Tracy's blog

I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at www.thevertexfighter.blogspot.com.

Friday, March 11, 2016

"Self publish your way to success"/ "When Hollywood goes Crayola"

Dec. 23, 2015  "Self publish your way to success": I cut out this article by Beverly Akerman in the Globe and Mail on Apr. 28, 2012.  I put up some self-publishing quite a few times onto my blog.  It was inspiring.  It kind of reminded of me from the days of 2008-2012 where I was constantly pitching my script to TV writers, producers, and produciton companies.  Here's the whole article:

This is a story about the end of the gatekeeper. About the movement spreading throughout media, from which book publishing is hardly exempt, as readers of Harry Potter, Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey have made all too clear.
It’s about the reading public – the great unwashed, the hoi polloi – no longer letting tastemakers decide what’s worth reading. It’s about the masses seizing the means of publication.

In short, it’s about choosing for ourselves.
Publishing is an injured beast, but it was mortally wounded before Amazon attacked. And the injuries themselves are partly self-inflicted.

The proof? The vast majority of top-heavy legacy publishers’ books – agented, edited, sales-managed, otherwise massaged, and only then published – tank, sinking with nary a trace. Conversely, some books, refused by dozens of publishers, go on to achieve rockstardom when some kindly soul finally deigns to bring them to market.

Which means only one thing: Despite their vast education, experience and good taste, publishers have only about a quarter of a clue what the public really wants. For publishers, it’s “the end of the world as they know it.”
And I feel fine.

How’s this for a story?

Mild-mannered Vancouver recreational-vehicle sales manager hits midlife and decides it’s time for some changes. Big changes. He sobers up, gets a divorce, takes up running, remembers he’s always wanted to be a writer, and enrolls in community writing courses.

Five years later, his mixed-genre coming of age/romantic suspense novel, My Temporary Life, is making the rounds of agents and publishers.

The book is rejected nearly 130 times.

For three more years, our hero perseveres, because that’s what heroes do. He has a businessman’s “buy-in” to the process, accepting that his product could be judged unsalable. (Nothing personal.) Aside from all those professional reader rejections, he’s receiving an endless stream of compliments from every real, live, non-professional reader his book encounters – relatives, writing-class co-conspirators, friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends. He keeps going because he’s just this really swell, grounded guy, seemingly without a resentful bone in his body.
You know, like most writers.

Maybe it’s the 12-step program

Ultimately, our hero decides – is forced – to self-publish, which, being who he is, he welcomes. “It was either quit and not do any more with it, or self-publish,” he says.

His e-book went live in December, 2011. In January, he sold $100 worth. Two-and-a-half months later, he embraced the strategy I’ll spell out later: Readers have since snapped up 86,000 copies. A Canadian bestseller is 5,000 copies.
At Amazon.com, our hero is the e-book equivalent of an implanted, spray-tanned, maple-syrup-smeared Playboy centerfold, earning $45,000 in February alone. E-book sales approached $5,000 in March, with another 16,000 giveaways.

Now writing My Name Is Hardly, about a character from My Temporary Life, please give a warm welcome to – your self-published hero and mine – Kilmarnock, Scotland-born Martin Crosbie, currently personifying happily ever after.


Published but no cigar

My own book, The Meaning of Children, was released in Canada last spring, also following a midlife crisis. Winner of the David Adams Richards Prize, it garnered some magnificent feedback from readers and reviewers. “Captivating,” “pitch-perfect prose,” “a life-altering read,” “resonates with the sad truth of being a grownup,” and “touching without being maudlin, a true literary feat,” readers said. Readers who weren’t my mother.

The book surprisingly made the CBC-Scotiabank Giller Prize Readers’ Choice Contest Top 10. (Okay, I came 10th, but the actual David Adams Richards was ninth. Besides, what do you call the doctor who graduates at the bottom of his class?)

Still, the book didn’t do as well as I’d hoped: A small literary publisher can mean little publicity compounded, in my case, by distribution woes. Like Martin Crosbie, I remained convinced my book had great U.S. market potential, but I tried and failed to find American representation (though I didn’t have it in me to try 130 times).

My Canadian publisher wanted the rights, but I became convinced I probably wouldn’t do a worse job myself. I prepared to self-publish an e-version, knowing if I wanted much of a readership, I’d have to personally market the hell out of The Meaning of Children (how am I doing so far?). I stepped up my social-media campaign, and that’s how I “met” Martin Crosbie, on Facebook, in early March. His post was eye-popping, if in need of editing: “This is the story of what happened when I hit #1 on Amazon’s Rankings!”

What’s it like to be vindicated, author of the latest e-book sensation? “We sat in the car and read the newest reviews. Two of them made us cry. It’s an amazing experience to read about how your work, your characters, touch another person the same way it touched you. ... The sales figures are amazing … but the almost overwhelming part is that you have an opportunity to touch so many people.”

Eu-bloody-reka!

Here was a guy who’d made a silk purse out of a novel nearly 130 members of the snooterati deemed a sow’s ear.
I “liked” his post and submitted my book to Kindle the very next day. Martin was approachable and encouraging, so I asked him for help. And man, did he give it – pages and pages of advice.

How did he do that? Or, how to make a Canadian bestseller

First, recognize that being your own publicist requires a major time investment. On the other hand, the gun registry is a twitching corpse and there won’t be a federal election for a few more years, so there’s no point wasting any more time on politics. Besides, who knows or cares more about your book than you do?

1. Write a good book: Duh … and not something Martin told me; genre novels may work best. Martin’s book is a cross-genre mash-up, a big reason, he surmises, it was rejected repeatedly: It was unclassifiable.

2. “Pay it forward” to other indie writers (that’s what they call themselves): Martin received essential help from a couple of Amazon authors, Robert Bidinotto and Kenneth Tingle. Without them, he says, he’d be nowhere. Bidinotto rewrote Martin’s synopsis, told him to get a new cover, and passed on much of the advice that follows. And that’s why Martin advises a “How can I help you” vs. “why should I help you?” attitude. (Who knows, this shift may prove useful in other areas of your life. Get a lobotomy if necessary. Or restart that lapsed antidepressant prescription.)

3. My heart belongs to Amazon. Bidinotto’s key message: Use Amazon’s unique Kindle Direct Publishing Select program (KDP). Amazon gets the exclusive right to sell your work for three months at a time, and also pays you to lend your book to their huge bank of subscribers, Amazon Prime members. For an annual fee, Prime members may borrow a book a month from the KDP collection (there are other advantages, too). Authors can generate substantial income just from these loans: $1.65 per download the first month to $2.18 the third month, in Martin’s experience (thousands and thousands of downloads).

4. Freebies: an indispensable promotional tool, five free days in each three-month KDP period. Thousands of free downloads rockets your book up the sales chart, piques reader interest, and hopefully generates those all-important reader reviews. “The rule of thumb is: For every three you give away, you'll sell one. So give lots away!” (Open, generous and giving. Remember, you’re channelling Oprah.) Best days: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. “The early part of the month is the worst.”

5. Publicize upcoming free days, especially on Pixel of Ink and Ereader News Today (suspend your inner snark). Reflect the freebie in your book’s tags. Use Twitter and post in as many reader, Kindle and Facebook writer groups as possible.

6. Contact reviewers, review sites, top Amazon reviewers, and other indie authors who have sold lots of books. Buy their books and review them. Ask them for help.

7. Pricing: Martin “tried the 99-cent thing.” Verdict? “It makes us look self-published and unprofessional. I really believe that now.” The e-version of My Temporary Life is $3.99 – though John Locke, the first self-published author to sell a million Kindle books, counsels the contrary.

10. Time (the writer’s greatest sacrifice): Even when Martin works at the RV centre, he still finds five hours daily for promotion; other days, it’s 14 hours (bottles of Clear Eyes and Visine are scattered round the house). He’s virtually anywhere people talk about books online. But if time is money, money also buys time; i.e. if you earn well on this book, you’re buying time for your next.

Tech changes: Get over it

One more point that’s probably de rigueur for the Martin-wannabe: An e-reader. “Get” the technology. Embrace it.
Personally, I still prefer books. But the world is changing and no one – least of all a garden-variety writer – can divert that iceberg bearing down on publishing’s Titanic. Maybe J.K. Rowling … but I hear she’s self-publishing now, too.


"When Hollywood goes Crayola": I cut out this article by Pasha Malla in the Globe and Mail on Aug. 7, 2010:


On Wednesday, NBC Universal rolled its "diversity" train into Toronto, attracted by the potential of the city's multiculturalism to help fill a mandate of, essentially, beefing up the presence of visual minorities in its TV shows and movies.

The hundreds in line at the east-end studio comprised, as per the casting call, "First Nation, East Indian, Black, Hispanic and Asian" hopefuls, in all their glorious skin shades and skeletal builds, no doubt to the great delight of the execs inside.

On the surface, reflecting a variety of races, cultures, creeds and varying degrees of mobility ("physically diverse performers" were encouraged as well) seemed like good news. And yet something about the whole business (and it was very much business) struck me as suspect.

In dropping their casting net and trawling Toronto's great ethnic depths, what were the NBCU agents hoping to catch? The next Harold and Kumar, or just a bunch of beige-skinned extras for the sequel to Green Zone?
My friend Asim Wali is one local actor who didn't attend what he refers to as a "cattle call." Of Indo-Pakistani heritage and a graduate of the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, Asim has been acting professionally in Toronto for the past decade.

He describes the majority of his previous roles as "terrorists, suspected terrorists, undercover operatives infiltrating terrorist organizations and, in a real twist, a domestic terrorist" - so it's no wonder that he was skeptical of the studio's motives.

He saw the initiative as geared only toward profit. "The more people to whom you make something appealing, the more likely they are to watch," he says. "More people watch, more money gets made."

NBCU is remarkably up-front about this: A promotional video details how diversity is "better for business" and "not just the right thing to do" - "the right thing to do," apparently, being in itself inadequate.
But how is this diversity being showcased in the output of major studios?

"While the casts of most dramas and many sitcoms have grown more diverse over the last decade," a recent feature in The Los Angeles Times says, "programs aimed at minority viewers are harder to find on both broadcast and cable television."

This type of diversity seems to presuppose, at best, that one black or brown person on a TV show represents all black or brown people - and at worst, that it appeases them.

Tokenism is not representation. It's party to that brand of multiculturalism, as Chicago culture critic Walter Benn Michaels puts it in The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality, that has gone "from proclaiming itself a subversive politics to taking up its position as a corporate management tool."
Alternatively, creating programming that actually represents and speaks to specific ethnic groups runs the risk of ghettoizing entertainment.

We end up with shows that cater to specific viewerships while alienating most others, and do nothing to create the sort of mutual understanding between cultures that a hugely influential and vast venue like television could help foster.
Of course, there is value in Black Entertainment Television and in the language-specific programming offered by Omni Television in Ontario, Alberta and B.C., or by public-access stations across the country.

But once the casting agents have assembled their stable of culturally and physically diverse Canadian actors (I can't help picturing a giant Crayola box transporting them from set to set), I'm concerned about what they will do with them.
Still, there's hope. The blind call for presumably anyone who's not white and walking about on two legs is worrying, but that lack of cultural specificity is also encouraging.

The higher-ups at NBCU should consider two people: Ben Kingsley and Fez, the ethnically ambiguous exchange student on That '70s Show.

I always had a soft spot for Fez, whose nationality was never revealed and in fact became a running gag (in one episode, when asked where he was from, Fez lamented, "I can never tell"). The role not only mocked the sitcom archetype of the clueless, bumbling foreigner, it expanded ethnicity itself into a much more nebulous realm, free from cultural associations and restrictions.

The same can be said of Ben Kingsley. Born Krishna Bhanji to a British mother and Gujarati father, Mr. Kingsley has played Gandhi, a gritty London mobster, an Iranian war colonel, a Jewish New York psychiatrist. If, as my friend Asim notes, "the point of being an actor is to go outside of yourself," then Mr. Kingsley is a paragon of the craft, able to take on any role, regardless of his own or its supposed cultural background.

Forgetting the "post-race" talk that has been swirling around since, oh, November, 2008, Fez and Mr. Kingsley represent a potential for narratives outside the boundaries of culture or ethnicity.

TV and movies, after all, are built on performances in invented worlds, and where better than in fiction to explore, if not construct, a society unlimited by ethnic constraints - where the stories are universally human stories, well written (let's hope) and well told.

I'm writing this from St. John's, where Raoul Bhaneja will be bringing his one-man Hamlet: Solo show to town on Aug. 22. Nowhere in any of the press coverage, reviews or promotional material is there any mention of race. That Mr. Bhaneja is a guy of South Asian heritage playing the Prince of Denmark simply doesn't factor when the show is good - and by all accounts, it's a very good show indeed.I'm looking forward to this performance a lot, and I hope that, if it ever swings through Hollywood, those diversity folks at NBC Universal will give it a look too.


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