Get it written.  Get it right.  Get it published. 

 

Need some story coaching? Click HERE or HERE to have your story plan evaluated and empowered. Ridiculously affordable, astoundingly valuable.

 

*****

Let’s call him Joe.

Joe is another of those courageous writers who consented to running their coaching Questionnaire answers (the Kick-Start concept/premise evaluation), with my feedback, here on Storyfix .  He turned me down at first, uncomfortable with the notion that someone out there might want to “borrow” from his concept.

I assured him this wasn’t at risk.  In fact, that in a forum like this, that’s almost zero risk.  Not because the concept won’t spark a moment of envy — it might, actually — but because in a community like this, story ideas are like dreams… we all have them in abundance, and often we wake and don’t remember what all the nocturnal fuss was about.  And even if we do remember, they aren’t worth anything (including being stolen) until they are executed well.

That’s the hard part.  Go ahead, steal an F-35 stealth fighter plane, see what you can do with it.

I wanted to share this because Joe came to this process very enthused.  He didn’t say it, but I think he believed he was ready to write the story, and that it was a solid plan, even that it was a potential bestseller.  To be the bearer of bad news isn’t my idea of a good time, but like a doctor (okay, a vet or a mechanic, if that seems less self-aggrandizing) delivering a diagnosis and a therapy plan to someone who really didn’t know they were terminal, I have no other choice.

The writer pays for just this type of feedback, the kind that will save you a year of your life writing a draft that won’t work, going away with a notion of roadmap that will save the story, or at least give it a chance.

The problem here is, once again, a concept and a premise that don’t know one from the other, and then a story plan that doesn’t live up to the missions and criteria of the various elements.  Joe had read — studied, he assures me — Story Engineering, so this evaluation reflects a common challenge for the new writer.

In essence, this stuff is a lot harder than it looks.  An idea you are passionate about does not legitimize the compromise or redefinition of what a novel requires.  That’s like saying a supermodel can be a good actress, simply by the jaw-dropping nature of their looks.

You can’t shortcut it, you can’t bend the definitions, and most of all, you can’t/shouldn’t confuse your passion for a story idea with the discipline of getting the moving parts in the proper form and function to make that idea work.  In this case I don’t think Joe was “bending” the definitions, per se, but rather, that he hadn’t really wrapped his head around them.

Don’t let your killer story idea blind you to what must be done with it.  Those are the very things that make your killer story idea WORK, no great idea ever has stood alone.

As usual, your input is appreciated.  This is an concept and a theme that can work, should work, but (IMO) needs a complete architectural overhaul before it will.  Let’s help him get there.  You’ll see that I’ve mounted a soap box toward that end.  In reading again before this posting, I was tempted to add even more feedback… but I’ll leave that to you guys for now.

You can read the feedback to the story plan here: Bully concept.

(I’ve additional feedback in the comment thread below; it’s the #2 placed comment, after Robert Jones’ usual brilliant take on it all.)

Click HERE and HERE for more on these coaching programs.  “Save a year of your life…” just sayin’. 

*****

Here are some conference/workshop dates on my calendar, in case you’re in a traveling sort of mood (or you already live on the West coast).

May 16-18, Wenatchee WA — the annual “Write on the River” conference.  Click HERE to see a summary of the sessions; I’ll be doing a 101 structure workshop on Saturday, and a three hour Master Class intensive on Sunday morning for those who want a Big Picture context.

May 22 — I’m doing an online webinar for Writers Digest University, an upgrade reprise of a session called “From Good to Great.”  Look for signup details soon (click HERE to read a summary of the previous version of this; the analysis included will be different, and the content shifted toward front-end viablity… just what Joe needs in the case study above).

July: stay tuned, I’ve been invited to teach in Beijing — not a typo — in conjunction with the Chinese publisher who is releasing Story Engineering there, in their language.   Never been there, travel tips happily accepted.

August 1-3, Portland OR: teaching once again at the Willamette Writers Conference, doing three sequential sessions on building your story from the idea (blank page) up.

August 15-17, Los Angeles CA: the West Coach Writers Digest Conference — A Novel Writing Intensive.  This just came in as I was writing this post, but I’m so in.   May be doing a day-before “masters” class (a separate ticket), as well.  I did this one last year, a really amazing experience.  Check back for updates on specific sessions, and check all the Writers Digest online venues (and the magazine) for registration info.

October 3-5, Edmonds WA: doing a Friday intensive (long) sesssion at the annual “Write on the Sound” conference (not to be confused with the Wenatchee WA “Write on the River” conference… those WA writers really like their bodies of water).  A great event, lots of great sessions all weekend.  Website is not yet updated, check back for registration (it’s still early, many conferences don’t open up registration until 10-12 weeks prior).

October 11-12, Tampa FL: presenting at a retreat for the Tampa Area Romance Authors (TARA).  Not sure if you have to join to attend, but I’m betting they’d love to see some new faces.  (Same story, website needs updating on this retreat, but there is general contact info available.)

October 24-26, Surrey, British Columbia: presenting at the Surrey International Writers Conference (specifics to be determined; check the website later, like the others).

 I’ll update these as information hits the airwaves.

*****

New Review Online

As I’ve mentioned, my first published novel, Darkness Bound, (Onyx; it was my USA Today bestseller), was published in 2000, and has been recently republished by by Turner Publishing, who published my entire backlist in conjunction with the release of Deadly Faux.

Well, a reader has posted another review of the novel, which you can read HERE.  The story is dark and dangerous and sexual (be forewarned, if not enticed), but in a good way, and Wayne’s review is a nice overview of the steamy  psychological context of the story.  (The cover shown is from the original edition.)

*****

 

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The Road to Publication: One Novel’s Bumpy Ride

by Larry Brooks on April 5, 2014

Today’s post is the story of a novel’s journey from inception to publication. 

This is an excerpt from my new ebook, “The Inner Life of Deadly Faux,” which I introduced (and offered… for FREE) in the post just prior to this one.  (You can get it here: PDF DF Inner Life.)

If you’ve published a novel, you’ll relate to this harrowing, nail-pulling tale.  If you haven’t, but want to… this is what it’s like for most of us.

This chapter is only one small part of a 114 page ebook that was written for the purpose of decontructing the underlying novel.  In other words, as a tool.

So if you read it and want to opt in to the free Ebook, you can just skip this and dive right into the workshop portion, which is in-depth and reflective of the Six Core Competencies and Six Realms of Story Physics models (without seeking to reintroduce or define them, that material resides in my two writing books, Story Engineering and Story Physics.)

If you’d like the free ebook, and you missed the link earlier, click here: PDF DF Inner Life.

Hope you enjoy this little rocky ride down one writer’s memory lane.

Deadly Faux: The Road to Publication

Deadly Faux, the novel, is a sequel.  As such, that defines its starting point: the return of the protagonist from the earlier novel in a subsequent story, resulting in what is now officially a series (because there is a sequel).

The book was written – little known factoid here – in 2006, on the heels of the critical (certainly not commercial) success of the preceding novel, Bait and Switch (2004).  Bait had been the second of a two book contract with Signet (the first was Serpent’s Dance; that contract was my second two-book contract with Penguin-Putnam)), and for reasons that are complex (see the next few paragraphs), the book didn’t “sell through.”  Which means, it didn’t earn its advance back (the drawback of a healthy advance; you’re judged on that particular metric, even if you sell tens of thousands and still come up short… which was the case here).  I got to keep the money, but the downside is they didn’t want to opt-in for a new contract.

Which means, the publisher said “no” to a sequel to Bait and Switch… the novel that is now entitled Deadly Faux. 

The original title was Schmitt Happens, which everyone involved seemed to like in the beginning, and then a few years later when I took the book back to market, some seemed appalled by it.  (My new agent didn’t like the Deadly Faux title all that much, either; she didn’t think people would understand the double meaning of the word “faux,” but the new publisher didn’t agree.)

The no-go on a new contract occurred six months prior to the release of Bait and Switch.  Not good.  Because it meant that the publisher would do next to nothing in the way of promotion, which turned out to be accurate.  While they’d taken out a quarter page add in USA Today for my last novel at the time, Serpent’s Dance, there was no advertising budget for Bait.  They had bought premium shelf space in the bookstores for all three ealier novels, they didn’t for Bait. 

All of which meant that when the rep for Penguin sat down with the buyer for Barnes & Noble and Borders, the size of the orders for Bait was only a fraction of the prior books.

That’s the whole ballgame at the brick and mortar retail level: the size of the order.  Which defines the visibility of the book in the store.  Paperback originals do not get major (or any) review coverage, so there is no pull in that regard, you could write a Pulitzer Prize winner and it wouldn’t sell until it actually won the award. 

Shelf real estate is everything.  And it totally depends on the size of the order, the fame of the author, and the commitment of the publisher to pimp the thing in the market.

Then something really cool happened.  Bait and Switch came out to stellar reviews.  Publishers Weekly in particular flipped for it, gave it a starred review, named it their lead Editors Choice (July, 2004) ahead of other nods to, among several others, Jeffrey Deaver and Walter Mosley, and at year-end named it to two lists: Best Novels of 2004 (mass market), and Best Overlooked Books of 2004 (the only paperback so-named).

Penguin remained unmoved.  Not an extra dime was thrown at it after those critical notices, because I was already dead to them. 

The book had its quick run and then it went away.

My agents at the time, alarmed at suddenly having an author with the didn’t-sell-through stigma, dumped me like a worn out shoe (loved me, they said, but they didn’t like the book enough to believe it could latch on with this black cloud over my name… funny, they liked it just fine before Penguin passed on it).

Several years of personal writing hell ensued.

I wrote a novel entitled Whisper of the Seventh Thunder, which a very small press picked up.  Again, without major reviews and no bookstore visibility (because bookstores hardly ever – and this is still the case – pay any attention at all to small POD presses, even when they are legit business enterprises), the book didn’t make a dent.  It did win the Thriller category in the 2010 Next Generation Indie Awards, which, while rewarding, did absolutely nothing for the book’s visibility.

The people who knew me at Penguin were now history (the company was purchased by an off-shore entity, who brought in new management; they told my agents they were moving toward “chick lit” rather than thrillers, something that was true for about a month), but my editor there (Dan Slater, who had, after being on the wrong end of that transition, caught on at Amazon as a major project development pro)  was willing to help me find a new agent.  Using the significant industry clout of his name, I received invitations to submit Schmitt Happens to 11 major New York based literary agents, most of whom you’ve heard from.

I went zero-for-11. 

Of those, several wrote a note saying, in effect, that both books (Schmitt Happens and Whisper of the Seventh Thunder) were solid, and would likely end up being published (they were right)… but the sales track record, particularly of Bait and Switch, despite its critical claim, had basically made me a pariah in the business.  Wouldn’t touch me with surgical gloves.

This is why so many writers become alcoholics.  I somehow avoided that… but I understand.

I should add here that I did hook up with a New York agent who really liked Schmitt Happens, and over the next year he leveraged personal contacts to submit the novel to a handful of major houses.   No takers, same story.  Then the submissions suddenly stopped… he told me we needed to wait this out for a year or so, and/or start writing under a pen name.  So I decided to cut those ties (nice guy, he tried) and seek new representation for both my writing craft books (this was in 2010) and the corpse of Wolfgang Schmitt, who was in a coma somewhere on my hard drive.

Meanwhile I ghost-wrote a novel and a screenplay based on it… long story there.  I have no idea what happened to them, only that they will never bear my name.  Great client, nice paycheck, no upside. 

I launched Storyfix.com in 2009.  It took off nicely, and using that platform I was able to publish Story Engineering in 2011, and Story Physics in 2013.  Both writing books sold pretty well, at least within the limits of such a narrow niche, and suddenly I had reinvented myself as a writing teacher/mentor/guru type, leveraging my 25 years of teaching writing workshops and generally trying to figure this whole thing out. 

I now had a platform, a key word for anyone seeking to publish non-fiction…  and virtually meaningless for a new writer seeking to publish fiction.

Nonetheless, Wolf wouldn’t let me alone.

I began reaching out to regional agents (which means, they don’t live in New York) with a national client base.  Using a personal connection (absolutely the best way to find an agent, bar none), I aligned with my current agent, who jumped aboard with rewarding enthusiasm, both for the new Wolfgang Schmitt novel and Story Physics (Story Engineering was already out there… this made all the difference in this new push for both an agent and a new publisher for Schmitt, because it was somewhat well known).

It took her only a few weeks to land a publisher for Deadly Faux. 

My new agent joined a chorus who really didn’t like the Schmitt Happens title.  And so I went on the hunt for a new title, landing on Deadly Faux at about the same time she succeeded in placing the book with Turner Publishing, who would also republish my entire backlist (the rights to which had reverted back to me from Signet).

It was seven years from completed manuscript to the release of the book.

And now, as I write, this, all four of the Penguin books are out there under the Turner imprint, with The Seventh Thunder (we shortened the title) set for release in December 2014.

All we really have control over is the manuscript, and the quality of our efforts once it’s done. 

The only sure outcome is quitting.

****

Wanted to share this news, just in: the new edition (May/June) of Writers Digest Magazine announces their annual 101 Best Websites for Writers list.  For the third year in a row, Storyfix.com is included, under the “Writing Advice” category (which has 21 sites so-named).

Thanks to all who have been with me on this journey, and welcome to all of you who are new to this community.

 

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Free Ebook, a Unique Learning Opportunity

April 3, 2014

Sometimes writers write books about writing.  Stephen King comes to mind, among many others. Sometimes — much rarer — writers write books about a specific book they’ve written, or someone else comes forward to write about that book (John Steinbeck, for example, as well as biographies of iconic authors that discuss specific works). But I’m [...]

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Case Study: Staying in the Conceptual “Lane”

March 27, 2014

Here’s a good little case study, taken from my supposedly short (this turned out to be over 8 pages of feedback) $50 Conceptual Kick-Start analysis service. As usual, props to the courageous writer who consented to share this.  Actually, she was delighted and enthusiastic when she found out there was a clear direction to take [...]

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ARCHETYPES: Empowering Source-Driven Characters and Plots

March 17, 2014

  A guest post by Robert Jones. You are invited to comment and engage, you’ll find Robert to be responsive, supportive and a wealth of clarifying mental modeling across the vast universe of fiction writing. Archetypes have a universal power that, when tapped effectively, is proven to generate best-selling novels and films. The right combination [...]

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Case Study: The Square-One Death of a Story

March 5, 2014

Premise makes or breaks you.   Often before you write a single word of the story that your premise promises. Only rarely can you make chicken salad out of a sow’s ear (to combine two apropos bon-mots).  Trying to do so is one whopper of a low percentage wager. You think writing is art?  So [...]

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The Bermuda Triangle of Storytelling

February 23, 2014

Don’t Let It Sink Your Story Before It Leaves the Harbor “Idea” is one of the most dangerous words in storytelling.  Every story begins with one, in some form… so what’s so dangerous about that, you ask?  Ideas are wonderful things, right? In the most obvious conversational context, “idea” is a generic term for a [...]

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Two Short (but killer) Guest Posts from Art Holcomb

February 14, 2014

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi Legends say that when a victorious Roman general returned to Rome, he was allowed to march his armies, his captives and his spoils through the sacred streets of the city. He would ride in a great gilded chariot in all his finery – and at his feet would sit the slave [...]

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Interview With a Novelist Turned “It Boy” Television Writer

February 7, 2014

A week or so ago I pointed you to The Daily Beast for an interview with Robert Harris about his new novel, An Officer and a Spy… and before that, to a killer interview with Michael Connelly. I’d like to thank The Daily Beast for doing all this work for me, all I need to [...]

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The Key to Making Your Historical Novel Publishable

February 3, 2014

It is some combination of confusing, intimidating and challenging to hear that the very thing that brings a story to life can also  – too often, in fact – be the thing that kills it.  This is especially true in the historical genre, as well as science fiction and fantasy. It’s like salt in a [...]

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