Interview with Kathie Fong Yoneda

Reading Between The Lines: An Interview with Kathie Fong Yoneda
By Christina Hamlett

What is Hollywood looking for? Ms. Kathie Fong Yoneda has seen it all in 25+ years of story analysis and development at Paramount, MGM, Columbia, Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, Filmways, Inc. and Universal Pictures. An accomplished speaker, author, and international teacher, she shares her views on today’s entertainment industry . . . and what makes a winning script.

Being a script development consultant has to rank as one of life’s “dream jobs!” How did you get from the halls of C.K. McClatchy High to the bright lights of Paramount Studios?

Well, back in high school I worked on the school paper so I was basically in Journalism and Art.  Although I majored in English in college, my original plan was to go to California Fashion Institute.  It didn’t take too long to flounder around and discover that fashion design wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do but I still knew I wanted to do something very creative.  I know my parents, especially my mother, really preferred that I pursue something more stable and conservative like being a teacher or a pharmacist or a secretary.  I actually granted their wish by becoming a secretary but as a secretary in the motion picture industry.  As a matter of fact, I was the first Asian female hired on a full-time basis at Universal back in 1969; that was when less than one tenth of one percent of the people who were in the industry were minorities.

Was it even more of an ol’ boys club than it is now?

Oh yes. Very, very traditionally ol’ boys. One of the people who really helped me out, though, was my boss, Dick Shepherd, who was the head of production at MGM. He was a production executive at Warner Brothers when we met and I became his assistant. In between that, he became a producer and when he was away on location, the scripts would really start to pile up. I was just so hungry for knowledge about things and I was also very organized, both of which led to my reading all of these scripts. When he came back, he’d start looking over the mail and I’d say, “Oh, you don’t have to read that one. It’s really not very good.”

Never underestimate the power of a good assistant!

Anyway, I’d proceed to tell him what it was about and why I didn’t like it, and he said, “Well, can you do me a favor?  Can you write up a couple paragraphs about the story?” To his surprise—and mine, too, I was very good at it. After all, book reports were one of my favorite things in school, and reading scripts is essentially the same thing.

It’s not just about commenting on the story, though, is it?

It’s a lot of different factors, actually. It’s the characters and the structure, it’s the production value, the dialogue—it’s the whole picture, literally. I tell people that structure is merely a beginning, a middle, and an end and trying to make the whole thing interesting. If you go back to our common ancestors—cave people sitting around a campfire telling stories—what those stories have in common with what’s being written today is that they all had to have an intriguing set-up. They had to have complications and challenges and you had to have a satisfying ending that entertained everyone and wrapped up all the loose ends.

So how did you transition from secretary to studio reader?

Well, by the time my boss went to MGM and became head of production, I was really hooked on doing script coverage and he made me a deal.  Basically he said that if I set up the office and trained a new secretary—my replacement—he’d do whatever he could to get me into the Story Analysts Guild.

And what’s that?

It’s a very closed union shop and all the studios have to hire union story analysts.  The main distinction is that story analysts read material only for the studios.  Then there’s a group of freelance readers who read and do coverages for agencies and independent production companies.  The freelancers don’t belong to the union and make considerably less money.

But back to your career path—

Well, I made it into the Guild on my first try and started to move around, building on what I had already learned.  One of those moves, in fact, led me to become a development executive for Disney for 8 years during the time when Eisner and Katzenberg first moved over there and wanted to get a lot of new movies going.

What are you doing now?

I’ve worked for 9 years now for Paramount in their longform division and evaluate books and scripts for TV, cable movies and occasionally mini-series.  A lot of the movies you see on Showtime, for instance, are things that Paramount may have done.  I’ve also been doing a number of speaking engagements and workshops around the world and even have a book coming out in the summer of 2002 (Michael Wiese, Publisher).

There’s a lot to be said about how technology is shrinking the globe.  Is it inversely expanding the opportunities for new writers?

Absolutely! What I find really encouraging is that because there is so much technology, there are so many different ways to pursue storytelling. Unlike some of my associates, I don’t view technology as a foe or feel as if it will spell the end of motion pictures because kids are glued to the Internet.  What I see is that there are a lot more websites available for people to express themselves and to get critiques of their work. A lot of the studios now, for instance, have people who are assigned to surf the Net and to take a look at some of the projects that are out there. Aspiring filmmakers can get very industrious with their digital camcorders and are producing “mini-trailers” that are getting the attention of these studio execs.  Thanks to the Internet, no longer is Hollywood like that big black monolith that no one could figure out in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Based on your experience as a reader and a movie-goer, are films today getting better or worse?

Well, I do think that movies which have a lot of special effects or action or sci-fi/fantasy are a lot more eye-catching.  And, of course, the largest movie-going audiences today are the young adult males. That’s probably not going to change. In fact, it’s been that way for at least the 30 years I’ve been in the industry!  Remember how every other movie in the 80’s and early 90’s was some kind of an action film?  Well, it seems as if the public—and even all those male adults—finally got a little tired of it and then came the trend of doing scary movies.  Horror movies in a way, but still sort of campy.  Finally, the trend in the late 90’s and into 2001 are movies along the order of Something About Mary and American Pie.  What you notice, though, about scary movies and the latest crop of teen movies is that there aren’t a lot of special effects; in both cases, they’re mostly about the anticipation of something big happening.  That’s the irony of these films which, coincidentally is what one of my favorite directors, Alfred Hitchcock, used to do; it was the anticipation that you knew what was happening or what the danger or risk was, and yet you still couldn’t keep your eyes off the screen!  But back to the question, I think that audiences have gotten a lot smarter and they’re expecting more than just special effects. They watch things because they’re different.

What about the copycat syndrome, that insatiable quest for writers to imitate what is currently “hot”?
I think what happens is that people see a film that’s different and that they really like and their reaction is, “Wow! I can write something just like that!” What doesn’t sink in their heads, though, is that by the time they write this thing and give it to someone—even if gets snatched up right away—it’s going to take at least another 18 months before it gets made and comes out.  By the time that happens, you’re going to be the third or fourth or eighth person to that theme and it’s already old news!  By the way, the top grossing movies of all time—the top 10—are almost always family movies.  And the one thing that sets them Cover of Kathie Fong Yoneda's The Script Selling Gameapart is the fact that they all have in common a look at the human condition as told through characters that audiences instantly related to and could believe in. It’s something that writers tend to forget because they’re concentrating on the high-tech aspects of telling the best possible story instead of looking at how to simply touch the audience in some way and make them say, “Oh my God, I’ve been there, too!”  Whether it’s getting them to realize that they have the same fears or the same phobia or the same dream, a movie needs to say something to you and you need to respond to it in such a way—through the heart or through the soul—that you just don’t want to leave your theater seat even when the usher says, “Okay, bud, move along.  The next group is coming through.”

As a studio reader, what are some of the major turn-offs when a new script falls into your lap?

What overall is really bad is when people try to cram too much into a story—or too little.  It’s about not having a clear-cut view of what your story is and changing back and forth as far as what the goal is going to be.  The second thing is not fully developing the characters.  Some people know how a story should start and how it should end but they just don’t know how to have the characters carry the story all the way through.  Character and dialogue are actually the two most important things for me, probably even more important than the story.  Most of the stories that readers at studios read are actually variations of things we’ve all heard before—but with a twist.  What makes those twists unique always has something to do with the characters and how they look at life and, accordingly, react to it.

So what kinds of things really make you sit up and take notice?

I’d have to say that it’s what I just mentioned, only put them in reverse!  I also have to add that I like it when I can tell that there’s a real sense of passion behind the writing. Sometimes when I feel that level of passion coming through in the words—a story that’s personal and really means everything to the person who wrote it—this is something that comes from such an honest place, I can’t help but be attracted to it and be interested in how it’s going to turn out!

Kathie Fong Yoneda is the author of The Script Selling Game: A Hollywood Insider’s Look at Getting Your Script Sold and Produced. You can find her Website kathiefongyoneda.com.

Former actress and director Christina Hamlett is the author of 17 books, 98 plays and musicals, and over 250 magazine and newspaper articles on the performing arts, humor, travel, health, and how-tos for aspiring authors. You can find her at authorhamlett.com</em>

Interview: Screenwriter Madeline DiMaggio

Follow Your Dream: An Interview with Madeline DiMaggio
By Christina Hamlett

(Excerpted from “ScreenTEENwriters”)

Former actress and published author Ms. Madeline DiMaggio is a successful author and television screenwriter whose trademark wit and imagination have been stamped on such shows as Bob Newhart, Kojak, Three’s Company, as well as documentaries, soaps, animation and movies of the week. Her work as a creative consultant and story editor for Paramount Studios and NBC has given her insight on virtually every aspect of writing for the industry. Back when she was in high school, though, her plan for her life was much different.

So what was the dream when you were 17?

DiMaggio_how_to_write_for_televisionWell, I was a drama major and saw myself as an actress. I was starring in all the school plays, I did summer stock, I went to New York, I got my degree in Drama. It was an incredible major for writing because the strength of my writing has always been my dialogue. But had I known that I would one day become a writer, I would have learned how to type. And how to spell! I never studied writing but every time I was in a three-act play, I was actually studying structure and character development and how people talked. A lot of actors end up being very good writers just for that reason. It was a good background to come from.

Suppose you attend a rural high school that doesn’t offer theater or film classes for learning the creative side of the craft.

Well, the first thing I’d do is to take a class at a college or even a weekend workshop where someone such as myself or Michael Hauge will come in and teach a seminar. High school students, by the way, get an incredible break in the cost of these workshops. These kinds of things are really good for an introductory, crash course in the basics. It also doesn’t cost them a dime to go on the Internet and download screenplays just to get a sense of structure and dialogue and what the formatting looks like.

Speaking of the Internet, do you think it has helped or hurt the newcomers’ accessibility to Hollywood?

It has helped terrifically! It has changed the face of the industry, which I think really needs to be changed. There are young filmmakers, for instance, who are already getting deals as a result of 15-minute movies they’re making. It’s an incredible way to market yourself because people now have access to your work who normally wouldn’t.

So what’s this going to do long-term to the careers of Hollywood agents? After all, if you can access script sites and get yourself known electronically, are you going to need a rep?

The fact is that if you’re recognized on the Internet and you get a movie deal as a result, the first thing you’ll need is an agent. You may not need an agent to sell but you do need one to have a career. And as far as getting an agent, it’s just not something that happens overnight. Agents today only want to represent screenplays that they think they can sell very fast. It used to be that they’d take on a new screenwriter because they thought they were very good and that they could build a long relationship together. What they do now is take on a project that they can sell.

Do you need a degree in film to have a film career? Or is it better to major in something that will pay the bills?

That’s a hard one to call. For one thing, film school is incredibly hard to get into, but what’s marvelous about film school is that you’re meeting all the future filmmakers of Hollywood . . . and the world! What you’re making is a bunch of incredible contacts, plus part of the curriculum is that they put you at the studios where you can make even more contacts and get a nuts-and-bolts, hands-on internship in the very business you want to work in. If you’re absolutely, definitely, passionately certain that you want to do this for a living, then you really do need to make it your focus in college. If you aren’t 100% certain, I think that you should take some classes but also find something that you can make money at while you’re pursuing writing as your second job. It just depends on how focused you are and how confident you are about what you want to do with your life.

What about books? There’s certainly no shortage of them on today’s market. How do you decide which ones to add to your bookshelf?

That’s a very personal thing and as subjective as going to movies themselves. For instance, I can be emotionally struck by a movie that’s may not be great and may not affect someone else at all. The important thing is that there was something about it that really stayed with me. What you do in the case of looking for a book to teach you about screenwriting is find someone whose tone and style and message you resonate with, the one who says it to you in a way that you can really grasp. Personally, I think the best book and the best self-taught instruction you can get is a screenplay written by a writer who has sold. That’s because the greatest teacher a student will ever have comes from reading actual scripts and seeing the writer’s vision in its most pure form, minus all the visuals and the Horner score and how good Brad Pitt looks on a horse . . .

How about screenwriting contests?

Unequivocably, there is not one single thing I know of that gives better access or bigger breaks to new screenwriters than screenwriting competitions and fellowships. The people who are reading the entries are people who are in the industry and will be reviewing your work if you get into the finals. I have an agent, for instance, who once agreed to be a judge in a contest only because it meant a trip to Hawaii and being put up in the Hilton Hawaiian Village for a week. “I’m not going to sign up any new clients,” she insisted. On the way back, she told me on the airplane that from the ten scripts she had judged, she was signing one of the writers. She may not have been looking but she certainly knew what she wanted as soon as she found it.

With all the contests to choose from, though, how do you know which ones are legitimate and which ones are just a scam to make money?

The first thing is that you need to do your homework. Find out what writers have won the contest before, what the parameters are, how many people usually enter, who the judges are. Don’t be afraid to just call up and ask questions. I also don’t think any of them should have excessively expensive fees to enter. The Nicholls, for instance, isn’t that expensive but attracts a lot of attention. The Monterey Film Competition, the Disney, the Columbus Discovery Awards—these are all very legitimate and provide tremendous exposure.

Well, let’s say that someone likes my script and I get invited to a pitch session. Once I get there, though, they seem to have changed their minds. Should I try to convince them that they’re wrong?

No. If you see them not responding—or responding negatively to what you have to say—what you do is move on to another idea. Trust me—they get really mad if you try to change their minds! You need to remember that the whole point of a pitch session isn’t that you’re going in to sell anything; it’s that you’re going in there to get information. That’s what’s absolutely crucial about pitching. It’s most likely that they won’t take anything that you originally went in with but that you’ll come away with a better understanding of what they are looking for. You then use that information as an opportunity to come back with an idea that fits in with their agenda.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you about writing?

The best advice I think they give anyone in Hollywood is what William Goldman said, and that’s “No one knows anything.” For me personally, one that stands out in my mind—and because I write a lot of comedy—was that you should never try to be funny. Hearing that from two well known producers when I was doing Bob Newhart took this incredible weight off my shoulders and I’ve been writing comedy ever since!

You recently co-wrote a script called If the Shoe FIts with Pam Wallace (Witness). Any plug you’d like to give for it?

No. It’s a terrible movie.

What?

It’s a horrible film but a wonderful script. And that’s a good lesson for everyone to learn because it’s an amazing lesson about what can happen between a script and a movie. Sometimes it can be improved and other times—like this—it can just be the worst thing you’ve ever seen! The fact is that Pam and I were paid, we got the money, we got the credit, the movie was made in France on a very low budget, and everything that we spent an incredible amount of time in writing was all taken out. If you read the script and then rent The Stroke of Midnight, which they renamed it, you wouldn’t recognize it.

So you have no control over it once you sell?

That’s true. It’s the luck of the draw—who gets cast, what’s the budget, who directs it, a lot of different factors that can make it better or make it worse. But the end result is that we still got work as a result of that script.

Even if it was a bad film?

Exactly. The point is that in Hollywood, when you sell a film, they don’t ask to see the video; they ask to read the script. Bottom line is that having a bad movie made is better than having no movie made. It doesn’t matter how it turns out as long as the writer gets the money, gets the credit, and can move on to something else. What happens is that you’re marketed on the merit that you sold a script, which they all know is no easy feat to begin with.

What if you just go with a pseudonym for the ones that look like they’re going south

A lot of people do that.

Was that an option for you and Pam?

We actually had the choice of taking our names off of If the Shoe Fits and we chose not to do that. The credits were more important to us.

What do you think is the most valuable thing that the next generation of screenwriters needs to know to be successful?

You have to detach your ego from your material and recognize that the goal is to make that material better. You may not agree with what people are telling you but you still have to listen to it and try to apply what fits the situation. The other thing is that if you’re really passionate, it usually takes about seven scripts before you finally sell something. Consequently, the earlier you start writing, the better. Starting at 17 or 18 puts you right in the ballpark, given the emphasis on youth in Hollywood.

If you were 17 again, what would you do differently, knowing what you know now about this business?

I would have paid more attention in school!

Review: You Can Market Your Book: All the Tools You Need to Sell Your Published Book

Review by Betty Winslow

You Can Market Your Book: All the Tools You Need to Sell Your Published Book
By Carmen Leal
ACW Press
2003
250 pages
Amazon.com price: $10.50

If there were an election for the position of Queen of Book Promotion, Carmen Leal would win it, hands down. Her latest book, You Can Market Your Book: All the Tools You Need to Sell Your Published Book, is chock full of ideas she and others have used to generate a buzz about their books, self-published or published through a royalty publisher. “Through a royalty publisher?” you ask? Yep. Even going that route doesn’t mean you can sit back on your laurels and let the publishing house do all the work—unless you don’t care if your book sells or not. You do, don’t you? Ms. Leal says, “Make sure that you understand the 80/20 rule: Writing takes only 20 percent of your effort, marketing and promotion takes up the other 80 percent.”

You Can Market Your Book will show you many ways to make good use of the 80 percent. With it in hand, you can pull off all kinds of marketing: press kits, book signings, on-camera interviews, giveaways, public speaking, and more. The book is divided into four sections, Project and Site Preparation, Choosing the Right Tools and Materials, Finding the Right Subcontractors, and Executing Your Plan, and it has a detailed table of contents, making it easy to find the section you want to concentrate on next.

She doesn’t use only her own ideas, either. She also presents ideas that have been used by other successful authors, as well as articles on various promotion topics by over a dozen other professionals. No matter how much you know about promoting a book, I’d be surprised if you weren’t able to learn at least a few new angles by the end of the book. One interesting side note: Be sure to notice how she uses quotations (a particular passion of hers) and dialogue from the movie Lilies of the Field to illustrate various points.

To add to the book’s value, Ms. Leal has included at the end of each chapter a list of authors and resources featured in that particular section, to make finding them again easier. She also offers the URL to a companion web site that features every link in the book and a tip archive as well as several worksheets and forms that can be printed out for use by her readers. In the very back of the book is a list of recommended books that Leal considers to be valuable. (I already own or have read several of them and I’ll be investigating the rest.)

If you plan on writing a book and you want it to sell, You Can Market Your Book should be #1 on your shopping list.

Betty Winslow is the author of The Lady and the Lawman.

Interview: Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency, Inc.

Spotlight on Deidre Knight
Interview by Christina Hamlett

Name: Deidre Knight

Title: Agent

Agency: The Knight Agency

Address: P.O. Box 550648, Atlanta, GA 30355

How long have you been an agent?

I began agenting nearly seven years ago, in the spring of 1996.  My husband, Judson Knight, has been a silent partner since that time, and in 2003 will join our staff full-time as business manager. Our staff also includes administrative assistant Lisa Payne, hired in 1999, and agent Pamela Harty, who joined us in 2000.

What attracted you to the business of representing writers? 

I have always had a talent for selling, an interest in books, and a sense of what works in a story. Agenting gave me an opportunity to combine all three.

What categories are you the most excited about selling these days?

Romance and women’s fiction remain key areas of interest for the Knight Agency, and we are always in search of quality literary fiction. In nonfiction, we are interested in business, self-help, pop culture, travel, health, inspirational/religious, and reference books.

How does an author become a prospective client of your agency?

We usually recommend that a prospective client visit us at our Web page (http://www.knightagency.net), learn a little about the agency, then query us via e-mail. Snail-mail queries are also welcome. Romance writers interested in representation are encouraged to attend major national conventions, such as Romance Writers of America in the summer, as a means of meeting agents working in that genre.

Conversely, what really turns you off?

Prospective clients who query or submit manuscripts by means other than the ones that are recommended either by our agency or by authorities on the business in general. Whereas e-mail and regular mail queries are welcome, phone calls are not. If someone becomes our client, we will probably talk regularly on the phone, but until then, we are simply not equipped to handle phone queries. If we request a sample or manuscript, we expect to see something that looks professional, as per Writer’s Market, Jeff Herman’s Writer’s Guide, or a similarly authoritative guide. Keep in mind that, with thousands of writers for every agent, the agent must pick and choose authors with whom he or she will work, so it pays to be polite and considerate.

Do you charge fees?  If so, what do they cover and are they charged up front or as reimbursements after the sale?

The Knight Agency does not charge a reading fee, nor do we charge for basic expenses such as copies and general mailing expenses.

How many titles have you sold in the past year? 

Forty.

What is your commission? 

Fifteen percent on domestic sales, and 20-25% on foreign and film rights sales if a sub-agent is employed.

What percentage of manuscripts do you reject and what is the most common reason for that rejection?

Sadly—and this is true of virtually all literary agencies—we reject more than 99% of the manuscripts we see. The most common reason for this, in the case of fiction, is that a novel simply lacks that “something special” that would make it a standout in the marketplace. Many times, we review books that are perfectly good, yet fail to grab the reader, and we are forced to say “No.” In the case of nonfiction, rejection is likely to be for reasons that include the following: the market is too broadly defined, the market is too narrowly defined, or the author lacks credentials that would give him or her the “platform” sufficient to make the book a success.

If you could have lunch with any author (living or dead), who would it be and what would you most like to ask them?

Ernest Hemingway—in a sober moment, pre-World War II. I would ask him how he finds the courage to let go of all those extraneous details that writers love to hold on to but should leave on the cutting-room floor.

What would you say is the most important contribution you make to your clients’ careers? 

I see my role not as simply that of selling manuscripts to the publisher, which is only the beginning of a process; rather, I help the author plan an entire career. An active writer needs an agent who will serve as an advocate at all stages of the sale, and who will help him or her gain additional benefits in the form of foreign sales and so on. My job is to assist the writer in developing a recognizable “brand name” (or several brand names); therefore, rather than focus on the current book or the next one, I help the author create a strategy for an entire body of work.

Best words of advice to new writers? 

Just keep writing. History is full of stories about classics that were rejected over and over and over by publishers. All too often, writers—and this is especially true in this era of instantaneous everything—want it all now, and that’s not usually how it works. If you’re a female Olympic gymnast, then yes, it’s likely that you would need to achieve something within a certain age window, but for writers, no such restriction exists. If anything, age can improve an author’s work, and it usually does. Be patient with your work, and give it the respect it deserves; don’t just throw something out there. In fact, if you want something that will give you instant reward (other than the rewards inherent in writing itself), then writing isn’t for you. The process of taking a book from manuscript to published work takes a long time, so why shouldn’t it be the same for taking the book from idea to completed manuscript?

Promote Your Prose: Promote Your ProsePromotional Material For Your Books

By Mary Emma Allen

“What promotional materials do you have to make your book stand out and help us sell it?” a bookstore events coordinator asked.

There are a variety of materials you can use to let others know about your book and help make it noticeable in bookstores. With today’s computer printing programs, you can create many yourself. Also, check what other authors are using for promo materials.

  • Business Cards— I print my business cards with standard information on the front. On the back (a publicity expert mentioned using the back of your business card for additional data), I print information about various aspects of my books and writing programs. These cards can be changed as I need because I’m not printing huge quantities.
  • Bookmarks—These can be made fairly inexpensively and are a great promo item. Bookmarks are welcomed by children when you do Young Author programs and workshops in schools. They also serve as a type of business card.
  • Postcards—The design may feature a picture of your book cover or simply information about your book. When you need to drop a note to someone, use your post cards. (As one publisher mentioned, it’s not only you and the person you’re sending the card to who read it; many people along the way may handle the post card.)

I discovered post cards were a great way to generate sales. One side includes a description. The other side has one half for address and the other half an order form. A surprising number of people return this card with an order and check for my book.

  • Flyers—This item can take may forms, depending on its purpose. Use the flyers to give information about your books, upcoming programs and classes you’ll be giving, and as order sheets (both for mail order and sales at schools and workshop locations).
  • Posters—These are another way to give information about your book and/or presentation. Sometimes you’ll need to provide posters for your book signings. They’re also good to have when giving talks and workshops.
  • Enlargements of Illustrations & Covers—Use these as posters for promoting your book. I’ve had requests for enlargements of the illustrations in my children’s anthology, so have begun making these available for sale.
  • Information Packets—Prepare an information packet to send to bookstores, book reviewers, interviewers. This includes a description of your book, a copy of press releases you send to publications, a short bio. You may include other material, like a bookmark, business card, and review copy if requested.

©2001 Mary Emma Allen

(The above material has been expanded in my manual, “Self-Publishing Your Books.”)

Mary Emma Allen writers for children and adults, fiction and non-fiction. She’s also a columnist and travel writer, as well as speaker and teacher. She blogs at Mary Emma’s Potpourri of Writing.

Promoting Your Prose: Creating a Memorable Personality

Do you recede into the background when people meet you or do you present a memorable appearance? We’re told it takes 30 seconds to make a first impression. How do you want to be perceived as an author?

This often is something we writers don’t think about. As writers who strive for recognition, we often never think of what could set us apart from others or what might set writers we admire apart, in addition to their writing.

“Develop your own style, your signature,” a children’s author and workshop teacher told us when she discussed doing book signings or giving school presentations. She mentioned the importance of dress and told us she decided to create an image for herself . . . one when she appeared at functions attended by adults or met with editors and another when she appeared in schools to talk with children.

Leaving an Impression

A variety of factors will be involved when you create an impression… favorable or unfavorable . . . that will cause readers to remember you.

“Why should this matter?” one asks, when readers will be buying and reading our books without our being there… and when most editors will buy my work without ever seeing me.

Everything we can do to create a favorable impression with readers and editors, when we do have an opportunity to meet them, certainly helps. If we can create a favorable impression, that they remember when our name is mentioned, helps even more.

Developing Your Signature

This author at the workshop wore colorful flowing dresses and chunky jewelry. She’d dressed the way she does when giving presentations for children in schools and libraries. She said children enjoy bright colors and appealing jewelry.

Another of her suggestions was dressing like one of your characters when giving a presentation, reading or signing book. This certainly calls attention when you’re doing readings or book signings in book stores where you want to catch the interest of customers and draw them to your area.

Appearance Depends on Occasion

Your appearance also depends on the occasion and the type of writing you do. I recently attended a health fair where I set up a display about my book on Alzheimer’s, When We Become the Parent to Our Parents I wanted to look professional, someone knowledgeable about my topic.

To me this meant giving attention to my appearance and not looking scruffy. Once I used to wear clothes and colors that made me recede into the background. However, I’ve found the “secret me” enjoys wearing the colorful clothing I enjoyed as a child.

This doesn’t mean wearing gaudy clothing, but something well coordinated and comfortable, something that makes me feel good about myself. Then I can feel good when talking with others about my book and my work as an encourager to caregivers.

If one is at an outdoor craft fair or function, where weather might be a consideration, dress according to that occasion. Jeans and similar clothing could be appropriate. If your book is about the out-of-doors or connected with sports, then dressing in clothing associated with those occasions would be more in keeping than skirt and panty hose and heels or suit and tie.

Dress Depends on Age

Dress often depends on the age of the audience or the editor you’re meeting. Those of an older generation have a different idea of appropriateness than someone who is comfortable with “dress down Friday.”

Keep in mind that the way you dress at a book event or meeting with an editor can have an effect on how you’re received. It might be worthwhile to give some thought to developing a characteristic type of dressing that it associated with you.

I’d enjoy hearing from writers who have had success in developing a signature style of dressing.

© 2002 Mary Emma Allen

Mary Emma Allen writers for children and adults, fiction and non-fiction. She’s also a columnist and travel writer, as well as speaker and teacher. She blogs at Mary Emma’s Potpourri of Writing.

Promoting Your Prose: Developing Your Own Press Releases

By Mary Emma Allen

Many writers are reluctant to “toot their own horn” or promote themselves. Writers often are shy people who’d rather write than market their work. However, in today’s writing and publishing world, you can’t hide in the closet, as one writer said at a workshop.

An excellent way of obtaining free publicity is through press releases. I used to think it very presumptuous of a writer to put together and send out her own press releases. However, I discovered that newspaper editors didn’t look aghast at press releases.

I also learned, when working as a reporter and part-time editor at a weekly, that
newspaper editors often are looking for free well-written material to publish. Press releases fall under this category.

Tips for Press Releases

  • Write Well—The press release represents you and your writing. Make sure you proofread it for grammar, spelling, and coherence. An editor is very unlikely to use a press release they have to rewrite.
  • Keep It Short—Try to make your press release no longer than one double spaced page, one and a half pages at the most. The newspaper editor is more likely to have room for it if it’s short. Also the second page won’t get lost if you don’t have one! It’s less likely to be rewritten if it’s short.
  • E-mail Your Releases—if the paper accepts them. I do this now with all my releases, but I’ve checked to make sure this is the acceptable procedure so they’re not simply deleted unread.
  • Send to the Appropriate Editor—You have a better chance of having your press releases read if you send them to the editor of the department your news would come under.
  • Use releases for various announcements—You can send out press releases for more than having a book published. Announce a book signing, a workshop you’re teaching, a talk you’re giving, an article published in a magazine, an author day at a school.
  • Use photos—Have some photos made to accompany press releases. In today’s world of digital cameras and scanners, you can use photos without it being a great expense. The newspaper may not have space for every photo you send, but you’ll have a better chance if you do include a photo periodically.
  • See if publishers will send out releases— Occasionally when I’ve written for magazines, the editors will send a release to local newspapers. This gives them publicity, too. Book publishers often will send out releases about their authors’ books.
  • Check For Calendar of Events—When you’re giving talks, doing book signings, teaching classes, send short notices to publications that have calendars of events.
  • Send to Newsletters—If you belong to a writers’� group that publishes a newsletter, make sure you send a press release to the editor or person who puts the newsletter together.
  • Check Out Online Possibilities—Many ezines and web sites are looking for news about writers and their work. Generally these press releases must be even shorter than those for print publications. Check out the length of those online; also inquire of the editor what he/she uses. Online publicity is read around the world!

These are just a few tips about press releases. If you don’t know how to write one, study those you see in various publications. Also, check out books on the topic.

© 2001 Mary Emma Allen

Mary Emma Allen writes for children and adults, fiction and nonfiction, teaches at conferences, continuing education classes, and in schools. She has written for newspapers and magazines, online and in print, has written four books, a coloring book, and nine manuals for writers. She blogs at Mary Emma’s Potpourri of Writing.

Interview: Susan Bays, Independent Publisher at Arbutus Press

By Gloriana 

Susan Stites Bays publishes under the name of Susan Bays, and writes as Susan Stites.  She owns and operates Arbutus Press, a small independent company that publishes nonfiction subjects relating to Michigan and the Midwest only. Arbutus Press flourishes due to Susan’s skills, resourcefulness and drive.  Here, Susan shares some of her secrets—how she began, what she’s learned along the way, and her vision of the future. 

Tell us about your company in its present state. 

Arbutus Press is still a very small publishing company with a bright future.

What got you into self-publishing?

It all started under the name Discovery Travel Tours, a production company for audio travel tour tapes. After some success with writing a script, hiring an announcer, booking studio time, finding an artist for cover art, ordering jewel cases and J-card inserts, and selecting music or sound effects for audio, a 60-minute audio cassette tape describing Sleeping Bear Dune National Lakeshore found its way into the marketplace. That was in 1989. It is still stocked through regional bookstores.

I guess that venture got my feet wet. Actually, it was total immersion into the exciting field of writing and producing.

After two more titles on audio tape, I found the concept of tape tours difficult to distribute. It didn’t fit standard displays at bookstores. There were no distributors who would handle them because the product was neither a book nor a book on tape. I realized that the product’s time had not yet come to the Midwest (tape tours are very popular on the West Coast and in museums), so I moved on to publish a book on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The Road Guide: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a guidebook in its second printing.

So, from what I gather, you tried travel tapes, but found that in this market, books do better. 

Exactly.

Why did you choose to pursue the travel genre? 

I was a gypsy of sorts and loved to explore. I read Joseph Campbell at the time and just followed my bliss. In addition to bliss, it was a way to make my travels more necessary. Friends often came with me on my “business trips” to hike the dunes or take the ferry to Mackinac Island. I couldn’t think of a better business to be in.

You must have had to do a lot of research to jump in and publish a book. How did you find everything you needed to get going as a publisher? 

I bought a book on self-publishing. That got me started. From then on I just flew by the seat of my pants and asked people questions. Research was really part of my training as a biologist, so I applied those learning strategies to acquire the knowledge to get a book in print.

It was, and still is, a huge learning curve. I made mistakes, some costly, but it’s all part of the process of doing it on your own.

Care to pass on any of those lessons?

There are many technical aspects of the printing process that I found difficult to understand, ranging from paper selection to scanning and reproduction of photos. Now I realize that there are prepress businesses to help with this process. But it all takes money. The language of printers was foreign, so just communicating with them was difficult.

Then there was the confusing discount that booksellers and distributors receive, sometime tiered depending on shipping charges, consignment or not, and a million other details.

I never consign with bookstores anymore. If they want to buy a book, that’s fine, but consignment is very labor intensive, and the bookseller has no motivation to sell your book. The merit of consignment comes from a measure of desperation. No one was buying my tapes outright because the whole concept was unfamiliar. My choices were to consign with a bookstore or look at cardboard boxes in my basement that were filled with tapes.

Why didn’t you go with an established publisher? 

I might have given that option a brief thought but never seriously considered it. I really wanted to do it myself. The rewards, financial and personal, were my original motivation. Why would I want to give 95% of that away? I know that established big publishers are absolutely the route for fiction, but my project was regional nonfiction.

Would you define “regional nonfiction”?

To me, regional nonfiction means that the intended readers are familiar with the topic of the book because it is essentially about their neighborhood or about their neighbors. And distribution of the book is limited to one area or region. The Road Guide: Sleeping Bear, Dunes National Lakeshore is limited to bookstores in the region and visitors of the dunes. It is not a fictional account of the dunes, but a factual guide.

Why is self-publishing is better for that genre?

Because the marketing is easier. People are already somewhat familiar with it because they have visited the place or already know they like the topic. Again, the Sleeping Bear Dunes book sells itself if someone is interested in the dunes and needs a guidebook, versus a work of fiction written with the setting of the dunes.

In fiction, you’re selling the writer’s ability to tell a story with exciting characters and compelling conflicts. It takes many readers to form a consensus that a book of fiction is worth recommending. The reader doesn’t know if s/he will like it or not before buying it unless it is recommended by someone like the New York Times, other book reviewers, friends, book clubs. How many times have you overheard people in bookstores say, “I’ve heard this is good”?

I’m not discouraging writers from self-publishing fiction; I’m saying be prepared to put tremendous effort into getting the book out to readers.

How did you find a printer? A distributor?

There are resources in the library to help find vendors. Also, I asked an independent bookstore owner for advice. This proved valuable in finding distributors, publishing and marketing organizations to join, and journals to read—-for a start.

How did you handle the business aspect of self-publishing?

I bought Quickbooks, keep a card file, have a file cabinet, stamps, fax and a telephone. What more do you need?

Quickbooks?

Quickbooks is a software accounting program. It tracks the sales of books and accounts receivable, prints invoices and also has a wonderful feature that allows you to accept credit cards for book orders from individuals.

You did your own writing. How did you obtain the photographs that must have been an integral part of the project? 

Of the three books I’ve written, each has different sources. Some used historic archival photos or public domain photos. Even my digital camera produced some photos. Friends of mine took color shots for one of the books, and I share the profits from that project with them.

Did you do your own public relations work for the book? 

Yes. I found that every stage of publishing required a new skill. Public relations work is the most difficult for me. It takes a tremendous amount of my time and energy, and I have to put my ego away. PR can be an endless pursuit, because without readers for your book, you’re left with that basement full of cardboard boxes. Besides, the author is really the best person to convince a newspaper, radio show, or bookseller on the merits of their book. Sometimes, just the author’s enthusiasm alone will rouse interest.

What did you do about advertising at the beginning? 

I wrote a press release and sent it to various newspapers. If a press release is well written, the newspapers sometimes print it verbatim. It saves them money and benefits an author. Never underestimate the power of that first press release. Usually a follow-up phone call [to the place you sent your release] is helpful.

How did the book do when you released it? 

All of them have done well. By well, I mean I’ve made enough money to pay for the expenses and then some. The “some” is invested in more projects. Right now, I’ve taken the leap from self-publishing to other-publishing. I have an author’s work in layout ready to send to the printer next week.

By “other-publishing,” I assume that you publish others authors’ books?

It seems to me a natural progression to move from self-publishing to publishing other people’s work. For me, I can apply the acquired knowledge and experience from fumbling around to get my own stuff in print for the benefit of others. Sometimes it’s a joint venture, where the author and I team up and finance the project jointly, and sometimes it’s a standard contract where I apply my knowledge and money to publish a book for someone else.

What type of book is the one you’re publishing for the “other” author? 

I have two that I’m working on. One is a very special cookbook, and the other is a historical chronology through black and white photos.

Have you ever gone with Print On Demand (POD), or have you always used conventional publishing? 

I have researched Print On Demand and received a sample copy of one of my titles. I wasn’t impressed with the quality of reproduction for the photos, so it wouldn’t work for me. But I do have a copy of a an author’s work of fiction that is text only, and it seems a viable solution to the problem of quantity and expense for that type of book.

Your Sleeping Bear Dunes guidebook is in its second printing. This means it’s sold out or almost sold out. How many do you print at a time? 

I printed and reprinted 3,000 books under that title. Another book out last year will have 10,000 in print by mid summer. Determination of the print number has to do with what I think the interest is. Century of Summers [a third title] is an extremely regional book about people and places on a small inland lake near Traverse City. I have only 600 in print and sell them at the corner market. I’m pretty conservative in my print runs. I’d rather pay more per copy than store many books. Reprinting is nothing more than making a phone call and writing a check.

Susan, your experience illustrates several cardinal aspects of successful entrepreneurs in this field: 1) Write about what you love. 2) Be resourceful. 3) Do your homework. 4) Be willing to take risks. 5) The only way to learn is to jump in and do it. Does that sum it up? 

Well said.

What is your five-year vision for Arbutus Press? 

I see Arbutus Press remaining a small publisher of quality regional nonfiction in five years.

Susan, thanks for sharing what you’ve learned. You’ve worked hard to get where you are. 

Visit the Arbutus Press website at www.Arbutuspress.com. Susan’s publishing name is Susan Bays, and she can be reached at Arbutuspress.com.

©2002 Gloriana

Promoting Your Prose

By Mary Emma Allen

Promoting Your Books At Writers’ Conferences

When I mentioned to a colleague that I’d sold eight of my writers’ resource books and another on Alzheimer’s at a writers’ conference, she remarked that she didn’t know writers could do that. It all depends on the conference, but these are good places to network and to let others know about your books even if you’re not one of the speakers/teachers.

You’ll find that writers’ conferences vary. Some don’t have this opportunity available to attendees. Some allow only members of the organization coordinating the conference to sell books at the members’ book table. Others only sell the books of workshop teachers and keynote speaker.

Check Out the Possibilities

However, when you’re planning to attend a conference, check out the possibility of book sales and opportunities to sign books. Inquire whether they have sales and signings and who can participate.

Also, check to see whether the coordinating organization takes a percentage of the sale. Some offer this as a service to those attending and don’t take a fee. Others will ask for a 10% to 20% donation.

If you don’t have a book to sell or aren’t allowed to sell your book at a conference (some simply don’t have space for book sales), inquire whether there’s a table where you can leave literature and business cards. Most conferences like to have freebie material for the attendees to pick up.

I frequently get requests from conferences for literature about my books and, when I published a newsletter, guidelines and information about it.

Types of Books

It’s difficult to determine what type of book will sell at a conference. However, at writers’ conferences, I’ve found that my Writing in Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont is popular, along with my manuals for writers.

When I give talks about Alzheimer’s at conferences or nursing homes, When We Become the Parent to Our Parents is the book attendees pick up. However, I have sold these, as well as my anthology of children’s stories, at writers’ conferences.

If you’re one of the speakers or workshop teachers, just about all of your books will be of interest. However, if you’re speaking on a particular writing topic, anything you’ve written about it usually will be more popular.

Working at the Book Table

Volunteering to work at the book table enables you to meet the attendees, answer questions about your book(s), and autograph your books. Also it’s fun. I enjoy meeting the other authors as they check their books at the table.

This also gives me an opportunity to network with more of the attendees, to meet them, and to make newcomers feel welcome at the conference.

Inquire About Guidelines

Whenever you’re registering for a conference, check to see if they have a book table where you can display and sell your books. Then inquire about the guidelines.

*Who is hosting the book table?

Committee members or a local book store? At one conference I attended, a local book store checked in the books and took care of sales. A couple weeks later they mailed me the check for my books sold.

*How many books can you bring?

Limited space often restricts the number of titles an author can display.

*Do you bring change for sale of your books or does the organization make change?

Let them know whether you’ll take checks from individuals purchasing your books.

Even if you don’t sell many or any books (and it’s difficult to predict beforehand how many and what types of books will sell), you’ll have an opportunity to let more people know about you and your writing. Have order forms to leave on the literature table so that if someone cannot buy your book the day of the conference, they can order it later.

Explore the possibility of selling and promoting your books at conferences. It’s also an enjoyable way to network and meet more writers, editors, and publishers.

© 2002 Mary Emma Allen

Mary Emma Allen, an author of books for children and adults, also offers a workshop, “Marketing Your Books & Manuscripts.” She teaches writing classes online, at a local college, and in elementary and high schools. Visit her blog Mary Emma’s Potpourri of Writing.

Interview: Miriam Goderich, Vice President Jane Dystel Literary Management

By Laura A. Hazan

The song New York, New York goes something like this: “If I can make it there I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you, New York, New York.” That pretty much sums up the feelings of many writers, too. Breaking into the elusive New York publishing world equals success, and the highly sought after New York literary agent is the first step to making it there.

Obtaining a New York agent isn’t easy, but it is possible with concise, error-free queries, a well-written story and a professional demeanor, advises Miriam Goderich. She should know—she is a New York literary agent. Goderich, Vice President, Dystel and Goderich Literary Management (DGLM), started as an assistant to Dystel and 13 years later is her partner in the agency. DGLM has over 300 clients, between 100–150 are active.

Goderich and the three other agents at JDLM receive 300–400 queries a week. “People overdo it,” Goderich said. A professional one-page query letter with some precise details about the project and relevant information about the author, free of typos and grammatical errors, will be given proper consideration. Complete submission requirements are available on www.dystel.com.

Goderich feels that the query letter is one of the most important documents in the publishing process. She recommends having letters, outlines and synopsis proofread and critiqued just like a manuscript. Many of JDLM’s queries are unsolicited; others come from referrals and contacts made through conferences. Be patient, JDLM will respond to every query they receive, but it may take 3–4 weeks.

Goderich knows she wants to see the complete manuscript when that one letter “sticks in my mind. If I’m still thinking about the concept or the character a day or two later I know I need to see more.” Once JDLM receives the complete manuscript it may take up to 6 months for them to decide to represent it, especially for an unpublished writer.

“It is harder to sell them to publishing houses. Publishers want return on investment,” and with new writers there is little guarantee that will happen. New writers also present other challenges, such as “educating them on various aspects of the industry” Goderich explained. “Like any business, with some experience you know what to expect, what to ask and what to do.” Unpublished writers simply need more guidance.

Nonfiction works dominate JDLM’s client list (available on dystel.com). “Nonfiction is about 80 times easier to sell then fiction,” Goderich said. Most agencies survive on their nonfiction sales. As a writer of nonfiction “all you need is the proper credentials and a good idea,” Goderich explained. Fiction needs a compelling storyline, terrific characters and, to show that the rest of the novel will hold up, it “really does need a good opening. A great opening is not always about the writing, it can be about setting or characters,” Goderich said. On rare occasions if a manuscript has a strong character but a weak story or vice versa, Goderich might make suggestions and ask to see the manuscript again. She has even come across manuscripts with solid writing that don’t work for the agency at that time and “told the writer that I would love to see anything else they do.”

JDLM sells about 90 books a year. Together with their clients, JDLM agents edit and revise manuscripts to ensure that a strong project is being presented to the marketplace. They are currently marketing mainstream and literary fiction, and their nonfiction areas of interest are parenting, cooking, nutrition, politics, health and women’s issues. “The market is great, we’e done well this year. Even fiction is doing better,” Goderich stated. Occasionally “publishers come up with ideas and call us looking for a writer,” Goderich said. While this is not a common occurrence, it demonstrates the importance of a well-connected agent.

Goderich advises writers to do their homework before contacting an agent. Read the agency’s listing in Writer’s Market or check their website– make sure they market what you write, and if possible, stick with agents that are members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR). “AAR is a good way to weed out fly-by-night agents and those that charge reading fees. As a writer you should never pay reading fees. AAR will also answer questions you may have about an agency,” she stated.

Goderich also suggests writers read everything, to help keep current and generally aware of what is being published. She also recommends reading other recent works of fiction and nonfiction because reading good writing often benefits the project a writer is working on. “We even have a book club in our agency to help us keep up on newly published works,” she said.

“The center of the publishing community is New York. It is an old-fashioned sort of business with a lot of face-to-face meetings and lunches,” Goderich explained. That sort of networking is why a New York literary agent is so important.

Keep sharpening those queries and maybe you will find yourself represented by a New York agent and one step closer to making it there.

After years of being surrounded by books in her career as a librarian, Laura Hazan has taken a hiatus to write a book of her own. Laura is currently working on her first novel and pursuing opportunities in freelance writing.