Great Performances – The Small Business Script for the 21st Century

Clemens Rettich

A Conversation with Clemens Rettich

In his new book, Great Performances – The Small Business Script for the 21st Century – author Clemens Rettich not only draws from real-life case studies of small company successes and failures but also walks readers through tips and strategies on how to borrow a page from the performing arts world and deliver stellar service that will rate a standing ovation.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q:  Given your background in the performing arts, what correlations can be drawn to motivating a workplace “cast,” identifying flaws during “rehearsal,” finding an enthusiastic “audience,” and getting the “critics” to respect your efforts?

A: We don’t motivate a cast. We provide them with roles that light them on fire. We don’t need to motivate or empower people. The whole notion makes me uneasy. Who are we to give anyone else power? The best thing we can do is facilitate the environment around our performers to allow them to do their job. Give them the big picture, the back-story, the tools to do the job, then stay out of the way.

Theatre rehearsals and performances are a model for how more businesses should operate. Rehearsals are exactly that: practice. Every time I go into a retail establishment and suggest things like scripts, role play, or direction, I get push-back along the lines of “That is so artificial; it isn’t who I am to talk like that. It won’t sound natural.” Funny. I never noticed that in the 30 years I have been watching films and theatre. That the actors sound artificial. How could I have missed that?

And when the show is over, or the scene is shot, the whole cast and crew does ‘notes’. We get together and review everything that went well and that needs improvement. The only place I see that as a matter of course in the business world is in the hotel industry. Other businesses could learn a lot from that disciplined approach to team reviews of daily performance.

Your audience and your critics are your customers. American Idiot isn’t The Sound of Music. Find your audience. If you don’t have critics, you don’t have a show I care about; it means you are so vanilla and so forgettable, I don’t even want to know. Take a position and make some enemies. Your audience will come back night after night if you give them the experience you promised them. Experience, not products or services, or even customer service.  Experience.

Q: What was the inspiration to write Great Performances – The Small Business Script for the 21st Century?

A: Seeing how few small business owners really understood the fundamentals they needed to master to grow a business. Heck, most business owners don’t even know that ‘growing the business’ is what they are supposed to be doing. I wanted a book that was both inspiring and practical. And I wanted a book that shared some of the approaches to successful execution that the performing arts world already understands: the relationship between practicing the fundamentals and improvising with whatever happens when the curtain goes up.

Q: Who’s your target audience and what will be the biggest takeaway value for them by the time they finish reading?

A: Any small business owner will benefit from reading this book. The feedback I have had has far exceeded my expectations. I just met with an associate yesterday who said she had my book on her desk and a client picked up to look at it, read a few pages, and promptly “stole” the book. When my associate called her client to ask about the book, she replied “This book is amazing, and I’m not returning it until I’m done.” I gave my associate another copy. Free. You can’t buy marketing like that.

The number one thing I want a small business owner to take away from the book is the understanding that the fundamentals matter, what those fundamentals are, and how to use them to do the one thing you should be doing as a business owner: grow your business towards a determined exit.

Q: Tell us about the structure of the book and why you felt this was a practical approach in presenting your material.

A: Practical schmactical. I had fun with it. The book is divided into 3 acts and a number of scenes. Like a script. My publisher Influence Publishing and I worked that out.

The only part that ended up being a nice ‘true’ fit for the structure was Act III which is all about designing your exit from your business. The rest is just playful.

Q: With so many business titles already on today’s market, what do you feel distinguishes yours from the competition?

A: I tell the truth in a way that is both inspiring and sobering. You try to hit that balance! Almost no other book I have read (and I read business books constantly) hits that note. Ninety percent are all inspiration and no substance. Or the substance is nonsense. Can you have substantive nonsense? No real understanding of marketing, finances, psychology, statistics, etc. All of the underpinnings of what makes a real business really successful. There are no secrets. No “believe it and it will happen” patchouli-scented magic. This book is a script for a great small business performance. There isn’t anything else like it that I have ever found.

Great Performances challenges you to learn the fundamentals, practice them every day, have the courage to improvise on those fundamentals, and have the courage to design a giant vision, and the discipline to take the daily baby steps required to get there.  Most small businesses fail, and there is a reason for that. It is incredibly hard. This book, if you take its contents seriously, will increase your likelihood of surviving, and even thriving.

Q: What are some of the section topics you cover?

A:  ACT I: Putting People First. I talk about customer and employee relationships, how to manage them, and why retention is the most important strategy of any business.

ACT II: Maximizing Limited Resources. We look at the only 3 resources any business has to grow: time, people, and money. I write about priority management, how to go about planning your business over time, and how to manage all of the financial building blocks a small business owner must contend with, including debt.

ACT III: Planning Your Exit. The final section looks at management, and managing your business to develop an asset with real value. We talk about the incredible importance of documents like Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) in that process. And we focus on how important it is to design an exit that generates maximum value for the business owner.

Q: What part of the book was the most challenging for you?

A: Writing it. That isn’t a facetious response because while all of the content for the book was at my fingertips, and while I have been writing and teaching writing for years, I also have a business advising/coaching/consulting practice and speaking schedule that leaves very little extra time for something as significant as a book. So having the discipline to carve out the hours required was very challenging. There was no way that would have happened without the support of my wife and family. Much of the time I took to write the book, I took from time with them. They were incredibly supportive.

Q: Tell us about your online coaching program and how the growing popularity of distance learning interfaces with the principles of your book.

A: I am currently in the process of restricting the online portion of my practice. I have not been happy with the platform I was using. Currently I provide business support for clients throughout Canada, using a combination of my new online platform, Podio, and Skype (as well as other fantastic tools like Evernote and Dropbox).

I don’t think there is a direct connection between what I teach in the book and the world of online learning, except perhaps to say that if much of what business owners need to know is a set of fundamentals, those are as easily communicated online as face to face.

I am in the process of building an online community for small business owners based on the content of the book. I am rolling that out through a series of not-online workshops starting this summer.  People taking the Great Performances workshops will have an opportunity to continue their learning and mentoring online.

Q: There’s no question that an unstable economy such as the one we have now is making people wary of taking personal and professional risks. Let’s say that someone comes to you and says, “I know I’ve steered my small business into a dead-end. I’d rather be doing something else but leaps of faith take time and money, neither of which I have. Should I just try to ride things out and hope the economy gets better?”

A: No. Stop now. Get a job.

One of the most frustrating and humbling things I have to do in my practice is let a small business owner know they have let things go too long and the resources they have left (time & money) are not sufficient to the task of growing the business any more. Time to close the doors.

Business owners who see things sliding wait FAR too long before seeking real help. And even when they bring me in, they are still reluctant to make substantive changes. They insist on continuing practices (or the lack of practices) that have already put them at serious risk.

There is huge value in faith and persistence and optimism. They are the most important traits of a small business owner. But the failure to get professional input and change course the very instant revenues and profits start to dry up, is almost always fatal.

Q: In your opinion, is it more challenging to start a new business from the ground up or reinvent an existing one?

A: Reinvent an existing one, unless the existing business is already VERY healthy. Change takes enormous resources and the saddest irony of all is that most business owners want to reinvent their business because they have completely run out of resources. Too late.

Momentum is everything. And as we learn from basic engineering and physics, any change in direction of a body or fluid in motion creates turbulence and draws resources.

Starting something well, even on limited resources is always easier than changing something that is off course, especially on limited resources!

Q: If you could have lunch with any famous business leader from the past 100 years, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask?

A: Jerry Baldwin and the original founders of Starbucks. The transition from single shop to the vision beyond, is one of the most interesting moments in business. I would love to go over the conversations and thinking that took place in the mid-1980’s and that lead to the Starbucks we know today.

Also I would love to talk to Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines who was the great voice for putting employees ahead of shareholders and even customers in the growth of a business. I would love to ask him how he came to that conviction.

Q: What would people be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: So many things… but the one that seems to draw the most visible surprise when I speak to people is that English was not my first language. It was German.

Q: How has your book been received since its release?

A: It has blown me away. The reviews on the site tell the story (http://www.greatperformances.ca/the-book/the-reviews/). And it is a story I really didn’t expect.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Designing the Great Performances workshops and kicking off that process in British Columbia before taking it to the rest of the country, and ultimately North America.

Continuing to grow my business while building capacity to help my clients grow theirs.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: The best way to connect with me and with the world of Great Performances in small business is through my Facebook Page (clemensrettich#) and my blog www.smbfundamentals.com.

Of course there is always buying the book… but that crosses into shameless self-promotion.

 

 

An Artpreneur’s Guide to Pigging Out: Storing Some Fat to Survive the Famine Before Your Feast

Melissa Matthews

“Every child is an artist,” wrote Pablo Picasso. “The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Much too often, the demands of making a living take precedence over the joys of making a statement and affecting social change through the creation of original artworks. When we mistakenly embrace a mindset that everything we do must be tied to compensation, there’s a tendency to become risk-averse, especially in a shaky economy.

In her new book, An Artpreneur’s Guide to Pigging Out: Storing Some Fat to Survive the Famine Before Your Feast, author Melissa A. Matthews shares savvy advice on how to feed your muse, keep your bills paid, and turn your current struggles for recognition into a journey of personal empowerment.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Let’s start with some background on your journey to becoming a full-time artist and art consultant. Who or what, for instance, was the strongest influence on your decision to pursue your creative path?

A:  It wasn’t a cognizant decision. Discovering art in high school introduced me to a catharsis, I am not willing to give up.  Every decision after that has kept me on this path.

Q: What would you identify as your biggest “break-in” moment?

A:  I suppose my break-in moment as an artist came in January 2008. I was invited to be one of three artists exhibiting at a private show at the home of a former NBA player in Trenton, NJ. After, four years of university and working three plus jobs at any given time as a fulltime student studying painting which my mother so eloquently described as “aspiring to poverty,” I sold eight of the sixteen paintings I exhibited and walked away with roughly $6,000 in cash.  It wasn’t the first time, I had sold work but it was the largest volume of work at one time and the only time my mother was able to witness firsthand that I could make a living at this “art thing”. It was an “aha” moment for her that has served our relationship well as she is now one of my biggest supporters.  As a professional and a daughter, there is just nothing more validating than to make believers of your family.

Q:  “Art as a Lifestyle” is a wonderful tagline for your online shop, Mamltdart. How are you living this dream yourself in straddling two environments as culturally diverse as Washington, D.C. and Trinidad/Tobago?

A: Well, having owned and operated MAMLTDART for just about nine years, (most of that time utilizing it as a part time income stream) I made a conscious decision in early 2012 to commit myself fully to the growth and development of my brand. This meant making a few sacrifices. I gave up my apartment in Cheverly, MD, sold as many of my earthly possessions as possible, booked a flight to Trinidad and embarked on a journey of embracing two sides of myself. I have always straddled these cultural environments being a first generation American whose family is inextricably tied to their home country. Trinidad has been ingrained in me as long as I have known myself and I touched its soil just six months after being born for the first time.

Most of my art practice revolves around this twoness of being an American that isn’t so American and a Trinidadian that isn’t so Trinidadian. Therefore, shuttling between the two, physically is perhaps the most natural part of my journey as an artist. I couch surf in both countries; to keep costs down and ensure all my energy and money feed my business and develop my brand. I have managed to pull together a small support team that assists me in setting up exhibitions, staying current with my client base and developing new products and brand strategy. When I don’t have supplies, I work digitally on my small netbook computer. In the last year, I have created in excess of 150 pieces of art. I am constantly entrenched in creating, blogging, and engaging around art wherever I am. Art is my lifestyle.

Q: What are some ways that creative types can affect social change in today’s world while they’re caught up in just trying to keep a roof over their heads and staying a step ahead of their creditors?

A:. Social change is affected when people channel their passions in the direction of achieving common good. I started my career in the NGO/ Nonprofit sector, helping NGOs hone their branding and community outreach. As a consultant, I do project development and arts administration planning for arts based nonprofits. Every industry needs creative people; from graphic design to marketing to product, brand, and project development- creativity is a commodity Another way, creative people affect change is by being provocateurs, questioning the why, where, and how of the society they live in through whatever medium they are working in.

Q: Define the difference between “wants” and “needs” and why entrepreneurs oftentimes make the wrong choice on which to focus their time and energy.

A: Wants are those things that would make our lives easier— a ritzy apartment, a new instead of a used car, eating out, a $500 handbag and/or pair of shoes, a fancy studio. When in fact most people have the capacity to live and operate on much less than they think. Needs are those things that are NECESSARY for us to subsist and keep working –a roof over your head, something that takes you from point A to point B (feet do count), food with some nutritional value, any bag that holds your stuff and a place to work (Starbucks will do). Oftentimes people make the “wrong” or more extravagant choice because they don’t know any better. No one has told them that their work product is not a reflection of where it is created but of their knowledge and skillsets that could be aptly applied in any environment. When you focus on what you don’t have, you will always be in a state of lacking— your work will never be good enough because you don’t believe that your tools are good enough. Entrepreneurship is the choice between perfection and the idea of being perfectly imperfect. Successful entrepreneurs realize that the latter sets them apart in business.

Q: The concept of barter has become a viable currency in our downward spiraling economy. What are some venues outside of the artistic community where the implementation of bartering would be effective in managing costs and resources?

A: Bartering can be applied in almost in any situation. A good example of this would be food co-ops, giving a bit of your time for freshly grown and harvested produce.  There are also cooperative workspaces wherein people lower the overhead costs by dividing the maintenance work amongst them and practice conservation techniques to keep energy costs low. The possibilities are really there for bartering and cost conservation in every field if you look close enough.

Q: Arts programs are typically the first things to be cut in school programs. In your view, how does this diminish us as a society and what can be done to reverse the trend and make art more accessible to future generations?

A: Art teaches a new way of seeing, examining the world around you, and relating to or empathizing with it.  We are developing a generation of people that will lack the ability to think outside of the box. As a result, their problem solving capabilities, ability to conceptualize new and innovative ways of moving forward, and empathy will be lacking. This will leave us starved for new products, processes and perhaps most disheartening— leaders.  Remedying this situation is as simple as outlining the role of art within other fields and making a concerted effort to teach arts integrated education. This will make for well-rounded individuals that can more easily understand the role of the arts, creativity, critical and imaginative thinking within a number of realms.

Q: Has 21st century technology made it more – or less – hospitable for individuals to become entrepreneurs?

A: I would say easier. Sitting within the confines of your own home, you can develop and run a web-based business be it ecommerce, counseling, a processing service, the possibilities are endless.

Q: If a young person came to you and said, “I want to quit school and become an artist but my parents want me to go to college and get a ‘practical’ degree,” what would your advice be and why?

A:  I would first question why he/she felt that art was a field that denoted quitting school and encourage them to do their research. Tell them that any field worth being apart of is worth studying for. I would have them outline a plan for where and how they saw their art career evolving including education and post education plans as well as market research for the expansive ways in order to succeed with an art background. I would then have them present said plan to their parents. Parents are often worried about stability and once you can prove a solid career or financial stability is an achievable their worry is quelled.

Q: What do you feel are some of the common attributes of successful entrepreneurs?

A: Determination ( a “go get it” attitude), creativity, and failure— the ability to embrace failure as lessons learned and stay in pursuit of the ultimate goal.

Q: Tell us about what inspired you to write An Artpreneur’s Guide to Pigging Out: Storing Some Fat to Survive the Famine Before Your Feast.

A: I have been blogging for years. Sort of documenting my journey as a creative professional, and I started getting little notes from artists and non-artists alike telling me, that my posts were helpful to them. One day after going through quite a few blog posts, I had an epiphany, why not write a book for other people like me— artists, entrepreneurs, and people beating their own path. I’d read and absolutely love some great business books but none of them fit squarely in my box. I wanted to give people a realistic but still encouraging look on how to survive entrepreneurship, creativity as business and the like.

Q: Did you work from a formal outline or just let the thoughts flow freely?

A: I had a basic outline, taking a cue from the formatting I used in my blog but I basically free wrote the entire book over a day (it’s a short read) and then spent the next few weeks refining it.

Q: Who is your target demographic and what do you feel is the book’s primary takeaway value?

A:  Entrepreneurs, artists, recent graduates, and the confused: people who aren’t quite sure what they want to do but are perhaps sure that conventional job paths may not be their thing.

Q: Self-publishing is a popular trend these days but also requires that authors don multiple hats to successfully see a project through to completion. Why did you take this particular route and what do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I took this path because as proven by my life, I enjoy a challenge. The thing I know now that I didn’t know as the beginning is that Epub formatting is an exercise in sadomasochism (just the most excruciatingly annoying process ever).

Q: If a movie were made of your life, who should play you and why?

A: That’s a tough one. Perhaps Quvenzhané Wallis when she gets a bit older. I absolutely adored her in Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Q: In your own words, what is “failure” and how do people rise above it?

A: Failure is finding a way that won’t work. Rising above it is dusting yourself off and finding a way that will work.

Q: A sense of humor is critical in life as well as in business. How has your own sense of humor served you effectively as a professional?

A: I try not to take my work or myself too seriously. Most of my gaffs and failures are well documented in my art. I’ve literally sold them.

Q: What is the most surprising thing that your readers and followers don’t know about you?

A: It’s a toss up between the fact that I’m 4’9/ 89lbs and I’m a twin.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I have an exhibition opening in Maryland this June, continuing to produce the monthly illustrative zine, Overdrawn and I am writing the second installment of An Artpreneur’s Guide to Pigging Out this fall.

Q: Where can people learn more about you and your work?

A: You can find all my new work, musings on career and life on my blog mamltdart.tumblr.com and links to all my projects on mam-ltd-art.com.

 

 

 

 

Advance Your Image: Putting Your Best Foot Forward Never Goes Out of Style

Lori_Bumgarner_of_paNASH_Style - new hair

Whether you’re on a cusp of your career or are in transition to something completely different, an invitation to improve your overall image is one that should not be ignored. And who better to dispense that advice about developing every aspect of your public presence than Lori Bumgarner, owner of paNASHstyle and author of the popular self-help guide, Advance Your Image: Putting Your Best Foot Forward Never Goes Out of Style, published by O’More College of Design. Coincidentally, Lori was one of the two dozen experts who recently contributed to Media Magnetism: How to Attract the Favorable Publicity You Want and Deserve, and I’m pleased to put the spotlight this month on her incredible arsenal of image-building talents.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What attracted you to the business of fashion and image consulting, and when/where did the door first open to launch your career in this field?

A: I have always had an interest in fashion ever since I was little. I always loved dressing my Barbie Dolls in different outfits and coming up with outfit designs with the Fashion Plates my grandmother got me for Christmas one year. That interest combined with my experience in career advising is what inspired me to start doing image consulting. This occurred when, for the first time in my career, my creativity was starting to be stifled. I couldn’t work like that. My friends encouraged me to do wardrobe styling which allowed me to use my creativity, but I wanted to do more than just that. As a result, I decided to offer image consulting services that incorporated both wardrobe styling and presentation skills (i.e. interview skills, etc.), which are also part of one’s image. I started my company part-time while still working full-time as a career adviser and did that for 9 months. Then, I took a leap of faith and quit the full-time job to take my business full-time.

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I have learned so much about running a business that I never knew before. I also am using my undergraduate psychology degree in this career field more than ever before which was an unexpected surprise.

Q: Tell us what inspired you to write this title and how you went about determining what topics would best benefit your target demographic.

A: Actually, it happened the other way around. I came up with the title after writing on each topic. That’s usually how my own personal writing process works, especially with my blog. I write my blogs first and then come up with the title for each after. The initial inspiration of the book came from a lot of the work I do with individual clients and also the work I did in the past as a career adviser. In my opinion, a person’s image is more than just how they dress. It’s also about how they present themselves on paper, online, and in person, whether that includes networking events, job interviews or media interviews. That’s why the book takes time to cover each of those topics separately.

Q: What do you feel is the best takeaway lesson for your readers in Advance Your Image?

A: That anyone can improve their image in simple ways and see results. They will have a greater confidence and will see how that confidence will open new doors of opportunity for them. The great thing about the book also is the Appendix because it gives readers hands-on activities and steps they can take immediately to improve their image. It serves as a resource that readers will refer to again and again over time.

Q: For someone who wants to update their image – whether they’re staying in their current job or transitioning to a new one – what do you recommend as the easiest and/or most economical starting point and why?

A: The easiest and most economical way to update one’s image is to “shop” in one’s own closet to come up with new outfits with what they already have on-hand, and then to incorporate new accessories (jewelry, shoes, bags, scarves, hats, etc.) in with their current outfits. When “shopping” in one’s own closet, it’s always good to get an image consultant or a stylish friend to help you because you are so used to seeing garments and outfits put together only one way. It takes a fresh pair of eyes to show you how to create new combinations that you may have never thought of on your own.

Q: When most people go to have their professional headshots taken for a website, corporate brochure or lobby display at their place of business, they tend to dress according to the current season. Considering that their picture will be likely be seen year-round, however – and possibly even in different countries – what thoughts should govern their choice of wardrobe?

A: They should mix classics with current trends, but never with fads. Fads are things that last for only one season. A trend is something that may last for 3-5 years or even up to a decade. An example of a fad would be those ridiculous chicken feather hair extensions we saw a few seasons ago. An example of a trend would be a pointed-toe shoe or a dark wash dress jean in a modern cut. Also, it’s best to stick with classic colors and avoid trendy colors in photos that won’t be updated often. But, I would say that professional photos should be updated as often as a pair of glasses frames should be updated which is once every 3 years, and more often if your hair or glasses frames have changed dramatically since your last photo was taken. For instance, I went from a blond to a red-head, so I had no choice but to update my promo pictures, especially since I have my photo on my business card.

Q: While we’re on the subject of clothes, should a prospective job candidate (1) emulate what s/he knows to be the company’s workaday dress code and subliminally project “I fit in here!” or (2) wear his/her best business attire for the interview and potentially risk dressing better than the interviewer?

A: Definitely the 1st option! Always know your audience and make yourself relevant to that audience. Once a candidate has made it through the resume screening process to the job interview, this is the point where the company is determining fit. All the interview candidates meet the minimum qualifications. The interview is where the company decides which of those candidates will best adapt to the corporate culture.

Q: During the dot-com era of the late 1990’s, the concept of “Casual Friday” made its debut, inviting workers to take a break from having to wear coats, ties, pantyhose, and dress shoes. But has “Casual Friday” now gone too far by spilling into the rest of the week?

A: It’s hard for me to answer that question since I work mostly with recording artists and music industry professionals, a field where casual is the norm no matter what day of the week (and even here “casual” means “trendy/hip/funky,” not sloppy). I think perhaps it has, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing if people are “dressing up” their casual look instead of just using it as an excuse to be a slob. You can easily dress up a pair of jeans and look well put together, and yet be more productive than you would be in a suit and tie. Maybe “casual” isn’t the right term to be using (because it can sometimes be interpreted as “sloppy”). Maybe we need to call it “not-so-boring Friday” instead!

Also, I think it’s time for the classic job interview attire to make a shift to something a little more exciting than a boring cookie-cutter black suit. If I was a recruiter, I think I would get tired of seeing the same outfit on every single person I interviewed. I would instead prefer to see a little bit of the candidate’s personality and personal style shining through in their look. That way, I would have some idea of how the person would dress on a daily basis if they were to get the job. Anyone can dress up in a suit on interview day, but do they have the style and fashion sense to represent the company well on a daily basis? That’s why I started my Pinterest board entitled “Alternative Job Interview Attire.” It’s my hope that recruiters will open their minds to allow for some personal yet tasteful style in the job interview, and that candidates will be encouraged to take a risk by showing a piece of themselves to the interviewer. After all, if interviewers are trying to determine a good fit for their company, what better way to do so?

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes that artists and entrepreneurs make in creating their “online presence” without the insights and expertise of professionals?

A: Not keeping the reader’s perspective in mind when creating the content of their web pages and online profiles; not utilizing LinkedIn to its fullest extent; begging for “Likes” of their Facebook fan pages without offering relevant content in return.

Q: “Authenticity” and “transparency” are two words popularly associated with today’s social networking. What’s your personal definition of these two concepts, and what are some ways that individuals and small businesses can apply them to their networking activities?

A: To me it means still being yourself, but a more polished version of yourself. The best thing people can do is to not fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others (i.e. their competition, the people with whom they are networking, etc.). Comparing yourself to others is the quickest and easiest way to feel defeated, to lose your self-confidence, and to lose focus on what you are trying to accomplish.

Q: Is successful networking an art or a science?

A: It’s a little bit of both with some divinity mixed in. I totally believe in divine connections and how we are brought together with other people. After that, it’s what you do with it, applying the science of networking rules and etiquette along with the art of building, fostering, and maintaining relationships.

Q: What are the most common elements of a boring profile and what can be done to rev up the appeal and excitement?

A: It is extremely difficult to write your own professional bio and make it sound interesting. This is because we as humans feel a little weird bragging about ourselves in writing. It’s much better to get someone like myself who can paint a picture with words describing what makes you unique. My artists who have hired me to write their artist bios have all said when they tried to write it themselves, it never came across the way they wanted it to. After hiring me, they always come back and say, “Wow! This is exactly what I was trying to say but just didn’t know how.” Anyone interested in having me write their bio are welcome to check out some of the bios I’ve written for other clients at http://panashstyle.com/documents/SampleBios.zip.

Q: The good news is that you have just been invited to do a media interview. The bad news is that you have never done one before and you are absolutely terrified because you have no idea what to expect. If a client just told you this, what would your top three tips be to prep them for the experience?

A: 1) Do your research. Know the stats about the magazine, radio station, or TV show and know the demographics of their audience such as its median age. 2) Read, listen to, and watch others’ media interviews with a critical eye. Learn from their strengths and weaknesses. 3) Read both Advance Your Image and Media Magnetism for even more tips to be best prepared!

 Q: In addition to being an author, you are also the owner of paNASH Style and editor of a pretty spiffy newsletter, too. What would you like readers to know about the services you provide that enable them to put their best foot forward whether it’s onstage, in a recording studio, or stepping into a boardroom?

A: Our goal is never to turn someone into something they’re not. Instead we focus on keeping the client’s image (their look and presentation of themselves) true to their own personal style, personality, and work/art. Also, we work with many clients virtually via online chat and email, especially for services such as media coaching and development of professional bios. We have clients all over the US, in Canada, and in Australia.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: In addition to more speaking gigs at various music industry events and working with more clients one-on-one, my plans for the near future are to bring on additional stylists, offer more workshops, and possibly start my second book.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

A: It would be the tagline of the Advance Your Image book: “Putting your best foot forward never goes out of style!”

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: Yes. Readers can get exclusive tips and advice not featured in the book when they subscribe to my monthly newsletter on my web site at www.paNASHstyle.com.

 

 

Writing the TV Drama Series

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If you frequently say to yourself whilst channel-surfing, “I could write a better series than that,” think again. It´s a lot harder than it looks. Pamela Douglas, author of Writing the TV Drama Series, explains why.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Let´s start out with some background on why you decided to pursue a writing career and why, specifically, it turned out to be in television instead of novels or plays.

Writing of any kind is a means to discover truth and tell it. Our currency is the truths of real lives, human desire ranging from the most deeply held passions and secrets to lusts and foolishness and mistakes, or whatever brings a moment of joy. Writers deal in insights people gain through knowing each other. And in today´s fractured society, it is absolutely necessary to make sense of our experience in the way humans always have, by creating stories that explain why things are as they are. All that is within the mission of any serious writer. As for the method you choose to convey the characters and stories that make up our world, it doesn´t matter. Each form has opportunities and limitations, but good writing (or bad) is up to you.

Power does matter, though. Through television, you reach millions of people. And because of the intimacy of the medium – how close and personal it is to the viewer – the creator wields great influence. Even the lowest rated shows are seen by more people than all but the most successful movies; and compared to TV, plays and novels aren´t even on the radar. That´s not to say writers shouldn´t explore all means of expression, or that artistic fulfillment can´t be found in art films, novels, poems and plays. But I have always been keenly aware of the power of stories to raise consciousness, both individually and in addressing society´s critical challenges. TV, especially the best dramatic series, can have an impact beyond anything else.

How did you get your first break and who were your mentors?

I had no mentors. No relatives or friends in the business, and no one slipping me onto a staff as a favor to anyone. Instead, I had opposition as a woman in a male-dominated field, as a person of color when the guys in charge were more comfortable with someone like themselves, and later as a person who insisted on quality when stereotypes or an easy laugh line at the expense of truthful characters might have been more commercial.

I built my career by continuing to write, by writing well and growing as a writer, by learning how this business works, and working it as well as I could. Ultimately, by some people´s measure, I failed. That is, I did not become extremely rich or own an empire of shows. But I´m proud of some of what I wrote and glad my work was recognized by the Humanitas Prize, the Writers Guild, and Emmy nominations – though winning awards was not my motivation.

My first paid TV writing job was when I was quite young — Trapper John, M.D. in the mid 1980s. I got it by realizing that a member of the continuing cast, Madge Sinclair, was being under-used and guessed the producers might be open to a pitch with a story for her. I admired Madge´s work outside the show, and knew she was a great actress, though I´d never met her. So I went in to that meeting and told the producers an honest tale about something her character might experience. They did indeed have a commitment to give her an episode, and no one on the staff had a clue. So they bought it, I wrote the script, it was produced, and Madge received her first Emmy award for my episode.

What television shows were you hooked on as an adolescent? And what programs do you never want to miss as an adult?

I didn´t watch TV when I was an adolescent. In the late 1960s and early 70s I was involved with the Civil Rights struggles, and my interest was in writing what was happening around me. Even while I was in school, I published in newspapers and magazines, ran a community filmmaking workshop, and free-lanced some news segments for a local TV station. My writing included fiction and I was always involved in visual arts as well. But sitting and watching TV wasn´t on my schedule.

But if you´re asking about historic series that I admire, M*A*S*H remains remarkably current and incisive. It was also before its time as half hour dramatic comedy and political comment. Later Hill Street Blues was the great progenitor of today´s best drama, followed by NYPD Blue.

Current shows I never miss include (in alphabetical order) Boss, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Mad Men, and I sometimes catch The Good Wife, Girls, Nurse Jackie and The Big C.

Among shows not currently broadcast, I strongly recommend binge-viewing The Wire (all 60 hours), The Sopranos and Battlestar Galactica. Friday Night Lights and certain episodes of House are good viewing too.

Lots of people watch TV series and probably say to themselves, “I could write something better than that!” Would you say that it´s harder or easier for newcomers to break into television writing than it was in the days when creative works were all produced on typewriters instead of computers?

People who believe they could write better than shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones or The Wire are deluded. What are these people viewing? The lowest level of any creative form deserves that sort of derision, and it´s easy enough to point to badly written movies, YouTube posts, lyrics and any other writing. I would tell those people to stop watching garbage and tune in to the brilliant literature that is richly available all over the TV spectrum, especially on basic cable, and try to learn from the best.

Most media stopped using typewriters more than thirty years ago, before I started working in television, so I can´t address that. The news in the 21st century is the multiplicity of outlets. Long ago in the era of three, then four broadcast networks, the number of shows was limited. Then came Premium Cable (HBO and Showtime) with innovative dramas. And now basic cable stations – AMC, Starz, USA, TNT, and many others – are all producing drama series, many of them outstanding. In addition Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu and other Internet entities are going from short gags to full-length scripted shows. This is a great time to write for TV.

What kind of opportunities are open to aspiring television writers and is it mandatory that they live in Los Angeles?

First, aspiring writers should go to a film school that offers a series of classes in writing for television. Be sure the classes are taught by people who have actual industry experience, preferably on quality TV series. Basic courses in screenwriting usually precede the TV classes, so students get essential skills. Then you will be ready to join workshops and find mentors to grow and refine your work. Once you have a professional quality portfolio you can attempt to be represented by an agent (or manager) and find entry-level jobs on shows. Among those beginner jobs, accept anything at all that gets you in the mix, even receptionist or p.a. Higher up the chain are Writers Assistants and Researcher, but those are competitive positions. Joining a staff of a show is the goal, but that usually takes a very strong portfolio, excellent representation and perseverance.

Since most shows are written and created in Los Angeles, even when they shoot elsewhere, it is important to live in Los Angeles. However, once in a while staff jobs may become available in New York, Miami and elsewhere.

Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it.

The Third Edition of Writing the TV Drama Series is essential to writing current television because it combines three aspects you need: craft, how the industry works, and perspective on the future. Interviews, analyses of script segments, and step-by-step guides to both writing and placing pilots and episodes make this the truly complete book on the subject. It has been adopted by TV networks in their programs for new writers, and is required reading at the major film schools throughout the United States and internationally, where it has been translated into other languages. Anyone who has not read it will find themselves out of the loop.

I was pressured to write it by years of students in my classes, and the first edition was the exact class I teach. Initially I was reluctant to take time away from my creative work to spend on a text. But at the time no source was available that I considered complete and current enough, so I had to write this. Since that earliest version in 2005, I have enhanced the book greatly as the world of television continues to evolve in exciting ways.

What´s your best insider advice for someone who wants to pursue a screenwriting career?

Get into the USC School of Cinematic Arts in the Writing Division, and take the entire television track culminating in creating an original series in the TV Thesis. You will graduate with pilots and episodic spec scripts as well as internships that give you insights into how shows run. If that´s not possible, find another film program that approximates this. In Los Angeles, UCLA extension offers non-degree introductory and intermediate classes open to the public. The Tisch School at NYU is another excellent choice. Search around for offerings at universities near you.

If schools are out of the question, read and watch everything you can find, especially produced scripts, and then join a workshop for feedback as you write.

Which type of writing do you think presents a bigger challenge – TV or movies?

Unquestionably TV is more challenging. A single movie script has an arc that ends, and usually has a single major quest or conflict. Of course there are complications and dimensions of characters, and ideally, a fully developed antagonist. But structurally, it´s relatively simple. That´s not to say movies can´t be entertaining and stimulating. For directors, special effects and stunt people and certain kinds of actors, theatrical films may be more fulfilling. And some kinds of subjects – especially fantasy action – are far better suited to movies.

For writers, TV offers a range of story-telling that is long, complex and multi-layered. Because storylines must be able to continue for 100 hours (in a traditional 5-season run) a larger potential has to be developed in relationships, character depth and story surprises. In “the long narrative” a single story doesn´t end in an hour, but may weave through many episodes, or a full season, as in 12-episode seasons typical of shows like Dexter. Even in procedurals like The Good Wife, House, CSI, and so forth, where plots do conclude in each episode, enough “legs” must be present in the franchise and “juice” in the characters to make viewers want to watch the show again next week and next.

For a working writer, TV is greatly more demanding than movies. If you´re on your own writing a screenplay, you can work your own hours at your own pace and take as long as you need to figure out all the elements and rewrite after getting feedback over and over. But television writers have to be on top of their craft and fast. There´s no time learn on the job; if you´re on the staff of a show you must deliver finished, polished work, on time. The show is on every week, and if you don´t write the script, someone else will, and you´ll be gone.

What are some of the most significant changes you´ve observed in the American television market?

Five great changes have made television better in the 21st century. (1) The proliferation of broadcast outlets, especially the increase in scripted shows on basic cable; (2) The high quality of TV literature that now goes beyond premium cable and extends competitively everywhere; (3) alternates in viewing including DVR and other time-shifting technologies that make shows accessible at any time, and mobile and other devices make shows accessible at any place, thus increasing overall viewership; (4) The rise of the Internet as both a delivery and production powerhouse, adding even more opportunities for original shows including those for niche interests; (5) International production collaborations and international audiences for American shows and American-international hybrids. All five demonstrate that TV is in a growth phases, and where newness and growth prevails so does opportunity.

Given the proliferation of reality TV shows, does this mean that producers don´t have much interest in courting writers that know how to pen original plots?

First, so-called “reality” or “unscripted” shows are neither real nor unscripted. They are written by writers and acted by actors who deserve to be credited and properly compensated for their craft. Those who unfairly exploit writers by defying minimum working conditions and labor laws don´t belong at the bank cashing in; they belong in court, in my opinion. Because stations are now backing away from the legal and economic complications of those shows, the proliferation of them is slowing. I´m not saying the number of new reality shows is being reduced because the producers who profiteer off them have suddenly gained morality. They are dwindling because the profits aren´t what they used to be. And finally viewer fatigue has set in.

Original, professional-quality pilots are very much valued.

In addition to being an accomplished writer, you´re an artist. What has art taught you about writing and vice versa?

Both co-exist as expressions of my insights and visions. Some subjects are better treated with words, especially those that rely on character development and explore relationships and issues over time. Visual arts are immediate and passionate responses, and a chance to have a different kind of visceral impact on individual viewers. Writing is more difficult than painting partly because of sitting long hours at a computer, and partly because writing can´t fall back on physical materials; confronting a blank page is more daunting to me than a blank canvas. But neither specifically teaches the other. They are complementary aspects of a creative life.

Writing the TV Drama Series is available at Amazon as well as Michael Wiese Productions (http://www.mwp.com).

 

What Are You Laughing At? How to Write Funny Screenplays, Stories and More

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“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps,” wrote English essayist William Hazlitt, “for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be.”

While pain and loss are the common denominators that universally produce tears, identifying the elements that trigger giggles, chuckles, and rip-snorting, knee-slapping guffaws is much harder. Humor is not only predicated on whether we´re a victim, participant or observer in the hilarity that ensues but also age, gender, education, ethnicity, social status and even where we live. A penguin that walks into a bowling alley in a New Yorker cartoon is likely to generate adult mirth from an incongruous caption that mixes sophistication with silliness. In a children´s show, the same penguin isn´t funny until he gets hit in the face with a cream pie or tries to evade an oncoming rush of bowling balls. If someone trips over the penguin in America´s Funniest Home Videos and smacks his head on the ball-return mechanism, we laugh at the man´s clumsiness, disregarding the realities of potentially knocking all his teeth out or getting a concussion from which a blot clot forms and subsequently kills him.

Humor sits at a complex intersection between context and audience. And who better to explain what tickles our collective funny bones than Brad Schreiber, author of What Are You Laughing At? How to Write Funny Screenplays, Stories and More.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Let’s start with some general background about who you are, what you’ve done, and when did the writing bug first bite you?

I describe my writing background as “psychotically eclectic,” because I have written for film, TV, stage, radio, advertising, fiction, nonfiction and was once hired to write dialogue for a pre-recorded phone line called “Dial-an-Insult” but I´m not so proud of that. I attended Burlingame High School in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I actually became more interested in acting than writing. Then, I eventually was the Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper and Editor of the school literary magazine as well.

My writing career evolved from medium to medium and I now crossover in TV, film, books and theatre. Writers who work in numerous media find that some pay better than others, but those others sometimes provide greater artistic satisfaction so the trade-off is calculated and very worthwhile. I´ve always advised writers to try and develop their skills in one more than one area.

Some people are funny in person while others are funnier in print. Which category best fits you and why?

I think I am funniest wearing my flannel pajamas covered with the character Stewie from the TV series Family Guy. I think the humor writer who is “good in a room” pitching or has performance experience has an advantage over other comedy writers in TV and film. Success in those media is predicated not only on perceptions of your talent but your personality and ability to adapt to new suggestions.

Thus, the comedy writer who has performed onstage may well have this advantage. I don´t think more introspective humor writers need to be standups or in comedy groups, but I strongly advise taking an improvisation class at least once to loosen up, to expand their abilities, to free associate. When I was 18, I was in a comedy troupe in the Bay Area called the Burlingame Philharmonic Orchestra. Unfortunately, an actual orchestra complained when they saw our name on the bill at a club, asking who we were and why they did not get the gig. Still, performing on radio, TV, stage and in recording studios helped me to gain confidence in meeting new people and promoting my work.

Humor covers a broad spectrum of everything from pie-in-the-face pratfalls to sophisticated wit and sarcasm. Tell us a bit about what kind of mirth appeals to different demographics and how writers can use this awareness to pen funny scripts and stories.

This is a tricky question. As I say in my humor writing book What Are You Laughing At?, humor is as personal as the clothing you wear, and sometimes in as bad taste. I´m not sure of the exact demographic for fruit-pie-in-the-face compared to meringue but I can tell you this: the more people you try to appeal to, the broader and less sophisticated the humor becomes. Thus, a comedy screenplay based on wordplay will not be as accepted in other countries as one relying upon physical comedy.

English male comedians like wearing women´s clothes. Perhaps because women get to wear more silk. I don´t know. But the English also have a love of wordplay, so there is room within the culture for sophistication as well. I think it´s dangerous to make universal assumptions about what kind of humor will appeal to Ecuadorians. Here´s an example of the unpredictability of humor to a specific nationality. After one of my books was published, I went to the Book Expo America in New York City. I met a group of German publishing executives at a party. They were dressed in suits, seemed very intelligent, business savvy and knowledgable about American culture and the corporate world. But when one of them mentioned not liking a type of food because it made him fart, they all erupted into laughter like a group of prepubescent boys. Then, they started talking nonstop about flatulence. But it would be a mistake to think all Germans like fart jokes. Or at least, I pray to God they don´t.

In the end, you should write humor from passion and from strength. As always, it is good to learn about all kinds of approaches to comedy. But I have to quote the great Bill Cosby, here: “I don´t know what the key to success is. But the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

Who did you think was funny when you were growing up? Who do you think is funny now?

My mother, Mona, was an actor and writer and told great jokes, did voices and had a profound effect on my artistic development. I watched way too much TV as a child. I watched stuff that even bored me. But there were no computers then. I loved certain animated series, including Rocky and Bullwinkle, which had jokes for kids and adults combined. An early TV series I enjoyed was My Favorite Martian with Bill Bixby and the great Ray Walston. I don´t think the show would have worked so well if Walston´s humorous intensity, his commitment to the role, wasn´t so focused. The two antennae protruding from his head also helped.

 

I recall seeing Bob Hope early on TV and loving the quality of his material. Of course, he also had tremendous writers, including the great Larry Gelbart, who I was fortunate enough to get to know a bit. One of the great honors of my life was getting a blurb from Larry on my humor book, saying, “Finally, a how-to by somebody who actually knows how to.” Prior to the great Johnny Carson, Jack Paar exhibited not only a brilliant wit but an exceptional intelligence for a talk show host. I could go on and on. Generally speaking, I want humor writers and performers to have a unique approach to the world as they see it: I don´t want something warmly familiar. I want something that feels like it builds on the history of humor.

Tell us about your book, what topics it covers and what inspired you to write it? What’s the takeaway value you want readers to have when they’re finished?

It´s the only book I know of that looks at all forms of humor writing, both in script and prose form. It´s also the only book to have an out-of-focus, closeup of a laughing pig on the cover. You see, there´s a lesson right on the cover: As you laugh at the pig, it laughs at you too.

The book not only has over 75 excerpts from great humor writers but also writing exercises I have created. I used to teach Humor Writing at UCLA Extension and the book built upon my course materials. I also have insinuated some principles that apply not only to humor but to dramatic writing as well.

What are some of the common mistakes that people make when they’re trying to write humorous dialogue and silly scenarios?

Vulgarity for shock value. Cultural references that will become dated. Sketches that do not have a beginning, middle and end but repeat a situation or character flaw over and over. Using exclamation points and all capital letters to make unfunny dialog somehow funnier. DO YOU THINK THAT´S ALL IT TAKES!!

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you about comedy?

I can tell you the worst advice I have ever heard and I have heard it more than once: Analyzing comedy kills it. Wrong. Understanding the flow of words, how juxtaposition creates humor, why shock and surprise work, all these things are important to know. I have a section in “What Are You” called Yiddish Sound Theory, explaining why certain words sound funnier than others that have the same meaning. You require talent to write humor but understanding principles will aid all writers of comedy.

What are some movies and television programs that you think lend themselves well to the study of comedic delivery?

I don´t believe in citing my favorite movies and TV shows and comedians too often because everyone´s taste is different. But I do believe you as a writer and/or performer should be able to tell anyone why you like one person over another. Is it about material or intonation or appearance or facial expressions or topics? If you force me against my will- which you are, damn you, Christina – here are some faves: Verbal dexterity in standup: Robin Williams. Uniqueness as a female standup: Phyllis Diller. TV ensemble acting: The Carol Burnett Show. Uniqueness of sketch writing: MadTV. The last American comedy film that I thought broke new ground was The Hangover. If you disagree with any of this, then I didn´t mean any of it.

What’s the most recent thing you laughed about and why was it funny?

I´m a playwright member of the Actors Studio in Los Angeles. After a recent reading of a darkly comedic play of mine, some folks, including Mark Rydell, who runs things, gathered at a deli. He told me how he knew the meekly humorous actor Wally Cox, who came over Rydell´s mother´s house for dinner once. Mama Rydell kept giving him more food and Cox kept politely saying he was full. Finally, when she ignored him for the fifth time, in his typically timid voice, Cox said, “Shove it up your ass, Mrs. Rydell.” Mark said his father laughed so hard that he cried. Now I ask you, if Cox was anything but mousy, would this line have elicited laughter?

If you could go to lunch with any comedian from the past or the present, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask him or her?

Even though I knew him, I would bring Larry Gelbart back to life and have a nice, long lunch with him, shot on video, to keep for posterity. While he was not a comedian, he was one of the most remarkable comedy writers in history. His career spanned radio, TV, theatre and film. He infused his characters, no matter how flawed, with great humanity. He broke comedic ground with the TV series M*A*S*H, films like Tootsie, his remarkable theatre work, including Mastergate and films like Barbarians at the Gate. His adaptability, his perspective on the changing nature of humor and his brilliance with both comedy and drama in writing made him very special. He was also a mensch and I loved him.

What are you working on now?

I got the rights back to my first book, Weird Wonders and Bizarre Blunders: The Official Book of Ridiculous Records and I published it as a Kindle book on Amazon. My book about Jimi Hendrix is under option with me to write the screenplay. I am also adapting Becoming Jimi Hendrix as a musical and I am attached as screenwriter to a project about Formula One car racing that will be a big, international co-production.

Where can readers learn more about you?

http://www.BradSchreiber.com and also they can enter my name at http://www.RedRoom.com for more video, audio and reviews. THANKS, CHRISTINA! I mean, thanks, Christina.

How to be a Writer in the E-Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity!

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I read How to be a Writer in the E-Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity! < http://howtotellagreatstory.com/2012/10/how-to-be-a-writer-in-the-e-age-and-keep-your-e-sanity-by-catherine-ryan-hyde-and-anne-r-allen/> by Catherine Ryan Hyde and Anne R. Allen last year and I’m thrilled to see what their first updated version will be like, to be released in e-book form soon. The title of their book is right on the money.

I had the wonderful opportunity to interview both ladies on their collaboration on this project, and their warmth and generosity shines. They will also teach a workshop on the subject: < http://digitalageauthors.com/> The Tech Savvy Author, with local radio personality Dave Congalton, set for March 2nd in San Luis Obispo. 

Interview by Joanna Celeste

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Catherine Ryan Hyde

What drives you to write?

That’s a bit hard to quantify. There’s a special feeling that goes with one’s “calling” in the world. It’s not easy to put words to it, but I know it when I feel it. It feels like a sense that I’m more sane, more “me,” when I’m doing the work. I think at the heart of things writing is a type of communication. Under the surface of how it feels at the time, I probably write to feel more a part of things, to feel I’m not on my own little planet all alone.

That captures it perfectly. What inspired you to collaborate with Anne R. Allen on How to be a Writer in an E-Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity?

I’d been wanting to do a nonfiction book for writers for many years. I felt my struggles and my rejections had given me stories to tell, stories that might help other writers take heart. But then the industry began to change so fast. And because I had an agent and a publisher, I realized I was out of touch with the experience of the modern struggling writer. I knew the feelings, and the courage needed, but the details had changed. So Anne’s and my collaboration was made in heaven, I think, because she is so on the cutting edge of the rapid changes in our industry. I felt that our two perspectives would come together to create a complete package.

It certainly felt complete. I enjoyed your sections on editing. How has your experience as a professional editor shaped you as a writer?

I think it’s made me very detail-oriented, and very aware of how much grammar, punctuation, and even neatness count. It’s also helped me put rejection into perspective, because I know some of the reasons a writer’s work is rejected. They are often far less a reflection on the quality of the work than we tend to imagine.

Yes, sometimes the best way to learn is to be in someone else’s shoes. You’re also a teacher—you’ve taught at various workshops and conferences. What was the most rewarding aspect of that experience?

All of teaching feels rewarding to me. Which is good, because if the constant struggle of making a living in publishing is ever too much for me, teaching gives me a soft place to land. I think the best part is when I’m told—or when I can see—that a student has left my workshop more inspired, with a new sense of enthusiasm toward his or her own work.

What did you find most students struggling with?

Story arc—the idea that something needs to happen, that characters need to evolve, that the end must carry that comfortable sense of resolution. Some have trouble with character depth. It pays to know yourself deeply, because it’s unlikely your characters will be deeper than you are. And then on a smaller scale, I see people struggle with the finer points of grammar and punctuation. We all went to school, but many of us did not do so recently, and what we haven’t used in the meantime we lose. So it’s essential that writing students brush up on their English.

Something we’re always learning, it seems. Do you recommend any books on that subject?

I’m a big fan of The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed by Elizabeth Gordon. You can tell by the title that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. A sense of humor is helpful when reviewing punctuation. The book has been around since I was brushing up, but is still available in paperback. I also like Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss for the same reason.

You shared many rejection stories with us, and I loved your section about defining success. Could you share with us some stories of your recent successes? You’ve just published a new book The Long, Steep Path: Everyday Inspiration from the Author of Pay It Forward and over the last couple of years have published several books, including Jumpstart the World, When You Were Older, Don’t Let Me Go, When I Found You, and Second Hand Heart.

The biggest two successes have been the US indie editions of When I Found You and Don’t Let Me Go.

When I Found You went on a 5-day free promotion last March. Over 81,000 people downloaded it in those 5 days. After the promotion it rose to #12 in Kindle paid. The combination of the free downloads and subsequent sales gave it a popularity ranking of #3 in the Kindle Store, #5 on Amazon as a whole. For a couple of days it was hovering between two Hunger Games books on the Kindle home page. Amazon Publishing took notice, and will bring it out this March under the Amazon Encore imprint.

Congratulations!

Later we put Don’t Let Me Go on a 2-day promo, and over 60,000 copies were downloaded in just that short time. It didn’t go as high in Kindle Paid as When I Found You. I think its top number was #34. But its numbers have stayed high longer, so we have actually sold more copies of Don’t Let Me Go. And, by the way, Don’t Let Me Go has broken my record for both quality and quantity of Amazon reader reviews. The previous record holder was Pay It Forward, with 202 reviews accumulated since late 1999, 126 of which are 5-star. Don’t Let Me Go has garnered 232 just since June, 176 of which are 5-star.

So that feels like a great outcome to me, especially since these are indie editions.

Awesome! How do you manage the organization of the myriad of activities required to be a successful writer in this E-age?

I’m not sure organization is the right word for it, at least in my case. I think with networking and promotion, as with the work itself, I tend to run on inspiration. Sometimes I get more done than other times, but it works out in the end. Then people say I’m disciplined, which never fails to make me laugh. Fortunately, just as I love the communication of writing a story or novel, I also love the communication of daily social networking. So it tends to drive itself, which is good. Because, like most writers, I do have two left brains.

Your advice on marketing and social media is extensive in How to be a Writer in an E Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity! What would you say is the essence of any successful marketing campaign?

Human relationships. People buy books by authors they feel they know. So it’s always about making connections with readers. Asking a bunch of relative strangers to buy your books in one non-personalized posting has never enjoyed much success.

You keep in touch with people all over the world, and you’ve been published in the U.S. and the U.K. What are the primary differences between working here and across the pond?

At first I thought UK readers were more receptive to literary fiction, but then those same novels took off here in the U.S. as well. So now I think reader tastes are more or less the same on both sides of the pond. For a time the biggest difference was that the US industry was falling apart at the seams, so I was quite dependent on the more intact UK market for my income. Now the US market is stabilizing and many of the troubles we’ve just come through are hitting over there. It’s been an interesting—albeit troubling—process to watch.

That’s neat that you’ve had such a range of experience with various publishing houses, and also with different avenues of publication–from indie presses to working with the Big Six. Please share with us what the publication process has been like for How to Be a Writer in the E-Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity.

At this point I’m what the newly-changed industry calls a hybrid author. I have traditionally published books and independently published books. And in How to be a Writer in the E-Age…And Keep Your E-Sanity! I have a book published under the third model, the new breed of small publisher. The difference for me is that I do far less work than I do for the indie books, yet I get more control than I did with traditional publishers. There was quite a lot of checking and proofing of the various drafts of the formatted work, and of course an author always has to promote, but on the whole it’s been an easy path for this book. As publishing paths go.

Your book is full of useful advice for writers (new, seasoned, and every shade between). If there was one thing that you wish you had known when you had just started out as a writer, what would that be?

I wish I’d know that rejection didn’t mean what I thought it did—that it didn’t mean my work wasn’t good, or even necessarily that the editor who rejected it thought it wasn’t. I wish I’d known that rejection didn’t mean that the same editor wouldn’t publish another of my stories or novels, or, in one extreme example, even the same one. Rejection is never easy, but if I’d known it was often not a true reflection of the work, I might have saved myself a lot of grief. Which is why I share so much about rejection in the book.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

Just that writers need to stick together. It’s a very tough business. People tell you to thicken your skin. I’m not saying it’s bad advice. But sometimes you will need to tend your own wounds. This is what Anne and I hoped to achieve with How to be a Writer in an E Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity! We really do want to help other writers feel more supported, more balanced. More sane.

That about sums up how I felt after reading it, so thank you.

[For more information, visit Catherine <online> http://crhyde.squarespace.com/.%5D

Anne R. Allen

 How to Be a Writer in the E-Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity! covers many areas from getting started, learning to determine when one is a “real writer”, rejection, working with editors and agents, navigating social media, working within critique groups and making the most out of the various types of feedback, maximizing the value of writer’s conferences, the protocol for handling cyber bullies and trolls, querying, defining one’s genre, learning to self-edit,  overcoming depression, writer’s block and self-doubt, and several aspects of getting published, including knowing when to go traditional or self-publish, and what to expect after publication (which was quite enlightening). How did you divvy up the sections between you and Catherine?

It happened kind of organically. We have different fields of expertise–I’ve been with small presses and Catherine has experience with the Big Six and self-publishing, so things fell into place very easily. I don’t remember having to decide. Things just happened.

The pacing of the book is perfect, balanced between your voices. How did the writing process go?

We got together about once a month to outline and plan what we wanted to say, then wrote the pieces and emailed them back and forth. Once we met at my house, but Catherine’s a vegan, and a great cook, so mostly we met at her house and brainstormed over a great vegan meal she prepared. She lives about a 45 minute drive up the coast from my house—a gorgeous drive.

No wonder the overall tone of the book is so warm, what a great atmosphere to work in!

As part of the initial price for the e-book, you offer free updates every six months, to ensure the guidance remains current. Your first update is set to be published this week. What is your process for updating the book?

I perused all my entries in the book and saw some needed to be completely re-done. That took some research. But for most I just had to tweak a few things. We kept some of the references to the “Big Six” publishing companies, although I explained they’re now the Big Five-or-maybe-Four-and-a-half.

How does this work for those who purchase the paperback; do they get access to the updates in a way, either by supplemental pages emailed to them or by receiving a discount on the e-book?

No. Our publisher really couldn’t afford to do that. It’s just the e-book that has free updates.

That’s an amazing deal for a $2.99 e-book.

As an author known for your comedic mysteries (The Camilla Randall series) and your comic thriller (Food of Love), I welcomed your treatment of the various subjects of writing in How to Be a Writer in the E-Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity! What is the value of humor in writing?

I’ve always loved books that made me laugh. I loved reading P.G. Wodehouse  and Angela Thirkell when I was in high school—my parents had a great collection of British humorists. And I loved Kurt Vonnegut, who has dark humor in all his books.  As different as they are, I think they all influenced my writing.

Also, I was in the theater for many years and I learned how to engage an audience by making them laugh, and I transferred it to my writing. I didn’t do it consciously, but the humor always creeps in. 

I enjoy the humorous touches in your posts. Your blog http://annerallen.blogspot.com/ was named finalist for “best publishing industry blog” by the Association of American Publishers and one of the “Top 50 Blogs for Authors” by TribalNation.com, and your section on blogging was extensive in the book. What would you say is the essence of a successful blog?

Every successful publishing blog is successful in a different way. Joe Konrath’s can be hard-hitting and no-B.S. Kristen Lamb’s is chatty and girly and funny. Chuck Wendig’s is R-rated and raunchy. But they have three things in common: 1) They’re “you” oriented instead of “me” oriented.  2) They give great information. 3) They have strong, honest personal voices. I think those are the most important elements of a great blog.

How did you arrange for Ruth Harris to co-blog with you?

She made long comments on my blog a lot—and they were so useful and insightful. I told her she needed to have her own blog and kept hammering her about how we all needed her expertise. (How many people have been on the NYT bestseller list AND edited for a Big Six publisher?) But she didn’t want to make the time commitment. So I asked her if she’d like to be a regular guest on my blog. She jumped right in.

She’s finally started her own blog< http://ruthharrisblog.blogspot.com/>—mostly with links that make great writing prompts, but she’s branching out with some great new features, like “The Story Behind the Story” guest posts from authors talking about what prompted them to write their novels. I think that’s going to be a lot of fun.

I will have to check that out. What about writing do you most enjoy?

The sheer act of creation. When the kernel of an idea starts sprouting into characters and scenes and the people come to life on the page and start doing things I don’t expect. I never know where a book is going to go and I love watching the whole thing unfold.

I appreciated your insight into the subject of depression and creativity. You covered the importance of remaining centered, but what are the ways you personally find balance?

I’m not always good at that. But I try to walk every day and take time to meditate and be in my body instead of living in my head all the time. I love to go out and listen to music and dance. I love roots and world music. We live in a great area for it.

Sounds lovely. What is your favorite motto?

“Everything in moderation. Including moderation.”

Is there anything else you would like to say?

I’m so grateful to Catherine for partnering with me on this book. I was an out-of-print writer without much of a future when we first came up with the idea of a book. She took a chance by linking her name with a relatively unknown author. Since then, I’ve got a publisher who now has published six of my mysteries. If I was going to pick a moment when my career started to come back to life, I’d say it was that lunch when we came up with the idea of a book on “the care and feeding of the writer’s psyche”—and I’ll be forever grateful to Catherine for that.

We’ll be forever grateful to the two of you, for writing (and maintaining) such a heartfelt, comprehensive and knowledgeable book.

[To learn more about Anne or her various creative pursuits, visit her <online> http://annerallen.blogspot.com/%5D   

Rewrite: A Step-By-Step Guide to Strengthen Structure, Characters, and Drama in Your Screenplay

Rewrite cover

Once an aspiring writer commits pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – there comes a point when s/he starts to believe that every word, every phrase, every idea that results from such effort is the stuff of perfection and, thus, exempt from editorial criticism. Was there ever a more dreaded word in the English vocabulary than “rewrite”? It can be anything from a simple request for clarification, a suggestion about rearranging chapters for a more cohesive flow, or maybe even changing the heroine’s name from Ethel to Juliet, but to the ears of the author who has tirelessly brought the project to life, it all sounds the same: “Are you an idiot or what? This is terrible. You didn’t get it right the first time. Do it again.”

It’s not that the editor hates you or hates your story, nor is the editor telling you anything with the dark intention of making your project worse. The goal, first and foremost, is to make it the best it can be and, accordingly, make you an even better writer than you might ever have thought possible. Paul Chitlik, author of Rewrite: A Step-By-Step Guide to Strengthen Structure, Characters, and Drama in Your Screenplay (Michael Wiese Productions) shares his insights on what you can learn from going back to the drawing board.

 Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: “The best writing is rewriting,” wrote E.B. White. For a lot of aspiring authors, however, any suggestion that their original prose might even remotely contain flaws or inconsistencies causes them to instantly put up defenses and arguments to the contrary. Why, in your opinion, are they so averse to taking their material back to the drawing board?

A:  First, writing is hard.  Writers naturally only want to write as little as they can get away with.  While this works in journalism, and sometimes even fiction, it doesn’t work at all in film or television (and I’ve worked in all of them). 

Sometimes, too, they want to do it “their way.”  They feel restricted by the format, which many call the formula.  While some good films are made outside of the format (very few Hollywood films, to be sure), most fail that don’t follow the traditional format, which developed for 2500 years in playwriting and then 100 years in screenwriting.  We know what works.  Why try to re-invent the wheel.

Speaking of wheels, think of writing within the format as manufacturing an automobile.  You wouldn’t have square tires just because you liked squares or you wanted to be different.  You need round tires, an engine, a transmission, a steering wheel, and brakes.  But even though you are restricted to four wheels (and sometimes, three, but rarely, though one of my favorite roadsters is the three wheel Morgan), you have a wide range of designs in which to show your originality.  A Jetta is very different from a Ferrari, yet they are both automobiles.  And if you want to be original, you certainly can:  You can make a DeLorean or a Honda Fit or a Nissan Cube with a wrap around back window.  But if you decide that you feel restricted by four wheels and want to add a fifth, well, you might find that the old format worked better.  But working off of four, you might go to six and find some success.  Try the four first, though, and have good reason to add the other two, if that’s what you want.

Creating art is a very personal thing, and new writers are not used to the collaborative process that is film and television making.  Unless you’re going to write it, cast it, act in it, shoot it, cut it, and distribute it yourself, you’re going to have to collaborate.  Get used to it.

Q: Which is the more efficient practice (and why): (1) to rewrite after you’re completely done or (2) to rewrite as you’re composing?

A:  I rewrite the previous day’s original pages before I start a new scene.  But I don’t usually go back farther than that unless I need to set up something that I’m paying off in a scene that comes to me outside of the beat sheet.  But it’s best to plough through the first draft to keep your focus and then let it rest for a few days or even weeks before tackling the rewrite with a fresh perspective. 

Q: Okay, let’s be honest, how many rewrites did you do for Rewrite?

A:  Not including the in-process second edition, I did about five rewrites before I submitted it to the publisher and another two after.  Then we both decided it was done.

Q: How did this particular book come about and who do you see as its target demographic?

A:  One of my students in a UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting class in rewriting sent me the outline he had done of the course and suggested I write a book on rewriting.  I thought that was a very good idea since there were no how-to rewrite books.

Its target is new writers who don’t have a support system like a professional writer does.  A professional can go to his manager or agent, his development executive, his director, even his writer friends for feedback.  Someone in Sioux Falls can’t.  Also, some professionals feel they need to do a few drafts on their own before going back to the studio, but don’t want to share their work for whatever reason.  So they refer to my book.  More than one has told me s/he has done this.

Q: Tell us about your academic and professional background that prepared you for the challenges inherent in penning a book.

A:  Academically, I studied comparative literature in college, meaning I read mostly novels and plays in Spanish, English, and Italian.  Hundreds (literally) of them.  I moved to Europe after grad school and worked as a translator and journalist.  Back in the US after five years, I worked as an English as a Second Language instructor and then a college administrator.  One day I said to myself, “This is not the plan.” 

I soon got back into writing, starting with a job as an executive story editor on a syndicated show where I supervised upwards of 140 scripts.  They were mostly crap (even my own), and I supervised the rewriting of every one of them.  Since then, I have written hundreds of television scripts and been commissioned to write over a dozen films (five of which have been made, some under a pseudonym for various reasons).  In classes at UCLA and Loyola Marymount University as well as private workshops over the last twelve years, I have supervised the writing and rewriting of something over 1800 scripts!  I know what works and what doesn’t.  I know the process.  The challenge was boiling down everything into less than 200 pages. 

Q: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?

A:  When I started the book or started my career?  If it’s the career, I would have started fresh out of school instead of wasted so many years doing other things. 

If it’s about the book, well, I wish I would have known (but no one did), what the true profit margins are in e-books.  I know now and my publisher and I have come to a new agreement.

Q: Do you ever go back and read some of the things you wrote earlier in your career? If so, in what ways has your style or focus evolved with age?

A:  I sometimes go back and read old stuff when I’m looking for something specific that has nothing to do with writing and I find my old work.  Some stuff is really bad – no form, no story, just clever wording.  Some is just raw emotion.  My focus is more on story than on self now.  I tend to write about people struggling with an issue instead of me struggling with an issue.

Q: If you hadn’t heard the siren call of television in the 1980’s, might you have gravitated to a career as a playwright? (Hey, directing your first play when you were only 11 seems like an auspiciously theatrical start.)

A:  I did write a couple of plays when I decided to go back into writing in the 1980s.  They’re not too bad.  What I should have done then, and what I’m doing with a project now, is to shoot the play as a play and get it circulated.  It would have shortened the time I spent out in the cold.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about the importance of structure in a screenplay. So many writers simply jump in and start tossing elements about without any preconceived game plan about how to make them coexist and move the story forward. Why is structure a critical factor and what are some examples of movies where structure was clearly nonexistent?

A:  Structure doesn’t restrict, it frees you to explore.  It’s a road map.  Nobody says you have to follow it, but it will be hard to get to your destination without it.  Still, you can go down dirt roads if you want to, but if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably not going to get there, wherever there is.  With a structure, you always have the option to take a diversion.  Without structure, all you have is wandering.

Look at Tree of Life or Cloud Atlas or Melancholia.  But only if you have to, because I’m still trying to get back those lost hours.  They make little or no sense.  Yes, they’re beautiful films, from an aesthetic point of view, but there’s a reason millions didn’t flock to see them, and it’s unlikely that you’ve seen all three, but you have my sympathy if you have.

Q: Is too much focus put on crafting the hero and, thus, neglecting the attributes and motivations of the antagonist that opposes him?

A:  A good film has a balance.  The antagonist must be 110% as smart, as strong, as handsome as the protagonist.  The more interesting he or she is, the more challenging, and, yes, the more human, the more we care about the challenges s/he presents to the protagonist.  The better the antagonist, the better the film.  The protagonist must have barriers that are real.  If they’re not, if they’re not difficult, then we lose interest.

Q: What role do you believe the central emotional relationship plays?

A:  The central emotional relationship (the love object, the person with whom the protagonist must either create or mend a relationship) serves to humanize the protagonist, to give the audience someone else to cheer for, and to give the audience an emotional reason to root for the protagonist.  In a romance or romantic comedy, even in a buddy film, this is the only reason to see the film in the first place. 

Q: Screenwriting is both an art and a science in which storytellers strive to deliver a compelling visual while, at the same time, adhering to the rules and protocols of formatting, time constraints and available resources (including budgets). If you want to break the rules – or make brand new ones that others will want to follow – how do you go about accomplishing that?

A:  First you must know and be able to employ the current rules.  Then you can break them for effect, especially in formatting and editing.  But even if you do something different, such as the found footage film I did for UPN in the 90s, Alien Abduction, which was the precursor for Blair Witch and Paranormal and its imitators, you still need to tell a story.  That is, there’s a person, he has a goal (wants something), but there’s a rock between him and the goal so he has to go over, under, around, or through the rock to get to the goal.  That’s the only rule you can’t break.  All the rest are up for grabs, so long as you tell a good story.  Even the order in which you tell it doesn’t matter (See Memento, which has one story going backwards and another going forwards – both following, in their way, traditional structure.).

Q: What are some movies that were either successful or mind-numbing failures insofar as coloring outside the lines?

A:  See above examples of films I wish I hadn’t seen.  Films outside of the usual are Moonlight Kingdom, Amour (though I would argue it does follow traditional structure in some ways), Groundhog Day (though, again, I would argue it’s right on course).  Can’t remember any more off the top of my head, but will probably think of one just after the interview comes out.

Q: Legend has it that – amongst the plethora of diverse jobs you’ve held – you once joined a circus sans skills but just because you wanted to write about it. What did learning how to put up and take down the tent for a three-ring circus teach you about yourself, about life, and about Hollywood?

A:  Whoa!  Big question.  First, it taught me to be bold.  They had to hire the people that the Employment Development Department had sent over, so I wasn’t picked.  But I told the foreman, on the sly, that I’d work for free.  It told me to be bolder when I could.  It had rained the day before and we were literally up to our ankles in mud.  Many quit.  I did not.  I persisted.  When the foreman asked if I would stay on, I said, “Yes, if you pay me.”  He agreed to pay from that moment on.  “No, from the first minute this morning.”  He agreed, and I ended up setting up and striking the tent several times in the course of the next few weeks.  The next summer, when I showed up, this time with leather gloves because I knew how to prepare myself, he took me on.  That time I just did it for fun. 

I learned I could do just about anything I wanted, and if I did it well, people would pay me for it.  I learned that it’s better to do something hard that’s fun than something easy that isn’t.  After all, I worked alongside elephants that helped put up the tent.  I gained some self confidence.  Once I had to climb to the top of the tent from the outside to repair a seam problem.  If I could do that, I certainly could work with a studio executive or a cranky actress.  

Q: What personal or professional accomplishment are you the most proud of and why?

A:  Still most proud of some of the episodes I worked on for The New Twilight Zone.  We had the freedom to do what we wanted with very little interference.  As a result, my writing partner and I were nominated for a WGA Award.  I would dream of something at night, come in the next morning, and we would write it.  What’s better than that?

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:  I’ve written a three-part, goes-against-traditional-structure, script that I plan to shoot using a four camera set-up on a sound stage, much like a television play from the Golden Age.  Something shot like Marty or Requiem for a Heavyweight.  Script’s done.  Date’s set.  I’m now raising the money and getting the crew and cast together.  I’ll direct this time, so I’ll have no one to blame if it goes wrong.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A:  I’d like them to know how tough it is, that screenwriting is not for the faint of heart nor the thin-skinned.  Not only do you need to be talented, you need to be persistent and patient.  And it helps if you’re independently wealthy and not worried about money.  But if you have talent, practice, drive, and confidence you may be able to make a living at it.  And maybe change the world a little bit.   

To learn more about the author, visit http://www.rewritementor.com.