Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Rest of the Story

Continuing with the dialogue that I've been having with a prospective author, here are the remainder of his questions, thus far, and my answers:

Q. Do you ever borrow ideas, plots, locations, characters, and such from other authors and use them in your novels?

A. Borrowing ideas is acceptable if you disguise them in your own story; borrow plots - mmm - someone said there are only about a dozen plots in literature. Everything is a variation of one of them. I guess it depends upon how much you borrow and how much you make out of it your own story. I saw a TV show the other night that gave me a great idea for my ghost story - a lost love. Nothing original there, but it will add to my story. I just needed to be reminded of the opportunity, and I'm not using it in the way they did in their story. But you get into iffy territory here, so be very careful what you are "borrowing" and how you use it.

Q. You mentioned reading a lot of other books from other authors and I wonder if a person has the ability to borrow ideas from other books much as we do when giving a talk in church.

A. People do have the ability, but not the right. :) Ideas are not copyrighted, but borrowing portions of the book, as we do when giving a talk, is called plagiarism. It is illegal and unethical.

Q. What is the official church position on writing about magic, sorcery, witchcraft, and all of these other areas that the public wants to read about but may conflict with LDS values?

A. The Church does not have an official position on writing about areas that may conflict with LDS values. That is entirely up to you. We do have free agency, after all. :)

Q. Do we have to worry about being true to our values, principles and morals when writing?

A. Again, that is entirely up to you. I am true to my values when I write. There are others who have made an incredible amount of money by giving the public what they want to read. The choice is yours. I want my grandchildren to be able to read everything I've written without being ashamed or embarrassed by my stories - or me being embarrassed or ashamed when they read them.

Q. It sounds like you have a natural gift for writing and ideas, themes, plots, characters, and thoughts flow to your mind magically. Sort of like an artist when he does his painting, sculpture, etc. He gets a vision of what his product will look like in his mind first before he creates it physically. I don't have a natural gift or creative imagination for writing. How do you develop that ability or gift?

A. I do think part of it is a gift or natural ability, but the other part is just plain hard work, plotting the story line, getting in all the elements of the story in the right place, rewriting, editing and rewriting some more. The more you write, the better you will become at it. At least, that is the premise. You have to learn the craft, because it is a craft and it can be learned, then just write, rewrite, and write some more.

Q. I guess my biggest question is how do you know as an author what is going to sell and be a big hit with the audiences? Does an author ever do audience market research and see what the American audiences are looking for in terms of reading and entertainment? Do the publishing companies ever poll their audiences to see what the American public wants to see more of and what sells best?

A. Knowing what the audience wants to read has not been a problem with me. I wrote what I wanted to read, the kind of stories I enjoy reading, knowing there were others out there who enjoyed the same thing. I write what I'm passionate about. An editor can tell you what is being accepted. The NY Times or Deseret Book Bestseller's lists can give you an idea of what is popular. I think the readers for the various publishing houses and the acquisition committees have a lot to do with what is accepted for publication, and they probably take their cue from what is currently selling well. Different genres are popular in cycles. If Westerns are riding high in the market when you begin your book and it takes you a year to write it, then it has to go through the acquisitions, editing, and rewriting process. It may be published too late for that particular cycle, unless it is an exceptional book. I guess the best answer to your questions is that audiences vote with their purchases - that's how publishing houses know what they want to read.

Q. How much money can a beginning author realistically expect to make in today's world?

A. That question can't be answered until the book is finished, published and on the market. Don't quit your day job, as they say, make your product the very best that you can, and work very hard to get it accepted, published, then promoted. Chances are, it will take a few years and a few books to make enough money to brag about. Most authors I know don't write for the money, though that is a nice perk. They write because they have stories to tell that are just exploding to get out and be told.

Q. Do you make a lot more when you book becomes a movie?

A. Having a movie made from a book published by an LDS author is extremely difficult, unless you make it big on the national market. Just remember to retain the movie rights when you sign your contract so that it CAN be made into a movie, on the off chance some screenwriter or producer discovers the book and wants to make it into a movie. But write the book first. And good luck!

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