Why I Love Main Title Sequences

Main Titles create an emotional link between the viewer and the show. But for a writer, they are so much more. Here is an excerpt from SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING, the book I wrote with William Rabkin. The excerpt will be followed an example, along with text from the book.

Main titles are created to introduce the audience to the show they are about to see. But for the writer, there is much more information to be gleaned.  It is a chance to read the mind of the executive producer.  How does he perceive the show?  How does he perceive the characters? 

How does he perceives the tone?  What kinds of stories does he want to tell? Most main title sequences will answer all those questions and more.

There are basically three different kinds of main title sequences:  Format sequences, that actually tell you in narration and in writing what the show is about; Mood sequences that convey the type of feeling and tone they are going for; and Character sequences, which delineate who the characters are and how they interact.  Many main titles are combinations of these three sequences. 

Since TV changes so fast, we’ve chosen some examples from some established series you probably know very well and, if not, can easily find in reruns…

The rest comes after the jump…

Read more

Novik on Fanfic

Author Naomi Novik got a terrific write-up in the New York Times today. She’s had enormous success with her first book HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON and her husband Charles Ardai runs Hard Case Crime, another enormous success. This is a couple on a major winning streak in the publishing business.  Novik and I were guests on an NPR radio show about fanfiction a year or two ago.  We were on opposite sides of the debate…our opinions on the subject are very far apart. I was not at my best on the air, though, or in my posts about the show here afterwards. But that said, I was struck by an aside in the article:

Around 1994 Ms. Novik began writing fan fiction, stories based on the
characters of other writers. She called it “embarrassing, terrible
early work” that could not be published — thankfully, she said —
because it would be tantamount to copyright infringement on other
authors’ characters.

Either the reporter is mis-characterizing her views or Novik has significantly changed her very liberal attitudes on the subject since becoming an author herself.

Cross-collateralizing Royalties

There’s a fascinating and informative discussion going on (as usual) at Joe Konrath’s blog. Today my friend is talking about basketing or "cross-collateralization" deals, which he had on his first three books.

My royalty statements confirm this. As of my statement of June 2006, both Whiskey Sour and Bloody Mary have earned out their advances. They did this on the paperback releases.

I won’t see any royalties until next year, because of basketing.
Basketing is a form of joint accounting. When books are basketed in a
contract, the publisher doesn’t pay out royalties until all of the
books have earned out. So the earnings from Whiskey and Bloody are
paying the advance for Rusty Nail. Which is fine. By next year, I should be in a royalty situation. This is a good thing.

Author PJ Parrish left a comment, noting in part:

This cross-collateral accounting is, I am told, simply an easy way for
a publisher to withhold money due to a writer while spreading its risk
over several books.

For example, you might have two books with
$10,000 advances, but if one does great and the second poorly, you
still won’t see any royalty money until the entire $20,000 advance
earns out. Why shouldn’t each book stand on its own merits? Why should
an author be penalized for the success of one and not another when so
many factors that go into that success are out of the author’s hands?
I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it and I don’t think any author should.

I’m with her on this.  My DIAGNOSIS MURDER books are cross-collateralized and so are my MONKS.
It’s standard in multiple book tie-in deals and not something I had the
leverage to exclude from my contract. I wish I could.  It benefits the
publisher and screws the writer. Which brings me to nit-picking one of
Joe’s comments:

I’ve said, from the very beginning of my career, that my goal is to make money for my publisher.  For my first two books, I’m doing just that. It will be interesting to see where it takes me."

goal is to make money for me. Obviously, that means making money for
my publisher, too. But enriching my publisher and enriching myself
should go hand-in-hand. That doesn’t happen in cross-collateralization
deals or when you spend your advances…and then some…on promotion.
It might pay-off in the long run, but if you want to make a living as a
writer, it’s a delicate balance.  Joe made another comment that I don’t entirely agree with:

Royalties are like found money. You’re earning on work you did years
ago. Your publisher also likes royalties. They no longer have to spend
marketing dollars on your backlist, but it keeps generating income.
Earning out an advance is a good indicator that the book made a profit,
and the longer it stays in print, the more profitable it becomes.

I disagree with his first line but I agree with everything else. Royalties are not found money, it’s money you’ve earned, it’s how you make a living. And in cross-collateralization deals, the publisher is keeping your money from you.

Royalties are where the real money for an author is over the long run. Yes, you have to promote your books to sell enough to generate royalties, but again…it’s a balance. 

If you’re making a living as
a writer, advances and royalties (or script fees and residuals in TV)
are how you pay the bills. If you spend your advance on promotion, and
your royalties are caught up in cross collaterization, you are
succeeding in making money for the publisher…and screwing yourself.

am not saying this is the case with Joe, and I certainly think
self-promotion is important (just look at me at what I do), but I think it’s a mistake for newbie
writers to necessarily follow Joe’s example unless they have a
lucrative day job.

I See a Mystery Novel in this

The New York Times reports that mystery writer Carol Higgins Clark was one of the tenants in the NY building that was hit by a private plane yesterday flown by Yankee Pitcher Cory Lidle.

The building is a condominium with residents like Marvin R. Shanken, the publisher of Cigar Aficionado and other specialty magazines; Marvin S. Traub, the former head of Bloomingdale’s; and Carol Higgins Clark, a mystery writer who is the daughter of Mary Higgins Clark.

Getting Political

Thriller novelist Raelynn Hillhouse has started a political blog called The Spy Who Billed Me. She joins a growing number of authors (like Barry Eisler) who are avoiding the usual self-promotion/writing advice blog that most writers opt for. That’s not to say there isn’t a sly promotional angle at work here… her blog focuses primarily on the outsourcing of the war on terror, which just happens to be the subject of her next novel, OUTSOURCED, which comes out in May.


Write On

The Writer’s Room has reviewed our book SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING which is, of course, all about TV writer’s rooms.

After promising myself
not to buy any more books on scriptwriting, I succumbed to this
purchase while browsing in an Los Angeles bookstore with a bewildering
array of film books. And I can truly say, it’s worth every dime. This
is one for those who are serious about writing. Full of practical
advice and exercises, the book is an insightful account of the
realities of being a writer for hire. It’s sort of a TV equivalent to
“Adventures in the Screen Trade”, William Goldman’s infamous book.

At the back of the
book are a series of appendices which would be worth the cover alone.
Goldberg and Rabkin include a detailed “beat sheet” for an episode of
Martial Law which demonstrates just how well an American show is
structured with tense cliffhangers at the end of every act. There are
also character outlines, the details of which could be helpful in
writing your own treatments. It’s very useful to see just how
well-thought out each character is and how much depth to go into in
order to “sell” an idea.

Considering how long the book has been in print, it’s always a pleasant surprise to stumble on a review (while relentlessly googling your own name in a pitiful attempt to avoid writing) and to discover that people still find our book relevant and helpful.

Let the Reimaginings Begin

One of the exec producers of the reimagined BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is resurrecting another old series from the Universal vaults: THE BIONIC WOMAN, a spin-off from THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN. Variety reports that David Eick has hired screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis to tackle his latest reimagining for NBC.

"It’s a complete reconceptualization of the title," Eick told Daily Variety. "We’re using the title as a starting point, and that’s all."

"It’s going to be a meaningful departure" from
the original, he said, using words such as "nanotechnology" to hint at
what’s in store.

Dr. Sloan is Back

For many years, you could tune in to see Dr. Mark Sloan on DIAGNOSIS MURDER every Thursday night at 9 pm on CBS.  You can still tune in every Thursday night at nine to see Dr. Mark Sloan… only now you’ll find him on ABC, practicing medicine on GREY’S ANATOMY, and flauting his wonderous pecs:

"Grey’s Anatomy" certainly raised the steamy quotient again. Last week,
Dr. Mark Sloan (Eric Dane) walked out wearing only a towel and
displayed his chiseled body.

The characters may have the same name, but  I don’t think anybody is going to mistake Dick Van Dyke for Eric Dane.