Category Archives: Publishing

Freakout City, or, They asked for my picture!

You sell your first book and the publisher asks for a head shot.

You have a webpage and you need a photo on it.

One way or the other, you will eventually need one.

Wait.

What is a head shot?

Because I’m all about cheating whenever possible, I went to wikipedia to nab their definition (with a link, of course) and–well, how to put this delicately?

I learned something new.

Yes, when giving advice, making sure you know what you’re talking about is a good idea. Who knew?

A head shot is a photographic technique where the focus of the photograph is a person’s face. A head shot is a specific type of portrait. A head shot is an image that portrays a person as he is, however simple or stylized the image might be. In contrast to the head shot, an environmental portrait would portray a person with elements of his life such as his work, interests, etc.

You see, I thought of it as focusing on the person’s face, but without knowing the broader term “environmental portrait” I was missing a bit of the picture.  So, these are head shots (and as an aside, I find it amusing that you would not be able to judge the creative output of these two by their head shots):

Stephen King (How innocent he looks!)
Mark Twain (What a dour gent.)

And here is one we’re going to look at several ways:

Naomi Novik (Does she look like a dragon?)

 

 

 

Even though your photographer may want to do a tight head shot, if you’re sending this out to multiple places–newspapers, magazines, websites, publishers–it’s best to have a picture that allows cropping to suit the page layout needs of the recipient.

 

 

 

 

What I didn’t know is the term, “environmental portrait.”  You’ve seen those. The writer at work. Or more probably, the writer pretending to be at work while somebody just happens to be there to snap their photograph.

Dorothy Parker (“at work”)
Ernest Hemingway (possibly really at work in Africa)

I like environmental portraits a lot, and in fact, have always liked head shots that include the writer’s world.  Head shots with the writer sitting at their desk (which it hopefully took two days to clear for the occasion, or else I don’t want to hear about it).  Head shots with writers in front of books.  Their books.  Old books.  Fake books that just look pretty for the purpose. I don’t care.

But those can be very busy pictures, and once it comes to cropping for layout they may be more difficult to work with.  I’d never really considered that before.  In surfing through images online I didn’t find many, and this may be why.

There’s also the broader environment.  An outdoor shot of an author in her beloved hometown, in his garden, on a research trip to the current novel’s setting.

So many things to consider.

But let’s just stick to the basic head shot and move on.  Do you need a professional photographer?  Well, it’s always best. But if you can’t manage that yet, the fact is in this day of digital cameras and instant gratification, you can get a friend who is a good amateur photographer to take one hundred pictures of you.

Seriously.

Now if you’re naturally photogenic that might not be necessary.  But if you–like most of us–are uneasy in front of a camera, the one hundred pictures is a good idea.  You might want to change clothes a few times to have various looks, or once you see pics wearing one shirt you may immediately ditch it for another.  Avoid busy patterns and prints.  Try formal and informal.

Most of all, wear something you feel comfortable in, and that makes you feel good. If you feel awkward in your clothes, it will show.

And the most important tip of all, relax. If that means having a margarita or box of chocolates on hand, go for it. Or music that makes you smile and want to move. A friend on hand to keep you calm or loose.

Expect to get 60 horrible pictures, 30 that are okay but you sincerely don’t like them, and if you’re lucky, one or two that simply say: THIS. THIS is the one.  In my experience, that one will usually come late in the process when you’ve  stopped worrying about how you look and just want to get it finished. Odd how that works.

Try smiling.  Try not smiling. Try various angles.

While you’re at it, google things like this.

One of my mentors early on said, “Don’t try to look like a Serious Author unless you don’t mind looking pretentious. Look like somebody with a wicked story to tell.  Look like someone a reader wants to sit down and spend time with, have coffee with, and listen to.”

I don’t think that’s half bad advice.

The best advice I stumbled across on my own is a bit devious, if you’re a woman. Or, okay, a certain kind of guy.

Wear beautiful makeup.  I’m not talking about 80s “Glamour Shots” but whatever you would wear to a very nice event, do that.  Then let your hair be more casual, and your clothes even more casual.  It’s a matter of not looking like you’re trying too hard, of possibly even making people think you look like this all the time.

See? I told you it was devious.

And if you do look that great all the time, I don’t want to hear about that, either.

Finally, my mentor said, “Update your photo annually.  Age with your head shot.  You do not want to be the writer who meets people in person and watches them react in horror to the fact that she looks nothing like her twenty-year-old head shot.”

I have to admit to letting that one slide lately.

Which is why I decided to share these tips.  I am thinking about my new head shots.

In the meantime, an environmental portrait from a few years ago:

Patricia Burroughs (on cell phone in front of Hollywood Hills)

Whatever else you do, have fun!

What’s your experience with head shots? What’s your advice? Share!

2 Comments

Filed under Photography, Publishing, Women, Writers, Writing

Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?

What’s the best retirement plan?

1.  SAVE & INVEST

2. BUY LOTTERY TICKETS

What’s the best health care routine?

1.  EAT HEALTHY FOODS AND MOVE ENOUGH TO BURN SOME CALORIES

2. WAIT UNTIL A PROBLEM SHOWS UP AND LET THE SURGEON SORT IT OUT

What’s the best approach to selling the book you’ve written?

1. RESEARCH, QUERY, QUERY, QUERY, GET AGENT, SELL, WAIT?

2. SELF-PUBLISH

The answer to all of these questions is, while any answer MAY be correct sometimes, the first and hardest answer is best MOST times.

You may think only the lucky get an agent and sell to a real publisher and see their books in print, but the truth is, the real luck is those who self-publish and actually make a success of it.  Of course, where it gets fuzzy is defining the term “success.”  And I’m not going to scoff at anybody’s definition of success.  If having a book in print (or epub) that your friends and family can buy, that you can put on Amazon or other sites and point people to, if this feels like success to you, go for it. If every time somebody you don’t know buys your book and even leaves a positive review or sends you a nice email, you feel vindicated for cutting through the red tape and publishing yourself, I won’t argue with that. These are real, tangible things.

But if success means selling in the thousands and making money in the thousands, yeah, you’ve raised the bar on difficulty by skipping the validation of the traditional publishing route. It happens, but oh so rarely.

So I ask again…

Read what Adrian Zacheim says about it today in The Myth of Self-Publishing. And thanks to Jason Pinter for bringing it to my attention.

ETA: This entry is a top story on The #Selfpublishing Daily today. Thanks!

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Publishing, Writers, Writing

Publishing 101

There is a new agent in the biz, but she’s not new at all.  I’ve known her for mumbledy-mumble years, as a matter of fact.

She has been a book store manager, a book buyer for a national book store chain, an editor with her own imprint, and now she brings that vast knowledge and experience into her new role of agent. She has created a blog that has some of the most helpful info on publishing I’ve seen together in one spot.

Meet Denise Little.

You might want to check in now, because it seems like every day more great information goes up, whether you’re a published author learning the ins and outs of sell-throughs or just breaking into the business.

2 Comments

Filed under Publishing, Writers, Writing

Save the Cat, anyone?

So, I have written about Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need before.


And I have probably mentioned Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies: The Screenwriter’s Guide to Every Story Ever Told, as well, since I believe you need both these books to approach plot and structure the Snyder way, and frankly, this is the best approach I have ever found. [YMMV, etc.] (I don’t know how I missed Save the Cat! Strikes Back: More Trouble for Screenwriters to Get into … and Out of, and why it’s already out of print, or at least not available from Amazon, but at least it’s shipped by Amazon so I can use my Amazon Prime, erm, I digress. Ahem. But if you have that book, let me know what it’s about and what you think, though I’m probably about to order it. And isn’t it amazing how the last book you’ll ever need on screenwriting still was followed by more books? Is anybody surprised? But, if the third is anything like the first, it’s well worth the money and I am wondering if there will be any more, since Blake Snyder is no longer with us, may he R.I.P.)

I’m curious about those of you who also have used STC. I’m really curious how many of you were beginning writers and how many brought a certain amount of knowledge of story with you as you began reading the book. I’m curious about your experiences with STC, successful and unsuccessful.

I’m considering using it more heavily in my writing classes, and want to get a bigger picture of how people respond to it.

For my own part, even though I already understood 3-act structure and had published five novels and won a couple of screenwriting competitions before I picked up STC, the scene cards, sceneboard and genre breakdowns from STC gave me a set of tools that opened up plotting to me in a way that for the first time truly helped me do it. Not understand it on a broad, general level. But actually take my own ideas and arrange them, and understand how they should fit together to achieve what I wanted.

Perhaps I also bring a lot of confidence to the process and I know when to ignore something and when to use something, when words in a book are helping me get closer to my vision and when they aren’t.

Think that’s it?

Tell me. Let’s talk about saving that darned cat.

BTW, if you’re doing nanowrimo this November? This might be a good time to whip out STC and start plotting that novel. It would be an excellent way to map it out in detail so you can dive in and start writing.

4 Comments

Filed under Index Cards, Movies, nanowrimo, Novels, Publishing, Save the Cat, Screenwriting, Storyboard, Writers, Writing

Recycling Cover Art

So, libraryjobpostings had an interesting display of cover art that has been reused (and sometimes reused and reused and reused).  In some cases, when the original source is a piece of artwork that is in public domain, it’s not so surprising that more than one art department has seen fit to use it:

In others, I guess they didn’t want to spend any money and the art department thought nobody would ever notice:

The odd thing here is that Viking and New American Library are part of the Penguin publishing group so may share the same art department, but Del Rey is part of the Random House group and if there’s any connection between Penguin and Random House, I don’t know it.

And this may be from some public domain source, but if so, the libraryjobposting people didn’t indicate it:

Finally, I’m just not a fan of the generic romance cover to begin with, and this does nothing to change my opinion:

At least Zebra Lovespell waited five years to reuse it, and changed her haircolor and dress color.

Follow the link at the top of this post for more recycled covers. ‘Tis interesting!

3 Comments

Filed under Book Covers, Books, Publishing, Recycling, Writing

Also for writers–

This great link is courtesy of Toni, who told me about it.

Tricks of the Trade for Writers, by Lisa Gardner

Check it out. Lots of good stuff there.

I also recommend:

The Writer (both the magazine and its website). There’s a reason why it costs more than the other major writing magazine (below) and that’s simply because it doesn’t have all those cheesy “You, too, can get rick quick as a writer,” ads.

But despite those ads, Writer’s Digest also had good articles, advice and a strong website (but I note that just going to the website in order to snag  the URL I had to close a popup ad, ahem).

What writer’s resources–webpages, publications, etc.–do you recommend?

Leave a comment

Filed under Publishing, Writers, Writing

Killer Year: Stories to Die For


If you’re in my class, I’ve told you how important it is to read books by new authors in order to see what New York publishers have purchased from unknowns.

Killer Year is an amazing group of writers who all had their debut novels published in 2007. They include my buds, Toni and Rob (who is also, I’m proud to note, a fellow Nicholl Fellow).

In addition to this group of fabu debut novels, I’d also like to point to their book of short stories, Killer Year: Stories to Die For (which I ordered today and breathlessly await), grandly reviewed in the Chicago Tribune. You have to scroll down to see the review, or, you know, read it right here:

Killer Year: Stories to Die For

Edited by Lee Child

St. Martin’s Minotaur, $23.95

With debut novels from a bumper crop of outstanding new writers last year (including Derek Nikitas, J.T. Ellison, Marc Lecard and Chicago’s own Sakey and Sean Chercover), 2007 was undeniably a killer year for crime fiction. With that in mind, this brilliantly conceived anthology — described as a “sampler” by editor Lee Child — features short stories from 13 of last year’s biggest and brightest newcomers as well as three additional stories from veterans Ken Bruen, Duane Swierczynski and Allison Brennan. This collection has no weak links, but a few stories stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Chercover’s “One Serving of Bad Luck,” which features Chicago private detective Ray Dudgeon (introduced in his debut novel “Big City, Bad Blood”), is a hard-boiled thriller that revolves around a horrific car accident, a multimillion-dollar settlement and a wayward witness. “Runaway,” by Nikitas — a subtly nuanced chronicle of the misadventures of two 15-year-old boys in western New York who meet with a mysterious runaway girl — is equal parts coming-of-age tale and supernatural mystery. “Gravity and Need,” by Sakey, perhaps the collection’s most memorable selection, is a haunting, disturbing story of how misfortune tests the limits of a couple madly in love. Bill Cameron’s “Slice of Pie” is an irony-filled gem about an ill-tempered son protecting his naive mother from a perceived scam artist; and Toni McGee Causey’s uproarious “A Failure to Communicate” revisits Louisiana and the irrepressible Bobbie Faye Sumrall (from her debut “Bobbie Faye’s Very (Very, Very, Very) Bad Day”) as she takes down a group of bumbling thieves with some good old-fashioned sociopathic ingenuity and one well-placed fish hook.

“Killer Year” is not just an exceptional collection of crime fiction short stories but also a savvy promotional tool: Readers will undoubtedly find themselves seeking out any number of debut novels from the featured authors, be it Sakey’s “The Blade Itself,” Lecard’s “Vinnie’s Head,” Nikitas’ “Pyres,” or any number of others.

———-

Paul Goat Allen has reviewed mysteries and thrillers for BarnesandNoble.com, BookPage magazine and Publishers Weekly.

———————

Check ’em all out! And tell ’em Pooks sent ya!

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Publishing, Writers, Writing