Monthly Archives: March 2012

OMG, i so loved this book!

A Warrior’s Soul has been getting some great press in the blogoshere recently. Here are a few quick links for those interested in taking in some of the recent reviews:




Thank you reviewers!

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The Hunger Games and the Dilution of Story

The Hunger Games blew the doors off movie theaters this past weekend, rakiing in $155 million during its opening. That’s the fifth highest gross in history in terms of dollars and even beat out the Twighlight movies. The Hunger Games, however, is nothing like the Twighlight books or movies; Suzanne Collins has written an idea-driven action novel, something I’ve talked about elsewhere on a more political blog. (See also my youtube video where I discuss the parallels with George Orwell’s powerful and generation defining novel 1984.)
 
And this raises a critical question for authors: What happens to the ideas that are so often crucial to plots, themes and characters when books are transformed to the big screen? Alas, the ideas become secondary, replaced by character-driven plot points and tensions. While authors may lament this result, it’s almost inevitable and reflects the fundamentally different media of the written page versus film.

Movies are fundamentally visual in the way they convey story, tension, and conflict. Some have even gone so far as to say that movies are 80 percent visual, 20 percent script. (I think I read this many years ago in  Robert McKee’s excellent book on screenwriting called Story.) The script is essential, but it’s merely the skeleton; it’s the director and actors that bring the story to life through their ability ability to connect on a very emotional, almost interpersonal, level with the audience. As a viewer, we don’t imagine someone crying over the death of a child in a movie, we actually see the tears flow down the face of the actor. We see the pain in their eyes, without a word spoken. (Viewers of The Hunger Games will understand what I’m referring to when they see the final scene with Rue in the movie and compare it to the book.) We empathize directly with the characters in a deep and visceral way; they are, afterall literally right in front of us. The mark of a good actor is one who plays the part so well the audience doesn’t think they are acting; the viewer feels like he or she is right there, in the scene, with the actor.

The result is that movies lend themselves to personal journeys and portrayals of stories that are fundamentally human in nature. Ideas are very hard to convey in this type of venue. Even in the Harry Potter movies, the audience is taken up by the plight of Harry Potter as he fights a very personal battle with Voldemort. While the the institutional oppression of totalitarianism is a core part of the books series, it is most visceral in the books where author uses her descriptive powers to channel the ideas, but readers use their own imaginations to conjure up their own personal terror.

So too, alas, with The Hunger Games. I found the movie to be a very good one (and I will likely pay money to see it in the theaters again). But, artistically, the movie also instructive about how authors should think about how their own work might translate into the big screen if they are ever lucky enough to have their books become a platform for one. Indeed, Suzanne Collins is also a professional screenwriter, so we can be assured that the movie reflects her artistic choices as a book author and a screenwriter.

Movies are a different convas on which to paint our story and characters, not a mere extension of the printed page. So, when we evaluate movies, let’s be careful not to compare them too literally. Let’s evaluate them within their own defined limits and constraints.

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What’s in a Log Line?

I recently submitted the manuscript to the second book in the Path of the Warrior Series, Renegade, to a literary competition sponsored by the Florida Writers Association. (Full disclosure: I’m a member.) One of the requirements was submitting a log line.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I really didn’t know what a log line was. It turns out, a log line is a very short, one sentence “pitch” for your book or manuscript. A log line is an even shorter and more pithy “elevator pitch” that effectively assumes the person in the elevator is getting off at the next floor. Log lines are fundamental to selling screen plays, but I hadn’t run across them for novels. That’s a shame; writers should do this with all their work.

The essence of a log line is to distill the fundament conflict and story into one sentence to convey what is interesting about your book. Characters don’t need to be named, but the basic tensions and conflicts should be apparent. A site identifying the top 100 log lines for screen plays can be found here. Norman Hollyn has put together a quick analysis of good and bad log lines as well.

The log line I submitted for Renegade is:


“A 13-year old ‘tough girl’ finds herself in a harrowing struggle for survival when a Latina gang attempts to take over her school.”


Here’s a log line for A Warrior’s Soul:

“A ‘normal’ 13-year old boy is must grapple with his own insecurities when he is faced defending himself and his friends from a bully and his thugs by re-discovering martial-arts skills he considered useless.”

Here’s a log line for The Pirate of Panther Bay:

“A female ex-slave captains a pirate ship in the 18th century Caribbean and falls in love while fighting off mutineers, rival pirates, pirate hunters and a brutal Spanish colonial government.”

While a log line should ultimately be about provoking interest in your book, this is a great exercise because if forces an author to really dig down into their story and also establish for focused marketing efforts for their book.

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John Locke and Donovan Creed By the Numbers

John Locke (presumably a pen name) is the prolific novelist and author of the Donovan Creed suspense novels sold in digital form through Amazon.com’s publishing arm Kindle Direct. He was the first self-published digital author to sell over a million copies on amazon.com and was recently featured in a Huffington Post column by Laura Rowley.

As a novelist still way off any bestseller list, a couple of things popped out at me while reading Locke’s story:




  • 9: months it took for Locke’s first books to “take off”;

  • 14: books written since starting his writing career in 2009;

  • 58, age when he wrote his first book;

  • 1,200,000: ebooks sold as of June, 2011;

  • 1,200,000: Donovan Creed ebooks sold through amazon since January 2011;

  • $1,188,000: revenues roughly generated by Donovan Creed ebooks since January 2011 (they sell for 99 cents each);

  • $415,800: revenues earned by John Locke from nine Donovan Creed ebooks from January 2011 to date;

  • $46,200: average revenue generated by Donovan Creed ebooks from January 2011 to date; and

  • $3,080: average monthly income genrated by Donovan Creed ebooks.
The last two numbers are probably the most interesting. By virtually any standard, John Locke is a wildly successful author, whether published through a conventional press, an independent press, or self publishing. But, his revenues earned per book still hover around a level that of an elementary or secondary school teacher. After publishing nine books in his signature series, he’s earning about $3,000 per month, or $36,000 per year. This revenue was generated by non-stop marketing over three years and publishing over a dozen books.

This, of course, doesn’t diminish Locke’s accomplishment. Those of us struggling to make it in the publishing business, including me, are rooting for him because he’s breaking down all kinds of barriers for new authors.

Nevertheless, it’s useful to have a reality check every once in a while. Locke has “made it” by making a long-term commitment to writing, providing a product readers want to consume, and pricing his books low enough to capture a sizable market, marketing his books in a series format to build a loyal readership base, and incessant personal marketing by Locke.

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How I know I’ve Hit My Target Audience

Oneof the biggest challenges writers face is knowing whether or not they’ve hit the mark with their target audience. One of the most valuable pieces of information book reviews provide is insight into whether you are hitting the right notes for potential readers. In this sense, whether the review is glowing, positive, or negative is less important to me than whether the readers/reviewers picked up on the intended themes or tone.

Two pieces of feedback recently brought this home for me for A Warrior’s Soul. The novel is grounded in martial arts, but I was hoping the story and characters would have broad appeal. As a writer, while I wanted the martial arts to be real, martial arts really served as a vehicle for moving the story; it’s an integral part of the plot and emotional arcs of the characters. But I was concerned that the broader theme of bullying, self-defense, respect, and personal courage might get lost in the fight scenes, action, and pace of the story.

The first tidbit of feedback came from an eighth grade boy. He had been given the book by his teacher. He finished it in 24 hours (a good sign). When the teacher asked him what he liked best about the book, he said: “It just seemed really real to me.” Bingo!

The second piece of recent feedback came from a review posted on the blog LiveTeachCreate maintained by another middle school teacher (in a separate city and state). The reviewer starts her review:

When I first began to read this it was hard for me to get into because I knew nothing about the culture or detail behind any form of martial arts. I quickly got past that and took the book for what it truly was, a story of how a young teenage boy deals with the struggles of bullies that seem to not be noticed.

All I could do was say “YES”!

I then gave a big sigh of relief.

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