Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Big Switch

Linda Hall is a fine example of an author who has successfully switched genres. It's a risky business, especially if you already have a following, as she did. However, it's more important to be happy with what you're writing than to chase success. In her case, it paid off.

Here are some key points I took away from one of her sessions at a recent writers' conference.

The average person switches careers seven times in a lifetime. So why is it surprising when writers switch genres? We all grow and develop as writers so switching genres may be a natural outcome of that growth.  Even when you switch genres, you are still you – you still maintain your unique ‘writerly’ voice. There are many examples of famous writers who have written in more than one genre. Often the biggest hurdle is the marketing.

There is a difference between a reasonable shift and a radical shift. Sometimes it’s more about changing ‘brand’. Newspaper and sports teams change their mastheads and logos over time to reflect changing times or be more current. If you are changing brand, do it gently and make sure you inform your audience so that they don’t feel alienated. Very radical shifts may require a pen name, even if your audience knows who the other ‘person’ is, they will not be confused about what you are trying to promote.

1.     You will grow as a writer
2.     The monotony will be broken
3.     You may find many new opportunities and a whole new group of friends.

1.     You may lose part of your audience
2.     Your brand might be changed
3.     Readers might be confused
4.     There might be a monetary loss

How to build your audience after a genre switch:
1.     Explain carefully your motives: on a blog, in a newsletter, on social media. In other words, don’t be afraid to tell people and explain your reasons why.
2.     Work to increase your email list.
3.     Work various kinds of advertising and figure out what works for you.
4.     Get reviews.
5.     Stay with it and focus on the joy, not the money.

Every kind of writing is good training for other kinds of writing. ‘Someone’ said, “Write a poem a day.” This is good advice.  Do what your heart tells you to do.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hard Work vs Effective Work

I am quoting from an email I received not long ago from author Nick Stephenson. (If you've never heard of Nick, check out his website here. he is literally a marketing guru.)

"How many times have you spent HOURS on something that brought you ZERO results?
But because it felt like "work" you thought you were doing something productive?
It happens all the time. And it happens because people lose sight of what's important - and confuse hard work with effective work...
The truth is, there are three goals you need to focus on if you want to grow your business.
So, next time you're planning on doing some work... ask yourself:
  1. Does this help me create new products to sell (ie, "writing more books")?
  2. Does this help me build my email list?
  3. Does this bring me more sales?

If the answer is "no" to any of those things, move on. I promise you will find yourself less 'busy' and more successful as a result - and you'll be better placed to listen to what your readers really want."

- Nick Stephenson

Great advice!


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

'Do Your Research' Applies to Plays Too!

Research is an essential part of the writing process and writing for the stage is no exception. Getting the facts straight about historical events, locations, or cultural customs is a no-brainer. Incorrect details can ruin the play for some viewers, not to mention discredit the playwright. However, there is a lot more than content that needs careful attention. Savvy playwrights need to understand the variety of performance spaces and when it comes time to submit to a publisher, researching each publisher’s formatting requirements is a must.

Plays need to be produced if the playwright hopes to get a publishing contract. Most plays can be produced in a variety of spaces, but some plays work better in one place over another. Understanding the variety of performance spaces and the pros and cons of each is helpful when writing. Basically, as a playwright, you need to know how things work. Here are the most common types of performance spaces:

-       Proscenium - The actors perform with the audience sitting in front of them. Either the stage is raised above the level of the audience or the seats in the "house" slope upwards. Most theaters - everything from Broadway to high schools - are prosceniums.

-       Thrust - Imagine a tongue thrusting into a proscenium-style audience and you have a thrust. In this configuration, the actors will have audience on three sides.

-       In the Round - The actors are in a central playing area, and the audience surrounds them on all sides. Actors may have to enter and exit through the aisles.

-       Touring - A "touring" space isn't a kind of space at all, but if your show is going to tour (e.g. to schools) it could be performed in anything from a giant proscenium auditorium to a densely packed classroom. Here are some common sense guidelines: a) No set, or a minimalistic set that can be easily transported and installed in minutes. b) Props and costumes that can be easily packed and transported. c) No lighting requirements, or simple, portable lighting and simple sound cues that can be done from a portable player. d) A small cast.

Even though plays are meant to be performed, be aware that they will also be read – sometimes multiple times, by directors, producers, the cast etc. This is why clear and simple formatting is important. While there is no, one, industry standard, here are some simple guidelines.

-       Generally speaking, scripts should be typed in a simple font like Times New Roman at 12 font. Some publishers want it double-spaced, but most are fine with 1 or 1.5 spacing as long as there is an extra space between separate characters’ dialogue. (A double return)

-       The character name comes before their dialogue. (Do not use quotation marks for dialogue as you would in a novel.) Make the character name stand apart from the dialogue: ALL CAPS, bold or BOTH.

-       All stage directions, including entrances and exits, need to be set apart from the dialogue. Some publishers prefer parenthesis, others use <> around the directions. Generally speaking, stage directions should be italicized. Song titles are treated like other stage directions. The song lyrics themselves are usually found on a separate page at the front or back of the play.

-       Page numbers begin with the body of the play, NOT on the cast page or any other pages.

-       Other pages may include:
a) Title page
b) Original cast list (optional)
c) Cast page
d) Musical numbers page (for musicals)
e) Scene/Acts headings page (optional)
f) Production Notes
g) Props list

While these formatting rules are generally acceptable to most play publishing houses and theatre groups, it is up to you to do your research and make sure you follow each one’s formatting guidelines to the ‘T’. As well, it is crucial that you research and understand whom you are submitting to. If a company specifies that they do not accept parodies, don’t send them your latest version of a fairy tale. If they only accept one act plays don’t send them a musical. Shows with large casts are usually too expensive for small professional theatre companies, while schools, on the other hand, usually like larger casts with lots of potential for extras. As well, schools often prefer more female roles than males.

These are the kinds of seemingly insignificant details that will make your play stand out, and will eventually help it find a home in front of an audience. It could even lead to a publishing contract. A little bit of research goes a long way.

This article originally appeared in the August issue of 'Fellowscript' magazine. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Nuggets from Carolyne Aarsen

I am still sifting and sorting through my notes from the recent Inscribe writers' conference I attended. Carolyne Aarsen was the keynote speaker at the pre-conference 'VIP' day.

Here are some nuggets from her sessions:

- There is an ebb and flow to all of life. Writers can choose to end their story at any time along that continuum. Ending on a happy or high note doesn't mean the story is unrealistic. As writers we get to choose when we want to end the story. The resolution does not need to be happy but it should be satisfying.

- After the initial 'inspiration' a story idea needs time and miles. It is a promise to the reader. As the author, you are promising to take them on a journey.  Every good story should start with a 'What if?'

- Character wants and needs are no the same. They need to face the deep fears of the past in order to meet their needs. it often comes down to 'identity' vs. 'essence'. Identity is often the character's protective armour, while the essence is the true person he or she can become. (And needs to become as the story progresses.)