Thursday, August 9, 2012

Reinvention

I had the pleasure of meeting Alexandra Sokoloff at one of her week-long classes and found she’s as delightful a person as she is a writer and teacher. I’m happy to welcome her as our guest for today’s blog. She will share her progression as an author—as she reinvests herself and her career in the rapidly evolving world of publishing.

Alex is the Thriller Award-winning author of the crime and supernatural thrillers THE HARROWING, THE PRICE, THE UNSEEN, BOOK OF SHADOWS, THE SPACE BETWEEN and the brand new crime thriller HUNTRESS MOON, and a co-author of the paranormal KEEPERS series, with Heather Graham and Harley Jane Kozak. She is a Bram Stoker and Anthony Award nominee. The New York Times Book Review called her a "daughter of Mary Shelley," and describe her novels as "some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre."

As a screenwriter, Alex has sold original scripts and adapted novels for numerous Hollywood studios. In non-fiction, she is the author of SCREENWRITING TRICKS FOR AUTHORS (AND SCREENWRITERS!), and WRITING LOVE, workbooks based on her internationally acclaimed blog and workshops.
 

Reinvention

By Alexandra Sokoloff
Last night I was on my way home from a “Noir at the Bar” reading here in L.A., and my favorite radio station was playing alive recording of a Sting concert I’d actually been in the audience for, years ago. I always love that multidimensional feeling; it was like being in a time machine taking me back to a night I remember very well, because I’d just sold my first screenplay that month, a huge kick-start to what turned into an eleven-year screenwriting career. Now, when you’re outside the film business, a break like that feels like shattering some enormous, impenetrable glass dome atop the mythical business they call “the movies” that you’ve been circling for years, trying to figure out the entry point.  A feeling I’m fairly confident you debut authors are experiencing yourselves, lately!

And it was a great synchronicity, being transported back to that time and that feeling... because I’ve just now broken into e publishing with the launch of my new direct-to-e thriller Huntress Moon and am feeling the same kind of exhilaration of shattering a barrier to a whole new and exciting level of my career.  It reminded me how life is a spiral like that. You come back to the exact same points of life, but hopefully you’re constantly moving UP the spiral, taking all your knowledge of that pivotal threshold with you and ascending to a both a higher and a deeper level.

It also reminded me that as writers, we are constantly reinventing ourselves. I would say “having to reinvent ourselves” but that sounds scary and ominous. Oh well, okay, let’s be real. We are constantly HAVING to reinvent ourselves.

I started out as a theater person, from the time I was a kid, really, but after college I quickly switched my ambitions and focus to screenwriting, because I was aware of the practical need to, you know, eat.  Knowing nothing about the film business, I moved to L.A. just figuring I would figure it out. And the fact is, I did pretty much just that – I got the classic entry level job into movies, a script reader for various production companies, learned the business and the craft of film writing by reading and reporting on hundreds of scripts in a very short amount of time, wrote my own script with a writing partner, got an agent by using what I’d learned as a script reader, and sold the script to Fox in a bidding war.

Now, the trouble with being a screenwriter, and with Hollywood in general, is that you get caught up in the fact that you’ve MADE IT in a profession that all the naysayers (you know the ones I mean) always told you you would never MAKE IT in, and you’re making great money for doing what you love and the people you’re working with are wildly talented and interesting, and it’s all so exciting and non-stop that it becomes very hard to see when things are not quite working out the way you envisioned.  Screenwriters have very little power over their work; the potential movies you work on are very very seldom made, and most of them don’t look like any movie you would want your name on anyway once the script has been through the process very aptly named “development hell.”
Cut to ten years later and I had become so creatively miserable, without really knowing it, that it was affecting every other area of my life. And when a movie I’d written that I was truly passionate about fell through when we lost our director to another movie, I snapped. I just wasn’t going to go through that whole thing again.

And that’s how I wrote my first novel, THE HARROWING.  And all the naysayers started up again, a lot of them inside my own head. “You’ll never make a living in publishing. At least in screenwriting you’re writing AND getting paid...”  (insert any profession, you know the drill....) But I knew I had to do something else, so I did, and the book got written, and it got sold, and suddenly a whole other glass dome had been shattered and I was on the rollercoaster of a whole new career, to mix a couple of metaphors. And I was lucky to make the shift when I did, because changes in the film industry have made a screenwriting career exponentially more difficult and creatively frustrating than it was when I started in the business.

But now I had to learn a whole different business and figure out a whole different way of making a living at writing.(NOT making a living was not an option – I’ve been writing professionally for so long I have no other marketable job skills). And publishing is a different way of making a living.

When you start out as an author – well, when I started out as an author, in 2006, people advised that we put our entire first book advance back into promotion. Because that’s how important the lift-off factor is in traditional publishing. I was a total newbie, and got completely obsessed with trying everything there was to try in marketing, all the things I imagine you all have been doing or preparing to do with varying degrees of terror: website, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, blog, grog, blog tours, book tours – oh right, and writing that second book. (If you want a bloodcurdling glimpse into how it was, I’ve blogged about it here: Marketing =Madness).

Well, I made a good launch with THE HARROWING- nominations for Stoker and Anthony Awards, significant recognition as a new and interesting female horror writer... but nothing like the brass ring, bestseller status. But I wrote more good books and got more recognition and also figured out how to create multiple income streams in my writing life –like teaching my very popular "Screenwriting Tricks for Authors" workshop, that I started on my blog and developed into an e workbook Screenwriting Tricks (doing the workshops for free at conferences until I was in demand, and then starting to pick and choose my venues and going only where people would pay me, which also turned into self-perpetuating and well-paying promotion, as well as a personally rewarding avocation).

I’m a big believer in diversifying your writing career in the same way that you diversify a financial portfolio; the money is erratic in a writing career, often cyclical, and it’s a huge mistake to think you’ll earn the same income every year – I’ve seen way too many talented screenwriters and authors crash and burn by making that assumption. Invest wisely when you have the money and always keep a cushion for the lean years, because believe me, there are going to be lean years.

But still, I wasn’t published for long before I started getting that uncomfortable feeling again.  This time it didn’t take as long for me to figure out that I had to try something different – again. (Watching the publishing industry starting to crumble before my eyes with the rise of e readers and self-publishing was a pretty good clue...)

I truly believe we are in the midst of the biggest revolution since the invention of the printing press. E books, ereaders – it is ALL good news for us as writers, because we have so many more choices now. Look, I know it’s hard enough to just get through the day doing the writing you have to do and the promotion you have to do on top of that. You may be just learning the ropes of traditional publishing and here I am suggesting that you add learning the ropes of e publishing, to boot. Don’t panic! Do what you need to do on this wonderful cusp of your brand new career. But if do you find you’re not making enough of a living with your traditionally published book(s), or are getting a nagging feeling that your publisher is not getting enough of your books out there to be bought and read in the first place, or Barnes & Noble goes bankrupt or something, there is a whole other miraculous option for you now.

In a time of diminishing publisher advances and massive bookstore closures, I and many of my traditionally published author friends who started out in publishing at the same time as I did have recently had the surreal experience of making more money in the first few weeks of an e publishing book launch as we ever got for a traditional advance. We can put a book out as soon as we finish it, rather than waiting a year and a half to two years for the publishing process to grind through its cycle.  Given the choice between a traditional publishing deal for HUNTRESS MOON and the tens of thousands of new readers that I was able to reach in just three days of a free Amazon promotion, plus having the full force of the Amazon marketing machine behind the book (which is now an Amazon bestseller that is outselling a staggering number of high-profile traditionally published books that have a Big Six publisher behind them)...
Well, it’s a no-brainer to me.

I guess what I’m trying to say to you is: Be aware. Be aware if a small voice in your head or your gut or wherever those small voices come from tells you that you need to do something different. Be aware of the incredible sea changes taking place in publishing because of the e publishing revolution, and the incredible opportunities that are there for you.  Be aware that you can always, always reinvent yourself.

We’re writers. We make things up. 

Including ourselves.

I wish everyone the absolute best of luck and am very happy to answer any and all questions!

- Alex
Twitter @alexsokoloff




From Thriller Award-winning author Alexandra Sokoloff - Book 1 in the riveting new Huntress FBI series about a driven FBI agent on the hunt for that most rare of all killers: a female serial.

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of “accidents” and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.

Roarke’s hunt for her takes him across three states...while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.


As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and must race to capture her before more blood is shed.

4 comments:

Cathy Perkins said...

Thanks for joining us today, Alex.

Do you think authors like you, who have a following and name recognition, can make the indie-transition more successfully than say, a Debut Author?

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Cathy, thanks so much for having me!

I think the advantage a previously trad pubbed author has over a non-pubbed author is that we've been through the publishing mill and the odious and grueling but essential work of self-promotion is no surprise to us.

But the key to indie pub success, after WRITING A GOOD BOOK, is learning how to work the Amazon system. Because until other platforms learn how to do it even a tenth as well as Amazon, it's still the main game in town.

And I'm pretty sure I could have gotten near the same launch numbers through Amazon as a brand new author if I had done the same things I did with Huntress Moon. It wasn't my name or reputation driving the sales, it was the Amazon marketing machine. But I knew at least SOME of the things I had to do to get those initial numbers because as an already published author I understand just how much gaming the system has to do with a successful launch.

SUSTAINING the sales, though - that's happening a lot because the book is good and I have a backlist of other good books.

jenny milchman said...

Great reminder that there is no one right path--just the one that turns out to be right for you and your career. Thanks for the post, and best of luck in every way you choose!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hi Jenny - "path" sounds so singular when I look back at what this actually has been so far! More like, I don't know, a tree with a million branches but the same trunk?

Or maybe not.

(Clearly not enough coffee yet...)

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