Awards Season for Us Common Folk

It’s that time of year again. Every other week you see new pictures of a celebrity hugging a statuette thanking their “team.”  If you’re like me, you probably don’t care about their speeches, but you do want to see what they’re wearing, and there’s only a 10% chance you’ve seen the movies they won for. I faithfully watch the Academy Awards every year (yes, even last year when Seth McFarlane hosted), although sometimes I wonder why. I don’t care about cinematography, documentaries, short films, or whoever they’re giving the honorary Oscar to, and on average I’ve usually only seen about two of the best picture nominees. I think most of the time the prize goes to films Hollywood thinks are good for us, whether or not we actually like them.

So, I’ve decided to do a series of awards here, with categories I think would be interesting to a broader range of people, and nominate movies, TV shows, and books I think were flat out entertaining. I don’t care if they were high art. Sometimes the nominees were very well done, but other times they were just plain fun. Granted, it’s limited to what I watched or read in 2013, but I do consume a lot of media.

First up—Movies! I like what the Golden Globes does separating comedies and dramas, so I’ll follow their lead. However, I’m going to nominate real comedies, not dramas with a few funny lines. I nominate as many films as I think deserved it in each category.

Best Drama:

drama nominees

  • Mud: Had to catch this one on DVD as it wasn’t widely released, but it was worth it. The kids in this film are incredible and make way better decisions than any of the adults.
  • Gravity: I’m cheap, but I shelled out the cash to see this in 3D IMAX and it was worth every penny.
  • American Hustle: Another great film by David O. Russell, but I don’t agree with some that say it was better than Silver Linings Playbook. Best supporting acting award should go to Amy Adams’ double stick tape.
  • Saving Mr. Banks: Did I know they were playing my heartstrings as they were doing it? Absolutely. Did I love this movie and cry anyway? Of course.

 Winner: Gravity. Not only was this movie visually stunning and suspenseful, but it also packed an emotional punch. It was the whole package.

Best Comedy: A special award should go to Steve Carell, who starred in three of my five nominees.

comedy nominees

  • The Heat: Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock together was enough to have me gasping for air in this cop buddy comedy.
  • Anchorman 2: There was so much stuffed into this sequel, I think I need to see it again to catch all of the jokes. Those Dodge Durango commercials were a nice bonus, too.
  • Despicable Me 2: I suppose the kids find the minions funny, but really all of the jokes are for the adults.
  • The Way, Way Back: This is more of a dramedy, so I wasn’t sure which category to put it in, but I laughed so much and they had so many great comedic actors in it, I put it here. Another one that wasn’t widely released, but well worth the DVD rental. Sam Rockwell shines in one of his few non-villain roles.
  • Much Ado About Nothing: Shakespeare in this category? Joss Whedon’s black and white update was so funny I actually rewound parts of the DVD so I could watch them again.

Winner: The Way, Way Back. Normally I’d give this to the movie that packed the most laughs per minute of run time, because I really admire that. If I got to a comedy, I want to laugh, not be mildly amused. However, I did laugh a good amount and this was just one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. The Academy was nuts not nominating it for best picture. Comedy snobs.

Best Action Flick: I made this a category because other than for sound or sound mixing, these never get nominated for anything, and they bring me some of the most joy all year.

action nominees

  • Iron Man 3: The franchise bravely decided to tell a new story instead of repeating the same formula and for the first time showed a vulnerable Tony Stark.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness: Even better than the first outing, with scenes that made you bust a gut one minute and gasp at the alien worlds the next. Benedict Cumberbatch was outstanding as Khan.
  • Now You See Me: Not very many people I know saw this one, but I really enjoyed it. We ended up seeing it both in theaters and then renting it again to urge friends to see it. It had a great cast led by Jesse Eisenberg.
  • Man of Steel: Audiences and critics seem to be split on the Superman reboot, but I loved it. They didn’t tread the same ground as before (growing up in Kansas, the Daily Planet), but instead focused on his alien roots and his isolation as an adult. Also, Amy Adams played the first Lois Lane I’ve ever liked.
  • World War Z: I didn’t have high expectations for this since it had a lot of trouble in production. In the end, they pulled it off. It was crazy suspenseful and highly entertaining.

Winner: This was really difficult to call, but I think I’m going to have to go with Star Trek Into Darkness over Iron Man 3. Robert Downey, Jr. is always amazing, but Star Trek was an ensemble effort, so I’m going to give it to them.

Best Costumes/Production Design: I’m a girl, so I will watch a movie sometimes just because it looks pretty. Granted, that usually means a rental, but I feel like these were worth the $1.20 at Redbox to ooh and ahh at the spectacle.

great_gatsby_ver15_xlrgJennifer-Lawrence-The-Hunger-Games-Catching-Fire-Poster

  • The Great Gatsby: The story is a real downer, but boy is this movie gorgeous. The gowns, flowers, houses, cars, jewelry—everything is over the top amazing.
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: I haven’t actually seen this one yet (waiting for the rental), but I have seen the pictures. I’m not a big fan of kid on kid killing, but I do love those crazy costumes.

Winner: The Great Gatsby. I know I haven’t seen Hunger Games, but I don’t see how it’s going to top the eye candy of Gatsby.

Movie I Was Pleasantly Surpised By:

warm_bodies_ver9_xlrgSearching-for-Sonny-2011-Movie-Poster-600x923

  • Warm Bodies: My husband really wanted to see this young adult zombie movie, and I have to say, it was heartfelt and funny.
  • Searching for Sonny: An indie that actually came out in 2011, but it’s a safe bet you’ve never heard of it. It stars alums from Veronica Mars, Friday Night Lights, and Heroes, which is why our group was interested in giving it a try. Because it didn’t have a big budget, they actually had to focus on an interesting story. What a novel idea!
  • Now You See Me, Much Ado About Nothing, Mud, World War Z, and The Way, Way Back could probably all also be contenders in this category, but as I have already put them in other categories, I won’t put them in contention again.

Winner: Warm Bodies. The message of this film might have been a bit corny, but I still appreciated it.

Movie That Didn’t Live Up to the Hype: So clearly this is more of a Razzie than an award, but I wanted you to be fairly warned about a few films I wish I hadn’t watched this year.

letdown nominees

  • The Internship: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson together again for the first time since Wedding Crashers should have been epic. It wasn’t awful, but it just wasn’t funny, either.
  • This Is the End: We were hesitant to go see this. Rogen, Franco, Hill, and company can be hilarious, but sometimes they just descend into middle school crassness that isn’t even funny. The critics loved it, so we rented it. It was funny for twenty minutes, and then it just got horrible.
  • The Lone Ranger: This looked so good, and I like both Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer. I really, really gave it the old college try. The story just wasn’t interesting, and it was way too long.
  • R.I.P.D.: I could kind of tell from the previews this wasn’t going to be great, but the husband really wanted to see it, so we rented it. It was Men in Black if MIB wasn’t funny and you didn’t care about either of the main characters. They took an interesting premise and Ryan Reynolds and still managed to bore me.
  • Pacific Rim: This was another one that had a lot of potential. I liked a lot of the ideas in this movie, but the execution of them made me simultaneously roll my eyes and put me to sleep. The large scale destruction of EVERYTHING went beyond comical and into sickening.

Winner, er Loser? This Is the End. All of these movies were pretty meh, but I wanted the hours of my life back with this one, and a full refund of my $1.20.

Up Next: TV Awards

Authors: Readers Don’t Care About Your Twitter

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post asking whether fiction writers should blog, and if so, what about. I got some great feedback, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and researching in the meantime. A few of you asked that I share my findings, so here are the startling facts.

Keep in mind, I researched my target market. While I’m not a hundred percent who will enjoy my book, I’m guessing it will be older teens and adults, primarily women. They’d likely also read fantasy, young adult, romance, chick lit, thrillers, and maybe some horror or science fiction. If that isn’t your target market, then your statistics might tell you a different story.

I found an excellent research study done by the Romance Writers of America (RWA). While I wouldn’t classify my novel first and foremost as a romance, our target markets would overlap a lot, especially readers of paranormal romance (essentially, romance with a fantasy element).

I strongly recommend reading the whole study, especially if you are a self-publisher. Romance readers are the biggest subgenre purchasers of e-books and care the least about whether they’ve heard of an author or not. The study asked a lot of in depth questions about how to price ebooks, and found that if you price your book too low, readers won’t buy it, because they assume that it’s a low quality book.

RWA also spent a lot of time on various media and how effective it is at reaching readers. Granted, these statistics were from a 2011 reader survey, so they are a little old, but they are so shocking I wanted to copy them in full for you. Note that blue is NOT DONE AND HAVE NO INTEREST.

Activities that Do or Do Not Interest the Romance Buyer

Source: Romance Writers of America 2011 Romance Book Consumer Survey

Did you see that?

83% of readers have not and have no interest in ever following an author on Twitter. Add to that an additional 13% of readers that don’t follow you and have varying levels of interest of ever checking out your Twitter account. Only 6% of readers have ever actually gone to an author’s Twitter account.

Guess what else they don’t care about? Your Goodreads, YOUR BLOG, your videos and trailers, your Facebook page, or your online or live events. Yes, there are a few people in each of those categories who are interested in those things, but not much.

The one exception here is readers do like author websites. They like to occasionally check in to see what you’re up to, what’s coming out, and any little extra goodies you might be offering. But as for any ongoing info like a blog, Facebook updates, Twitter, etc. –not so much.

After my mind stopped reeling, I thought about this. It makes sense. I only follow two author blogs of my very favorite writers. Honestly, most of the time I give their new posts a quick skim at best, and half the time if it doesn’t have anything to do with their newest book, I delete it immediately. While I have followed a number of authors on Twitter, I don’t ever look at their feeds. I think I might have clicked a Like button or two for an author’s Facebook page, but I’m quite certain I have never read an author’s status update. I’m a writer myself, and I don’t even care about these things. Why in the world would a reader? I am a busy person who is constantly inundated with media. What I really want from my authors is more books, not tweets.

So if all of this media we’ve been pouring our time into isn’t what makes a reader buy a book, then what does influence their purchasing decisions? RWA asked that, too.

  • 50% say they buy the book for the story
  • 19% for the author
  • The third biggest factor is the book is part of a series
  • Lastly is the back cover copy (Does anybody like those front covers?)

An author’s online presence isn’t completely for naught. It does help build name recognition and that hard to measure “buzz.”  The Google spiders learn who you are, and publishers always like that.  The problem is platform building has to eventually lead to hard sales.  RWA found some online influences that did lead to a book purchase:

  • Online bookseller websites (Amazon.com, BN.com, etc.)
  • Reading about it/seeing it online (I wish they’d given a bit more detail about what this means.)
  • Seeing it on a bestseller list
  • Author website

At this point you’re probably thinking, “That’s nice, Lara, but my readers are young and hip and possibly even male. I’m sure this doesn’t apply to me. I don’t write silly paperback romances.”

First of all, whatever you do, don’t ever insult a romance reader. Not only do romances make up a huge part of the publishing market, they are also some of the most loyal repeat buyers. That everyone should have fans like romance readers!

Secondly, are you are sure your readers are who you think they are? The other major study I found was by publishing market statistic guru Bowker. They also will let you download their 28 page report on the state of publishing for free. Want to know who buys the most books, ebooks or traditional?

College educated women over 30 making $50,000 a year or more. Specifically:

  • 60% of books are bought by women
  • 60% of books are bought by people educated to a degree level
  • 58% of books are bought by those making at least $50,000 a year or more
  • 69% of books are bought by those 30 or over, with 28% being 55+

So does any of this make you rethink how you spend your time? It certainly does for me. I’m still pondering what I’m going to do with my blog, but it is likely to go through some changes. The first one is that I’ll just be posting on Mondays. I’m forgoing the Thursday posts so I can have more time to work on my novel. Imagine that!  🙂

Author Platform: Don’t jump from it. I promise it will be okay.

With the exception of a rejection letter, it seems there is little else that strikes as much fear in the hearts of fiction writers as marketing themselves. I, too, share this phobia. In college I was originally a marketing major. Then I remembered I was an introvert.

One of the things I adore about being a writer is that I can lock myself in a room for hours surrounded by complete silence. I had envisioned occasionally emerging from my writing cave to get something published, maybe do a book tour, and that was it. Wrong. Can I just take a moment here to say I was getting really tired of being wrong?

New mantra: research first, write second. Say it with me now!

To say that the world of publishing has changed a lot in the last ten years is a drastic understatement. It’s along the same lines of Monty Python’s Black Knight insisting that his loss of several limbs is “Only a flesh wound!” (See it here.) Authors are expected to market themselves, period. They do this by establishing what the industry calls a platform.

There are a number of definitions floating around out there for platform, but simply put, it’s about growing your audience. Former publisher of Writer’s Digest Jane Friedman has a great summary article on platform. She emphasizes that it’s not just about begging people to like you on social media. It’s about being authentic and producing quality work.

To be fair, unlike not knowing how to write well or not knowing your market, you do not absolutely have to start working on platform before you start writing (unless you’re writing non-fiction). However, every time I ask someone when is the best time to start working on platform, the answer always is, “Yesterday.”

Platform is easily the trickiest part of getting published that I have had to face thus far. It just seems like such an overwhelming task. Hiding under the covers with my cat and chocolate ice cream really is the only way of coping. I can’t do the Twitter! Insert hysterical sobbing noises here.

carolina disgust

What’s a girl to do? First of all, I told myself to get a grip and stop scaring the cat. Then I did what I always do. I read. Christina Katz has written a very helpful how-to book called Get Known Before the Book Deal. It skews very heavily toward non-fiction writers, but there’s still a lot of great advice that can be transferred to those of us in fiction, too. I found AuthorMedia.com, an amazing website dedicated to teaching authors how to grow their platform, blog, use social media effectively, and create websites. I’m also slowly making my way through the encyclopedia that is CopyBlogger.

I started a blog.  I now have a Twitter account. I announced both steps on Facebook. I’m going to an event at my local bookstore tonight. I broke out in hives. Just kidding! I survived. You will, too. I promise.

Up Next:  Traditional vs. Self Publishing, or, Playing Emotional Ping Pong

Publishing First Steps: Finding Your Market or Lack Thereof

In a post last week, I mentioned that when I decided to start writing a novel, I made the rookie mistake of beginning the process by writing. One of the key steps I failed to take was researching which publishing market would want to buy what I was creating. I didn’t really see why it mattered. I just needed to write a great book with an intriguing premise and compelling characters. After that was done, then I’d do some research and send it off to the publishing houses most likely to be interested. Again, this seemed completely reasonable.

Note to self:  Do not assume anything in the publishing world is reasonable or logical. Assume you know nothing.

So what did I do that was so horrible? I made my heroine nineteen. Those of you who know about publishing are probably already gasping and clutching your chests. For the rest of you, who like me did not know about this huge faux pas, let me explain.

I love young adult fantasy, so I was aiming to write for that genre. However, I didn’t want to have to mess with my character going to high school. I could have solved this problem a la Vampire Dairies (the TV show, not the books) by having my characters simply never go to school. Seriously, how have they not all been expelled for truancy? They only show up for school dances.   I don’t mind that the teenagers in the show never go to school, since nothing interesting ever happens to them in history class anyway.

vampire diaries class

Still, this solution for the high school problem seemed like cheating to me, so I instead I made my main character a few measly years older. No biggie.

Wrong.  The young adult genre is one of the best for letting its authors take risks. There aren’t many hard and fast rules, but there is one:  your characters have to be between the ages of 12 to 18. When I finally stumbled upon this rule, I did not want to accept it.

But what about all the crossover success of Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter? I had just read an article about how 55% of young adult books were now being bought by adults.  Surely that huge adult audience of young adult fiction would not care that my protagonist was nineteen. In fact, they probably don’t, but YA publishers care a lot. Just because adults are reading them now doesn’t mean the 12 to 18 rule has changed.

I was discouraged, but not defeated. Okay, so YA wouldn’t want me anymore.  I’d just head over to the adult fantasy market. Not so fast. Publishers of adult fiction don’t want to read about nineteen-year-olds, either. I had stepped into a no man’s land that I didn’t know existed. Books are not written about characters in their early twenties. I dare you—try to think of one single book you’ve read where the characters were in their college years. If you think of any, leave a comment (button is to the left near the blog title), because I’d love to read it. I could only think of one: Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.

Only one option seemed to be available to me; namely, have a good cry and eat some chocolate. Thankfully, before I picked up the Kleenex and Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie, my stubbornness kicked in, and I did one last search for a market for my book. What I found was the emerging market called New Adult.

New Adult targets readers ages 18 to 30, appealing to both older teens and adults. The characters in New Adult usually face more mature challenges than in YA books. For a full description for the difference between New Adult and Young Adult, Writer’s Relief has an excellent write up.

So problem solved, right? Not quite. New Adult is so new that Publishers are still a little wary. So far the genre exists almost entirely in self publishing. Book sellers aren’t even sure where to shelve the books that are being published. Also, New Adult is currently almost entirely contemporary romance, with very little subgenre breakouts. While there is romance in my book, it’s first and foremost a fantasy novel. Perhaps the worst part is New Adult’s awful nickname, “YA with porn.” Ick.  That doesn’t seem like the best tagline for a genre trying to gain respect in the industry, although I’m sure someone other than the NA authors themselves saddled them with that label.

I haven’t given up, and I’m trying to explore New Adult more, as well as other options in adult fantasy fiction. However, much like exploring how to write better, this is a lesson I wish I had learned before I started writing. Would I have made my heroine 17 instead of 19? Maybe. At least I would have known I had an uphill battle ahead of me.

Research your potential market. Find out its rules and preferences. If you know of other such industry no-no’s, share your wisdom in the comments section.

Next Up:  Establishing Your Platform, or, When I Gave in and Reached for the Kleenex and Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie