Wednesday, August 15, 2012

So You Think You Can Write...

I've been writing professionally for over a decade, I've learned a thing or two.
Some of these things are random opinions that can't fill an entire blog post.
Here they are, in no particular order:

- In the beginning of your career, do not work with a partner.
             Because you may or may not have to defend your work to your partner, and if you are not confident or well practiced in the execution of your work, you will get bulldozed.
             Just take my word for it.

- Go to conferences and seminars, but mostly, write.
               I have gone to many a seminar and many a conference, and very often I meet people who are there because they "have an idea" for a kid's book, but want to know how to break into the business (in other words, they want to know if actually WRITING the book would be a waste of their time), and they are hoping that they will meet some agent or editor who will hear their idea and jump all over it and they will sell it on the conference room floor.
               Mind you, they haven't even written it yet.  First they want to be sure they can sell it.
               REALITY CHECK: This NEVER HAPPENS!!!
               I have never, never, never, never, never heard of any agent, editor or whoever that has bought an unwritten book from a debut author.  Mind you, once you become say, Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or a celebrity, then your books can be purchased on your name recognition alone, but for us every day schmoes, you have to actually write the book, and you have to write it REALLY well.  The idea could be ground-breaking and the most amazing thing you've ever heard in your life, but if the writing isn't there it doesn't mean jack.
                Writing conferences and seminars are for writers, not for idea-ers.
                Write the damn book.

- No, you do not need to copyright your draft.
                   There has been instances in Hollywood where a screenwriter submits a script to the studio and they pass, and eight months later - WHAMO - the same concept written by a totally different screenwriter is in production and the screenwriter is like, "Wait a second! I'm going to sue the multi-billion-dollar movie studio, trash my reputation, and get buried under hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills just so I can get a post in the Hollywood Reporter that I pitched that project to them first."
                    NEWS FLASH: You cannot own an idea.  You can copyright your script, but in most cases if the 800 lb. gorilla movie studio wants to steal it, they will steal it without remorse because, hey - they're an 800 lb. gorilla.  I'm not saying it's right, I'm saying it's a fact.
                    Unless they took your script word-for-word (and these 800 lb. gorillas are too smart to do that) then you have no case - and why? Because you cannot own an idea.  Just the execution of that idea.
                    But - does this apply to books?
                    Maybe I'm not in the right circles, or maybe big time publishers are more discreet with their stealing, or maybe there isn't stealing going on at all - but I have not once, ever, heard a story about a book getting pitched and passed and then the author suing a few months later.  I'm pretty certain it happens, but I've never seen press to this effect.
                     That's because the big time publisher can easily say, "We pass because we already have something like this is development," and the author has no choice but to believe them.  True or not, this is a fact of business.  Suing a big time publisher without concrete documentation and PROOF is a fool's errand.  Just don't do it.
                      So, my very paranoid writer friends, do you think that getting your manuscript copyrighted with help protect your work?  My very sad and pessimistic point of view is this: Nope.
                     Doesn't matter.  It's a waste of time and money.  If the big time publisher wants to steal your concept and have someone else write it, they will.  Very, very, very rarely and probably never, have I heard of a big time publisher taking someone's exact manuscript and publishing it under a different author's name.  Again, like the 800 lb. Hollywood gorilla, they are too smart for that.
                     Copyright?  Forgettaboutit.
                     HOWEVER, if you feel the absolute NEED to prove you wrote your masterpiece at a certain time, then print a copy, and mail it to yourself, and DON'T OPEN THE PACKAGE.  The postmark will have a date and prove when the MS was written.  It's cheap, it's effective.  If it puts your mind at ease, then go for it, but I'm telling you, honestly, I wouldn't bother.
                    Big time publishers copyright your book for you when it's published to protect you from piracy.  I'm pretty sure they are on our side, and we don't need protection from them - but that's just me.

Again, I hope this advice is somewhat helpful!
Comments are always welcome.
Think I'm wrong?
Let me know.

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