How You Can Use Self-Publishing to Re-Launch Your Career

The bad news is that, with the turmoil in the traditional publishing and the advent of BookSkan, it’s nearly impossible for a mid-career author whose last two books weren’t bestsellers to re-launch his career via the “right agent” and “right publisher” scenario that some of us still remember.

The good news is that the Internet is the wild-west-and-gold-rush-combined of opportunity for authors, and if this is your status you should proceed immediately to ePublishing.

Think about it this way: if you got extremely lucky and found an agent to go up stream for you, and that agent succeeded in getting you a modest advance (one under $150,000), you’re next likely experience would be hoping against hope that the new publisher would market your book. Most likely, they would not do anything extraordinary, and would look to you to market it for yourself and them. If you succeed in selling 10,000 copies of your hardcover or 50,000 of your paperback, they MIGHT then jump on board—if the ship hasn’t sailed by then.

That means your re-launch success will depend almost entirely on marketing.

In today’s world, where print and media marketing (with the exception of radio, which is still a bargain and something you can do yourself), are prohibitive for most writers, that means internet marketing is your best hope.

Internet marketing means hiring a publicist—and there are some great and economical ones out there like Jeff Rivera—who specializes in the internet.

If you’re going to do this, why not ePublish yourself, and earn 70% instead of 10%?

The logic seems pretty inarguable. If you sell a bunch of copies this way, guess what: the traditional publishers will pursue you instead of the other way around, and we can cross that bridge when you come to it.

Tip For Writers

If you have an idea, forget about it for a week, but first mark your calendar: Wednesday, 2 PM: reconsider the great idea from last week. If you still remember what it was, write it down. Don’t waste paper on passing thoughts before then.
“A book or idea with a strong hook has the relevance of something so personal and meaningful that your audience, tribe, readers, the media can’t resist spreading the word about it. It’s a mini zeitgeist. It has a relevant, catchy twist that pulls people in—and the hook makes it easier to talk about and explain to others as well.”—Janet Goldstein

High-concept and log-lines

If you're truly angling for the big spec sale, start dealing with reality: The studios today are producing, for far the most part, two kinds of films: pre-established franchises (comic books, TV series, famous novels, toys, etc., like "Spiderman," "Charlie's Angels," "Prey," "Power Rangers")and high-concept scripts that are either conceived of in-house by executives, producers, managers, or agents who know what the market responds to - or by spec screenplay writers determined to break the bank.

Writing even the greatest screenplay that isn't high concept is choosing either the indie path or self-indulgence, or, ideally, both. We love those scripts and those writers at AEI, but that's not what we've been asked to talk about here.

Dealing with the concept of "high concept" is one of the most challenging and frustrating tasks of the Hollywood writer, agent, or producer - and reducing the story to a log-line is what high concept is all about. As a former academic not prepared for a world focused on marketing, it took me (Atchity) years to realize that the term "high concept" means almost its opposite.

Sometimes a title is its own high concept, as with Margaret Mitchell's best-selling novel Gone with the Wind, the extended log line of which would be: "Against the backdrop of the great Civil War, a narcissistic Southern beauty, obsessed with idyllic love, struggles to reconstruct her life and finds her true love is closer than she thinks."

A more accurate term for "high concept" might be "simple concept," or "a story that will compel the broadest audiences to watch it after a pitch of only a few words":



"Anger Management"

"Sleepless, in Seattle"

"Liar, Liar"


"Unwanted Attentions"



"The Hunt for Red October"

"How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days"

"Four Weddings and a Funeral"

"Dumb and Dumber"

"Black Hawk Down"

"Panic Room"

"Runaway Bride"

"Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead"

"Home Alone"

"Die Hard"--

--are examples of high concepts projected by their very titles. It's enough to hear the title and know that Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson star to compel audiences to the box office for "Anger Management."

Titles like "The Fisher King," "Shallow Hal," "Seven Days in May," "Snow Falling on Cedars," "The Shipping News," as evocative as they may be are not high concept titles and, though they may be successful, generally are swimming upstream and against today's Hollywood current.

Nothing is more important to marketing your story than a "high concept log line" that makes it immediately stand out from all those stories that are subtle, nuanced, and difficult to pitch, and that depend entirely upon "execution."

Here are some examples that have led us or others to sales:

o "Jurassic Shark!" (the two-word description given AEI client Steve Alten's Meg by ICM-agent Jeff Robinov, who spearheaded a preempt from Disney for $1.1 million)
o The most obnoxious guy in the world realizes he's become an asshole on a false premise. (John Scott Shepherd's Henry's List of Wrongs, sold to New Line Pictures for $1.6 million).
o "'Die Hard' on a boat," allegedly the log-line line that led to the sale of "Under Siege."
o "Fish out of water - only she's a mermaid!" for "Splash."

The "log line" is a one-line description of the story, very much like the one-liners you would read in TV Guide ("Hollywood makes movies you can advertise on TV," says pro Joe Roth). Jaws can be advertised, visually or verbally, as "Shark bad - Kill shark!" After all, television is where you hope your work will end up eventually, so making buyers think it can fit there is the smartest first step to selling. Mike Kuciak in our office offers these examples of script AEI is currently marketing:

+ A pilot joins a Hollywood studio that fronts a secret alien-fighting command ("Studio Command" by Holly Wonder).
+ Ten years ago, an artist created a mosaic on the backs of four friends--now a ruthless collector is harvesting their skin to reassemble the artwork ("Skin Deep" by Stuart Connelly).
+ A brilliant scientist races to stop a renegade general from using her time travel device to empty the imperial Roman treasury ("War Gods" by John Robert Marlow).
+ A reluctant hitman becomes a miracle-working saint. ("Stronzo, the Good" by Paul Myers)

It's not necessary for your log line to mention character names. A strong character trait will do - with a dramatic teaser about the story. All log lines go back to that ancient storyteller's formula, "What would happen if a character like x ended up in a situation like y." Next add a specific catch word that quickly tell the reader what the story is about. Is it about love, greed, obsession murder, family turmoil? Once you're set on one or two words you can push out from there adding a few more economical adjectives and verbs to make up your long line.

* A woman or family in jeopardy?

"Cape Fear": A lawyer's family is stalked by a man he once helped put in jai

* An ordinary woman in extraordinary circumstances?

"Erin Brockovich": An unemployed single mother becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city's water supply

* Men on a mission?

"Saving Private Ryan": US soldiers try to save their comrade who's stationed behind enemy lines.

"American Pie": Four teenage boys make a pact to lose their virginity by prom night.

* A man against nature?

"Castaway": A FedEx executive must transform himself physically and emotionally to survive after a crash landing on a deserted island.

"Cliffhanger": A retired mountain climber must conquer an unclimbable peak to save the survivors of a plane crash from certain death.

or the system?

"People Vs. Larry Flynt": A pornography publisher becomes the unlikely defender of free speech.

"Class Action": A female attorney finds that her nemesis is her own father, and must choose between her corporate client and justice."

* A woman escaping from something or someone she loves.

"Enough": On the run from an abusive husband, a young mother begins to train herself to fight back.

Here's what we long to see, in our daily email submissions and by mail: A high concept log line that makes a story out of one of the most universal

* human emotions: fear, love, hate, envy, etc.
* deadly sins: anger, greed, lust, etc.
* plot motivators: betrayal, vengeance, discovery, rebirth, survival, etc.
* virtues: loyalty, faith, responsibility, etc.

and incarnates that element in characters we can care about, relate to, and root for to shape an "original story" that feels both fresh and relevant to today's global market. If you can do that, and your writing equals your vision, you're only steps away from financial success and recognition on the biggest screen of all.

Ken and Chi-Li, coauthors of Writing Treatments That Sell, newly revised Los Angeles Times Hollywood Booklist bestseller (Owl Books), are partners in AEI, a literary management and motion picture production company that represents writers who are "ready for prime-time." Mike is associate manager and creative exec at AEI, and can be reached at AEI's affiliate company, The Writer's Lifeline, Inc makes writers and novelists ready for prime-time.

Click here to Amazon and read more about Writing Treatments That Sell

The human brain is the laziest apparatus in the world. If you start to revise before you’ve reached the end, you’re likely to begin dawdling with the revisions and putting off the difficult task of writing. Unless I find I’ve made some drastic mistake in characterization or basic structure, I never go back until I’ve written the last page.—Pearl S. Buck

What makes a good novel?

Exactly what conditions must be met in order for a fictional work of written prose to be considered a novel has long been the subject of intense and, depending on one's point of view, either fascinating or soporific debate.

There is no real consensus on exactly what the "first" novel was, but whether you're a staunch Dashakumaracharita advocate, or a proud member of Team Genji or Team Gilgamesh or even Team Gargantua, there's one area of undisputed common ground: A novel is first and foremost, a good story.

Because the term covers such a wide range of works, created by such a wide range of individual talents, we probably can't make an unqualified assertion that no good novel has ever been written about a bad story, nor is a good story alone a guarantee, but it's a safe bet that a good story has a much better chance than a bad one of becoming a best-seller.

That's what your Writer's Lifeline editor will look at first: the basic components of your story.

The story is the cornerstone, the foundation of your novel. It's the soil from which the tree will grow and flower.

Like the shape of a tree, a story can take on a life of its own during the writing process, and this can be a good thing, but most writers will be able to save themselves a great deal of revision time--and editorial costs--by putting the drawing board work on the front end: The sooner you show it to us, the more time and frustration you’ll save yourself.-

A story may evolve and change, but if it's a good one to begin with, it's only going to get better as it grows.

Modern bestsellers tend to be "character-driven." It's through the characters that the story unfolds. Strong, well-drawn characters will become as real to your readers as they become to you while you're writing about them, or more accurately, writing them.

Our character development specialists can help avoid pitfalls and sail over common hurdles that almost all writers face at some point.

They'll help you find that magical balance between characters that are nuanced and fleshed-out without overtaking both the story itself and your reader's imagination. The reader's mind is a key element of any good story! Leave plenty of room for it in your draft, or the reader will stop reading.

While natural talent cannot be taught or learned, the craft of writing not only can, but must, be learned if the writer aspires to a finished product that has a fighting chance in today's competitive marketplace.

There are a great many more solid, well-constructed novels based on good stories on bookstore shelves than there are works of timeless literary genius.

Let us help you get your story straight!

Do things excellently. No matter what pathway you choose, don’t settle for mediocre. Make it very simple or wildly elaborate, but bring care to the writing, the production, the structure, and design—all of it.—Janette Goldstein & Suzanne Falter-Barns

So you want to write for Hollywood? Find out "WHAT IS A BEAT SHEET?"

A beat sheet is a writing tool used by film industry writers, directors, and producers to identify in broad strokes the sequence of events, and actions in a story. It is an abbreviated way to break down the structure of your story, making it easier to organize and change.

The beat sheet charts the sequence of events that cause your main character to do something and maps how your main character progresses in his change from the beginning to the end of your story.

Create a beat sheet by using bullet points that illustrate in one or two lines the order of your plot’s progression. Remember plot takes place when a character does something or acts upon another character.

A beat sheet is a diagnostic tool, not an end in itself. There are no hard and fast rules—it’s like jotting down the main turns on the map that takes you to the end of your story.

Then you let a road guide take a look at it, to make sure it’s going efficiently where it is meant to go.

When you actually drive there, you’ll know where you’re going—and you’ll know that your creative time not only knows but has helped you make the best possible route.

--From KJA’s notes to
Writing Treatments That Sell.

For someone that is new to the business of writing screenplays, the term "treatment" will most definitely be new to them as well. Basically, if a writer has an idea for a story but for one reason or another does not want to write an entire script, they'll need to know about treatments.

Click on book to Amazon for your copy of Writing Treatments that Sell on Amazon.

For me the criterion of a good novel is that the author has created a total world in which his people move credibly…The novel is just a little cosmos and we’re prepared to accept it, it’s just a real world…I get thousands of letters from people who say how totally immersed they were in the world and how sorry they were to have it end. That works for me.—James Michener

Writers, learn how to deal with rejection

Dealing with Rejection

by Kenneth Atchity

Reprinted from The Writer, February, 1995

If you can't stand - or can't learn to stand - the idea that your work may be rejected, you should give up the dream of writing.

Becoming professional means learning to deal with rejection with dignity and determination. Besides, rejection slips aren't so bad. Over the years, as I've listened to writers complain about them, I've come to realize that we surely prefer them to at least one alternative.

A dark Lincoln limousine pulls up in front of your house in the morning. Your hair is still in curlers as a woman in a severe tweed suit walks up the driveway with a leather attaché case under her arm. "Hello, Jan Matthews," she says, handing you an envelope. "My name is Ashburton Mary Calhoun, senior editor of Pachyderm Books. I wanted to return your manuscript in person to tell you we thought it was awful." She tips her hat. "Have a nice day."

The rejection slip is the industry's alternative to blatant callousness; it's not worth brooding over. Brood over a personal visit from Calhoun, but until that happens keep up your momentum.

Fear of rejection is inevitable for writers, since writing involves an extension of self. The ability to keep moving forward despite rejection distinguishes professionals from amateurs. Rejections can even become a badge of success. All successful writers have amassed a hill of them. The goal is to control the rejection slips rather than be controlled by them. Some people do this by burning them; others do it by using them to paper the bathroom wall. A famous composer is said to have written this letter:
"I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. Your criticism is in front of me. Soon it will be behind me."

When an article or manuscript is returned to your mailbox, you already have your "linkage." Before even looking at the rejection notice, take the manuscript out of the return envelope and slip it into the addressed envelope for the next submission. Put that in the mail and only then, if you must, read your rejection slip. Record it on your submission list so you don't resubmit the same version of a manuscript to an uninterested publisher a second time. Above all, don't let your response to rejection delay getting the manuscript in circulation again. It's not going to get published if it sits around the house.

Rejection slips vary widely. A careful study of them can lead to building bridges with editors. A personal signature can mean more than a completely printed form. But the general rule among editors and publishers (who read countless manuscripts) is not to say more than their time allows. An editor is usually not interested in being addressed personally by a writer unless the editor has included specific comments about how to improve your manuscript with the response. One way of addressing the editor - building the bridge - is to write back asking why your piece was rejected, including a copy of the editor's letter when you do so. Most editors, if you read their rejection letters correctly and query them courteously, will take the time to answer such a question.

Many editors will distinguish between their rejection letters as follows:

1. Lowest level - a printed form - generally sent if the writer hasn't addressed a particular editor.
2. A note with a personal signature - it may still "sound" like a form letter. Polite but no particulars.
3. A note as above, but with particular details about rejection, brief suggestions about needed revisions, and an invitation to see further work.

When they have any interest in your work, they will say so, as in a #3 response. If they send you a #2 response, you may conclude that they found too many things wrong with the concept or execution of your story or manuscript to allow them time to respond in more detail.

The less work needed to make a manuscript publishable, the better the response from a publisher. If you have received less than a #3 response from an editor or publisher, it's improbable that asking an editor why your manuscript was rejected will build a bridge to the publishing industry for your personal network. If the editor didn't find it practical to analyze the shortcomings of your manuscript in the first place, you'll only put her on the spot by asking her a second time. Editors don't want to be hurtful, and the kind of letter they would have to formulate to avoid deepening a writer's rejection wound is also too time-consuming. One publisher relates:

I recently had a three-page, single-spaced letter from a writer reviewing the history of another writer's lack of success in publishing a book and, by implication, trying to get back at me for rejecting it. Did I understand genius and the writer's frustration? The author also wanted to take me to lunch to discuss the book in detail - it was some 800 pages.

Any personal correspondence from an editor is worth a follow-up on your part. But be cautious about how you interpret their language, and don't be discouraged!

Publishers and editors suggest the following guidelines for interpreting and responding to their comments:

1. Consider any editorial suggestions seriously, though you may feel bruised at first. Do they make sense? How could you rectify what's wrong?
2. Has the editor understood what you're attempting to say? How could you make it clearer?
3. If so, only if clarification (and suggestions for change) might change the editorial opinion, write an explanatory letter. But don't do so as a means of self-justification against the establishment.

Some editors may use the phrase, "We can't use it right now" merely to soften the letdown, and many writers take the words as literal truth. However, some editors may mean the phrase literally, so if an editor writes, "We can't use it right now," write back and ask, "When can you use it?" If you receive encouragement from an editor, ask "If I changed the ending (or whatever change the editor suggests), would you be interested in seeing it again?" If you do resubmit your revised manuscript to an editor, query first with a copy of the original rejection letter. Then be sure to note that the manuscript is a revision of one previously submitted.

It's not uncommon for a writer to receive 36 rejections and then be accepted - or 50 rejections in the U.S., and finally be published in England. Be patient. Suspense novelist Elmore Leonard's The Big Bounce was rejected 84 times before it was sold as a Gold Medal Original, with Warner Brothers making the film. Make a chart of submissions and fill in the blanks without thinking about it. Note any constructive feedback and suggested revisions. Modify your submission list if the comments or lack of response in an area you thought might be most marketable for your work indicate the contrary. Unless a half-dozen editors make the same criticism of your work, plan to send it out at least 30 times before you begin major revisions that require withdrawing it from your active file. Frank Herbert's Dune was rejected by some 20 publishers, Jerry Kosinski's Cockpit 36 times - three times by the publisher who eventually published it, once by that same publisher after the book came out!
(Kosinski sent a copy of a typed manuscript, with its title and author changed, to a different editor at the same publishing house; when that editor rejected it, Kosinski sent him a copy of the signed book.)

George Bernard Shaw said that he realized when he was still a child that nine things out of ten he attempted were failures.
"I didn't want to be a failure, so I decided I had to work ten times harder!

Fourteen Reasons for Rejections

"The suggestions made for revisions will often make the difference between acceptance and rejection..."

* You really don't want to write; you just want to be published.
* You haven't read widely the kind of material you are trying to write.
* You haven't mastered writing techniques.
* You've been too easily discouraged.
* You haven't studied the market.
* You failed to follow up leads.
* You can't take criticism.
* Your writing is commonplace or lacks imaginative spark.
* Your query letters don't "sell" your idea.
* You don't revise before submitting your manuscript.
* You are too concerned with writing for a specific market.
* You haven't learned the editorial requirements of a specific market.
* You make excuses for not writing.
* You may not have the talent or skill to succeed at the level you'd envisioned.
According to AEI associate Jen Minar, amazon sold over 2 billion eBooks in 2010. The new frontier!

Tips for Writers

“Platform, at its essence, is finding the need out there that you can fill.”—Suzanne Falter-Barns

Tips for Screenwriters

“Eliminate dialogue that narrates the action. If Jim watches Baker win a footrace, there is no need for Jim to say Baker just won the race! to the spectator next to him.”—Jennifer Lerch, 500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader