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Nanowrimo Special: Julian Friedmann at the SWF 09 "A Novel Approach"

I’ve been saving this to post up when the wind went out of my sails on Nanowrimo – which is right now. If you are too, check out Julian’s thoughts below, might give you the push you need!
Novelists turn to screenwriting and vice versa, but this often fails. Why? We are all STORYTELLERS. But to write a 100,000 word novel typically takes 6 – 9 months, which can be very off-putting. Nevertheless, Julian believes writing prose is a very serious compliment to screenwriting.

Six Reasons to Write Books As Well As Scripts:

– You’ve probably read more novels than scripts – plus at school you will have done English Literature, at least until GCSE.

– You don’t need all the structural stuff

– Easier to tell a story in prose than a script: there is an obsession with “scriptwriting”, rather than “storytelling”

-Characters are allowed to THINK and FEEL in books in a way they can’t in scripts

– Novels are excellent templates for producers who have more RESPECT for books; there is the myth adaptation is better than original works

– You make more money! Novelists typically make more than your average screenwriter; in the UK we publish 10,000 novels a year but make maybe 100 films. No contest.


– Find out where the market is – is there a market for your book? Who would read your book? Who are the publishers that produce books like yours? Do your research.

– You need to be able to pitch your book EASILY – just like films. It needs a clear idea behind it.

– Your choice on what to write should not be based on what you LIKE reading yourself

– Don’t try something when the odds are stacked against you – create an illusion you KNOW what you’re talking about

– Read all the high profile books in the genre you choose; look at the associations available for that genre, ie. The Children’s Book Writers’ Association

– It’s very difficult to get a deal on JUST a synopsis and first three chapters

– Start getting feedback on your novel BEFORE you finish

– Decide which publishers you want to submit to and ring them up; never write “Dear Sir/Madam” in query letters, get a name. If you have credits as a screenwriter, tell them!! Get a recommendation if you can.

– Work out how to promote yourself and do it WELL. Remember there’s loads of competition: be ahead of the game

– Lie about simultaneous submissions!

– Most manuscripts are rejected because they are badly written and/or written with no sense of the market.

What Happens When A Publisher Makes You An Offer?

– A book offer is an advance against the royalties (residuals for our American friends). This is usually anything between £500 and £2m!! The advance is usually for more than one book.

– Stages of payment are usually: signature, acceptance of manuscript (after rewrites) and publication (the latter is sometimes split into 2, hardback and paperback).

– What rights are they buying? There’s lots to choose from! Serial rights, audio rights, languages (“English Lang World” is the USA; UK English is “British Commonwealth”), territories, film, merchandising, large print? “World rights” is all of them.

– What *kind* of royalties can I get? Hardback is typically 10% – 12.5%; paperback 7.5% to 10%.

– If you build an audience, there’s a good chance your publisher will want you to STAY with that audience – very keen on franchise opportunities ie. Worst Witch, Horrid Henry or writers “known” for writing a particular genre: ie. Lee Child, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, etc.

Julian left us with the following sobering thoughts:

– There is a shorter chain of command to publishing in comparison to films once a deal has been done; there is less development hell

– Novels get published when you get an offer: films get options – YET DON’T GET MADE

– We’re all storytellers: stop obsessing over format and MAKE MORE MONEY!
Hell, I’m sold. Now back to Nanowrimo…

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7 thoughts on “Nanowrimo Special: Julian Friedmann at the SWF 09 "A Novel Approach"”

  1. Thanks for writing that up, it clashed with something else I wanted to see and so I didn't attend.

    Personally I find the idea of writing a novel really scary. When you start writing a screenplay, you're not really staring at a blank page because it is framed by so much of what you've learned about the craft – structure especially. But with a novel the possibilities are endless, and that blank sheet really is a blank sheet.

  2. Thanks for that Lucy – really interesting – think it's prompted me to dig out the novel lurking in my drawer from a few years back, and start that rewrite I've been putting off.

    Terraling – I know that fear but isn't that part of the thrill – that blank sheet means you can go anywhere, do anything!

  3. MJ – nooo!

    It's like staring at the scariest roller-coaster the world has to offer and the only car left is the one where the safety-harness has come off. Get on or go buy candy-floss?

  4. Nah, writing novels is easy. I churned out over 100k words on mine without breaking a sweat. Trouble is it's a bit dull because I never found my voice.

    My novel advice (worth 2p) – write lots, write every day; keep writing; don't keep starting again; find your voice; be brave and original; make sure it's fun to read (you are not Thomas Pynchon); keep it under 80k words for a first one.

    If you don't know what finding your voice means, go here. It'll explain that and just about everything else you didn't know you needed to know.

  5. I was at the SWF but missed Julian's talk as Swine Flu was systematically closing down my lungs and splitting my head open from the inside like the creature in Alien, having taken a wrong turning somewhere around my throat. It's a virus best avoided, it turns out. Anyway, great post which boils down what was probably a dry-ish old hour (I attended one of Julian's other talks before the swine had its evil way with me). I've written a novel which I'm now turning into a sitcom and it's amazing how so much narrative can be condensed into three lines of direction or a verbal aside. I've also turned script into narrative and the same applies, only in reverse. Duh. In the end, I guess it's about story – if it works in one genre, it'll probably do so in the other – allied to the appropriate technical approach. The one informs the other, in my limited experience, and I suspect those who have a crack at both will feel the benefit. Now, how to get published…hmm. Having an agent hasn't helped, that's for damn sure.

  6. "- Your choice on what to write should not be based on what you LIKE reading yourself"

    Shouldn't this be "…should be based on what you LIKE reading…"

    Stephen King (in his book on writing) recommends writing what you like to read.

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