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About Writing Right: The Blog


A screenwriter asked the other day what adapting a screenplay to a novel would cost. Here's what I told her.

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Does $100,000 sound reasonable? I didn't think so. How about $80,000? No? Okay, but here's the problem we run into for any amount of money.


Screenplays and novels are totally different creatures. Novels are far more complex and require more literary knowledge than screenplays. Infinitely more. That's both because novels have a more complex structure, more "moving parts," and because they're the end result of one writer's work (with very rare exception). Screenplays are collaborative efforts. Sure, a freelance screenwriter may write his entire 90-110-page first draft by himself, but by the time the script is made into a film, several dozen to several hundred people have contributed their expertise to the transformation. That includes five, six, eight, or even twelve different writers or more, all taking your baby out for a walk around the park.


That explains why really good novelists have very little trouble transitioning to good screenwriters, but very good screenwriters nearly never work out to be good novelists. Not only are most novels three-to-six times longer than the average feature-length script, but also they contain far more interrelated elements that must all work together. There's simply a far greater learning curve (and experience factor) in producing a well-written novel than there is in producing a top-notch screenplay. Read More 

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Here's a question that pops up from time to time: Is it best to stick to one or two genres when writing, or is it better to write in multiple genres?


Actually, I prefer writing in multiple genres. I think that's a fantastic way for a writer to hone his literary skills and expand his horizons. Writers who write in one or two genres only are pigeonholing themselves and stifling their creativity. No one genre possesses all the challenges that numerous genres combined do.


My first ever published book was a nonfiction tome on growing trees and shrubs indoors. My second was a Romance/Action-Adventure novel set in an exotic foreign locale. As a rule, I enjoy writing fiction more than nonfiction, but I have a degree in journalism and have worked as a reporter, columnist, and newspaper and magazine editor for years; so, nonfiction has kept food on my table and butter on my bread. Both sides! In all, I have published probably tens of thousands of articles and columns on a wide range of topics.


When it comes to writing books, again, nonfiction sells more than fiction; so, publishers are always anxious to find a hot nonfiction topic that they know will put dollars in the bank. Those nonfiction books pay the freight that allows publishers to dabble in all areas of fiction, ranging from genre to experimental—even though far more novels end up losing them money than making it. I've written nonfiction books on virtually every topic imaginable, from science and technology to how-to guides, self-help, sports, legal, biography, history, environmental, pond-keeping, computer technology, gardening, ethnicity, big pharma, and even cancer and holistic medicine. (It helps to be an effective researcher!) Read More 

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Someone asked me the other day how I respond to unwarranted, bad reviews of one of my books. Can you guess how I replied? Check it out here:

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Wow.Do I have the one perfect answer to this question. (Are you glad you wrote in, or what?). And it's this: Write him back with something along these lines: "You f***ing icehole. How stupid are you? How could you have missed all the salient points of my book and gone off on your obvious vendetta against me? You'd better just crawl back under the rock you came from, you disgusting SOB, because you're slime!"


And believe me, I've responded just that way to the more than thousands of reviewers over my 250-some published book career over the years.


In my mind.

That's the secret. "In my mind." Outside of that, keep it to yourself.


You get a great review? Contact the reviewer and thank him or her. You get a scathing review, swallow it. Otherwise, you run the risk of starting an Internet Range War. And that never works out to an author's advantage. Read More 

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Somebody wrote in anonymously the other day and asked how much it costs to hire a ghostwriter for a book. He also wanted a little information on where to find one and how the ghostwriting process works. A lot of ground to cover. Fortunately, I had my jogging shoes on.

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I don't know many ghosts personally, but I know their price range is all over the chart. For wannabes and newbies, you can get one fairly inexpensively. Expect the finished product—as well as the experience of working with the ghost—to reflect that. In short, the saying "You get what you pay for" is no truer than when hiring a good ghostwriter.


I've been a published writer and editor for half a century and a book doctor and ghost for two or three decades. I charge only a flat rate (no estimates or hourly rates) and provide a contract guaranteeing a final price, date of delivery, and all the other usual suspects. My charges vary greatly, depending upon the complexity of the project, the difficulty I foresee in working with the client (some are much easier to work with than others), and my availability.


As far as the process goes, you as the story originator would turn over to me as the ghost an outline, rough draft, sketch, audiotape, transcript, or anything else that sufficiently conveys the concept of the book you want to end up with so that I am able to deliver it to you. Unlike many ghosts I've heard people talk about, I'm nonjudgmental, and I don't have a a fragile ego. My goal is to work quickly and efficiently to deliver the product my client wants and deserves. Read More 

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I ran into someone who asked for some examples of book covers that were unique, interesting, and creative. Here's what I came up with.

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I can think of several I've used over the years--each one more original than the last. For example:


This book, About Writing Right, works because of the simplicity of its design. Yet, it underwent some sixty or seventy subtle changes to incorporate just the right elements, in the right size, and in the right place. The typeface is clean, clear, and to the point. Yet, the placement of the words draws attention to them. The blue "questions" appearing behind the title have been deliberately shadowed down through use of transparency, and the one and only illustration toward the top shows an interesting arrangement that only another writer could appreciate. Ahh, the smell of old books! You just can't beat it.


This book, whose title is obvious, is the first in An Islands Murder Mystery series and shows the ideal setting of a harbor in St. Lucia. The placement of the seaplane is at such an angle as to make obvious the fact that it has just taken off and is in its climb, denoting action (of which there is plenty in this Caribbean-centered murder mystery loosely based on a true story). The plane plays against the placid scene of yachts and boats at moor below. The choice of colors further adds to the overall allure of the cover and reflects the drama inside—ranging from Garifuna tribal members, beautiful precocious women, and electrically charged excitement. Read More 

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Someone wrote in and assked if a person can make "changes" to another author's copyrighted book and republish it. I know, I know. But read on anyway to see how I answered.

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Sure. Absolutely, no problem. Just make sure you have tons of money in a bank account somewhere, because you're going to need it.


Of course, you can't make "changes" to someone else's book and republish it under your name--or any name, for that matter. That would still be misappropriation and copyright infringement. Copyrights exist for a reason—and preventing misappropriation of creative or intellectual property is number-one on the Hit Parade. When you infringe upon someone else's IP, you're depriving that person of the potential ability to generate income and notoriety from the work over which he has sweated, often for years. No matter how you slice it, that's a big no-no.


Now, you can completely rewrite an existing book about the same topic or genre as the original book and publish that under your name. But it must be a completely new work written with completely different wording that makes it a unique publication in itself. The same holds true for book cover art. Artists, designers, and photographers, too, are protected from misappropriation of their work. Unless you take an existing copyrighted image and completely transform it into something unique, you can't use it without permission. Read More 

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