Sunday, 30 October 2011

Screenplays and novel writing

I'm currently turning my novel Replica into a screenplay. Why, I hear you cry - after all, if it's difficult to sell a novel which will cost a publisher £10,000 to produce (Snowbooks' figures), how much harder is it to sell a screenplay which will cost up to £500 an hour to make? (That's BBC tarifs - I couldn't find the total cost of a made-for-TV 90 minute film.)

Partly it's because I think Replica would transfer well to the small screen, and partly because it's an interesting challenge. Screenplay writing is very different from novel writing; since there will be input from the director, actors, set and costume designers, on the page it's the dialogue that does all the work. You don't say what the characters are feeling; you don't write backstory; you don't tell the actors how to deliver the lines. So the dialogue has to be very good indeed.

You lay the screenplay out to an accepted format, in Courier 12, as in the picture. This enables the length of a script to be assessed quickly. A film should come to no more than 120 pages. I'm a concise writer, so it's a new sensation for me to have to cut scenes and dialogue. I now realize why adaptations often have whole subplots missing, and why films can be so different from the original novel.

I've a nasty feeling it probably takes as long to become proficient at writing screenplays as it does to write readable novels.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Harper Collins, Authonomy and ebooks

Harper Collins sent out an email this week about its new plans for Authonomy. The site will have a new look, there will be 'improvements to forum control' (better late than never, I suppose) and Scott Pack and a team of editors will be searching the site, selecting the best novels to be digitally published by Harper Collins, one a month starting in January 2012. Those novels that sell well will be produced in a print edition. You can read about it here.

Over the course of three years, HC has shown little faith in the writers on its site, or the ranking system it put in place. It has published only two novels from Authonomy authors, and those not from the top five, a big let-down for anyone who believed the hype when it launched. Years ago, members suggested that HC should bring out POD paperbacks of the top five each month, maybe have special stands in bookshops, promoting HC New Authors. Some books would be successful, thus financing the scheme. Possibly this idea was unrealistic.

Scott Pack's new scheme is a good one, if a year late, but then mainstream publishing moves slowly. Ebooks (in spite of publishers' protestations) are very cheap to produce; you need a cover, editing, proofreading and formatting, and you're good to go - from then on, it's all profit. The print versions of books that have proved their popularity will be risk-free.

I can see a couple of problems, though. One is that many of the best writers on Authonomy have left and self-published. Will HC want to publish books already available as ebooks? Probably not, which means they'll miss a lot of talent. The other problem, for authors,  is the contract they will be offered. Publishers rely on authors' desperate longing to be 'properly' published. I somehow doubt there will be any advances. No details have been given, but I think any contract is likely to be so weighted in HC's favour that you'd need to think very carefully before signing it.

Take a look at this clause concerning a Harper Collins short story contest - and note, it covered every entry, not just the winners:

Where you submit your entry to this such submission you grant UKTV and HarperCollins Publishers Limited each a perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide, sub-licensable right and license to use, reproduce and publish, distribute and make available to the public your entry in any media, now known or later developed, for the full term of any rights that may exist in such content.

On the other hand, any big publisher has a lot of clout and ability to promote. It'll be very interesting to see how this works out.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Kindle highlights

Amazon has a new feature for Kindle users (you need to sign in). You can keep tabs on the books you are reading, have read, or stopped reading, and the notes you made on them. You can choose to make this information public.

Of course, I rushed to see if readers had highlighted anything on my books. With Remix, proudly ranking 4395th in books with Public Notes, oddly it's the first lines and my website address. With Replica, I was delighted to find this note on the thoughts of my hero, Nick Cavanagh:

Jeff shared
"She’s forgiven him, when she should have spat in his eye. What were women like? Either demanding harridans, bawling you out for nothing, impossible to please, or putting up with murder and apologizing while they did it. He reckoned he was due one of the second sort."
Note: So true !
2 months ago

How cool is that?

Saturday, 1 October 2011

What are publishers thinking?

Today I noticed a novel
because of the lovely colours and lettering on the cover (I take note of book covers I like, in order to work out how they were done - all part of my efforts to get on top of Adobe Photoshop 7.0).

As I write, The Lady of the Rivers , as well as being at #48 in the Amazon paper book charts, is at #82 and rising in the Kindle top 100, priced at £11.49. The paperback (not yet released) is £5.99, the hardback £6.68.

I wondered what is going through the minds of the publishers, Simon & Schuster...

  • Philippa Gregory has a lot of fans, many of whom will pay this outrageous price in order to get her latest book - then we can drop the price later, and pick up more sales.
  • We don't like Amazon, and don't want to help it to do well with books for the Kindle.
  • We don't like ebooks - we'd really rather they went away; if we make them more expensive than paper books, maybe people will buy those instead.
  • And if they DO buy the ebook at this price, what a lot of money we'll make. After all, we're only paying Philippa and her agent 17.5% of the price, and it's costing us nothing at point of sale. No paper, printing, delivery, storage, returns. Ho ho ho.
But what about piracy? If the book isn't available for free illegal download now, it certainly will be in a day or two. And if anything is going to make normally law-abiding readers download a copy from pirate sites and get into the habit of so doing, this sort of rip-off pricing will.