Be Conventional

Writer/producer Lisa Klink regularly posts great advice for aspiring TV writers on her blog. Today she’s talking about writing the episodic spec script:

Your first spec or two should demonstrate that you know how to
follow the rules, and imitate the format and voice of a show.  Your
“why not” script should show off your voice.

She also shares a very instructive anecdote:

I heard a great story from a fellow drama/sci-fi writer:  she wrote
a “Lost” spec about Vincent.  Yes, Vincent, the dog – complete with a
flashback to his life before the crash.  Wouldn’t you immediately grab
that off the pile and read it?  A lot of people did.  My friend got a
slew of meetings off her spec and, more importantly, a job.  She also
had a “West Wing” spec, but it was the “Lost” which really launched
her.  As we were talking about this, she said something particularly
smart about sending out a spec: “You don’t need everyone to like it.
You need someone to love it.”  Exactly.

Lisa is also a recent JEOPARDY champion, surviving for a full week before getting bounced on a question about….writers. That had to hurt.

Black Coat Press

I heard over the holiday from my old friends Randy & Jean-Marc Lofficier. They are having great success with their Black Coat Press, which does English translations of classic French mysteries, comics and stage plays. Their titles include three classic Arsene Lupin-Sherlock Holmes novels from the early 1900s and NICK CARTER VS. FANTOMAS, a never-before-translated play from 1910 (the book also include an extensive introduction by Jess Nevins on the history of Nick Carter). Check them out!


Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants Returns…

The paperback edition of MR. MONK AND THE TWO ASSISTANTS comes out in bookstores nationwide today.  The book got some very good reviews, like this one from the Weekly Journal in Angleton, Texas:

"Even if you aren’t familiar with the TV series "Monk", this book is too funny to not be read. Goldberg’s comic genius
is channeled by Monk throughout and the truth of the crime is always
worth waiting for. Reading this book is like reading a script of the
weekly show, making this read a delightful treat for any fan."

But I think my favorite comments came from readers on Amazon, especially this one from  reader in Australia (his name is Lee, but it’s not me!):

To me Sharona and Natalie were interchangeable.
Then I read this book.
It goes as far as acknowledging that Natalie’s character began as a
Sharona clone, yet explains how she’s evolved into something more. In
fact, there are lots of jokes in Natalie’s narrative that tap on – if
they don’t actually break – the fourth wall, and it has the effect that
postmodernism should: By acknowledging its own artifice, addressing the
audience directly, it paradoxically becomes more a part of the real
world to deliver everything that’s real about the personalities and
truths about human nature within the fiction. In doing so, this book
made me care for the first time about Natalie AND Sharona.

I hope you enjoy the book, too.

Should Authors Get a Percentage of Used Book Sales?

It was bad enough when Amazon offered customers the opportunity to buy lower priced, used copies from second-hand booksellers on the same page as the new books they were selling. Now it’s even worse.

I was dismayed today to discover that Amazon is selling remainder copies of  MR. MONK AND THE TWO ASSISTANTS on the same page as the full-priced hard-cover and the new paperback release, which comes out tomorrow.

I can’t say I’m too happy about this. Amazon is costing me money…but even so, I’m not sure that I’m ready to support an effort to legislate a cut for authors of second-hand sales.

Novelists Inc, a non-profit organization of multiply-published novelists, is advocating a rewrite of the copyright laws that would force second-hand booksellers to pay authors a percentage of the cover price for any book that’s resold within two years of its original publication.

NINC recommends that commercial used-book sellers be
  required to pay to publishers a “Secondary Sale”  fee
  upon the reselling of any book within two years of its original publication
  date. A percentage of these fees would then transfer to authors in accordance
  with contractual agreements between authors and publishers, thereby reinforcing
  the Founders’ intent, as stated in Article I of the Constitution, to
  protect authors’ exclusive right to benefit from their work.

Ninc further recommends that the fee paid to publishers and
  authors would be some fair percentage of the cover price of the individual
  book.  While
  it has been argued in the past that such a fee would unduly burden used-book
  sellers by increasing administrative tasks, that argument is rapidly becoming
  moot. Today, the largest sellers of used books have a strong Internet presence,
  allow Internet-based sales transactions, and maintain records of their sales
  and inventories, at least in part, by using ISBN numbers, as do other booksellers.
  The use of ISBN numbers to track sales is the same process whether it is being
  used by a used-book seller or a seller of new releases, and makes the payment
  of a fee a simple matter when calculated and transacted electronically. 

I’m feeling the pain of lost royalties, but I’m not sure that the proposed legislation is a good idea. What’s next? Should we insist that people pay a percentage on any CDs, DVDs, sofas, and cars that are re-sold within two years of their original release?

I have heard it argued that asking for a percentage of subsequent sales is no different than, for example, artists getting royalties on the reruns of TV shows. As someone who straddles both fields — publishing and screenwriting — I see a big difference.

In the case of a TV show, I am writing the script for the studio, which then exploits that product in many different ways  — licensing it to a network for broadcast, licensing it to a cable network for re-broadcast, selling it on DVDs, etc. In almost all of those scenarios, the studio retains ownership of the product. They are, in effect, lending it to someone else and sharing in the proceeds of this alternative exploitation of the product.  As an artist, I share in whatever the studio gets, no matter how it is exploited.

But there’s a difference between exploitation and consumption. When the studio sells the show to a consumer as a DVD, I get a share of the sale price.  The consumer owns the DVD  itself (though not the copyrighted content that it contains). If the consumer decides to resell the  DVD,  the studio gets nothing from that sale and neither do I.  The consumer paid for the DVD, he should have the right to resell that physical object if he pleases. That seems reasonable to me…even though I am losing money in all kinds of ways as a result. But I also believe in basic consumer rights and simple capitalism.

The DVD example is much closer to how things are with books.

In the case of a book, I write a novel for a publisher, which then exploits that product in many different ways — hard cover publication, paperback publication, e-book publication, foreign language publication, audio books, etc. In all those scenarios, the publisher retains control of the product (for a limited time as determined by my contract). I share in whatever proceeds they get. When a consumer buys a book, I get a share of the sale price. That’s end of the revenue stream for the publisher and for me, too. The consumer owns the book itself, though not the copyrighted content. As it stands now, and as it has for centuries, once you buy a book, that physical object is yours to do with as you please. You might not own the content, but you own the book itself.

I can certainly see the huge benefits for writers, and the publishing industry,  in the proposed two-year/shared proceeds legislation…but as someone who loves to buy used books, I can also see how it could unfairly infringe on consumer rights, inhibit capitalism in its simplest form, and how it could set a dangerous precedent that could be extended to other products.

What do you think?

Mel Odom on Tie-In Writing

I stumbled onto an interesting  interview, conducted about seven years ago, with novelist Mel Odom on tie-in writing. He says, among other things:

"A lot of ‘regular’ authors look down on media tie-in authors because they figure ‘You’re not doing real work. You’re not really being a writer. You’re doing knock-off stuff.’ There have been a lot of ‘regular’ writers who try to do what Chris Golden and I do, and they can’t because they don’t assimilate the world enough, or they’re trying to bring too much of their own stuff to it. Media tie-in writing is really tough, because you have to be strong writer, and walk-in there and tell the best story you can, while at the same time you have to set your ego aside and do it ‘their way’ to a degree, as far as ‘Buffy would never do this.’ ‘But, when I was a kid, I would do that…’

He wants to make sure that his books are more than just a screenplay in book form:

I feel that a lot of people, why they try to do novelizations, they squeeze the dialogue in between text descriptions. You know, ‘They were sitting in a restaurant. He had pancakes, and she had a milkshake, and he said…’ You know, and there’s a lot of novelizations that read that way. I don’t want mine to read that way if I can. I want to give them a book that has legs. If you do a really nice book, it may have legs and be out there longer than the movie is. The movie will come and go in a month or two, but if you write the book really well, there will still be people ordering it for a long time after the film has left theatres. There’s something about a book."

Yes, there certainly is.