New Writing Workshop Site

Just wanted to post something brief about a new workshopping site I’m participating in, Book Country. I got started in the whole online writer community thing through NaNoWriMo and Authonomy. Authonomy has changed a lot since I originally signed up, and I’m no longer active on the site, so I was looking for somewhere new to hang out. Book Country has become that place.

I was lucky to get in as a private beta member, so I’ve been using the site since the middle of March (they just opened up for public beta this week). I’ve met some great people so far. There’s no race for the desk like there was on Authonomy, so as of right now, I haven’t really seen any politics or shady activity going on (which is a really nice change). For those of you who follow the publishing industry, you’ll probably recognize the two people who are basically in charge of the site: Colleen Lindsay and Danielle Poiesz. They’re both very active, posting their own work and writing reviews for work there, and participating in discussions.

If you’re looking for someplace to workshop your writing, I’d recommend you try out Book Country. One note: it’s only open to genre writers: fantasy, science fiction, horror (which is classed under fantasy), romance, mystery, and thriller, to be exact. If you do join, make sure to send me a connection request (I’m cameronchapman there).

Websites for Writers

A lot of writers, whether published or aspiring, have awful websites. I mean, as someone who writes about design for a living, and who has a background in web and graphic design (and still does side projects on occasion), it’s painful for me to see some of the sites out there that writers are using. And proud of in a lot of instances.

Now, I’m NOT going to name names here. That’s just distasteful. But I will say that probably 80% of author websites have some kind of major flaw that seriously interferes with their usability. Some are just poorly designed. Some are filled with broken links (there are some publisher sites that fall into this category, too). Some have so many Flash effects or other “fancy” things that they bog down the user’s browser and are unusable to boot.

As someone who wants to see writers succeed, and also wants to see good design on the web, I’ve put together this little guide for writers who want a website. Continue reading

Online Resources for Fiction Writers

I was talking to a friend on Facebook the other day and he mentioned something about how I knew all these great resources online for writers. I have a tendency to forget that not every writer out there knows a lot about the resources the internet has to offer them. I work online on a daily basis, constantly looking up new resources for one project or another, and come across new tools all the time.

So I’m going to attempt to put together all the best resources I’ve found useful into a single reference guide for fiction writers. I’ve scoured my Google Bookmarks to come up with this list. If you have other tools you’ve found useful that aren’t included here, please share them in the comments! Continue reading

Last Minute Gifts for Writers

Christmas is almost here. In fact, it’s only four days away. Now, if you’re like me, you have all of your holiday shopping done, and are just looking forward to (or dreading) all the cooking, baking, and candy-making that will take place over the next couple of days. Editor’s note: this is the first time I can remember where I’m not scrambling around two days before Christmas to get last-minute gifts.

If at least one recipient on your last-minute-gifts list is a writer, I can help! Here’s my list of last-minute gift ideas for writers. You’ll note that none of these requires overnight shipping, and some can even be purchased at your local grocery or drug store. Continue reading

Creating a Book Trailer: An Interview with Cheri Lasota

I’ve been seriously considering creating a book trailer for the novel I’m currently trying to find representation for, Hold My Hand. But it’s a confusing and sometimes daunting project to undertake, and I’ve been unsure of whether it’s something I have the time to do properly. It’s something I’d like to do more like a movie trailer than a traditional book trailer (with still images and voice over), which makes it an even larger project and even more time-consuming.

Book trailers are more often used for published books, or upcoming books, to raise awareness among consumers. Very few people create book trailers for unpublished books. But Cheri Lasota, author of Artemis Rising, has done just that. She created a movie-like trailer for her book, which she’s currently seeking representation for. The end result is impressive, to say the least, both in terms of scope and quality. Unlike most book trailers, which only run around two minutes, Cheri’s videos is well over four minutes long. Here it is:

Cheri was kind enough to grant me an interview, explaining the process and hopefully shedding some light on it all for those of us considering creating our own book trailers:

How did you come up with the concept and script for your trailer? (Did you look at other book trailers, movie trailers, etc.? Did you storyboard or do some other kind of outlining?)

I had known the director, Bill Thoma of Axiom Shift Productions, for many years. In fact, we were in the same writing group for a time. What I didn’t know was how brilliant he was at filmmaking. We pulled off a four and a half minute trailer in about 3 months with almost no budget to speak of.

Bill and I sat down over two consecutive evenings and he listened closely as I basically gave him a rundown of my novel’s plot. He asked a lot of questions, trying to get to the heart of what I felt were the most important elements of the story to get across.

Bill is outstanding at whittling down a 350-page plot into a few snippets of dialgue and some powerful images. And that’s just what he did. We created the script together, as I looked for excerpts of dialogue from the book, etc.  It was fun and collaborative.

I looked at a few other trailers, but most of them were a succession of still images with voiceover, and we wanted to do much, much more with this one. Essentially, I wanted to bring several scenes from the book to life.

The director eventually moved from the script to a step by step storyboard for shooting. Mostly that was for his purposes, as he came up with interesting angles/shots for the different scenes.

Did you think about doing other kinds of book trailers, like interviews or a still image-based trailer? What made you decide to go ahead with a more traditional, movie-type trailer?

Usually, book trailers are a succession of still images, but those don’t catch my eye like movie trailers do. Perhaps it is because I went to school for film. I like the visual medium of filmmaking as opposed to photography, and when I wrote Artemis Rising, I always saw it as a film.

Did you consider doing the entire project on your own before deciding to hire a director?

I definitely wouldn’t have tried such an ambitious project on my own. I don’t personally have the camera equipment or directing experience necessary. However, this project re-awakened my love for filmmaking, and Bill let me do any part of the project that I felt able to do. I ended up serving several roles: producer, actor, script supervisor, art designer, and costumer. I’ve never had more fun in all my life than I did on that film set. The experience was priceless.

How did you find your director and other professionals? What about staff?

The director was a dream to work with because he was always the calmest person on set. He knew the shots he needed, knew how to communicate with the actors, and had the experience to roll with any complications that came up. The director of photography, Brian Neubauer was also a fun and calming presence on set–and an excellent cameraman too. Once I settled on the right actors–I had difficulty finding ones with just the right look I needed–everything fell into place. They were incredibly professional and it was mesmerizing for me to watch them work (most had theater or film/TV experience). The rest of the crew are friends I had worked with before on other film sets, and I knew they were hardworking and reliable, particularly makeup artist and art designer, Lyndsey Shaw.

Did you pay cast members and other staff or was it all on a volunteer basis?

Because the project was low-budget, we paid the actors in demo reels and the rest were volunteers.

Did you have to get permits or special permission to shoot in public places? How did you find out about what you’d need?

Having directed projects before, I had a good sense of what I might need to get this project rolling: costumes, makeup, props, locations, crew lunches, transportation, camera equipment. I have to say, organizing is one of my favorite things, and I took over most of the communications with actors and crew. We filmed at my apartment, outside a church, another filmmaker’s backyard (with a huge handmade crane shot), and at Cannon Beach, Oregon. We considered a few other locations, but decided that gaining permission would take too long. But, yes, often locations will require written permission, etc. We wanted to avoid the hassle, and all the locations worked out brilliantly.

How did you find your locations? Did you have to scout new spots, or did you already have places in mind?

It was critical to me that we film at Cannon Beach, as I knew it would be the perfect location for a cliffhanger shot we needed. Other than that, I was really open to other locations for other scenes/shots. Bill and I took a day trip to the beach ahead of time, and we drove up most of the coast, looking for the right location. But for the cliff-hanging, we had to take safety into consideration, so it was important to find the right spot. I suspected we’d film at my apartment, and that worked out well as a base camp for all our shoots.

How long did it take to shoot the trailer? How much footage did you end up with?

Principal filming took place over a weekend–one day in Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA and one day at the Oregon Coast. The following weekend we did pick-up shots, green screen, and voiceover work that we missed the previous weekend. The whole process took about three months, for pre-production, production, and post-production. I’m not sure how much raw footage we ended up with.

What was the post-production process like? How long did it take?

Post-production was cool. Bill let me into the editing room, so I could go over shots and scenes with him. He also let me watch him edit from time to time, since I am interested in every stage of the process. But mostly, post-production is just Bill in the editing room, slowly putting shots together. He did a lot of effects shots that had me pleasantly surprised, particularly the shipwreck and the book title sequence at the end.

Were there hidden expenses or time-wasters you hadn’t anticipated going into the project? Anything you would have done differently in hindsight or any advice you wish someone had given you?

The project was much less expensive than I originally anticipated actually. But that may not be the case for others. My book trailer was quite long by traditional book trailer standards. Most are around 2 minutes. I wouldn’t give up my 4:30 minute trailer for anything, as it may be the closest I come to seeing my book on film, but I wish we had originally created a 2-minute version for marketing purposes. The director is actually working on shortening it now.

I thought I should mention why I decided to make a trailer in the first place. I’ve never heard of any other writer creating a book trailer before his/her book is published. This was essentially an experiment to see if I garnered more agent/publisher interest if I included a link to it in my submission query letters. It worked. I’ve gotten more agent interest in my novel than ever before. I would say it tripled my response rate from agents, and most of them mention they loved the book trailer when requesting materials, including the latest three who have are reviewing it now. Regardless of what happens, I can use the trailer for the life of the novel’s marketing campaign, so I knew it would be worth it for me.

But nothing can match the excitement I felt on the days of principal production. It was a dream come true for me to see my characters come to life right before my eyes. I wouldn’t have missed that for anything.

31 of the Best WordPress Themes for Writers

I am a WordPress junkie. There, I’ve said it. I love anything to do with WordPress: using it, designing themes for it, customizing it, reading about it. But themes, especially, are my favorite part. I’ve just started designing some themes for public release (stay tuned for more details on those) but I love using themes others have designed, too. And I especially love making little tweaks here or there to make them reflect my personality. Continue reading