Book to Film: Do It Yourself - video - Author Learning Center

Book to Film: Do It Yourself - video - Author Learning Center


GumboWriters aka The Gatekeepers PostInterview with Literary Manager, Ken Atchity

GumboWriters had the opportunity to interview legendary literary manager, Ken Atchity. He has been responsible for managing the careers of many bestselling authors and securing million-dollar film deals for them as well. He also has a wonderful blog you should take a look at.

How long have you been agent and how did you get your start Ken?

Well, to begin with, I'm NOT an agent although half the world calls me one. I'm a literary manager and producer, which allows my company, Atchity Entertainment International, a much wider purview and operating plane: we develop literary properties, sell them to publishers (like agents do), then set them up as films or multimedia franchises. It's been a nearly 20-year evolution to where we are today, following my first career as professor of comparative literature at Occidental College (Yale Ph.D., Georgetown B.A.), Fulbright Professor to the University of Bologna, Instructor in Screen- and Novel-writing at UCLA Writers Program, and regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times Book Review.

My second career is founded on my first. I wanted to move on from analyzing and critiquing stories to helping storytellers create them for publishers and the big screen. As an author myself, with 15 books to date and a half dozen or so screenplays, I thought I should 'put my money where my mouth was" and focus on creation instead of deconstruction. Turns out, the latter serves the former and has continued to do so. In fact, I formed a second company, The Writer's Lifeline, as a kind of farm team for my management and representation company—a company that mentors writers not yet ready for representation, and also ghostwrites for individuals and companies who want to get a story or information into the world but don't have time to be writers. Some of AEI's biggest successes have been incubated in the Writer's Lifeline, including Dracula: The Un-Dead, a novel AEI just sold for nearly $2 million and will produce as a film in '09.

What makes your agency different than any others?

Primarily that we think outside the box and focus on storytellers instead of screenwriters vs novelists. Our ideal clients are ones that want to be paid for their intellectual property on both coasts, publishing and entertainment, and in the global market.

What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?

We've just launched the Brand Management division of AEI, for projects like Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt's Dracula: The Un-Dead, Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not!, Royce Buckingham's Demon Keeper, that can be branded in all media—book, film, television, internet, music, merchandising & licensing. We'd like to see more high-concept and/or blockbuster novels to set up as films (like 3 Men Seeking Monsters, which we're producing at Universal, Demon Keeper at Fox 2000, Sex in the South at Lifetime, and High Voltage which we're producing with Baror International and just about to make the rounds with). When it comes to screenplays, we're looking only for high-concept action, broad comedies, successful comic books or graphic novels, high-profile fantasy (based on underlying properties) and ones based on high profile true stories. And we're also looking on the constant hunt for film financing because we've decided to take our clients' fates into our hands by financing independent movies as a more realistic supplement to the original business of setting up big studio films. Does that mean a screenplay with money attached gets our attention? Yes indeed.

Ken what are you tired of receiving?

(a) Books that have too narrow a market; (b) children's picture books (we can't make a business of them unless they're already successfully published); (c) nuclear war stories—arghhh!; (d) childhood abuse stories. I could go on…

How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?

Sending me a two-line email about their project, and two lines about themselves. When the email gets longer I forward it to my staff to answer. Don't worry--if I'm interested in the 4 lines, I'll ask for more.

How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?

Great question. My fantastic staff is there to answer their everyday questions, and to handle the flow of the business required to get them into the marketplace. The clients we tend to retain are those that work with the whole group—including my long-time partner Chi-Li Wong. Those that demand my attention for every little thing that pops into their mind tend to drift away. I focus on creative thinking and marketing (sales!), and hope my clients understand that's where their best benefits lie. My radar is my company, and when I hear good things or nothing I'm aware the client is working well with us; when I hear about them too often, there's usually trouble brewing. The busier we get the more we turn away from trouble. But I have to say we've gotten better at better at selecting people we work well with we're pretty happy these days.

What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent Ken that they don't seem to?

That I'm much more than an "agent." Because of my prior experience I'm a writer, editor, producer, manager, psychologist, teacher—and, above all, a determined enthusiast who will go to the ends of the earth to sell a story once I decide I love it—and have done so long after a client has lost hope

Movie Myths: The Faust Myth

First published in Produced By, the official magazine of the Producers Guild of America.

Myth to Movie
By Ken Atchity

“I’m tired of the same old clichés,” Sam Goldwyn once said. “Bring me some new clichés.” Since Homer’s Odyssey, which describes its protagonist as a teller of twice-told tales, storytellers achieve greatness by finding new ways to tell those universal stories that have been around since the beginning of storytelling. “It could happen anytime—anywhere—to anybody. Yes, it could even happen to you,” to quote from the opening titles of William Dieterle’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1941). These perennial tales are what we call myths, and our new takes on them work best when we clearly recognize the exact myth from which we’re spinning a new yarn. Films go astray when the myth is lost sight of. “Writing free verse,” Robert Frost remarked, “is like playing tennis with the nets down.”

For us development producers, the “nets” are the “obligatory beats” in the myth that’s generating the screenplay we’re working with. You simply have more creative control if you know where you’re starting from. Take one of Hollywood’s favorites—“the deal with the Devil” (human POV) or the “Devil tempting humans” (Devil POV, the latter going at least as far back as the Book of Job). This temptation-to-supernatural power-and-redemption myth decisively predates the namesake it’s often identified with (Doctor Johannes Faust actually existed in the 16th century, a famous magician renowened for his devotion to necromancy), going back at least as far as Prometheus (who enables man to go beyond his nature), touching down again memorably with Satan offering Jesus from the mountain “all the kingdoms of the world, if you will fall down and adore me” and reappears memorably again with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s wildest dream become real enough to destroy him.

The myth generates stories that fall into two categories: in one set of stories, often called “Faust” stories, like “Damn Yankees” (1958), “Alias Nick Beal” (1949), and “The Devil’s Advocate,” a living protagonist makes a deal with the evil spirit; in the second set, like “Heaven Can Wait,” “The Devil and Max Devlin,” “Angel on My Shoulder” (1946), and Todd McFarlane’s “Spawn,” the protagonist Al Simmons is murdered by his evil boss Jason Wynn, then makes a hell of a deal that brings him back to life (the story is muddled by putting in too many elements that undermine the power of the myth to involve us personally).

The Faust stories may be slightly more popular to filmmakers because they remain rooted in earthbound reality without having to deal with visualizing the afterlife except in the random nightmare flash. In the typical Faust story, the protagonist wants something (eternal life, power, knowledge, the perfect woman—or lots of her) so badly he attracts an evil spirit (the Devil, Satan, “Wall Street’s” Gordon Gekko) who promises to help him get it, for a price (usually his immortal soul, almost always his morality). Note that the devil’s deal is usually deceitful in some way—why wouldn’t it be?—though the protagonist is blinded to the deceit by his greed. The protagonist longs for a power beyond the ordinary, the devil comes to offer it to him in exchange for his soul. He accepts the bargain, and enjoys what he longed for until he realizes the enjoyment is hollow. The devil then comes to claim the bargainer’s soul. In the final act, Faust ether is redeemed and given a second chance or is taken, howling, down to hell. Note that in either version the important catalyst the athe antagonist’s 9the devil’s )The details of the bargain laid out, the deal sealed, our hero gets the girl, or the money, or the power—but finds something wrong either with what he wanted or what he has to pay, or with both. Then he tries to get out of it, and—in act 3—either succeeds or fails (comedy or “tragedy”). Cases in point: consitgency. Faust may change his mind, and wish the deal undone; but the devil sticks to his guns.

• In Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” (1586), the price is his soul, the exchange 24 years of service from Mephistopheles, bringing him knowledge, power, wealth, and beauty; the outcome, tragic: Repentance is too little too late, and Faust is dragged howling into hell by demons. Yet he’s still seen somehow as a hero, of man’s transcendence of his own nature.

• Goethe’s “Faust” (1808) brings an Enlightenment twist to the familiar story: the protagonist scientist, master of his own destiny, is the one who lays down the conditions of the demonic deal. Tragedy is transformed to comedy by a literal dues ex machina – when Mephistopheles comes to collect his soul, angels beat him to it and carry Faust off to heaven. The angels in Goethe’s tale are man’s higher nature, saving him because of his desire for knowledge on behalf of all humanity.

• In “The Devil & Daniel Webster,” the payoff for xxx is seven years of prosperity, but Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston) is defeated by the oratory and Yankee ingenuity of Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold): “No American citizen may be forced into the service of a foreign prince.”

• In “Mephisto” (Mephistopheles is the name of the devil in Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Faust), the devil is the Nazi regime, the payoff to the actor-protagonist is being allowed to continue in the theater.

Typically the storytellers’ desire is t somehow save Faust, for saving him would allow audiences to believe that transcendence is possible, that one can go beyond the limits of human nature with impunity. The trick is how to save him believably, and that is a tough trick to pull off.

The producers’ challenge is to work with the screenwriter to think up a twist that excites audiences to take this “same old ride” one more time. In “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), the twist is that the diabolical deal is made by the protagonist’s husband and she’s left holding the bag—er, the baby. In “The Devil’s Advocate,” the twist is that the protagonist played by Keanu Reeves finds out he’s the Devil’s son. In both cases, the stories have clear and satisfying resolutions because the storytellers have kept sight of the invisible net—the mythic understructure of the story--which allows them to play tennis as though they and the audience could see it. When the story gets the myth right, even with all its twists and turn to “make it new,” the audience sighs with relief—redemption, even after great evil, is still possible.

But if the twists and turn twist the essentials of the myth too much, the story falls flat. “Bedazzled” (2000) has a cool twist, with the devil as a saucy woman (Elizabeth Hurley), but by adding the “seven wishes” motif to the basic Faust myth, muddles up the the myth by, among other things, trying to mix it with the “three (in this case seven) wishes” myth and the writing isn’t strong enough to pull off the graft effectively.

In Indecent Proposal, the innocent young couple encounters the handsomely tuxedoed John Gage (his dapperness reminiscent of Ray Walston’s Mr. Applegate in “Damn Yankees”). But Ray Walston was no romantic competition for Tab Hunter. “Indecent Proposal” goes awry for the audience because once the audience has seen the devilish gleam in Robert Redford’s eyes, they, like Demy Moore’s Diana Murphy, lose their rooting interest in husband David (played by hapless Woody Harrelson). The producers chose the star system over adhering to mythic storytelling—the devil’s not supposed to be the good guy, but by the end we’re rooting for Diana to stay with him and his lovable dogs, not go back to her ineffectual husband and his white rhinoceros. For the devil to play antagonist, you need a heavy, like Al Pacino in “The Devil’s Advocate” or Robert de Niro in “Angel Heart.” But of course Redford wanted the role, and who wouldn’t want Redford? The film did over $300 worldwide on an all-in of $63 million. It just felt fuzzy at the end because we lost sight of the nets. Moral of the story: when in doubt about your script, attach a star!


When I was younger and involved a lot with water colours and showing my work at the various shows I met many good artists. One elderly artist who was an excellent water colourist gave me a word of advice I never forgot. He said that there is a point you arrive at when your right brain intuition tells you that you have a piece of art before you. He went on to say that, at this point, "do not fiddle!" By-passing your intuition and fiddling with the end result destroys the piece of art and leaves you with an "illustration." He said, "Don't do it!"—Thomas Mitchell [via John Reid]

So you think English is easy?

From J. Marie Bjorklund

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce .

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present
the present .

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row .

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?


Continuing on with my August 12th post Excerpt from my How to Publish Your Novel here are the first five rules in depth:

Rule 1: Take the time to become familiar with the agents and editors that you want to represent you.

Consider the literary property that you want to sell and try to choose an agency or editor that has a good track record in selling or publishing that type of work. There are several good resources to refer to for this information, i.e. Jeff Herman’s “Writers Guide to Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents” (Prima) or “The Writers Market – Online Edition” (Holm & Lucyszyn).

For instance, if you have a novel that you think would make not only a bestseller, but also a blockbuster at the movies, then try to find an agent that sells both to publishers and studios. Some agencies only represent writers for publishing, others only represent writers for feature film screenplays or television series or movies, and some do both.

If you are going to submit directly to editors, then you should have a sense of what the publisher has published in the past and what they are looking for now. For instance, if you want to publish your bathroom humor non-fiction book, don’t send it to a publisher that primarily publishes literary fiction. Or if you have a literary fiction manuscript, don’t send it to a publisher that only handles only commercial fiction. It’s really worth it to take the time to research the agents and editors that you are considering submitting to. You can avoid wasted postal fees, rejections and good will by taking the time to do this.

Rule 2: Familiarize yourself with the submission policies of the agent or editor that you want to submit to and abide by these policies.

When doing your research on agents and editors, you will run across submission policies for each. These are helpful guidelines that should be paid attention to. For instance, some agencies and editors do not allow email or fax queries and only accept hardcopy, mailed queries. Most agencies and editors require queries to be sent before they will request a submission of the entire literary property. Unsolicited submissions are almost always returned. Jeff Herman’s guide and the Writers Market guide, which can also be found on, lists specifically what the requirements are for almost all agents and editors. If the policy is not listed, don’t hesitate to call the agent or editor to clarify.

Also, in specific reference to agents and managers, these guides will usually tell you if there is a reading fee required to be paid to have the agent or manager consider your work. If a reading fee is required, this usually means that the agent or manager is bunk. It is a good idea, to base your estimate of an agent or manager on their sales track record, which is usually listed on their website or that they will gladly share with you if you call to ask.

Rule 3: YOU are as important as the work that you are submitting. The quality of your work is not the only element evaluated by an agent or editor considering a business relationship with you – so, SELL YOURSELF as much as your work.

You may have the next bestseller, but if an agent or editor doesn’t want to work with you, there’s a good chance that you won’t get signed. So many times, writers sabotage their own efforts by behaving arrogantly or being overly demanding, aggressive, impatient or even rude. Ironically, new writers, who have no credentials or marketing platform, are usually the biggest abusers of this rule. Remember that it is not only your work, but also the entire package of your work and you, and how you are to work with as a person, that sells an agent or editor. If it looks like it’s going to be a difficult process to work with you, editors and agents will usually opt not to, no matter how good your writing is.

You don’t want to get on anyone’s “Life is Too Short” list. And this is what usually happens to writers that look like they will be difficult to work with. For most editors and agents, life is too short to work with difficult personalities, and there are plenty of writers out there who have great projects and are capable of working well with others. Successful relationships with agents and editors are like successful relationships in life. They are long-term. Aggressive, difficult behavior has no place in a long-term personal relationship, nor does it in a long-term business relationship.

Rule 4: Consider the appropriateness of a phone call before dialing your agent or editor.
There are appropriate and inappropriate phone calls that are made to agents and editors everyday. If an agent or editor has not responded within the response time listed in the market guides or directories, then it is appropriate to call to check on your manuscript. But it’s not a good idea to keep calling. Call during business hours and politely ask the agent or editor if he/she can provide you with information regarding the status of X project, written by X author. Most likely, the agent or editor will give you the response right there and then on the phone, by indicating that he has “passed” on the project, i.e. he doesn’t want to represent it or buy it, or that he needs more time reading it. If the agent or editor wants to sign you and your project, they will call you, without a doubt. If an agent or editor needs more time to read your project, they will usually give you a timeframe within which they will respond to you. If they don’t, don’t feel uncomfortable asking them for a timeframe. This will guide you on when the next appropriate call can be made.

Other phone call rules:
a. Don’t call your agent or editor at home, unless specifically requested to do so.

b. Don’t call an agent or editor to discuss why they passed on your project.
- This will only work against you with future submissions. Sometimes reasons for “passing” are provided in the rejection letter. If they are not, and you definitely want feedback, be very polite in the way that you request it and the way that you respond to it.

c. Don’t call to ask “Did it get there yet?”
- It is safe to assume that a publisher will get back to you in the time specified in the directories or market listings. Calling before this time has elapsed will only annoy agents and editors. Also, this question can easily be answered by including a self-addressed-stamped postcard along with the manuscript. If your project is rejected, it will be sent back to you. If it is accepted, you will be called without a doubt.

Rule 5: Gimmicks don’t work.

Sometimes writers will change the names of their lead characters to the name of the agent or editor that they are submitting to in order to endear the agent or editor to their project. This usually backfires and many times sacrifices the integrity of the story.

Sometimes writers will try to put pressure on agents and editors by telling them that their project is being offered a deal elsewhere or by indicating that they must have an answer immediately or else they will be forced to sign with someone else. This kind of pressure rarely works and can be easily verified. So be careful what you say. It can come back to haunt you if you’re not telling the truth!

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AEI client Marilyn Horowitz featured the book on her amazing blogsite—please visit it and get to know her and her great methods for finding the heart in your story.

Excerpt: One of my favorite seminars to teach is "Writing the Treatment" because this rarely taught skill is invaluable for the creation of new material, to analyze and improve current scripts and a compelling way of getting your ideas read. Many times, the treatment can be more difficult than writing the script, so it's important to learn a foolproof method for writing a strong treatment every time.

If you feel you're at a point where a treatment will be helpful, I recommend picking up a copy of Ken Atchity's Writing Treatments That Sell: How to Create and Market Your Story Ideas to the Motion Picture and TV Industry.

Go to Marilyn Horowitz's website here.

Myth to Movie: REDEMPTION

First published in Produced By, the official magazine of the Producers Guild of America

Myth to Movie
By Ken Atchity


The formula of the perennial family of stories inspired by the redemption myth:

Because of a previous failure, a hero has withdrawn from the world. Faced with the opportunity to test himself again in the same arena where’s he’s failed before, he refuses, having lost his confidence. But when the stakes are raised and allies and/or provocateurs force his hand, he’s inevitably drawn into the situation that forces him to reenact his trauma. This time, overcoming his own fears, he succeeds.

Films as distinct in flavor as Reign of Fire (2002) and Seabiscuit (2003) draw story pattern from the core myth of redemption.

Analyzed with reference to this “underlying mythic story structure,” two 1993 films, Cliffhanger (directed by Renny Harlin) and In the Line of Fire (Wolfgang Petersen), for example, are retelling the identical mythic pattern. Though one appeals to the popcorn crowd and the other to the smart set, they deliver identical satisfaction to the audience’s universal longing for self-redemption--for getting a second chance, and succeeding.

In the Sylvester Stallone thriller, Gabe Walker has retired from a mountain-climbing rescue team because he believes his recklessness, shown in the breathtaking and perfectly ambiguous opening scene, led to the death of his best friend’s girlfriend; the mythic protagonists we relate to the most seem always to be ones with the greatest hubris, taking the weight of the world on their shoulders. When a plane is downed in the inaccessible Rockies by a daring midair heist engineered by madman Eric Qualen (John Lithgow), even the pleas of Gabe’s former girlfriend Jessie (Janine Turner) fail at first to move him to action. Only Gabe’s knowledge that he alone can pull off this rescue finally triggers his decision to join the purported rescue team, face the antagonist and his own fears, complete the impossible task, and earn back his self-respect. Testimony to the power of a movie story well-shaped by its underlying myth was Roger Ebert’s comment, “True, there’s not a moment in the plot that I could believe. That didn’t bother me for an instant.”

Line of Fire’s Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) has been nursing his failure to protect President Kennedy with alcohol for nearly three decades when an antagonist straight out of his nightmares, John Malkovich’s Mitch Leary, draws him out of his loser-stupor by announcing that he’s going to kill the present President (played by Jim Curley)—and that Horrigan and Horrigan alone can stop him. Tightly wrapped agent Lilly Raines (Rene Russo) shames Mitch into action and, in a well-orchestrated final sequence, the failed hero relives his past but this time throws himself between the assassin and the President--and rises to a new life.

More recently, The Legend of Bagger Vance shows the redemption and rebirth of Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon), an Old South protagonist whose previous failure came from being bested by the brutalities of war, a game with no gentlemanly rules about how it’s played. Despite his engagement to blue-blood Savannah belle Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron), Rannulph can’t bring himself to face life and disappears into a self-imposed limbo of smoke-filled back rooms. But, like the plane crash in Cliffhanger and the assassin in Line of Fire, fate—this time in the person of Adele, who misses her handsome and absent beau—intervenes to give him a second chance: a golf tournament, a game that “you don’t win, you can only play.” Junnuh’s redemption is assisted not only by the charming connivance of Adele but also by unlikely allies in the person of Bagger Vance (Will Smith), a wise caddy who walks straight out of the mists of myth, and the young boy (J. Michael Moncrief), who believes in Junnuh almost as much as he believes in the game of golf.

Most recently, we see redemption reworked in two 2004 films Alexander Payne’s Sideways, and Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby. In the former, Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) is a failed San Diego writer biding his downward spiral as a disaffected English teacher. His pal Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is an almost-as-failed hero whose few moments of fame have allowed him a faux joie de vivre that leaves Miles in his pale. Their road trip to Santa Ynez explores not only wine country but their own discontent; their allies, Maya (Virginia Madsen) and Stephanie (Sandra Oh), lead them through oenophilia to sex to self-awareness, self-acceptance, and the hope of a new, more honest life.

In contrast to the rosé- and Pinot Noire-colored glasses of Payne’s film, Million Dollar Baby is equal parts noir and noir. The redemption of Frankie Dunn (Eastwood), drifting rudderless through a meaningless life, is accomplished through young Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) and ally ex-boxer Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman). Maggie’s indomitable dream combines with the wisdom Eddie has distilled from forty years of rejection to reenlist Frankie’s motivation. Though the film ends with a tear-jerking trauma, Frankie emerges reborn with the courage to accept, if not embrace, life one day at a time.

We love redemption because it leads to rebirth, so redemption stories should be classified as a branch of the rebirth family tree. Other rebirth stories that aren’t motivated by redemption include Ron Howard’s Cocoon (1985), where the rebirth of old folks choosing a stellar journey has nothing to do with their merits; My Fair Lady, discussed in a previous column, where Henry Higgins’ rebirth comes from willfully taking on an impossible challenge; or even Rocky (1976), where Rocky Balboa is reborn as a winner through the strength of his inner vision backed by sheer determination.

Among Atchity’s other films in development, John Scott Shepherd’s Henry’s List of Wrongs (New Line Pictures), is based on the redemption myth.

Finding the Right Agent or Manager

Excerpt from my How to Publish Your Novel

Of course many of the major publishers require that you approach them only through a representative, which can be a literary agent, manager, or attorney. So how do you find the right agent or manager?

Writers’ representatives are as eager to find you as you are to find them because without writers they have no business. They make finding them relatively easy—it’s getting their attention that’s difficult. Here are the best ways to start your search

Personal recommendations

Nothing takes the place of a personal recommendation from a writer, especially if he’s willing to make the contact for you. Don’t be bashful about approaching writers of your acquaintance, and asking them for their advice. I don’t recommend asking them to read your novel—that’s a different issue entirely, and usually produces a glazed look and awkward demur from the vi
ctim. Use professional editors for that purpose, but your writer friend simply for his advice. The word “advice” normally triggers a beneficent response, primarily, I think, because it doesn’t involve responsibility. It’s something the writer can give you effortlessly, and still feel good about it. There’s a difference between a “referral” and a “recommendation.” The latter implies that he’s read your work, and will recommend it. The former, only that “you can say I referred you.” Of course if the relationship is a close one, and/or you’ve prevailed on the writer to serve as your mentor, a recommendation to his favorite agent or manager is the best of all possible worlds. But a referral is a strong second best.

With that in hand, approach the representative with a cover letter that says,

Dear Mr. Adashek:

Vincent Dressman referred me to you, and I’m enclosing, as requested in your directory listing, the first fifty pages of my novel, Drive Down to Dixie, along with a five-page synopsis.
I appreciate your consideration.

If you’re fortunate enough to have your writer acquain
tance recommend your work, normally you’d wait to submit it until he’s gotten back to you with the information that he’s made that introductory call, and the representative is expecting your submission. Then your cover letter would read something like this:

Dear Mr. Adashek:
Vincent Dressman told me he’s spoken with you about my novel, Drive Down to Dixie, which he was good enough to read and recommend. I’m enclosing, as requested in your directory listing, the first fifty pages, along with a five-page synopsis.

I appreciate your consideration.

It’s not necessary to say, “Let me know if you’d like to read the rest of the book.” If the representative is impressed by what he’s read, he won’t hesitate to let you know he wants to read the whole manuscript.


A number of directories are published in revised editions each year for no other reason than to make it easy for novelists to find representation.

They include:

The Internet

Of course the Internet, especially if you’re hooked up to cable, provides the fastest of all resources for finding the right representative.

Live encounters

In their ongoing effort to reach out for talented new novelists, authors’ representatives regularly attend writers’ conferences and give lectures and workshops at universities and continuing education programs. You can go and meet them in person, give them your card, and say, “I’ll be in touch.” They will appreciate the businesslike approach, but don’t be too shy either—if they weren’t open to listening to your story they wouldn’t be the
re in the first place. Many conferences offer attendees the opportunity for a one-on-one session with the visiting agents and managers. This is your chance to pitch your novel live, and there’s no better way to get someone’s attention, assuming you know how to pitch. Practice makes perfect!

Now that you’ve scoured the resources listed here, sit down with pad and pencil and begin a target list, drawing from all the resources listed above—and others you’ve devised on your own. Don’t forget that the representatives on your list may have their own websites, which makes approaching them relatively easy. And don’t forget that no one appreciates an a
pproach that shows no knowledge of what that representative requires for submissions. When he has taken the trouble to make his information easily available, in directory listings and/or websites, a submission that breaks his rules from the get-go only indicates a novelist who isn’t interested enough in the marketplace to do his basic homework.


Rule 1: Take the time to become familiar with the agents and editors that y
ou want to represent or publish you.

Rule 2: Familiarize yourself with the submission policies of the agent or editor that you want to submit to and abide by these policies.

Rule 3: YOU are as important as the work that you are submitting. The quality of your work is not the only element evaluated by an agent or editor considering a business relations
hip with you – so, SELL YOURSELF as much as your work.

Rule 4: Carefully consider the appropriateness of a phone call before dialing your agent or editor.

Rule 5: Gimmicks don’t work.

Rule 6: Make your manuscript or screenplay easy-on-the-eyes.

Rule 7: Always make sure that the formatting for your manuscript or screenplay is correct.

Rule 8: Don’t overdo the packaging!

Rule 9: Don’t send queries or submissions via email or fa
x, unless specifically requested to do so.

Rule 10: It’s a good idea to thank your agent or editor in your acknowledgements of a book that they have worked on with you or sold for you.

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Prayer For Light

Let your light shine in dark places.

Let it illuminate the shadows

With truth and love,

That you may be a beacon

To those who crave for light.

Let the radiance of

The enlightened spirit

Dispel the creatures of the shadows

That all may shine, to bring about

A spiritual universe of light,

Where once there was darkness.

Make it so; make it so; make it so.

Thomas J Mitchell

How To Publicize Your Book

Now that you have finished your book, and it is ready to be shopped around to publishers (or has already been bought by a publisher!) it’s time to think about what you can do to help promote your book.

1) A little promotion, focused on NY media, can help us bring your book to the attention of major publishers. Brainstorm with us about this!

2) All other PR should be saved for the month of your books’ launch and following.

3) That means you have to start six months before that date to make magazine and television deadlines!

4) Read the chapter on publicizing your book in KJA’s How to Publish Your Novel (Square One Books).

5) Read John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Book.

Come up with a marketing Plan!

•Books don’t publicize themselves and, today, publishers rarely put maximum effort into a book’s release until the book starts selling. This Catch-22 means that YOU are your book’s best hope. The sooner you take that approach, the better your chances will be. Even well-known writers have found that putting little effort into marketing will produce virtually zero results—one or two thousand sold.

•Let us review it before you start implementing it and spending money.

•Start a website! Create a website solely dedicated to your book. AEI’s webmaster provides that service for our clients at rock-bottom prices. And get your link sponsored on other websites too!

•Write emails! Send an email to friends, family and co-workers about your book, and ask them to pass it along to everyone they know. You’ll be amazed how fast word of mouth spreads!


It’s invaluable to get endorsements for your book–authorities and/or well-known people who will say great things about your book to display on the jacket. There are numerous ways to request endorsements (aka “blurbs”):

•Ask your colleagues! If you are a professional in any given field, it’s always a good idea to ask your colleagues for their own endorsements, or to recommend you to well-known others, especially those who are writers too.

•Does your topic deal with a timely issue? Can you think of anyone in entertainment who may relate to your topic? Try and seek out celebrities (actors, best-selling authors, athletes) to endorse your book (it never hurts to have a famous name on the cover!)

•Brainstorm with your editor. Check out your publishers catalog, and suggest writers who might appreciate your book.

•One suggestion. Busy people have good hearts but not enough time. Write the endorsement yourself, focusing on what might sound in character for them; fax or mail it to them, along with sample chapters of your book, asking, “Would you mind endorsing my book along the lines suggested here?” You’ll be surprised that often they just say yes, and let you use what you wrote as their endorsement or change it slightly.

Click here to buy How to Publish Your Novel by Ken Atchity, Andrea McKeown, Julie Mooney, & Margaret O'Connor on Amazon


Ben Freedman, a guru of mine now living in the North Bay, sent me this great story that all writers (including me) need to take to heart:

Suzuki describes an encounter between a Zen master and a Western philosopher. In response to a four word Zen proverb, the Westerner launched into an hour long conceptual analysis. The Zen master listened patiently and finally stretched out his hand, palm down. "What does that mean?" asked the philosopher. The master replied, "When the cup is full, stop pouring tea."

In other words, as Robert Frost said, “Less is more.”


First published in Produced By, the official magazine of the Producers Guild of America

Myth to Movie
By Ken Atchity

Whether it’s betrayal for ambition, power, love, sex, and money, or even envy, story patterns spun from this violent myth hover over the history of the cinema as they do over the history of humanity. Dancing among themes of trust and treachery, deception, desertion, and disloyalty, some of the most dramatic villains are its greatest betrayers—from Brutus and Iago, to Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr.

In the betrayal story a close bond is established between the subject and the one who betrays him, the bond must be jostled by some irresistible motivating emotional force that becomes the betrayer’s obsession; the obsession leads to the betrayal, which threatens to destroy--and often does destroy--the subject. Finally the betrayer is either punished for his perfidy or not. The betrayal myth shapes such diverse films as:

• Samson and Delilah (1949): Personal strength is stolen by deceitful love, and a nation is jeopardized;
• Phaedra (1962), where misplaced lust, instilled by the gods, explodes a marriage and a family;
• Body Heat (1981), where weakness is the entry point for duplicity and betrayal;
• Betrayal (1983), where love and betrayal deconstructed, are revealed as inevitably interlocking reverberations;
• Fatal Attraction (1987), where a moment of weakness unravels a lifetime of happiness;
• Brave Heart (1995), where Robert the Bruce, motivated by political ambition, betrays Mel Gibson’s William Wallace twice;
• Othello (1995, 2001), where the force of Desdemona’s alleged betrayal is the mirror reflection of Iago’s betraying envy.
• The Ice Storm (1997), where betrayal springs like evil flowers from the soil of suburban ennui.
• The Passion of the Christ (2004), where the poster boy of betrayers wreaks vengeance on himself.

One hero’s passion is another’s betrayal. For bringing fire to mankind out of sympathy for our plight, Prometheus is chained to a rock for all eternity. Antigone must choose between betraying King Creon or betraying her dead hero brother. Betrayal stories focus on the thread that binds the individual and “the other,” generally illustrating the moral that unrestrained self-interest is always in danger of unraveling the social fiber. “Othello was not jealous,” Alexander Pushkin pointed out. “He was trustful.”

In one of my all-time favorite betrayal stories, All about Eve (1950), Bette Davis plays the actress that Anne Baxter’s Eve betrays by working her ambitious way into every corner of her life--until Margo realizes that Eve has set the stage for taking over her career. The comely ingénue is the pivotal character of the story--villain as protagonist. When Eve is called to task by Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), she’s devastated to realize that, unwittingly, she’s made a pact with a devil even more sinister than she is—because, unlike her, he has no ambition except to serve up gossip. The movie ends with a dramatic reminder that the cycle of “betrayal for ambition” is never-ending, and that people of power should never trust new friends. Eve’s Promethean rock is having to live not only with herself seen clearly in DeWitt’s journalistic lens but also with undergrad Phoebe, the “next Eve.”

The mythic theme “love betrayed by lust” traces back at least as far as Homer’s Iliad—in stark contrast with The Odyssey, where Penelope’s refusal to betray her absent husband leads to a violently happy ending. Adrian Lyne reprises his fascination with the repercussions of fatal attractions in Unfaithful (2002)--based on Claude Chabrol’s La Femme Infidele (1969). Here the betrayal is flipped to the distaff side. Happily married Susan (Diane Lane) is struck by Eros’ thunderbolt borne on the winds of chance. In a scene that sizzles almost as successfully as the seduction scenes, husband Richard Gere takes retribution on the irresistible Frenchman (Olivier Martinez). Drawn on the intimate canvas of domesticity, the film literally brings home the deadly consequences of betrayal.

One of myth’s characteristics is that it can move audiences just as powerfully when portrayed on the widest as well as on the smallest story screens. Whether contracting or expanding, the violent myth of betrayal can instill equal awe. But when working on the wider canvas, if the emotional catalyst that leads to the betrayal isn’t dramatized effectively the failure of the mythic retelling is all the more painfully obvious. Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy utterly falters in making us understand how the launch of a thousand ships could be caused by the insipid dalliance of Orlando Bloom’s Paris and Diane Kruger’s Helen. When you don’t bring to life the emotion at the core of a myth, all the visual magnificence and tiling in the world still leaves the audience feeling hollow.

A wide spectrum of 2004 films focused on betrayal story patterns. Mike Nichols’ Closer (from Patrick Marber’s play) is an interesting contrast with the 2005 Woody Allen Match Point’s coldly amusing cynicism. Where Allen’s film suggests that betrayers can get away with murder in our amoral times of relative values, Nichols’ victims and perpetrators sleepwalk their way through a muddle of despair and inevitable ennui. The moral of this disturbing tale seems to be that passion, even love, are best avoided altogether.

Much more joyful, though much more violent (oddly enough), are Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill 1 & 2--where +betrayal is yoked to the exhilarating high energies of rampant revenge--and Yimou Zhang’s House of the Flying Daggers, where the same symbiosis between love and violence and betrayal play across the big screen with infinitely greater complexity but much less emotional impact. Both films are choreographed admonitions of one thing we never cease learning about betrayal: It unleashes the all-consuming power of the heart.