failing an exam, or losing a treasured possession. Whatever your frame of reference is not the issue.

The real issue is that within the context of your story, the consequences of your hero's failure should be monumental to your main character.

And that the attainment of your hero's goals in the face of adversity - the more difficult the better - is at the heart of good storytelling.

I hope this article helps you when thinking through your next story idea.

It's certainly helped us already!

Keep Writing!

Rob at Home
rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Year - New Stuff

Rob Parnell

Do you spend this time of year thinking about all the things you HAVEN'T done?

I do. Take this morning - I woke up dreaming about a fiction project I'd forgotten I started a couple of years ago.

What is wrong with me, I thought. I never seem to stop and congratulate myself over the things I have done - only punish myself for projects left undone. Is this just me - or is this part of the human condition?

Are we destined to forever yearn for completion? To regard ourselves and our goals as neverending works in progress?

I suppose so.

I read some Wayne W Dyer recently - actually his book, The Power of Intention, a terrific read by the way.

His theory is that at the center of things - from the molecules (more correctly called quarks) that make up matter, to the force that runs the Universe - there is an inherent property within all things called 'intention'. His idea is that this 'God' force is what makes everything and everyone move towards its/their destiny.

I found it interesting that the same thought had occured to me a while back. I even wrote an article about it some time ago here.

While I saw it as a dimension separate from our own that kind of pulls us along and, in a sense, shows us the way, Wayne Dyer sees it as an innate quality in everything. An acorn in some way contains the oak it will grow into for instance. And a baby somehow contains the superstar she may become.

In Wayne's world (f'nar f'nar), we all have a great destiny written into our intention. The problem being that most of us never manage to accept that we are destined to be advanced 'spiritual' beings easily capable of shaping the universe and our lives with our thoughts.

It's true of course.

We are capable of creating any kind of life we want - as long as we believe it. And that's the stumbling block for most of us.

Actually believing our lives can change just because we want them to seems counter to logic in our deeply rational, materialistic view of the world and how it works. And yet...

It's obvious when we look back, that we have the life we created.

All of those little decisions we made led to this moment in time.

It can't be coincidence and happenstance - because we all know people who have dealt with similar circumstances to our own and ended up in different places. So logically, there has to be something unique that led us to our own current reality.

And surely that unique thing is us.

Only we could have reacted in a particular way - and led us to our unique space, now.

I get a lot of emails from people who feel stuck, frustrated and apparently unable to change their circumstance.

I'm sympathetic. I spent a couple of decades feeling the same way.

Until I discovered... myself.

It sounds crass but it's true.

At the moment I stopped listening to other people, my life changed.

I woke up one day and realized the only thing that was really important to my sanity and my well-being was what I alone wanted.

I finally understood that if I didn't achieve what I wanted first - if I wasn't happy, in other words - then I would never be of any use to anyone else - my partner, my kids, the world, everyone.

And at that moment I deliberately stopped taking any notice of what the media, my family and friends, said was possible and just did what I thought was right for me.

English people - with an upbringing that is not focussed on ego and self aggrandizement - have trouble with the concept of loving ourselves. It seems, well, a bit disturbing.

But I guess there's no better way of putting it. Because if you love yourself, or at least try to, and you put yourself, your health and your well being first, then you become a stronger, happier, more authentic and intention oriented person.

And only then can you really begin to start on your life's real purpose which is, yes, I'm afraid so, to help others.

Writing a great book or novel is not actually a selfish act. Think of all the joy and inspiration you yourself have experienced when you've read a great writer's book.

There are a million and one ways to help people, to help the planet and to help move us as a species towards our completion - in reality a neverending quest.

But remember that - especially at this time of year - in order to really help others, you must help yourself first.

Make a list of your goals, work out what you really want - for yourself - and go for it in 2010!

Keep Writing!


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Dear Fellow Writer,

Welcome to a brand new year!

For us at Easy Way to Write it's great to be back - resolutions made, and plans aplenty for 2010. We sincerely hope you stay with us for the fun ride that this year promises to be.

First we need a favor.

Could you vote for the Easy Way to Write and Robyn Opie at the new Critters: Preditors and Editors poll? We'd appreciate it very much. Go here for that. Thanks in advance!

Next I want to thank you for supporting the Santa Stampede 2 promotion during December 2009. It was roaring success again this year!

Also, for fun, here's a link to our latest 2 minute horror movie.

Enjoy!

Rob@easywaytowrite.com

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Writers Resources Reviews

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THIS WEEK'S ARTICLE:

New Year - New Stuff

Rob Parnell

Do you spend this time of year thinking about all the things you HAVEN'T done?

I do. Take this morning - I woke up dreaming about a fiction project I'd forgotten I started a couple of years ago.

What is wrong with me, I thought. I never seem to stop and congratulate myself over the things I have done - only punish myself for projects left undone. Is this just me - or is this part of the human condition?

Are we destined to forever yearn for completion? To regard ourselves and our goals as neverending works in progress?

I suppose so.

I read some Wayne W Dyer recently - actually his book, The Power of Intention, a terrific read by the way.

His theory is that at the center of things - from the molecules (more correctly called quarks) that make up matter, to the force that runs the Universe - there is an inherent property within all things called 'intention'. His idea is that this 'God' force is what makes everything and everyone move towards its/their destiny.

I found it interesting that the same thought had occured to me a while back. I even wrote an article about it some time ago here.

While I saw it as a dimension separate from our own that kind of pulls us along and, in a sense, shows us the way, Wayne Dyer sees it as an innate quality in everything. An acorn in some way contains the oak it will grow into for instance. And a baby somehow contains the superstar she may become.

In Wayne's world (f'nar f'nar), we all have a great destiny written into our intention. The problem being that most of us never manage to accept that we are destined to be advanced 'spiritual' beings easily capable of shaping the universe and our lives with our thoughts.

It's true of course.

We are capable of creating any kind of life we want - as long as we believe it. And that's the stumbling block for most of us.

Actually believing our lives can change just because we want them to seems counter to logic in our deeply rational, materialistic view of the world and how it works. And yet...

It's obvious when we look back, that we have the life we created.

All of those little decisions we made led to this moment in time.

It can't be coincidence and happenstance - because we all know people who have dealt with similar circumstances to our own and ended up in different places. So logically, there has to be something unique that led us to our own current reality.

And surely that unique thing is us.

Only we could have reacted in a particular way - and led us to our unique space, now.

I get a lot of emails from people who feel stuck, frustrated and apparently unable to change their circumstance.

I'm sympathetic. I spent a couple of decades feeling the same way.

Until I discovered... myself.

It sounds crass but it's true.

At the moment I stopped listening to other people, my life changed.

I woke up one day and realized the only thing that was really important to my sanity and my well-being was what I alone wanted.

I finally understood that if I didn't achieve what I wanted first - if I wasn't happy, in other words - then I would never be of any use to anyone else - my partner, my kids, the world, everyone.

And at that moment I deliberately stopped taking any notice of what the media, my family and friends, said was possible and just did what I thought was right for me.

English people - with an upbringing that is not focussed on ego and self aggrandizement - have trouble with the concept of loving ourselves. It seems, well, a bit disturbing.

But I guess there's no better way of putting it. Because if you love yourself, or at least try to, and you put yourself, your health and your well being first, then you become a stronger, happier, more authentic and intention oriented person.

And only then can you really begin to start on your life's real purpose which is, yes, I'm afraid so, to help others.

Writing a great book or novel is not actually a selfish act. Think of all the joy and inspiration you yourself have experienced when you've read a great writer's book.

There are a million and one ways to help people, to help the planet and to help move us as a species towards our completion - in reality a neverending quest.

But remember that - especially at this time of year - in order to really help others, you must help yourself first.

Make a list of your goals, work out what you really want - for yourself - and go for it in 2010!

Keep Writing!

rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

The Easy Way to Write

Welcome to the official blog of the Easy Way to Write from Rob Parnell, updated weekly - sometimes more often!