A Salute to Carrie Fisher and a Lesson for Writers

What writers can learn from the life and career of Carrie Fisher

A Salute to Carrie Fisher and a Lesson for WritersOn December 26, 2016 my wife and I went to see the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The next morning I learned that Carrie Fisher had died. Like most people I knew her for her iconic performance as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. Her obituary revealed so much more:

  • Worked steadily as an actress from 1975 through to her death
  • Author of several semi-autobiographical novels, including Postcards from the Edge
  • Wrote the screenplay for the film of the book
  • Starred in an autobiographical one-woman play
  • Author of the non-fiction book, Wishful Drinking, based on her play
  • Spoke about her experiences with bipolar disorder and drug addiction
  • Mental health advocate
  • Script doctor

All these items are impressive, but the last one caught my attention: script doctor. As the title suggests, a script doctor is someone who comes in to fix the screenplays of other writers. In short, when a screenplay is good but not working as well as it should, a script doctor reworks it to make it shine.

Carrie Fisher’s Wikipedia page says she was “one of the top script doctors in Hollywood.” Who would have thought? According to her Wikipedia page and her IMDB bio, here are some of the movies she worked on as a script doctor:

  • Hook
  • Sister Act
  • Lethal Weapon 3
  • Last Action Hero
  • The River Wild
  • The Wedding Singer
  • Coyote Ugly
  • My Girl 2
  • Outbreak
  • Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  • Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
  • Milk Money
  • Love Affair
  • Made in America

I’ve seen all but one of these flicks. In a lot of them she worked on dialogue or to develop a specific character. She worked as a script doctor for about fifteen years and said that at that time it was lucrative work (but apparently not so much anymore).

Carrie Fisher was known primarily as an actress, but she was also an author of books—both fiction and nonfiction—and screenplays, a script doctor, and an advocate. From her example, I have four takeaways for authors:

  1. Diversify our income stream. (She earned money as an actress, author, and script doctor.)
  2. Write in multiple genres. (She wrote fiction, nonfiction, and scripts.)
  3. Capitalize on our strengths. (She had a knack for dialogue and character development.)
  4. Use whatever platform we have to be a voice for what we’re passionate about. (She was able to use her popularity to talk about mental health issues and substance abuse.)

Thank you, Carrie Fisher. You entertained me and taught me about writing.

Your Turn: Tell Us About Your Website

Tell us about your website or blog and link to it

Your Turn: Tell Us About Your WebsiteAs a new feature of this blog, Byline, we will end each month with a chance for you to complete the post by sharing about yourself, your writing, or your writing journey. I’ll give the topic and you provide the response. Best of all, it should be fast and easy to do.

This month’s theme: Your Website

In the comment section put a link to your blog or website. That’s it.

If you want to write more, share its name (if it has one) and a brief description or tag line.

Think of this as a non-spammy way to let others know about your website or blog. Plus each link to your site will give you a boost with the search engines.

Thanks for sharing. Have a great day!

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Turning Fans into Influencers

Although the labels vary, writers have three levels of supporters: Friends, fans, and influencers.

Friends like us and follow us, be it online or in the real world; they may read our books.

Fans adore us and our writing; they will read everything we produce.

Influencers may be a friend or fan, but whether or not they read our books, the important factor is that they influence others to embrace our work.

Writers need all three groups, but influencers are critical in getting the word out. As a writer, I have friends and fans but I’m not sure if I have any influencers. I’m not even sure how to find or cultivate them. Fortunately, someone just modeled this for me.

Two weeks ago in my post Stay Within Your Genre, I confessed to being a fan of Robin Mellom, courtesy of her book Ditched. She then shocked and honored me by leaving a comment! I’ve never had an author do that. This simple act moved me from fan status into influencer status, not a big influencer mind you but an influencer nonetheless.

In a brief 170 words, here’s what I learned about cultivating influencers:

Be polite: She began her comment low key and unassuming, almost as though asking for permission to join the discussion. In a world of loud and brash self-promotion of “BUY MY BOOK,” her humility was refreshing.

Be appreciative: She thanked me for my words. She didn’t need to, but it was nice to hear. I now know that she is a great writer and a nice person, too.

Add to the discussion: I’ve seen too many people comment badly. Regardless of the topic or thread, their message is twisted into “Buy my book.” Not Robin, she made relevant comments to my premise of staying within one genre. Her experience shows that you can write to multiple audiences. That’s so encouraging to hear.

Have appropriate self-promotion: She did in fact mention her next YA book, Busted. Sharing this information fit nicely into the discussion and answered my implied question. From this I learned that when self-promotion will advance the discussion and supports the post, then do it, but if it doesn’t, then the best action is no action.

Be positive: Throughout it all, she was positive and upbeat. Though she could have been nit-picky over some minor inferences, she was not. Her comment was as fun to read as her book.

That, my friends, is one way to turn a fan into an influencer. Now I know.

Is Building a Platform Like Walking the Plank?

This week two friends expressed frustration with their attempts at building a platform for their writing. One lamented that with his work, family, schedule, and carving out time to write, he simply doesn’t have time to invest in growing his platform. My other friend is taking an extended break from all blogging and social media. She became so overwhelmed with the pursuit of platform that she even considered deleting her blog and shutting down all her social media accounts.

I know a third person who shares their struggles, understanding too well the crunch of time and the pundits’ insistence on platform. That person is me.

If I weren’t distracted with growing my platform, I’d have twice as much time to write. I relish writing, whereas I hate the distraction of platform performance.

Adding to my discouragement is that I’m mired in creating a proposal for my book, God, I Don’t Want to Go to Church. I’m stuck on the section about my platform. I have too little to proclaim.

I wish we lived in a world were a book could stand on its merits, without the need for a platform to push it. But we don’t, so I must persist with my platform efforts, praying that it will be enough for my future publisher, without destroying my passion for writing in the process.

This is a safe place to share. Be it success or sorrow, what are your thoughts about building your platform?

Why You Should Write Your Author Bio Now

Many writers lament about how hard it is for them to write their own bio. It doesn’t go as quickly as we think and their optimum message is harder to craft. It’s best to have our bios written before we need them. And even if our pre-written bios don’t provide the right slant or hit the target length, it’s easier to tweak what we have already written to match what’s needed, then to start with a blank screen.

Write your bio in the third person, except for a query letter or proposal, when first person is used. There are four typical bio lengths and our goal is to have all four:

25-Word Bio: A 25-word bio is ideal for articles and guest blog posts. It’s usually two to three sentences and contains basic relevant information about you as an author: who you are and your credentials, plus a plug for your book, project, or blog.

50-Word Bio: A 50-word bio is also ideal for articles and guest blog posts, as well as blog sidebars. If you’re not sure which one to use, submit the 50-word version (or ask or submit both). The 50-word bio contains the same information of a 25-word bio, but more of it. (Some authors write a 75 to 100-word bio instead of a 50-word bio.)

Many authors include an intriguing, playful, or memorable line – especially in their 50-word bio.

A 25 or 50-word bio will be ideal for an article, query letter, and one-sheet. Look at the bios found at the end of magazine articles for more examples and ideas.

250-Word Bio: A 250-word bio fits on the back cover of most books; it is also appropriate for your media kit and an “About” page on your blog or website. Start with your 50-word bio and expand it, adding meat and items of interest that relate to your writing and specifically to your book.

500-Word Bio: A 500-word bio may fit on the inside flap of your book; it’s also appropriate for a media kit and an “About” page on a blog or website. Build upon your 250-word bio, adding more substance and human-interest elements.

A 250 or 500-word bio will go in your book proposal, as well as for a book and website’s About section. Look at book covers for more examples and ideas.

Posts about author bios:

What is your bio? Post your short version in the comments section (or link to you long version).

How Big is Your Platform?

A few years ago literary agent Amanda Luedeke quantified what constitutes a “solid author platform.” Frankly her numbers are overwhelming:

  • If you have a blog or website you need 30,000 unique visitors a month.
  • Your Twitter and Facebook needs to have 5,000 followers each.
  • If writing for e-publications, 100,000 people a month need to read your work.

This is daunting. Even more disconcerting is knowing that the number of blogs, websites, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages is growing much faster than the number of people who visit, follow, and view them. This means that on average, everyone is going to have fewer visitors, followers, and viewers.

Regarding other platforms, she noted:

  • If public speaking, it must be 30 times a year to a total of 10,000 people (which equates to 333 people per speaking engagement.
  • If writing for print publications, the number is 100,000 per quarter. (The seeming implication is that print has three times the platform impact as online.)

How discouraging.

However, the emphasis seems to have shifted since then. Sheer numbers mean nothing without engagement. The number of friends, followers, and visitors account for little; it’s the amount of interaction that matters.

I’ve recently heard that an engaged audience of 1,000 is a start. Even a couple hundred really loyal fans can make a difference.

The old view was quantity; the new metric is quality.

I can do that. So can you.