Writers can learn a lot from filmmakers. Because as hard as it is to conceive of, write and sell a novel, it’s that much harder to conceive, write and sell a movie. Put it this way: 10 years ago, when I was a project manager at an ad agency in Toronto, a two-minute tv spot cost somewhere in the vicinity of $300k. Multiply that by 50 and you can see why making it in the movies is so difficult.
Yesterday’s report from Publisher’s Weekly suggests that – big surprise – hard book sales are down “dramatically” in Q1 2011. There are the Amanda Hockings of the world – savvy, “indie” writers who are turning millions in profits by self-publishing their books, pricing them low and selling on Amazon. But for most writers – for whom writing is their main life skill – the future looks pretty glum. The consensus seems to be that it’s stupid hard to be a writer these days.
Somewhere, Herman Melville is laughing his head off. After all, the author of one of the greatest novels of all time died in poverty and obscurity. I’d say that must have been up there with life’s great challenges.
Back to the movies. One thing filmmakers do from the get-go is to regard their work as a collaborative act – yes, they may have written the script, and they may be directing it, but they require a huge team to take the movie from concept to reality. If they’re making a non-blockbuster (a “literary movie”, let’s say) they’ll troll their networks and try to attach some big name actor to the project to give it some credibility.
A once-struggling writer I am very close with recently signed a joint venture with a major Hollywood bigwig to produce a movie based on some kid’s books she’s written. With this feather in her cap, she then secured one of New York’s biggest literary agents to help her sell her upcoming book. Now if that isn’t a career defining move, I don’t know what is.
“Think like a movie producer,” she urged me this spring. “Think about who you can attach to your project.”
Thinking like an uber-successful artist can help even established writers make more money. While most writers are working hard to build an audience through social media, it surprises me how few of them think about how to convert those followers to, well, customers. I mean, yes, you have a book you can sell, but what else have you got?
Musicians make a huge chunk of their money from live shows and merchandise sales. For those of us who actually rent movies, most DVDs are rife with bonus features including “The Making of World’s Worst Movie Ever” that help to build buzz and sustain interest in a perpetually curious public. How can writers emulate this model?
I guess what I’m saying is this. Writing a book is a major journey into the unknown. You’ve got to come back with some goodies. You know – been there, published that, sold the kick-ass t-shirt.