Thursday, April 26, 2012


The Gainfully Unemployed have many options to choose among to forge a productive career. Ideas for new projects pop into our heads, an article sparks a new direction, friends ask for our help with their ventures, offer suggestions or gigs. Which will be to our benefit?

Two paths keep popping up of late, via friends’ advice, experiences, and articles. I’m intrigued because both seem to offer more control of product and placement. But do they offer a better chance of income? Or will I seem like I’m on my way but really be spinning my wheels?

1) Create my own content to showcase my acting/writing: Write and shoot my own funny videos/web series/films to put online or market to industry professionals. It’s not enough to just write any old thing, it has to be good. Maybe I’d build a following, go viral and then talent buyers would come to me. Maybe my as yet unpublished novel turned into a movie treatment would get plucked from the slush pile.

Actors far more well-known and with many more connections than I have done so. I ran into one recently who has a variety of projects in play, one of them for years. Yes, some videos will go viral. Some self-made films/shows will get picked up.

2) Self-publish my manuscripts. I have a few friends (NYT bestsellers who publish backlist and new books, and less well-known authors) who have done so with great success. I know more who aren’t selling that many books.

At the moment, to me, the time, effort and expense with no guarantee of income seems too risky. How much time and money did the writers/actors spend to put their product out there? Would the time be better spent focusing on getting paid work, or is finding new ways to get yourself out there the way to go?

Writers: If you aren’t good at cover and interior book design, formatting, website building/hosting, need to hire people to do those things. You also need to write your own back cover copy and put on many other hats a publisher wears. And when will you write your next book?

Actors: Yes, the costs to produce our own content have dropped significantly. Yes, most of us have friends who might help write/produce/be in our short films. There are sites such as Kickstarter to get investors. How much time/money will you invest, to what end?

Both: If you don’t already have a significant following, it’s more challenging to get your book(s)/film(s) noticed among the millions now available. There’s just so much content out there, from professional to amateur, how do you keep yours from being a needle in a haystack? What can we do to make our projects stand out?

I did self-pub a co-authored non-fiction book, but am finding it a challenge to make significant time needed to promote it. There are some opportunities and contests (I recently entered one that cost $69) for self-published books, but it’s harder to get reviews or interviews without the backing of a publisher. There are film festivals, but can self-producers afford the entry fees, the time to research options and submit?

Some will find the success they seek via self-created content. Some will win the lottery. I'm not sure yet how much I'm willing to invest in self-producing pursuits vs. getting writing and acting work from established publishers and production companies.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


At last week's RT Booklovers Convention in Chicago, opportunities to pitch to editors and agents abounded.  As with other conferences, aspirants could sign up for two traditional 10 minute appointments, one agent, one editor.  If there were open time slots on site, we could sign up for more.  In addition, I attended Pitch-A-Palooza, where for an hour and forty-five minutes, dozens of editors and agents offered three minute appoinments. 

Some authors don't like or fear pitching, but I view it as an opportunity.  I give workshops about pitching (and discussing your writing) with confidence.  It's exciting to have the chance to talk to prominent industry professionals.  I've heard some say they get more than 100 unsolicited queries a week and don't make many requests.  An appointment is a way to bypass the query process, and make yours a requested submission.  And some editors don't take unagented submissions unless you meet them at a conference.  

Ancitipating a huge crowd and long lines, I'd mapped out my strategy and arrived early.  But there weren't as many pitchers as I'd expected. 

Perhaps three minutes doesn't sound like a long time, but I talk pretty fast.  And after online research of websites, recent sales or purchases and blog entries, had decided which project(s) to discuss with each. 

Only one editor failed to request.  Since I only have one manuscript suitable for her, I couldn't discuss another.  Rejection is never fun, but I'd rather that up front than go through the effort of submitting and waiting for a response.   

Will the pitchees' inboxes be flooded?  I've heard that some authors fail to follow up with requested submissions.  Will anyone get an agent and/or sell any manuscripts via appointments or P-A-P?  In any case, it was a great opportunity to meet, talk to and even get some feedback from many industry professionals.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dear Judith...

Jean Cozier wrote Dear Judith, the true story of her cousin, artist and incest survivor Judith Dawn Hickey.  Jean used excerpts to create a short play of the same name.

Several times over the past couple of years, I've been honored to voice Judith's words at events held at The Awakenings Foundation Center and Gallery.  The website says the gallery "showcases the healing of rape and sexual abuse survivors who pursue the creative arts, and to share their stories with the public as a means of raising awareness about the problems faced by rape and sexual abuse survivors in our society."

When I was first called in to audition, I wasn't sure if I could pull off the deeply emotional words about such serious, heartfelt topics.  I'm not often cast in heavy dramatic roles.  However, in 2007, I played the mother of a teen who committed suicide in Carnal Savior (that year a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize for Dramatic Works).  The play started with "my son" sitting on stage, writing his suicide note to me.  He'd write a slightly different one each night, then give it to me when he got back to the dressing room.  His words helped me with my scenes. 

Just so, I hope Judith's words help me do her story justice. 

Thursday, April 05, 2012

And the winner is...

Recently I attended the Chicago regionals of Harmony Sweepstakes, an a cappella competition similar to regionals on Glee, but with more groups competing to attend nationals in San Francisco. Only the winning group in each of eight regions goes (and wins other prizes, at least in Chicago), but the second and third receive a few prizes. A lot was on the line in each 10 minute performance.

Though anyone who’s watched American Idol knows you don’t have to win to have a successful career (runner up Clay Aiken, for example, went on to perform in Spamalot on Broadway and sold out tours, has a bestselling book, etc.), competing in the national finals was the goal. 

As a guest of a judge, I decided to play judge, too, though I didn’t have the benefit of the score sheet. I’ve been a fan of a cappella for years, have sung a bit, and watched the sing-off, so I’m somewhat familiar with contemporary styles and critiques.

I couldn’t decide between Rooftop Rhythm or Breath of Soul. Barbershop quartet RR brought such infectious energy and a great sound, to my ears. But I wasn’t sure if traditional barbershop could prevail in today’s world of contemporary songs, mashups and beat boxing. It could.

In post-performance analysis, my friend and I agreed that a couple of the groups had pitch problems. Maybe they were right on in other performances or even 5 minutes before going on stage, but when it counted, they weren’t. We analyzed the importance of energy and presentation. What sounds amazing and what constitutes great presentation is in the ear and eye of the beholder...or in this case, those of the five judges. Given the amount of choreography on the sing-off, I expected to see some, but there wasn't much.

Lessons learned: When the pressure’s on in any career, from an audition to job interview to presentation, you have to find a way to bring your best. Because some events in life are a competition, you are being judged. In some cases, the winner takes all. In others, consolation prizes may pay off in the future. If you did a great job but just didn’t have a high enough score to win/book the gig, someone may take note.  Tty to learn your audience's expectations, and meet or exceed them.