From Content to Contentpreneuring: 6 Cs for Becoming a Successful Writer in the Digital Age—Part 4

The first three words in The 6 Cs for Becoming a Successful Writer in the Digital Age are Content, Clarity, and Communication. The fourth word is Contentpreneuring, and there are four aspects to it: Service, Knowledge, Technology, and Contentpreneuring.

Service

Unless we give what we have to others, what we know and value will be irrevocably and utterly gone.

–The editors of Conari Press in The Practice of Kindness

To get people to know, like, and trust you, online and off, you have to serve, not sell. The more effectively you devote your life to serving your communities, the better they’ll serve you. As author and speaker Zig Ziglar says: “You can have everything you want out of life, if you help enough other people get what they want out of life.”

As a writer, you are the most important person in the publishing process because you make it go. Readers are the second most important people, because they keep it going.

Knowledge

To take advantage of the opportunities waiting for you, you have to know more and do more than ever:

  • You have to be an expert on your subject or the kind of book you’re writing.
  • You have to have a positive but realistic perspective about publishing and its future that balances the challenges and opportunities.
  • If you want an agent, you have to understand what they do and how they work.

The more you learn, the more you can earn, and you have access to an astonishing array of free resources for learning what you need to know and making learning a life-long quest without leaving your desk.

Technology

There’s a famous New Yorker cartoon showing two dogs sitting in front of a computer, and one is saying to the other: “On the Internet, nobody knows if you’re a dog.” Unless you’re using Skype, but they will know quickly whether you know how to use the Web.

Technology is forcing writers to reinvent themselves as contentpreneurs. The Web is as important to writers as oxygen or electricity. You have to know how to make use of the greatest gift to writers since the printing press for writing, sharing, and promoting your work, and building and maintaining your communities. Use techies when you need to, but keep maximizing the amazing power of technology to help you with every aspect of your work.

Contentpreneuring

You have to be a contentpreneur

  • by making your content scalable from a tweet to a book and your promotion scalable from a one-line pitch to a one-hour radio interview
  • by making your laptop and your smartphone your office so you can work anywhere
  • by producing a steady stream of work for free and for fees that maximizes your pleasure, income, and visibility
  • by finding ideas you can re-purpose in as many forms, media, and countries as possible
  • by building communities of web-enabled, project-based teams of collaborators–interns, professionals, and virtual assistants–with whom you can develop and market transmedia products and services such as apps, videos, audios, video games, merchandise, classes, and information products
  • by learning how to run your small business. There’s a cartoon showing two guys sitting in a bar talking, and one of them is saying to the other: “Since I started freelancing full time, I’ve made quite a few sales…my house, my car, my furniture.” If you don’t want to be like him, you have to take entrepreneurial responsibility for the quality, promotion, and sales of your work.
  • by anticipating trends and being flexible and resourceful in figuring out how to solve problems and take advantage of new opportunities
  • by learning to kiss change on the lips. Embrace accelerating change as the chance to create ideas, publicity, sources of income, ways to improve how you work, and renew your sense of mission.

Next: the fifth c word in The C Model for Becoming a Successful Writer in the Digital Age–commitment.

The goal of the blog is to help you understand writing, publishing, promotion, and agents. Rants, comments, questions, and corrections are greatly appreciated.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / https://sfwriters.info/blog / @SFWC / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109 /  www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference / 415-673-0939 / San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU

 

 

 

From Content to Contentpreneuring: 6 Cs for Becoming a Successful Writer in the Digital Age—Part 1

 The blog and my books have discussed why now is the best time ever to be a writer. But writers need a new model for building a career. They have to reinvent themselves, first as content providers, then as contentpreneurs.

I’ve discussed parts of the model in previous posts, but have added to them and created a framework for them with six words starting with the letter c: content, clarity, communication, contentpreneuring, commitment, and celebration. Each of these words will be a separate post, because each includes several elements.  All are essential to your career.

1. Content

As a writer, your worth comes from your words, and words start with passion. Becoming a successful author requires enthusiasm for words, ideas, writing, books, people, publishing, collaboration, communicating about your work, and serving your readers. To transform passion into profit, believe that what you love to do is what you were born to do.

There are a dozen reasons why now is the best time ever to be a writer. But at a time of technology-driven transformation, writers need a new model for build a writing career.

I’ve discussed parts of it in previous posts, but have added to them unified them in six words starting with the letter c: content, clarity, communication, contentpreneuring, commitment, and celebration. Each of these words will be a post, because each has several elements. All of them are essential to your career.

1. Content

As a writer, your worth comes from your words, and words start with passion. Becoming a successful author requires enthusiasm for words, ideas, writing, books, people, publishing, collaboration, communicating about your work, and serving your readers. To transform passion into profit, believe that what you love to do is what you were born to do.

When the brilliant Little, Brown editor Michael Pietsch first read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, he said: “I want to publish this book more than I want to breathe.” How much do you want to write and promote your book? Your passion for doing both will help you triumph over obstacles.

Reading

After passion comes reading. You can only write as well as you read. Read what you love to read and write what you love to read. An acquaintance once came up to me all excited and said: “I just finished my first novel!”

“That’s great!” I said.

Then he asked, “What should I read next?”

Well, if you’re a novelist, read as many novels as you can. Become an expert on the kind of book you want to write, and analyze what makes them work. What works for you in the books you love will work for your readers. Reading enables you to establish criteria for style, subject, length, content, illustrations, and back matter.

Creativity

How can you make you and your book stand out in the explosion of books, authors, and media? Creativity: the secret sauce that only you can bring to every aspect of your work. There was a New Yorker cartoon showing a man standing over a cat, next to a litter box, and saying: “Never think outside the box.” To be creative today, you have to think outside the room the box is in.

Craft

There was once a cartoon showing one writer saying confidently to another: “I’ve got all the pages numbered. Now all I have to do is fill in the rest.” That’s where craft comes in. Besides reading, writing has five essential elements:

* Coming up with ideas: The French premier Georges Pompidou once said: “Conception is much more fun than delivery.“ Life and the media are inexhaustible sources of ideas.

A New Yorker cartoon shows two women nursing cocktails, and one is saying to the other: “I’m marrying Marvin. I think there’s a book in it.” There’s a book in just about anything and more subjects to write about than ever. If you practice niche craft by creating an idea that lends itself to a series of books you are passionate about writing and promoting, you may be able to build a career with it.

A publisher will buy your idea in one of two forms: For a memoir or a first novel, you usually need a complete manuscript. But most nonfiction is easier to write, sell and promote. And publishers buy most nonfiction from proposals with an introduction about the book and the author, an outline, and usually one sample chapter.

* Research: finding the information you need to write your book. Hemingway believed that you should know ten times as much about your subject as you put into your book. The more you learn, the more you can earn, and technology helps you do research faster and more easily than ever.

* A workstyle: the time, place, and writing tools that work best for you. Kahlil Gibran once wrote: “Your daily life is your temple and your religion.” If you want to be a successful writer, you have to pay your dues to the muse by making writing a daily ritual. Push yourself with an attainable goal for the number of pages you crank out a day and a deadline for finishing your projects. Even a page a day is a book a year.

Ray Bradbury summarized the art of writing succinctly: throw up and clean up.  Decide whether it’s better to outline your book or write your manuscript, then massage it until it’s ready to submit. The Indian statesman Nehru once noted that “All my major works have been written in prison. I would recommend prison not only to aspiring writers but aspiring politicians, too.” There’s only one right way for you to write, and that’s in whatever way enables you to produce your best work.

* Writing: which is a combination of art and craft, poetry and carpentry, vision and revision. Don’t be guilty of premature submission. Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, said, “The art of writing is rewriting.”

There’s a cartoon showing two mice sitting on a writer’s desk in the middle of the night reading his manuscript, and one is saying: “We’d do him a big favor if we ate chapter four.” No amount of marketing can make a book that doesn’t deliver sell. If you don’t want rodents and readers criticizing your work, be your own editor. Keep revising your work until it’s 100%, as well-conceived and crafted as you can make it.

Craft leaps off the page instantly.  Agents and editors weed through thousands of submissions a year, so they only read far enough to make a decision. Every word you write, starting with the first word of your query letter, must motivate them to read the next word.

There’s a cartoon showing an editor sitting across a desk from a writer and saying: “I’m afraid chapter five moves a bit too slowly, although the pop-up gorilla does help a little.” You can’t rely on a pop-up gorilla to keep agents and editors reading your work. It’s been said that if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you. But writing is a forgiving craft. Only your last revision counts, that final reckoning when you must resolve the tension between thought and feeling and make every word count.

The quintessential virtue of salable prose is that it keeps readers turning the pages. If you can keep your readers turning the pages, it doesn’t make any difference what you write about. The fate of your book hinges on the response of its first group of readers. Word of mouse that goes viral is the best promotion your book can have. But it starts with your words. So write as if your future depends on it; your future as a writer does.

* Sharing. The great ballet dancer Nijinsky once said: “I merely leap and pause.” After you take your creative leap, it’s time to pause and get feedback on your work. You can’t get your writing right by yourself, but you don’t have to. Build a community of knowledgeable readers to give you feedback. Consider hiring a freelance editor. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just make sure your work is 100% before submitting it.

Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen share every cup of chicken soup with 40 readers who grade the stories on a scale of one to ten. They only use the 9 and a 1/2s and 10s. So join or start a writing group that meets online or off to critique each other’s work.

Next: the second C word–clarity.

I write the blog to help you understand what you need to know about writing, publishing, promotion, and agents. Rants, comments, questions, and corrections welcome. The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / https://sfwriters.info/blog / @SFWC / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109 /  www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference / 415-673-0939 / San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU

 

From Author to Contentpreneur: A New Model for Becoming a Successful Author in the Digital Age

Here is an updated compilation of five previous posts.

Now is the best time ever to be a writer, and what follows is a new model for what it will take for you to build a successful writing career in the digital age. Every part of the model is essential. You need to use the whole model to succeed.

Passion

Writing begins with a boundless enthusiasm for words, ideas, writing, books, people, publishing, communicating about your work, and serving your readers.

Reading

Writing starts with reading. You can only write as well as you read. Read what you love to read and write what you love to read. An acquaintance once came up to me all excited and said: “I just finished my first novel!”

“That’s great!” I said.

Then he asked: “What should I read next?”

Well, if you’re a novelist, you should read as many novels as you can, and read like a writer. What works for you in the books you love will work for your readers. Reading enables you to establish criteria for style, length, content, illustrations, and back matter.

Models

Reading will also enable you to choose books and authors to use as models for your books and career. Telling agents, editors, and readers your models will enable them to understand what your book is instantly.

Goals

It’s been said that goals are dreams with a deadline. You must have literary, publishing, and personal short- and long-term goals that are in harmony and motivate you to do whatever it takes to achieve them. One goal that clarifies your other goals is how much money you want to earn a year, because it determines what you write, and how you write and promote it.

A Plan

Sue Grafton advises writers to have a five-year plan. Once you decide where you’d like to be in five years, you can figure how to get from where you are to where you want to go. Read about how authors of books like yours succeeded and ask them for advice.

Discipline

You must have goals for what you want to accomplish every workday and the discipline to make sure you accomplish them. William Faulkner once said: “I write when the spirit moves, and I make sure it moves every day.” Even a page a day is a book a year. Balance your goals, and choose the most productive way for you to spend your time. Take care of the minutes, hours, and days, and the years will take care of themselves.

Creativity

How can you make you and your work stand out in the growing explosion of books and authors? Creativity. In a world awash with media, creativity is essential for making you and your work memorable. There was a New Yorker cartoon showing a man standing over a cat, next to a litter box, and saying: “Never think outside the box.” To be creative today, it’s not enough to think outside the box, you have to think outside the room the box is in.

Service

To succeed, you have to serve, not sell. There are more ways to serve your readers than ever, and the better you serve them, the better they’ll serve you.

Faith

You must have faith in yourself, your idea, your book, and your ability to make it succeed and build a career.

Courage

To face a blank screen and dare to believe you have something worth writing takes courage. To persevere despite rejections from publishers and the media, negative responses from readers and critics, and perhaps poor sales, takes courage. Overcoming obstacles takes courage. But you have more than enough courage to meet the challenges that await you. All you have to do is summon it, and the harder your struggle, the sweeter your success.

Knowledge

Writers need to know more about more areas of expertise than ever. Besides the things on this list, 

  • You have to have a positive but realistic perspective about publishing that balances the challenges and opportunities. The information at www.larsenpomada.com will help you.
  • If you want an agent, you have to know what they do, and how to find, contact, and work with them.
  • You have to know about using technology, especially social media. You don’t have to be a techie, but you do have to maximize the tremendous power of technology to help you.

However, you are blessed with more free resources than ever to learn what you need to know without leaving your desk.

Craft

There was once a cartoon showing one writer saying confidently to another: “I’ve got all the pages numbered. Now all I have to do is fill in the rest.” That’s where craft comes in. Besides reading, writing has five essential elements:

1. Coming up with an idea—There’s a New Yorker cartoon that shows two women nursing cocktails, and one is saying to the other: “I’m marrying Marvin. I think there’s a book in it.” There’s a book in just about anything and more subjects to write about than ever before. If you create an idea that lends itself to a series of books that you are passionate about writing and promoting, you can carve a career out of it.

2. Research–finding the information you need to write your book.

3. A workstyle–choosing the time, place, and tools that enable you to produce your best work. Ray Bradbury summarized the art of writing in two verbs: throw up and clean up. You have to decide whether it’s more effective for you to outline your book or go ahead and write your manuscript, and then massage it until it’s ready.

4. Writing–a combination of art and craft, poetry and carpentry, vision and revision. Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, said, “The art of writing is rewriting.” There’s a cartoon showing two mice sitting on a writer’s desk in the middle of the night reading his manuscript, and one is saying: “We’d do him a big favor if we ate chapter four.” If you don’t want rodents criticizing your work, be your own editor. Keep revising your work until it’s 100%, as well-conceived and crafted as you can make it.

5. Sharing–the great ballet dancer Nijinsky once said: “I merely leap and pause.” After you take your creative leaps, it’s time to pause and get feedback on your work. It’s been said that if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you, but writing is a forgiving craft. Only your last draft counts. You can’t get your writing right by yourself, but you don’t have to. Build a community of knowledgeable readers to give you feedback.

This section on craft is adapted from a chapter about developing your craft in my book How to Get a Literary Agent.

Test-Marketing

There are more ways to test-market your book than ever. Test-marketing your book gives you the chance to prove it works and to get testimonials yu can use to sell and promote your work.

A Platform

Your platform is your continuing visibility with book buyers, online and off, on your subject or the kind of book you’re writing. Building your platform by test-marketing your book enables you to maximize the value of your book before you sell it, which, for most  nonfiction, is the only way to get the best editor, publisher, and deal for your book.

Communities

There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing two disreputable guys sitting a bar talking, and one is saying: “I tried victimless crime, but I’m a people person.” If you want to be a successful author, you have to be a people person. Writing is a solitary profession, but it’s the only part of the process you have to do alone. Create communities of fans, writers, and other publishing professionals to help you with your writing, promotion, using technology, and getting reviews and cover quotes.

Promotion

Two cannibals are having dinner and one says to the other: “You know, I don’t like your publisher.”

“OK,” the other cannibal says, “then just eat the noodles.”

The most common reason authors become disenchanted with their publishers is lack of promotion. If you’re writing a promotion-driven nonfiction book, the promotion plan you include in your proposal will determine the editor, publisher, and deal for your book.  Novelists are also as well. A plan is a list, in descending order of impressiveness, of what you will do to promote your book, including, when possible, how many of them. Exaggerate nothing, but submit the strongest plan you can.

Chicken souperman Jack Canfield says a book is like an iceberg: writing is 10%, marketing is 90%. If this is true for the kind of book you’re writing, you will need to spend nine times more effort promoting your book than you do writing it. But there are more ways to promote your book at less cost than ever with just your fingertips.

Contentpreneuring

You have to be a contentpreneur.

  • Your content has to be scalable from a tweet to a book, and your promotion from a one-line pitch to a one-hour radio interview.
  • You have to make your laptop and your smartphone your office and be able to work and to respond to your communities wherever you are.
  • You have to keep writing and publishing a steady stream of work for free and for fees that maximizes your pleasure, income, and visibility.
  • You have to focus on writing work that you can re-purpose in as many forms, media, and countries as you can.
  • There’s a cartoon showing two guys sitting in a bar talking, and one of them is saying to the other: “Since I started freelancing full time, I’ve made quite a few sales…my house, my car, my furniture.”

If you don’t want to be like him, you have to take entrepreneurial responsibility for the promotion and sales of your book.

  • You also have to be resourceful in figuring out how to solve problems and take advantage of new opportunities.
  • You have to build a community of professionals and virtual assistants with whom you can collaborate to create new products and services.

Commitment

There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing a man and a woman, sitting on a couch talking, and the man is saying: “Look, I’m not talking about a lifetime commitment. I’m talking about marriage.”

Being a successful author requires a lifetime commitment, and I hope that you will commit yourself to becoming the best writer you can be, not just for yourself, but for all of us.

Patience

Marketing guru Seth Godin says that the best time to start promoting a book is three years before it comes out, because it may take that long to build a platform,  create the strongest promotion plan for your book, and have the ability to carry it out.

You have to have patience to take the long view as well as the short view in writing and promoting your books, and building your career. You can’t look at your career as one book but ten or twenty—each new book being better and more lucrative than the previous one.

Love

To be the best writer and author you can be, you must love the process. You have to believe that using this model is what you were born to do. You have to

  • love to read and write
  • write out of love for serving your readers
  • love the challenges of devoting yourself to becoming a better writer and communicator about your work

The love you send into the world through your work and your relationships with your readers will come back to you many times over and provide a profoundly satisfying life, regardless of how much income you earn doing it.

The Best Piece of Advice
Add luck to this list, and your books will be failproof. After forty-four years in the business, I’m convinced that every part of this list is essential. I may have left something out—and please tell me if I have–but you will need all of what’s here to succeed. I end the model with the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard about becoming a writer:

“If anything can stop you from becoming a writer, let it. If nothing can stop you, do it and you’ll make it.”

A Bonus

You can adapt this model for other professions and in your personal life. 

My partner Elizabeth Pomada and I do a presentation about the model.

From Passion to Patience: A New, Web-Based Model for Becoming a Successful Author, Part III

Craft

There was once a cartoon showing one writer saying confidently to another: “I’ve got all the pages numbered. Now all I have to do is fill in the rest.” That’s where craft comes in.

Apart from reading, writing has four essential elements:

1. Research–finding the information you need to write your book.

2. A workstyle–choosing the time, place, and tools that enable you to produce your best work. Ray Bradbury summarized the art of writing in two verbs: throw up and clean up. You have to decide whether it’s more effective for you to outline your book or go ahead and write your manuscript, and then massage it until it’s ready.

3. Writing–a combination of art and craft, poetry and carpentry, vision and revision. Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, said, “The art of writing is rewriting.” There’s a cartoon showing two mice sitting on a writer’s desk in the middle of the night reading his manuscript, and one is saying: “We’d do him a big favor if we ate chapter four.” If you don’t want rodents criticizing your work, be your own editor. Keep revising your work until it’s 100%, as well conceived and crafted as you can make it.

4. Sharing–the great ballet dancer Nijinsky once said: “I merely leap and pause.” After you take your creative leaps, it’s time to pause and get feedback on your work. It’s been said that if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you, but writing is a forgiving craft. Only your last draft counts. You can’t get your writing right by yourself, but you don’t have to.

Test-Marketing

There are more ways to test-market your book than ever. Test-marketing your book gives you the chance to prove it works and to get testimonials.

A Platform

Your platform is your continuing visibility with book buyers, online and off, on your subject or the kind of book you’re writing. Building your platform by test-marketing your book enables you to maximize the value of your book before you sell it, which is the only way to get the best editor, publisher, and deal for your book.

Communities

There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing two disreputable guys sitting a bar talking, and one is saying: “I tried victimless crime, but I’m a people person.” If you want to be a successful author, you have to be a people person. Writing is a solitary profession, but it’s the only part of the process you have to do alone. Create communities of fans, writers, and other publishing professionals to help you with your writing, promotion, using technology, and getting reviews and cover quotes.

In the next post on “From Passion to Patience” are promotion and contentpreneuring.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / 415-673-0939 / https://sfwriters.info/blog / @SFWC / http://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Francisco-Writers-Conference/112732798786104 / 1029 Jones St. / San Francisco, CA 94109 / San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU

7 Keys to Writing That Sells

Sometimes you have to destroy your business in order to save it.

–James Surowiecki, The New Yorker

Adair Lara wrote a delightful little book called You Know You’re a Writer When…

Here are three of her insights. You know you’re a writer when

  • You’ll never forgive your parents for your happy childhood.
  • You wonder which is a funnier word for a mineral, ”feldspar” or “potash.”
  • There are three empy cereal bowls next to your computer—one for each meal.

To survive, Netflix is going to have to give up DVDs, the more profitable part of their business. Clicks are destroying bricks. When the music and movie businesses went to downloads, clicks destroyed Tower Records and Blockbusters. Downloads are the key to Netflix’s growth. Will ebooks will have the same effect on chain bookstores? Stay tuned.

Newsweek reported that next year, there will be seven billion people on the planet and five billion cell phones, a staggering statistic. People are giving up laptops for smart phones. In three years, smart phones will outsell PCs.

You know you’re a writer when you write. It’s that simple. But if you still harbor the hope that you can sit in front of your computer, turn out good books, and earn a living, abandon it. You need to reinvent yourself. Consumers will have a PC in their pockets with voice recognition, instant translation, and the ability to download all media whenever and wherever they want them. There is now wifi service on top of Mt. Everest!

What are the qualities you and your books will need to succeed in an increasingly mobile world?

The 7 Keys to Salable Writing

The two keys to becoming a successful author are developing your skills as a writer and an author. They involve two different but overlapping abilities. Both skills sets are essential to your future. The seven keys to making yourself an salable writer are

1. Credibility: Be knowledgeable enough about your subject and kind of book so you can write and speak about it. Make learning a lifelong quest.

2. Clarity: Find books and authors you can use as models for your books and career. Use what excites you to create a clear vision of your literary and financial goals, including when and how to achieve them. The only criterion for your goals: they motivate you to do everything you can to get where you want to go. Change your goals when you wish.

3. Quality: Produce work that you can promote with pride and passion. You’ll be too close to your work to tell when it’s ready, so build a community of readers who can.

4. Productivity: Be a contentpreneur who keeps generating ideas and content that you can customize to meet the needs of the marketplace.

5. Scalability: Be able to communicate your ideas and the content of your books on any scale: a tweet, a pitch, a blog, a website, articles, talks, workshops, videos, media appearances, audio books, and a series of related books that sell each other. There’s growing interest in short work because it’s faster to read.

6. Mobility: Write books that are salable in other forms, media, and countries for audio, video, films, television, merchandising products, computer games, and

usable on all available platforms, including computers, smart phones, and e-readers. Follow your work if it means moving elsewhere.

7. Creativity: Develop your ability to be creative in how you write and promote your work. As more authors deluge the marketplace, creativity will become more important as a way to distinguish yourself from them.

The next post will tell you about the six keys to becoming a successful author.

The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference / November 13-14, Hilton/Financial, www.sfwritingforchange.org / Keynoters: million-copy selling authors Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America)

Publishing Goes to the Movies: Part 1

Broadway Meets Hollywood Boulevard

There’s a New Yorker cartoon that shows a Hollywood producer in his office on the phone saying: “There are two ways we can go here, 2% of the gross or 99% of the net.”

(It’s a Hollywood tradition that movie studios try to avoid having net profits no matter how much money a movie makes.)

[By the 1970s], the only major difference between the book business and the movie business was that in the book business the money was smaller.

–Former Simon & Schuster editor-in-chief and bestselling author Michael Korda in Another Life: A Memoir of Other People, my candidate for the most enjoyable book ever written about publishing.

If you want to be a successful author, you need to have a positive but realistic perspective about publishing. You also have to be able to read between the lines of what’s happening so you can figure how to take advantage of it to achieve your goals. What goes on in the film business will help you understand publishing.

Hollywood and publishing have a lot in common:

  • They are each dominated by six large companies. Two of the publishers and movie studios are parts of the same multimedia, multinational conglomerates:

             * HarperCollins is owned by the News Corporation, which also owns 20th-Century Fox.

             * Simon & Schuster is owned by Viacom, which also owns Paramount.

             * (Random House Films partners with Focus Features, a division of NBC Universal, on books Random publishes.)

  • They are being transformed by technology, which makes it faster, cheaper, and easier for newcomers to participate. Technology is also moving the culture from words to images, from product to experience, from possessing books and films to downloads. Meanwhile, the number of theatergoers and book sales are declining, so these companies are cutting costs and reducing their output.
  • Publishers and movie makers must produce winners to make the chains happy and meet corporate profit expectations. Hollywood must have hits—“tentpoles;” big publishers must have bestsellers. “Studios want movies that are bigger than ever,” said veteran Warner producer Joel Silver in an excellent piece about the cost-conscious state of Hollywood in the Sunday Business section of the New York Times (9/29).
  • They use marketing to build and sustain momentum, but what they release must generate good word of mouth and mouse to succeed. However, they are at the mercy of subjective, unpredictable responses of critics and consumers and fail most of the time. Less than one percent of what they produce becomes as profitable as they want it to be. Because they’re hit-or-miss businesses, the hits have to compensate for the misses. It’s the “Spaghetti Factor.” You throw a plate of spaghetti against the wall, hoping some of it will stick.
  • They spend fortunes on failures and unheralded work by independent publishers and producers strike it rich. In Another Life, Michael Korda quotes one of former S&S president Richard Snyder’s favorite sayings: “Anybody in this business who is right more than fifty percent of the time is a genius.”  If independently produced books and movies break out, the big companies welcome the winners with open arms and wallets.

In the next post, more similarities between companies that would like to monopolize your eyeballs.

Upcoming Event

The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Changing the World One Book at a Time / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / www.sfwritingforchange.org / Keynoters: Dan Millman (The Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America)