Tips On Screenwriting, Film Rights And Adapting Your Novel With Lucy V. Hay

Most fiction authors have a dream of seeing their stories on the big screen – but it doesn’t have to be a dream.

There are lots of things you can do to ensure your story has a chance of success in film/TV. In this interview, Lucy V. Hay gives us some tips.

In the intro I talk about the IndieRecon videos that you might enjoy, including my session on how to make a living with your writing; David Gaughran’s post on Author Solutions; my mega-rebranding, re-titling and re-covering exercise with my first 3 novels and my JFPenn.com site; and a recommendation for The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you for your support!

LucyVHayLucy V. Hay is a novelist, script editor, screenwriter, and blogger at Bang2write.com. She’s one of the organizers of London Screenwriters’ Festival, and she has books on writing thriller screenplays and drama screenplays.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the interview on YouTube or read the notes and links below.

  • What are the big differences between writing a novel and writing a screenplay?
  • What are your options for exploiting your rights around film and TV?
  • Producers are always looking for great stories – how do you get their attention?
  • Tips on pitching – try to think of it in terms of concept, not all the details of the story
  • The difference between a logline and a tagline – and how to construct yours
  • What is a treatment? Why you need to think about sales and the audience who will buy the story for adaptation
  • The thriller screenplaysreality of options and the chances of getting a screenplay actually made
  • Should a novelist do their own adaptation?
  • Why genre is so important in screenwriting
  • Having fun and writing for entertainment. We don’t have to be so serious all the time!
  • Why you should watch all the movies in your genre and steep yourself in them

You can find Lucy at bang2write.com and on Twitter @bang2writeContinue Reading

How To Make A Living With Your Writing. Video Overview

As part of the fantastic IndieRecon free online conference for authors last month, I recorded a 54 min video on How to Make a Living with your Writing. Or at least, how I make my living :)

It’s based on the material in my book, Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur, available in ebook, print and audio formats. I hope you find it useful.

Watch the video below, or here on YouTube.

You can also see the slides below or here on SlideShare

You’re welcome to leave any questions or comments below.

On Changing Book Titles And Covers: My Own Experience And How You Can Do It Too

I’ve just been through a massive rebranding process: re-titling and re-covering the first 3 books in my ARKANE series, and updating the back matter for all the other books.

A hefty amount of work!

Here’s why and how, just in case you want to go through this sometime. It’s quite a long, confessional style of post. I’m ‘fessing up to my mistakes, so be gentle with your comments!

First up, here are the awesome new covers: Stone of Fire (previously Pentecost), Crypt of Bone (previously Prophecy) and Ark of Blood (previously Exodus), designed by the wonderful JD Smith Design.

New ARKANE coversSo, why change my fiction book titles anyway?

Basically, none of us know what the hell we’re doing when we start writing :)

Here’s how my first book title journey went.

In November 2009, I joined NaNoWriMo in an attempt to write something fictional. Amusingly, I videoed the process – here’s Day 1, and you can follow the whole journey here. The working title for the book on Day 1 was Morgan – and Morgan Sierra is still the name of my main character and alter-ego, so that hasn’t changed.

Pentecost, Prophecy, Exodus

Original covers of the first 3 books. Pentecost by Joel Friedlander. Prophecy and Exodus by Derek Murphy, Creativindie. I loved them all!

Then I started to incorporate aspects of Carl Jung and psychology of religion into the book, and the working title became Mandala, after the patterns in Jung’s Red Book which I was reading at the time. As I continued to write and edit over the following year, the title changed again to Pentecost – based on the pillar of fire that (in my story) empowered the stones of the Apostles.

I have a Masters in Theology from Oxford University, and although I don’t adhere to any religion, my interest in all things religious/supernatural/paranormal/spiritual/psychological drives my writing. Oh yes, and my favorite movie is Con Air, which explains why I blow so much up in my books :)

“From the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona to Castle Houska in the Czech Republic, no one destroys landmarks better than Penn. Despite her penchant for demolition, Penn’s GatesofHellsmallerGATES OF HELL is a must read. I enjoyed every page.” Amazon review from i Love Reading

I then decided that I would write books with titles that began with P in this series. So the next book was Prophecy – based on the prophecy in Revelation that a quarter of the world must die … (cue dramatic music) … and then I wrote Exodus, which doesn’t even begin with P … you’re getting the idea now that I didn’t really have a clue back then!

At the time, I didn’t do any kind of market research into the niche or my audience, or what the covers might look like, or what my target market would expect. I just ‘had a feeling’ about the type of books I wanted to buy and read, and I buy anything with faintly religious sounding titles.

Back then, I knew a lot about non-fiction marketing, but nothing about how to market fiction.

I published Exodus in December 2013 and I started questioning my titles at that point. I was getting some 1 star reviews saying that the books weren’t Christian (they’re not, even though they are respectful to all religions). I wanted to target the Dan Brown market – but I should have realized that his breakout book was called ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ NOT ‘The Jesus Code.’

Champagne to celebrate the launch of my first novel!

Champagne to celebrate the launch of my first novel! It was only the beginning …

While my books are based on biblical history and archaeology, they are about as Christian as James Rollins, Simon Toyne, Steve Berry and others who write mainstream conspiracy thrillers/action-adventure. I have a lot of Christian readers who enjoy the stories, and I am respectful to all faiths in my books, BUT I am not a Christian and I don’t write books that are specifically Christian.

So the next book I wrote was: One Day in Budapest. A much more mainstream title that encapsulated the fast pace and also the geographic element of the book. I’ve continued to write ‘Day’ novellas and am very happy with those.

I make up titles for new books as I am getting ideas, and usually change them at least once before publication. For example, Day of the Vikings started out as Ragnarok. Gates of Hell started out as Inquisition.

pentecost prophecy exodus reboot

Reboot of the covers with Lara Croft style figure … turns out my readers describe Morgan as a female Indiana Jones :) By Derek Murphy from Creativindie – I still love these covers too!

I changed my ARKANE covers again in March 2014, after a number of articles about using people on the covers convinced me to do the same.

We added a Lara Croft style figure on the first 3 books, and also changed Desecration from a white, artistic, literary cover to something more befitting a crime thriller (as below).

All of this demonstrates how hard titles and cover designs can be when you do this alone.

As for the title change – essentially, I’ve been considering a change since Exodus came out and recently I signed with a new agent. We have lots of ideas for potential foreign rights markets and changing the look and feel of the series now will help with pitching. So I bit the bullet, made the changes and despite the pain, I’m really happy with the result.

remake desecration

Both covers by Derek Murphy, Creativindie. I love them both but the white looks a little too artistic for a crime thriller :)

So, what’s the conclusion from all of this?

It takes time to get to know your own voice as a writer

It takes a few books to really get to grips with what you’re writing, who you want to be as a writer, how you want your brand to look and also what your books even mean.

It also takes time to understand what your readers think about your books. Who do THEY compare your work too?

My VA, Alexandra, and I recently went through over 1000 reviews on my books to work this out. My readers compare my ARKANE series to Clive Cussler and Indiana Jones, as well as Dan Brown & Steve Berry – with a hint of National Treasure, James Bond, Daniel Silva, Matthew Reilly and Kate Mosse. I’m happy with that :) and so we used those authors as models for the new covers.

JF penn siteSurprisingly, the whole process of working through what the ARKANE brand is has made me more comfortable in my thriller writer skin. Taking a step back has enabled me to evaluate where I am, where I’m going, what I want to write next.

Although I’ve talked previously about my shadow side coming through in my fiction, about how I am two people, I am finally feeling that I am becoming a more integrated soul. To illustrate this, I’ve just changed my JFPenn.com site and made the whole thing a lot more smiley. My books are actually really fun – yes, a high body count – but pacy and full of adventure. Just like Con Air :)

It’s time I embraced the entertainment side of being a writer and stopped being so serious! (I’m going to blame Oxford and my literary upbringing for that!)

So how does all this apply to your author journey?

Best practices for book titles

For non-fiction – unless you are super famous/have a platform and people will buy anyway – use SEO/keyword research for some part of your title, either the main title or the sub-title. Read more on this here, when I retitled my first non-fiction book and sales jumped 10-fold.

Also, listen to this interview with Tim Grahl about using PickFu to test titles. This is also a great article on the truth about picking non-fiction book titles.

Author brandingFiction book titles are really difficult – so difficult that there are very few blog posts on it on the internetz. Fiction titles need to:

  • Communicate a promise to the reader – which is further aligned to the cover images – which mesh perfectly with what the customer expects in the book. If there’s anything that jars the reader in any imperceptible way, they won’t buy.

Ultimately, the title, cover and description are your primary marketing materials for your book.

Yes, you need to write a great book. That’s always the first thing. But if you don’t nail those 3 elements, no one will pick it up or download a sample.

This is one of the mixed blessings of being an indie author – creative freedom means you get to title and cover your book how you want. And yes, you might get it wrong. Luckily, we get to change things if we want to.

One other thing, there is no copyright on book titles in English, so you can use a title that others have used. But I wouldn’t publish a book called The Da Vinci Code or Jurassic Park. There is copyright on book titles in Germany and potentially other countries, so be careful with your titles in translation.

OK, let’s get into the nitty-gritty details.

Won’t changing the covers and titles confuse readers?

Readers can’t download the same ebook twice, so as long as you keep the same numbers on the various stores e.g. ASIN on Amazon, then there won’t be a problem. Also, you can add ‘Previously published as …’ in all the important places.

The main issues have been print copies, as they require new ISBNs – but I gave the change a positive spin and did a giveaway of signed First Editions to my fiction email list (signup and free book here!) It was really popular and I got lots of positive feedback about the new covers and titles too.

What are you growing for the long term?

What are you growing for the long term?

Yes, you may end up annoying a few people but to be honest, I’m only 40 and I have many, many years of writing ahead of me. I want to position myself for the long term so I needed to do this now as I have more coming in the ARKANE series. Better to do it now rather than later, when of course, I become a 10 year overnight success :)

How to change ebook titles and covers

You don’t lose reviews or rankings if you keep the same ID numbers on the various platforms e.g. ASIN on Amazon KDP. Just change your source files and metadata and republish. Add in an extra line ‘previously published as’ so people don’t get annoyed.

If you have lots of books, you will have to update the back matter and sales descriptions of all the other books as well to reference the changed books. It took me several days to do all this and it was extremely painful – BUT hopefully worth it! I also took the opportunity to add teasers about the next book in the series so hopefully that will also increase sell through.

Here’s some more specifics per store.

KINDLE – It takes a couple of days for the cover to update even though the interior files will update really fast on the store. This meant that there were a few days where the title didn’t match the cover and I held my breath expecting bad reviews. No way to get round that though and everything was fine. My author page looks awesome now :)

author page

KOBO – No issues at all. Changes went through fine.

iBOOKS – No issues at all. Changes went through fine.

NOOK – The key field is on title, so you’ll need to ask for their help. My sales have been so low at NOOK recently that I just went ahead and lost my history and reviews. If you have a huge audience on NOOK, then this might make you think twice about re-titling, but re-covering is no issue.

SMASHWORDS – No issues at all. Changes went through fine.

How to change print book titles and covers

Unfortunately, a title change means new ISBNs which means new files. You need to unpublish the old ones. Make sure you order a few copies for posterity. You never know, they may be valuable one day!

Stone of Fire 3DI use Createspace and free ISBNs so I created new projects for all 3 books, changed the interior and cover files and republished.

Link the new versions through Amazon Author Central and ask them to unlink the old ones. You can never get rid of the older editions in that they will be available as secondhand, but you can make sure the new books are linked to the Kindle version with all the reviews on.

I also updated the print files for all my other fiction books with the name changes as part of the series in the back matter and took the opportunity to update my Author Bio and other small things while I was there.

How to change audiobook titles and covers

audioMy audiobooks are published through ACX and it has been a bit of a pain. It should be simple enough. Contact the help at ACX and ask for changes to the projects. Send them the updated cover, opening and closing credits and that should be it.

Unfortunately, because I sent 3 at the same time, the helpdesk got confused and loaded the wrong title and cover to the two of the books. I’d suggest this wouldn’t be an issue with just one book – and it worked out fine in the end.

Was it all worth it?

Yes, indeed, although I suspect I will be updating links on this site for years to come. I needed to take a good look at my fiction brand and the new covers and titles give me a good base going forward. As the first 3 books in the series, they are super important and STONE OF FIRE is my permafree title, so it needs to look good. I’m confident that my agent will be able to take these to foreign markets and overall, I am super happy with the changes.

What do you think? This has been a megapost, so please join the conversation and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Writing Fiction: Tips On Plot With Roz Morris

If you need to nail your novel, Roz Morris can help! In her latest book, and this podcast, she explores plot in detail to help you sort yours out.

New ARKANE coversIn the intro, I talk about the rebranding, retitling and recovering of my first 3 books; how brilliant IndieRecon was and a little about London Book Fair and the latest reports of dire earnings for authors in the UK. Some cool things to check out: Amazon Kindle Textbook Creator now includes video and audio; GetBookReport.com is a great new ‘plugin’ for KDP and is free to check out for 30 days; Goodreads has started with audio samples on the site, showing the growing awareness of audio; indie author Mark Dawson gets amazing coverage in Forbes for his fantastic success and I compare this to the latest AuthorSay report from AgentHunter where many authors wouldn’t try going indie despite being unhappy with their publishing deals.

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna

roz morrisRoz Morris is the bestselling author of over a dozen novels as a ghostwriter and has also written My Memories of a Future Life and Lifeform 3 under her own name. She has a series of books for writers under the Nail Your Novel brand, and the latest is Writing Plots with Drama, Depth and Heart.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the interview on YouTube here or read the notes and links below.

You can listen to previous shows with Roz as follows: Writing fiction: bring your characters to life; Nailing your novel; and Writing literary fiction.

  • What is plot anyway? How does it differ to story? Character vs plot and how your preference will shape the story. How many plots are there really? Story is the struggle – why plotsdo these events even matter? On pantsers vs plotters and why structure really is important – however you write.
  • On genre expectations and plot aspects for blending genre. On sub plots and point of view.
  • The 4 Cs of a good plot: Curiosity, coherence, crescendo and change. How to keep characters and plots going across a series.
  • On theme and how it can enrich a plot. The book is about more than just the story but you need to be disciplined about how you use it. Things still have to happen! On back story and how to use it in the best way.
  • Conflict and making life difficult for characters. How to make sure your ending is satisfying.
  • Roz explains her plotting process, the beat sheet and more. We also discuss the difficulties of book titles.

You can find Roz at NailYourNovel.com and you can find her new book, Writing Plots with Drama, Depth and Heart, on Amazon here.Continue Reading

How To Record Your Own Audiobooks For ACX

Audiobooks are a fantastic growth market for authors, narrators and producers alike, and I’ve been working with fabulous narrators for my fiction since ACX opened up in the UK in 2014.

businessaudibleBut as a reader, I much prefer to listen to non-fiction audio in the voice of the author themselves, so I decided to record one of my own books, Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur. Here are the lessons I learned in the process.

This article first appeared in an edited version on the ACX blog on 31 March, 2015.

(1) Make sure you record the highest quality audio

There are specific technical requirements to publish audio on ACX so that the customer has the best experience possible. You can reach this level of quality by recording in your own home, but only if you can get rid of the various noises that may pollute the audio, which you may not even hear anymore.

I’m a podcaster so I’m used to recording and editing audio, but when I listened to the sounds of my flat, I could hear planes overhead, cars going past, the rattle of someone in the garden, and the occasional yapping of a dog outside. When I tried recording, I had to keep going back and redoing sections which was a waste of time.

andy marlow studio

Andy Marlow in the recording and mixing studio

Instead of persisting with that process, I hired professional audio producer (and musician) Andy Marlow, who has a great little studio just a bus ride away from me in South London. We worked in two hour slots and Andy made sure that the quality of the initial audio was excellent, as well as mastering the file for the final production load.

(2) Prepare yourself for recording

It’s surprising how tiring recording audio can be. I was exhausted after each two hour session, because it was essentially a performance. You have to put energy and expression into what you’re saying. You have to focus your eyes on the words you’ve written for an extended period.

And in a professional studio, you might be shut into a small padded box, which takes some getting used to! Here are my tips to manage yourself during the audio process.

  • Schedule sessions a few days apart if you’re new at recording to ensure you have enough energy, especially if you’re an introvert like me. People can hear exhaustion in your voice, so respect your audience and make sure you’re at full strength when starting and stop before your voice begins to drop. Having a specific time scheduled will also ensure you get the recording and production done in a manageable amount of time. As a ballpark figure, it took 7 sessions of 2 hours each to get to a finished audiobook of 6.5 hours, although there was probably about 1.25 hours of raw audio per session.
  • Try to avoid dairy before recording or anything that might give you excess phlegm or clog your throat. Try cleaning your teeth and create a routine so that you know your voice will be ready for speaking. If you’re ill or your voice is affected in any way, you’ll need to postpone, as one of the ACX requirements is to keep your voice at a similar level across recording sessions.
  • If you’re recording around mealtimes, make sure you take a snack with you. Tummy rumbling, or borborygmi (what a lovely word!) can destroy a recording session! And from personal experience, don’t take peanut butter or anything that gives you a ‘cloggy’ mouth feel.
  • When you’re recording, try to modulate your breathing so you don’t end up holding your breath. I found that I needed to stop sometimes for deep breathing during longer chapters. I would definitely consider a voice coach for help with this if I was recording more often as it definitely affected my stamina. Professional actors and voice artists can
    Jostudio

    Joanna Penn in the padded recording cell :)

    record for a much longer period as they have mastered this.

  • You will need to read from a tablet or Kindle or other electronic devices since you can’t make page turning noises. Remember to turn off any wifi connection on the devices and set to Airplane mode as they can make a static noise on the audio even if you can’t hear it when recording.
  • While you’re reading your book aloud, you will inevitably find things that you want to change, especially if they are things that don’t work so well in audio, for example, lists of resources that are website links. If you self-publish your books, it’s very easy to make changes. I just made a note on my Kindle of what I wanted to change and then updated my ebook file to match to ensure Whispersync would work. My friend and fellow author, Orna Ross, has changed her process to record audio before publishing the ebook as reading aloud has given her a new perspective on editing.
  • One other point on changing files. I would recommend that you only record audio versions for those books which will remain static for a few years. If you have technical books, or other books that require updating annually, then it’s probably too much work to record it as you will need to change it later if you want to keep the Whispersync matching. I decided not to record How to Market a Book for this reason, as I have already done two versions in 18 months and will no doubt update it again in the future.
  • Each ACX file needs to be a single chapter of the book, so make sure you record in these smaller files, rather than creating files across chapters. This will make it easier to load later. You also need to create opening and closing credits, the text of which is provided in the ACX technical notes.

(3) Learn some editing skills to keep the costs down

You can pay a producer to edit the audio files as well as record and master them, but this will make your costs per book higher, meaning less profit for the project. Since I already edit audio for my podcast, and I had high quality raw audio files, I decided to do the edits myself.

Here are some specific tips:

  • If you make a mistake when recording, clap your hands so you create an obvious spike on the audio file that you can use to find the error later. If you mess up a lot, it can be easier to go back to the beginning of the paragraph to get a smooth read. Your error rate will increase as you become more tired, so make sure that you take breaks. I found that 40 minutes was the maximum time I could spend reading “in the box” before I needed a break.
  • You can use free editing software like Audacity or whatever comes on your computer. Make sure that you use the Cross Fade function when cutting the file. I used Amadeus Pro on the Mac which has a Smart Edit function with auto-cross fade. I did start to get Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) pain in my wrist during the editing process so I would recommend sorting out an ergonomic mouse and keyboard if it’s something you’re going to do regularly.
  • The ACX technical requirements mean you have to add a few seconds of Room Tone at the beginning and end of the file. We recorded this separately and then I just used the pre-cut segments to top and tail each file which made the process quick and easy.
  • audiobooks for indiesAfter editing, there needs to be a QA listen to the audio to ensure all the cuts are done properly and the audio matches the book. Since I was truly sick of hearing my own voice by this stage, I employed my Virtual Assistant to do this step for me. Most of the files were fine, but there were a couple of instances where I had repeated myself without editing the error, so this QA step is crucial to avoid issues later.
  • High quality audio files are very large and because you’ll be sending them back and forth, you can’t use email for this. They will also fill up your computer memory really fast. I used Dropbox as a method to send the edited files to my VA and the final files to the producer.

For more recording and editing tips, I recommend Audiobooks for Indies by Simon Whistler which has a lot of useful information whether you want to record your own books, or work with a narrator.

Would I do it again?

Business for Authors 3DThis process has given me a renewed respect for audiobook narrators, because now I know how hard the job is and how many hours go into recording and editing a book. It was much harder work than I expected!

However, it was definitely rewarding and I will be recording other non-fiction books in the future because I think readers particularly enjoy listening to non-fiction in the voice of the creator.

It also gives the entrepreneurial author another product in their business, and if you’d like to learn more about that, check out Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur, available now on Audible as well as in ebook and print formats. You can also find it here on iTunes.

Do you have any questions or comments about narrating your own audiobook? Please do leave them below and join the conversation.