Recently I watched an indie mockumentary called "Authors Anonymous" that follows a writing critique group. When it comes to writing a lot of movies still get it wrong, which is surprising because movies are written by, you know, writers who should know better than to have a character mailing their 2,000-page opus in a box to a publisher and getting a big contract. This movie gets the writing game far righter than most. Here are some tips on what to do and what not to do gleaned from the movie:
1. Actually Finish Something: Chris Klein plays Henry, the literary writer of the group who worships Fitzgerald, Hemingway, etc. (A popular writing movie trope is that everyone always worships Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and pretty much everyone else before 1950. What about Updike or Vonnegut or the many authors since then?) For most of the movie he's suffering from writer's block in finishing his great opus Pizza to Go. It's only after some tumultuous events with the group that he finally gets the gumption to finish the book. And this being a movie of course it succeeds.
2. Don't Flog One Thing Forever: Collette is another member of the group, who's been working on her steamy romance novel Nyet, Not Yet forever, despite that no one wants to publish it. She finally barges into a literary agent's office with her guru, who's taken a vow of silence. But instead of getting her book published, she becomes co-author of a book featuring the guru. So hey she'll be a published author! (Sort of.)
3. How to Not Net an Agent by Creative Means: Collette's husband is an optometrist, who considers himself the leader of the group. When a literary agent (Mike from "Breaking Bad") comes in to get his eyes checked, the optometrist replaces the traditional eye test with a page of his wife's manuscript. Instead of piquing the agent's interest, he just gets annoyed and leaves.
4. How to Net an Agent by Creative Means: By contrast Henry gets his novel in the hands of the same agent through a different method. When he goes to clean the agent's carpets for his day job, he offers the agent 10% off if he'll read the first ten pages. The agent agrees and likes what he sees, so he asks for more. The difference between 3 & 4 is one is just pushing something the agent doesn't want on them while the other offers a reward. Pro Tip: Agents like money. So really the optometrist should have offered free glasses if the agent would read his wife's book.
5. Don't Revise Indefinitely: One character worships Charles Bukowski (as do I) and wants to be a great writer like him. The problem is he's only written 3 pages in like 3 years! At one group session he turns in the same pages but claims it's completely different because he's changed one word. Revision is great, but 3 years is a bit too much. And I definitely don't think Bukowski put that much effort into it.
6. Be Discreet When Researching: Bukowski boy also has this habit of eavesdropping on people's conversations to write down interesting stuff. The problem is he's completely not subtle about it. This leads to trouble with a couple of women he's been spying on. So if you're going to do that, be more subtle. Or be like the NSA and just listen to phone conversations from thousands of miles away.
7. Avoid Vanity Presses: Dennis Farina plays an older guy who worships Tom Clancy. He finally decides to self-publish his novel Roaring Lion with a vanity press called "U R the Publisher." Except the books he gets back are formatted terribly. The front cover features a tiny dog instead of a lion and the back text is in Chinese! Of course if you do it yourself through CreateSpace or Lulu you avoid those problems.
8. Know Your Audience: After getting his books, Dennis Farina sets up a book signing at his girlfriend's hardware store. This of course does not go well. Watching it I shook my head and thought, "Why doesn't he sell them at like a VFW?" I mean he was a Marine and he's selling a military-themed book, so why not go to where other like-minded individuals will be located? It's like how if I were not such a Grumpy Bulldog I'd try to have book signings for my superhero books at comic book stores and try to sell them at sci-fi conventions. If you're going to sell books in person, try to sell them where people who might be interested in them might actually be.
9. Keep a Recording Device Handy: An annoying habit the optometrist has is keeping a tape recorder around for ideas of stories or characters. The problem is that he never actually writes any of these ideas into books, which kind of goes back to my first tip. Still, it's a good idea if you're forgetful because there's nothing worse than thinking of a story or title or something and then forgetting it later, because then it will haunt you for hours. Or you can use a blog. Idea for a novel: a secret agent who's a bulldog mascot! I'll call it Agent Double-Oh K9!
|I like my wet food shaken, not stirred.|
10. Hook Up With a Famous Author: There's one famous author who's Henry's idol, but at a book signing the author ends up hooking up with ditzy blond Hannah, who also has a book being published. When it comes time for her book signing, the famous author has a lot of his friends show up, so it's far more successful than Dennis Farina's. Of course it might be difficult for you to hook up with JK Rowling or Stephen King or someone like that, but keep your options open!
11. Be Super Cute: As mentioned in #10, Hannah is a ditzy blond in the group. Throughout the movie she's challenged to think of a famous author and it's pretty clear the closest to a book she's probably read is TV Guide. But she's the one who gets the big publishing deal for her novel Sleeping on the Moon. Jealous group members suggest she got the deal because she's hot. Whether this is true or not is debatable, but I will say not many people who look like me get mega book deals. Now of course if you're like me it's kind of hard to actually apply this tip, but do your best. I mean, what could it hurt?
For more tips, you can watch the movie on Netflix, Redbox, or On Demand or whatever.
A CHALLENGE FOR INDIE WRITERS MONTHLY AUTHORS: When they make "Indie Writers Monthly: The Movie" who would play you? I was thinking about mine and then decided that it would be Jonah Hill just because I think it's a Hollywood rule that he plays any fat, nerdy guy under 40. Now pick your avatar, who probably looks much, much better than you in real life.