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Breaking into Screenwriting

Question of the day: You mentioned that you're now working on some screenplays. Like a lot of writers, I'd like to do the same. Can you share how you went about it?

Sure, happy to. I don't want to get into all of the details, as some things are still pending, but to be honest, it's a pretty simple answer: I thought that I could write a good screenplay, so I wrote one. (Whether or not it's good is subjective, of course!) :)

Rewinding a little bit from that: what I actually did was adapt TIME OF MY LIFE when I read the commissioned screenplay and thought that I could do a better job. It was NOT, and I repeat NOT easy. I was humbled in the process and discovered that writing a screenplay is an entirely - ENTIRELY - different muscle than writing a novel. To the point where I wondered whether or not it was worth it, because, I actually know how to write a book, and I wasn't sure if I felt like starting over. Writing a screenplay is a very, very different entity. But I asked my dear friend, Laura Dave, for a lot of advice, and I read a bajillion screenplays, and I must have rewritten the script at least ten times, until then finally, my agent loved it. And then I met with a bunch of producers who also liked it but also had other feedback, so I went back in and revised it to match all of THEIR notes, and it turned out that what I thought was actually good (that last finished draft) was kind of crap. I'm still tweaking the script because I'm still learning on the job, and I want to ensure that it is the best possible representation of what I can do and of the book.

But TIME OF MY LIFE aside, I'm also working on another project that was spawned from one of these initial meetings. Some of the producers I met with asked me to pitch them my vision (or "take," as they say in the industry) on an idea they had, and I swear, I put more work into that over the course of two weeks than I have any other project in my career. Enormous story boards, fleshing out the arcs for multiple storylines before I've even put pen to paper (the opposite of how I write a book), etc. Much like a freshman writer, I had to prove myself all over again. I got the gig, hurrah, but again, the learning curve is enormous, and I think you have to be willing to climb that mountain if you're going to try to do this sort of thing.

So all of this is to say that while I broke in based on my experience as a novelist (there is no doubt that this helped me land meetings, etc), the work I'm putting in is much like anyone else. You have to do your homework, you have to be willing to change your ideas and collaborate with others. And there is no question that my years of getting edited has helped me too.

So that's my story, I'll share more details on both projects when I can. Right now, I feel like I've been invited to the big kids' table, and I'm just grateful to have a seat.


Writing and Loneliness

Question of the day: Do you ever get struck by loneliness working from home? Do you miss the daily interaction with colleagues? From your blog, you seem to be quite a social creature and part of me wonders if the social isolation is one of the biggest drawbacks to being a freelancer. 

This is a great question, and I'm sure that it varies from person to person. For me, personally, no, I actually don't get lonely, but then I'm also someone who craves alone time. You're right in that I am social and pretty outgoing, but a big part of me NEEDS to be left alone. A lot. So freelancing and working from home is perfect for me. But, as an example, my husband was working from home for a while while getting a new venture off the ground, and he didn't get it at all. Like, he was in and out of my office eight times a day, hanging out, chatting, turning on the TV, wanting to get lunch, drove me craaaaaazy. He quickly realized that this solitary sort of thing wasn't for him (or me), and got office space with his partners.

I think one thing that really helps these days is the community that can be found online. There is a lot of support (and entertainment) out there from fellow writers - reach out on social networks, and it's easy to find. Play Scrabble on Facebook, engage in a conversation on Twitter. Those are our water coolers, and honestly, again, at least for me, I find a lot of friendship and companionship on social networks. Sure, you're sitting by yourself at home, but you really don't feel lonely. At least I don't. 

I also make a BIG point to get out of my house/office every day. Not just when I drop the kids off at school in the morning, but for lunch, for errands, for walking the dog. There is something to be said for going out, taking a walk, ordering a sandwich and engaging with people, even when it might be more practical (or easier) to stay home and open a can of soup. This might sound silly, I know. But honestly, getting out of the house for 30 minutes and engaging with people, even if it's the cashier at the drugstore, is helpful for me. (I don't mean that I have long conversations with the cashier, only that it's a bit of human interaction.)

So that's me. I don't find it isolating, but again, I also enjoy a bit of isolation. I crave time to myself. So it's a good match. For others, it probably wouldn't be. What about you guys? Do you find freelancing/working from home lonely? If so (or if not), how do you ward off those feelings?


Interview with a Fiction Great: Emily Giffin!

I'm so excited to share this interview that Emily Giffin was kind enough to do with me! I read SOMETHING BORROWED years ago, and Emily has always been someone whose professionalism I've admired greatly, and as I've gotten to know her personally, whose generosity has proven equally admirable. Truly. Emily is such a phenomenon in our industry that she doesn't have to take the time to offer a helping hand to others, and yet, she always does. 

Click here to read our chat. We cover writing inspiration, bucket lists, motherhood, and of course, Felicity. (Because let's be honest, it all comes back to Team Ben vs. Team Noel!) :)


What Can You Expect From Your Publisher

Question of the day: When you talk about book promotion, can you share a bit about how much your publisher does for you?

This is a difficult question to answer because the answer will be different for every author and for every book. Thus, the answer is anything from pretty much nothing to taking out ads in People magazine. 

That said, there are general barometers which can give you a sense of what to expect, and generally, these barometers are set into place by how much the publisher has paid for the book. If your advance was fairly small (when I first started, that meant less than 50k, but I'm guessing that this number has shifted as advances have grown smaller), then the publisher doesn't have a huge incentive to drop bucketloads of money. And then, of course, the reverse is also true: the more they paid for it, the more in the hole they'll find themselves in the book tanks. So naturally, they'll put more resources into promoting it. 

I think that bookseller response also probably plays a factor, as do trade reviews. The more heat that a book has (say, if the sales team has gotten tremendous feedback from their accounts), the more jazzed the internal team will be, and the more effort they'll put in. I can't say whether or not this means that the budget will get a boost, but I'd think it only natural - psychologically - for them to feed off early strong buzz.

So what does this mean they'll do for you? Well, the biggie is co-op, that space up front at stores which publishers buy. To me, co-op is pretty much the end all, be all. Even if they do nothing else for you, if they can put you up front at a store, your sales will be stronger. After that, it can be everything from buying ad placement on book sites or relevant pop culture sites to sending you out on tour (though these days, you're much more likely to go on a virtual blog tour) to really giving the book a big, big push with reviewers. Also, your book may get assigned to a more senior publicist/marketing coordinator (not because newer publicists can't be great, but just because they'll put the more seasoned folks on the BIG titles). 

Does every book get the above attention? No. Absolutely not. Which is why authors are so busy hustling themselves these days. I've been really, really fortunate with SONG REMAINS THE SAME - I have an amazing team of people who are supporting this book in ways that go way beyond my expectations. WAY. But certainly, I've been in the opposite situation before too. I think the only thing an author can do is to do everything in his or her power to make the book a success. That way, you know you've done what you could. A lot of the rest is out of your control. 


Breaking Into Freelancing

Question of the day: I've just come out of a two-year stint as the sub-editor for a magazine. I'm now trying to make a career out of being a freelance copy editor and proofreader, but I can't seem to get book or mag publishers to return my calls or emails when I query them about joining their freelance register. Do you have any insights into how to get a freelance career off the ground? I have the experience, just not the connections. 

Yes - the thing to do here is to pitch them queries with specific story ideas, rather than calling up/emailing and introducing yourself. Sure, connections matter to a point, but editors will certainly take a chance on a newbie-to-them, especially one with experience, if said newbie brings them a good idea with the research/query to back it up. Writing a detailed, well-thought out query/story idea demonstrates not only what value added you bring to the magazine, but also that you know what you're doing: that you have the chops beyond what your resume demonstrates. 

Another piece of advice: I would be sure to follow-up, probably several times. I think too often, we writers feel as if we're being pushy by checking back in, when more likely, an email has slipped by the editor, and a gentle nudge can be the difference between having her read your note or not. I think the general rule of thumb is to wait a week or two, and then check back in. And if you don't hear back but it's really something you think is a perfect fit, there's no rule saying you can't check back a week or two after that.

I hope that helps! Anyone else have other tips on breaking in without connections?


How Meg Donohue Balances Motherhood and Writing

Today's guest post comes compliments of Meg Donohue, whose debut novel, HOW TO EAT A CUPCAKE, has been widely praised from book readers and critiques alike. (Publishers Weekly calls it "clever, sweet, delicious," among other compliments!) I'm often asked how I balance my work and home life, and I love that Meg shared her own perspective on how she keeps things in check. Smart words of wisdom for anyone who is trying to write his or her own debut (or second or third or fourth) book and still stay sane. 

Like many of you, I struggle with juggling parenthood and my career. In theory, writing should be a wonderful job for a mom—and, most of the time, it is. But, like any work-from-home job, it can be tough to motivate to write when your desk is five feet away from an overflowing laundry bin, or when you’ve used the last bit of milk in your morning coffee and know your daughter is going to want her sippy cup filled when she awakens from her nap, or when you’re really only half-awake because you haven’t had a moment to shower and change out of your pajamas.

While I was writing my first novel, How to Eat a Cupcake, I was also caring for my one-year-old daughter and was pregnant with our second daughter. It was a busy time in my life—and with two children under three now and another novel underway, life has only become busier!—but in retrospect, I can see how working to foresee my daughter’s needs taught me an incredible lesson about achieving my own happiness.

Here’s the big lesson my daughter taught me: Schedules are our friend. My daughter, I realized, loved knowing that she would have her meals and her naps and her playtimes around the same times each day. The predictable routine made her feel safe—it gave shape to her days and, I like to think, allowed her to be extra creative and joyful during her playtimes because she was rarely overtired or hungry or confused.

As I worked on my daughter’s schedule, I carved out my own as well. I committed myself to writing ten new pages of my manuscript each week and defined the hours that I wrote (during naps and the eight hours each week when I was fortunate to have the help of a nanny), the hours that I took care of my daughter, and the hours that I took care of the house. I soon found that, like my daughter, the days where things happened when they were “supposed” to happen were my most productive, happiest days. I wrote without worrying that I was falling behind on my duties as mother, I played with my daughter without feeling distracted by work, and the laundry…well, I’ll admit I still struggle with that Sisyphean task.

Who knew I’d learn my greatest writing lesson from my toddler? Next on the to-do list: I need to disable the Internet during my writing hours so email, Facebook, and Twitter can’t eat into my productivity. Like sticking one of those plastic thingamajigs in an outlet, it’s time to baby-proof my writing time.

Meg Donohue was born and raised in Philadelphia and now lives in San Francisco with her husband, two young daughters, and dog. She has an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and a BA in comparative literature from Dartmouth College. How to Eat a Cupcake is her first novel.  


Sarah Pekkanen on Book Trailers

I'm off with my family this week, so I've asked a few friends to stop by. First up is Sarah Pekkanen, whose new book, THESE GIRLS which is an exploration of female friendship, is out April 10th! I adore Sarah's post because I've been iffy on book trailers in the past, and I think the key is finding something cool, unique and ideally, heartfelt/hilarious enough to go virtual. It sounds like she's done just on for her thoughts on book trailers. And then weigh in on whether or not book trailers have ever gotten YOU to buy a book. If so, which one?

For my first two novels, I hired professionals to create book trailers - and I was thrilled with the results. I loved the idea of using mini-movies to help spread the word about my books, and I heard from readers that they enjoyed viewing them as well.

But as my publication date for THESE GIRLS approached, I decided against filming another trailer for a variety of reasons – mostly because I wanted to try something different to gauge its effectiveness in attracting new readers.

Right after making that decision, I stopped by a cocktail party thrown by my hometown’s magazine and began chatting with the young videographer who creates content for the magazine’s website.  Book trailers were on my mind, so I brought them up, and told her about ones I’d seen that I particularly liked (I’m talking to you, Julie Klam!) Then something strange happened; a fully-formed idea for a book trailer lit up my mind. 

“Do you remember at the end of the movie ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ when all the married couples talked about how they met?” I asked the videographer. 

“Sure,” she said. 

“My new book centers around three women who end up sharing an apartment in New York City, and become best friends,” I said. “Wouldn’t it be cool to find real-life best friends and interview them about how they met? And model a book trailer after those ‘When Harry Met Sally’ outtakes?” 

“Yes!” she said. “And I can help.” 

A few weeks later, I’d located more than a dozen sets of best friends – pairs of women as old as 93, and girls as young as 10 – who shared incredible bonds. I drove around town in my minivan with Emma the videographer riding shotgun, and we knocked on the doors of these women, who welcomed us into their homes and opened up their hearts. Some friends wiped away tears as they talked about the tough times they’d helped each another through (divorce, death of a parent, bankruptcy); others pairs of pals couldn’t stop laughing. They interrupted one another to fill in missing details, finished each other’s stories, and filled up their wine glasses and toasted to all of the adventures they’d shared. More than once, I had to pause before asking my next question because I was wiping away tears of my own. 

The experience was incredible, and left me with a new appreciation for the power of women’s friendships. The raw footage we shot is now in the hands of my videographer, who has the daunting task of editing hours and hours of interviews down into a 3-minute trailer for THESE GIRLS. I can hardly wait to see it.

I’ve also asked the videographer for one final thing: to create a DVD for each of the women we interviewed that includes both the finished trailer as well as their full interview. I’m also planning to give all of these best friends bottles of wine to open while they watch their personalized DVDs. I’m hoping they’ll raise their glasses and toast to all of the adventures their futures hold.


Interviewing Dos and Don'ts

Question of the day: I'm just getting my feet wet in the freelancing world and find the thought of doing interviews a little terrifying. Any tips for what to do right (or wrong) when I'm interviewing someone?

What a great question - one that I don't  think I've been asked in the six years of this blog. And it's funny because I was just listening to an interview I did with a celeb, and thinking that I was totally tanking it. (Sidenote: I HATE transcribing my own interviews - I usually send them out to a third-party - because I think I sound like such an idiot.)

Anyhoo, here are a few things I've learned - I'd LOVE for others to chime in with their own thoughts!

1) DO LISTEN. One thing that I think I did in my earlier years of interviewing was interupt the subject too often. Let them say what's on their mind and try not to interject too much. Sure, of course you want to keep the flow of the conversation going, but let them articulate what they want to without you jumping in too, too much.

2) DO ALLOW FOR SPONTANEOUS MOMENTS. Now, keep in mind that a lot of what I now do is celeb interviews (so this may be slightly different for scientific-based interviews or what not), but to my point above, I really like to follow the flow of conversation. For my celeb interviews, I often write down five or six questions that I definitely want to ask, and that I double-check before we wrap up, but I also try to allow for the fact that the conversation may not go as planned - as that's usually a great thing. If the interview is a little stiff and the subject doesn't feel like opening up, then I can refer to those six questions and still get the info I want, but the best interviews are often more like back-and-forth conversations, so I aim for that sort of spontaneity. 

3) DO RECORD YOUR INTERVIEWS. I never type during my interviews anymore. I used to but I found that my brain space was too divided, and I didn't have that flow of conversation. So now, I record everything - sometimes I take notes (and I know a lot of people DO prefer to take notes) - and just talk with the subject as if I'm having any other conversations.

4) DO ALL OF YOUR RESEARCH, EVEN IF YOU'RE NOT ASKING ABOUT IT. I find that I'm most nervous before an interview when I haven't read/listened/watched all that I can about the subject. Again, I'm mostly chatting with celebs right now, but I try to know about their hobbies, their pets, their old projects. This allows for a friendly, more casual conversation because you can discuss a whole host of subjects other than the, "Tell me about this movie," question.

So those are a few tips. I'm sure that there are DOZENS of others. Who wants to weigh in?



Deadline With Myself

Question of the day: You mentioned in your last post that you set a self-imposed deadline. Can you talk a bit more about why and how you do that?

Sure. Here's the simple answer: without a deadline for a project, I very likely won't get it done. Or I will procrastinate it or put it at the bottom of my list, such that it weighs on me to the point of resentment. SO. To combat this, I almost inevitably impose my own deadlines that I stick to as closely as I would a deadline assigned by an editor.

So, for example, right now, with the promotional stuff, one of my publicists sent me a long list of original content that she needs with me. I read it, and thought, "Sure, that sounds fine." And then a week went by, and then another, and I realized there was just no way I was going to ever write that stuff. So I wrote her back and said, give me a deadline for every single one of these, and I will get them done. She did as much, and that firm line in the sand motivated me to write all of those articles in the next two days.

With the screenplays I'm working on, I actually give deadlines to my producers...they are happy to get what I turn in whenever I turn it in, but I can't work that way. So, for example, I'll say: I intend to get you 50 pages by X date, and then I work backwards from there. I calculate how many pages a day I'll need to write to meet that deadline...and I write them. Often times, I write faster than I imagined but without that date looming over me, there's no chance I would.

I think this can be a really useful tool when you're working on a spec manuscript. You really don't have a lot of incentive to get to it every day, but if you put that incentive on yourself, you're much apt to do, IMO. Just saying, "Oh, I'm going to write a book," can be really daunting. Saying, "I'm going to write ten pages in ten days," is much less so.

Do you guys work this way with your own deadlines? Have you found it to be helpful?


Picture The Book

Today, I'm over on The Divining Wand (which is a fantastic blog for book lovers!, be sure to bookmark it), sharing a few of my musical picks from THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME, along with the reasons whyI made those choices and the music videos. Larramie, the blog master over there, does a wonderful job in pulling together a bunch of different elements to help you envision the book. A perfect way to procrastinate for a few minutes this morning!

Speaking of picturing the book...I'm getting my final copies today!! And I'll post a picture and will be doing a FB giveaway within the next day or do, so be sure to check back here or click over to FB to stay in the loop!

Don't forget, you can pre-order the book now, and I'd be eternally grateful if you did!