Writer, promote thyself (part I)

sandwich board
From the pre-viral era

Used to be that you’d need help promoting your own material. Agents, managers, editors,  publicists, etc.

Not as much anymore.

With the worldwide reach of the Internet, a creative individual can present themselves and their endeavors to a global audience, via a website or blog, ads, tweets, and so on.

Having seen more and more of my writing associates taking the initiative and becoming their own promotions department, I was curious to find out more about HOW THEY DID IT and the results.

Some of the responses are presented here, with the rest coming up in future posts. (And if you’ve done something similar for yourself, feel free to drop us a line to be included).

In today’s spotlight:

Phillip Hardy (PH)
Marlene Sharp (MS)
Manda Pepper Langlinais (MPL)
Jon Kohan (JK)
Robert W. Jackson (RWJ)

What projects are you promoting?

PH – I’m not specifically promoting any project. I’m more about filling a need. Which means looking for producers looking for scripts. Currently, I’m deciding whether to work with a producer who has a first look deal with Netflix. He’s looking to do a family picture surrounding a rodeo star. Recently, I was working with another longtime associate who was shopping a gangster television pilot I wrote. So far, he’s pitched the material to Warner Brothers, Scott Free Productions and Blumhouse. He’s also shopping another true story film project to a foreign production company. I’ve shopped several other projects this year including science fiction, action and comedy. 

MS – My award-winning backdoor sitcom pilot script: BORN IN LA: DOLLS AND ALL is a high priority. I also have several starring vehicles for my dog-child Blanche DuBois Sharp in development.

MPL – I haven’t really been actively promoting anything for a while now. My most recent book was FAEBOURNE, from last October, and though it started out strong, I’ve been struggling to get it reviewed and spread the word. To be fair, I haven’t put as much into that as I could, though. I’ve had writing and marketing fatigue.

JK – A consistent thing I always promote is my screenwriting services. When I have important things to promote, like a new project, maybe a blog post, new video, I make sure I also promote those things as well.

RWJ – My Karistina YA series, Hester YA series, and my memoir Running Scared.

Do you have a website for your material, or do you post each project on an individual basis?

PH – I don’t have a website dedicated to my screenplays. I only have a website for my occasional script consulting activities called The Script Gymnasium. http://www.thescriptgymnasium.com. 

MS – I have a website for my overall consulting services: www.pinkpoodleproductions.com.  Some of my original projects are represented there. Other (non-original, 3rd party) projects on the site are those on which I served in a variety of roles, such as development executive, producer, writer, business advisor, or some such. 

MPL – I have a site/blog and I post about all my work there. It’s easier than having a bunch of individual pages or sites, and it allows people who are interested in one book or story go on to discover others by me. I also keep a Twitter account. I had a number of other accounts but they were time sucks and weren’t giving me good ROI.

JK – I have my own website where I put information about all my projects on. There are many times when I place things on social media or third party sites but I always try to mention it on my own website as well. I think it’s good to have a good “homebase”.

RWJ – I do not have a website. I include a link to Amazon so people can click and go see the books. 

How do you put your promotions together?

PH –  For leads, I submit a two-page query letter with a logline, synopsis and main character arc. I used to do Power Point presentations but nothing recently. Here’s one on YouTube I thought was pretty cool. I also occasionally whore my wares on Facebook, Twitter and Stage 32 using posters I create with Power Point. This includes new projects and announcing film festival placements and wins.

MS – I am a LinkedIn micro-influencer with nearly 10K followers! As such, I post a lot on LinkedIn, plus get involved in many film festivals, trade events, and competitions. I also meet people in person. Because I live in LA, it’s relatively easy for me to connect with folks online, and then continue conversations in person. Face-to-face time is important in establishing lasting relationships!

MPL – Not very well, probably. I have a list of review sites, and I promote on Twitter and spread the word on Facebook as well as my own site. I tap fellow authors for swaps, too (meaning we post about the other’s work). I’ve used Amazon ads in the past, and those did pretty well but I ended up spending more than I made.

JK – When it comes to promoting, I usually do things as simple as sending out a few tweets, Facebook statuses, etc. One thing I learned when I was crowdfunding a short film: don’t be afraid to post a lot of Facebook updates and Twitter posts! Because of those sites’ algorithms, you might share something ten times a day and a friend might only see it in their feed once.

When I want to gain viewers or I’m launching a big project, I’ll usually come up with custom images that I can post on Instagram, send on Twitter, and so on. I will also spend some money to run Google ads, Instagram ads, Facebook ads, etc if the project is big or important enough.

RWJ – I made thirty ads and thirty loglines for Running Scared. I have only three for Karistina and Hester. I would post all of them on Pinterest, Stage 32, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

How have the results been from your doing this?

PH – My query letters have done fairly well. To quantify, I say about a five percent response. The other stuff I do really only gets me noticed by other writers. However, I’ve made some good friendships with other screenwriters.  

MS – Mostly an emotional rollercoaster. I try to think of the process as planting seeds that might grow big and strong at some future date.

MPL – Some better than others. I’ve found that genre works with established audiences do the best. My Sherlock Holmes stuff, my Regency romances – those have dedicated readers who are easy to find and tap into. (FAEBOURNE deviated from the traditional Regency romance formula, which has made it a harder sell.) Having Publishers Weekly BookLife pick one of my books for a review definitely helped boost my profile. The one they reviewed has become my best-selling book ever.

JK – These are things I’m still learning and teaching myself. The biggest thing to learn is when to post things. Every social media app has better peak days and times to post. Some people are more engaging (at least in my experiences) on Instagram and Facebook then they are on Twitter.

So if I’m doing a promotion where I want feedback, I probably won’t waste my time on Twitter. Instead, I’ll do something on Facebook or Instagram. And when posting content on those sites, I’ll promote in the middle of the afternoon on Instagram but at night for Facebook.

RWJ – I have a project called NO REST FOR THE BRAVE. I posted on Stage 32 offering a screenwriter the story rights for $1. Hundreds turned me down, but Gustavo Freitas said yes and took the risk. Now, the movie is in development.

Do any formats seem to work better than others?

PH – Whatever you do, keep it simple, make it easy to read, and don’t bore people with inconsequential details.

MS – Being proactive, thinking positive, and targeting potential partners seem to be helpful tactics.

MPL – I notice a slight uptick when I post on Twitter; the trick is not to overdo it because then you lose followers. Also, you want to have already established yourself within the Twitter community. No one wants this newbie who walks on and just starts peddling their wares. Facebook returns are almost nil; I ended up getting rid of my author page because it did so little and took up so much time. Again, the Amazon ads got some attention, but I ended up paying more than I made back. I’ve heard Amazon has changed how they run them, though, so I might try them again at some point.

Reviews in targeted online magazines and on sites that get good traffic have definitely helped (when I can get them. Reviewers are buried, making it tough to get a coveted slot, or if you do it takes months before they get to your book). I’ve run ads in some of those magazines, too, and seen upticks from those. But it’s always temporary. The BookLife review is the one thing that seems to have boosted my signal. Also, paying to be in the Ingram catalogue (if you do your paperback version through Ingram Spark, you have the option to pay to be featured in the catalogue that goes out to booksellers). Thing is, I used the BookLife review quote to promote the book in the catalogue, so I don’t know if it was Ingram or the BookLife quote that boosted my sales.

I’m super-popular on Quora these days, but so far haven’t been able to parlay that into sales. Need to figure out how.

JK – When it comes to all the different ways I try to promote my work, the best I’ve come across at this point is working through Instagram. If I do a pay promotion, I can really target an audience and go after them. Plus, I can see all the analytics and how many pageviews and web traffic I’m getting.

RWJ – The best thing that worked for me was creating the ad and putting the primary logline on the ad itself. Then I would post my header with a link to the memoir on Amazon.

What’s the link for people to find out more about you and your projects?

PH – https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5338286/

MS – There are a few: www.pinkpoodleproductions.com; www.linkedin.com/in/marlenesharp; www.imdb.me/marlenesharp

MPL – I’m online at http://pepperwords.com and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sh8kspeare

JK – You can check out my personal website at www.jonkohan.com or my Patreon page where I’ve been slowly building up a list of supporters: www.patreon.com/screenwriterjon

RWJ – No link. I’m quiet now. Lee Roth and MPMG are slowing rolling the project out.

Same destination, different route

hot fuzz

Even though I got some great notes back on the previous draft of my sci-fi adventure spec, one aspect of the script had always bothered me.

As much as I loved the opening sequence, it still felt out of place.

Its primary goal for existing was to establish and set up several plot elements and story details. It does that, but something just didn’t feel right.

Would the story still work if I took it out? Sure, but finding new ways to present all the relevant info would require some major rewriting and revising. Time-consuming (to a point), but necessary.

But that got the gears turning…

The more I thought about it, the more the idea appealed to me. Trust me, it killed me to even just consider killing all those darlings, but doing so would definitely force me to find new and original ways to tell this story.

Added bonus – a new opening would also enable me to do a better job of establishing the protagonist AND set the tone of the story.

So out all those pages went, with an ever-expanding list of all sorts of new ideas regarding How To Do It currently in development.

A writer may know what they want to happen in their script, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. The characters might unexpectedly guide you in a different direction, or maybe you realize what the story really needs is to take a sharp turn off to the side, or you decide that this is the perfect opportunity to go in a totally opposite direction.

Nothing is set in stone. You’re the ultimate creator. Everything that happens is under your control, and you can do with it what you will.

Something not working for you? Change it. Give yourself options.

Follow-up to that – go with options that still work within the context of the story and characters. Your characters still want the same thing they did before, but now you’ve drastically altered how they get there.

It’s a savvy writer who eagerly anticipates taking on the task of devising these kinds of changes. And once they’re all implemented, you’ll barely remember how it used to be because EVERYTHING WORKS SO MUCH BETTER NOW.

Suggestion – no matter how or when you come up with a new idea, WRITE IT DOWN. IMMEDIATELY. Even if you’re in the middle of working on the same script. Everybody says “Oh, I’ll remember that later.”

You won’t.

Do whatever you have to in order to preserve it.

*Apologies for a lack of post last week. I had some kind of bug that put me out of commission for a few days; didn’t even have the strength to compose a “sorry, no post this week” post.

 

I came, I saw, I removed it

caesar
Veni, vidi, non amoveatur

As the contents of our now-previous domicile were being sorted into their respective receptacles (keep, donate, trash, what on earth possessed us to buy THAT?), my time to write/work on something was somewhat limited.

So I squeezed in a few minutes here and there when I could. Not ideal, but better than not doing anything.

One of my ongoing projects is the rewrite of the sci-fi adventure outline. There’d already been some big changes compared to the previous draft, but it seemed to still suffer from a mild case of “just too much”.

Something had to go. But what? I liked the way this world had been established, along with setting up several vital story details that would yield some mighty effective payoffs later on.

Editor Me (EM) had to seize control from Writer Me (WM), who was really digging in his heels to keep things as they were.

“Which is more important?” EM would keep asking as WM tightened his grip. “Streamlining the story to make it more effective and flow smoother, or keeping something in there just because you like it?”

WM eventually raised the white flag, admitting that EM was absolutely right.

So drastic cuts were pending. But where to make them?

After much deliberation, the cleanest break would have to be the opening sequence – which I’d put together to really establish the world of the story, but it was simply too much, and the main character isn’t even part of it.

RIP, my darlings.

This was a tough decision to make, since this sequence offered up some prime exposition. With all of it gone, I have to now figure out new and original ways to relay some of the more relevant info and story details without resorting to the dreaded cliche of a flashback. Tough, but not impossible.

But as has occurred in the past, having a more-or-less thorough outline to work with has enabled me to salvage more than I realized, along with inspiring some new approaches. A lot of groundwork had already been established, so I get to work with what’s still there, along with utilizing odds and ends from the deleted material when applicable.

This remains a work in progress, albeit a very slow and drawn-out one. But I’d rather spend more time dealing with all of these aspects of the process now, and not agonizing later on over endless patchwork fixes scattered across a completed draft.

Bubble wrap. As far as the eye can see…

 

keaton house

Last few days before Maximum Z HQ relocates to its new space, so not much writing going on.

Well, no actual writing, that is. Which isn’t to say I haven’t been busy with items of a writing-adjacent nature, which included:

-tinkering with some outline revision for previous projects. Got some great notes from very reliable writing associates, so really looking forward to jumping back in to each one once all the dust settles.

-plenty of reading of scripts, ranging from notes on friends’ specs and just reading for the hell of it. One of the latter was an earlier draft of CRAWL, which was one of the fastest and leanest reads I can recall. Can’t wait to see the actual movie.

-set up the NorCal Screenwriters Winter Networking Shindig for 8 December in San Francisco, so if you’re a screenwriter, filmmaker, or are affiliated with either in any capacity in the Bay Area/northern California region, and want to meet other folks just like you, take a look. I hope to see you there. Plus – great sandwiches.

Hope you have a great weekend, and make sure you write something.

Some tasty tidbits to tide you over

vintage-buffet-1
Go ahead and dig in! More than enough to go around!

Maximum Z HQ is in a transitional phase, geographically speaking, so all attention and efforts are focused on that for the next two weeks.

As a result, no new posts until at least the end of the month.

In the meantime, here are some classic posts from years past.

Enjoy.

All that on a single piece of (digital) paper?

The good bad of your antagonist

Introduce your character with character

The twiddling of thumbs is strictly prohibited

Characters are people!

Work those writing muscles!

I see what you did there, Mr. Kasdan

Respect your reader/audience

That’s not the question you should be asking

Hey! Long time no (preferred form of communication)