Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving and Gratitude

Since it’s Thanksgiving, I’ll go with the flow and write about being thankful. And grateful. Many sites, including Oprah’s, talk about the importance of keeping a gratitude journal as a way to relieve stress and maintain a positive attitude. Some sites go so far as to say you’ll attract abundance or your life will change for the better if you do this for a few months. There is, of course, even an app for that.

Some things I’m grateful and thankful for:
--so many supportive and helpful friends and family. Those that are part of everyday life and those I don’t see as often but when I do, the connection and understanding are still there.
--great acting jobs I’ve had this year, from a national TV commercial shot in New Orleans to a live industrial for ComedySportz in Las Vegas to all the challenging eLearning courses that come my way.
--self-discipline and motivation that keep me in my chair working and help me resist eating every piece of chocolate I see.
--things to look forward to, such as singing one of my favorite pieces (Carmina Burana) at Symphony Center next summer.
--opportunities to make people laugh (with me, not at me) via improv and other performances.
--hope. Sometimes this is a challenge to maintain, for example, when things don't quite go your way. When the phone doesn't ring or I don't have any auditions or upcoming gigs. But that's the point of hope: to believe in a positive outcome. As the song says, "Don't Stop Believin'".

What are 5 things you're grateful for?

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Revisions or what’s done is done

Authors spend countless hours hunched over their keyboards crafting and completing manuscripts. With the proliferation of self-publishing, what’s done can be done. You can publish your first draft, if you like. What's your goal: to have your words available via Kindle/Nook, etc.? Or do you want readers to find your book amidst the multitudes and click "buy" so you can make money?

How do you know your book is ready to publish? Some authors have a critique group or partner(s) and/or freelance editors vet their manuscripts. You have to trust your gut to tell you if they’re making your work better, or, though well-intentioned, leading you astray. In the end, even the best critiquers/freelancers can’t make an agent love your project enough to take you on or motivate a publisher to buy.

So even in this digital age, many still need an editor employed by a publisher, or an agent and an editor...they have the ability and power to market or buy your work. But they must approve of and love a project before they'll put their reputation and time behind it. One or both may send a revision letter with changes that need to be made before going to market. I know successful authors who've ripped certain manuscripts apart and rewritten them (sometimes more than once) before selling. Others refuse to change a word or agree to make some changes but not others.

What if you’re asked or advised to add an element you hadn’t intended to include or remove one you wanted to keep? If you say no, are you being stubborn/difficult to work with or believing in your product?

“One paranormal element is hard to sell.” Removing the paranormal element would've required coming up with a new backstory, motivation and conflict for the hero and reworking parts of the plot influenced by it.
“This isn’t hot enough at the beginning.” Some characters jump into bed at the drop of a hat, others would seem out of character if they did. Changing motivation is a challenge.
“You have too many POV characters, eliminate Jane.” To do this without having too many scenes in a row in the same POV, I made a slip of paper for each scene listing POV (with each character in a different color) and what happened and arranged them on my desk. I spent hours wrestling with what could stay and what had to go.
“France is a hard sell. Move it to Scotland.” Or “Regency set historicals are selling better than medievals.” Imagine the research required to make this change. Plot changes to, to incorporate historical events in your new location or time period and take out those you had.
“I sold by making my historical into an inspirational, they're buying a lot of those.” Or "Steampunk is so hot now." You have to learn the requirements for a new market and determine if you have the skills/interest to write them. Many advise against writing to trends, because by the time you finish and sell the ms, there'll be a new trend.

Sometimes changes make a work more marketable and/or stronger. Other times, you’re stuffing a square peg into a round hole. It's hard to know if your time is best spent revising or writing a new project. What do you think?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Can you sell yourself?

Whether we want to admit it or not, freelancers are salespeople. Our product is ourselves…our appearance, personality, professionalism, talent (whether in the form of performances, articles, books, consulting services, etc.) as perceived by others who have the power to hire us. Can you convince them you're the one to meet their needs and deliver quality work on time?

If they can get them, actors and writers can rely on agents and returning clients to provide work. For most of us that won’t be enough. Often freelancing/owning your own business means having to search for a new job every week. Many actors and authors I meet are reluctant to promote/market themselves, either because they don’t know how, don’t want to make the effort, are shy, fear rejection, or feel that doing so somehow cheapens them. Unlike many performers/writers, I have 16 years of corporate America sales, marketing and training experience to bring to the table.

First, we need access to potential clients…via a personal connection, referral, agent, cold call. This requires networking, research, appropriate follow up and often a bit of being in the right place at the right time. I've met many aspiring acotrs/authors who haven't even submitted to agents or clients. What are they waiting for?

Once we get in the door, we need to know how to close the deal. Acting abilities (and writing) in particular are very subjective products…and can even come down to hair color or height. I remember my gainfully employed days, when results weren’t guaranteed but at least more information was handed to me. I had a) some hard facts to prove my product's benefits b) less my two positions there were only a handful of viable competitors. Now there are dozens, hundreds or thousands. And c) a list of clients who 1) already had my product(s) so the challenge was to get them to buy/use more 2) were prospects. Actors/writers/freelancers need to figure all this out on their own. At least the Internet has made the process easier.

1) A friend referred me to a potential client; I submitted my information. Months later the friend’s contact left, and another was suggested. I followed up in a timely manner, but didn’t get work. Almost a year later, out of the blue a third person called to say he had my headshot/resume, had me interview, booked me on the spot and for other work since. Sometimes, even if your contact wants to hire you, someone higher up the ladder may not.
2) I researched and contacted some potential clients. One happened to need a female VO and has sent me a lot of work for several of her clients. Yet there are many times when even your best efforts don’t yield a sale/work.

So far for me, the key seems to be continue to put irons in the fire, hoping/believing a steady stream of work will follow, and that that will lead to additional work. To find the discipline and persistence to continue, not put all of my eggs in one basket, or rest on my laurels and wait for work to come to me.

Friday, November 05, 2010

So you want to write a book or do voiceovers...

When I tell people I do voiceovers or write novels, their reply is often something like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been meaning to get into voiceovers,” or “I’m going to write a book.”

But they don't. What are they, or you, waiting for? Perhaps they/you:

1)Don’t know how to start. That was a better excuse in the days before the Internet, when information wasn’t instantly accessible. Nowadays, a quick online search returns a wealth of "how to" info.

2)Don't have the time. If there is something you really want to do, you can make the time. How much time do you fritter away each day, for example, on Facebook? I know plenty of very busy people who get up early/stay up late...whatever it takes to move forward.

3)Are intimidated by barriers to entry. For VO, these include having a fabulous demo produced. Most aspirants probably need to take a good VO class first to learn more about the process and the business. You need to know what a great demo sounds like, research demo producers and compare offerings and costs.

Some may get by with only a commercial demo, but many will also need a narration demo. You’ll probably need to invest in a basic home recording setup so you can record, edit and submit your own auditions and some projects, which means you also need a few audio engineering skills.

Most VO talents will not be able to just sit back and have work flowing in. You'll send your demo(s) to agents. You’ll need to research each agent’s submission policy, then create a professional-looking submission with well-written cover letter.

Even if you get an agent(s), chances are you’ll also need to find other sources of VO work, which in turn require you to set rates and have an invoicing system to keep track of payments. You may need a great (not obviously a template) Web site for potential clients to listen to your demos and sample projects.

This all assumes you have the ability to:
-- reproduce sounds in your demo. Being coached by a demo producer to sound a certain way after many takes is one thing. You need to be able to do it on your own.
-- effectively interpret various types of copy and convey the client’s message.
-- take direction. On an audition or a job, if the client asks for adjustments (such as “more friendly” or “more real” or even “more lyrical,” you need to deliver.

VO work is a lot more than just having a nice voice and sitting in front of a mic and reading.

Barriers to being a published author include having completed at least one book. If you can write one page a day, you’ll have a novel in a year.

Writing just one takes discipline and time, and very often a good deal of re-writing on your own or upon request from an agent/editor. Then you need to write a fabulous query letter and research agents and/or editors to submit to and have the patience to sit back and wait for responses (though some agents/editor say that they'll only reply if interested). If you do sell, your editor will soon ask, "what's your next project and when can I have it," so you'll need to be able to write on a deadline.

Today there are also numerous self-publishing options. What is your goal? Do you just want to hold a book you wrote in your hands or have it available for family and friends to download? If you self-publish, a) how do you know your book is saleable and b) how will potential buyers find your book among the thousands already out there? Do you want to spend the majority of your time promoting that book or writing the next one? Do you want to make money? So far, very few authors I know (and I know quite a few) have made more than a few bucks from e-publishing new books (unless they write erotica) or self-publishing.

Many have leaped over these barriers to acheive their goals. If you want to write a book, get into VO, or do anything you've been saying you want to do some day, the key is to take action. Get started, because someday is now. Don't let yourself down. Do just one thing a day or spend 15 minutes working toward your goal.