In this column I’m asking subscribers to share their knowledge about writing, publishing, and marketing their books. I’m calling it “Ten Questions.” Thank you, Robert J. Emery, for giving readers insight into a writer who has successfully made the transition from writing for the screen to writing page-turning books. Read Midnight Black.–Marylee MacDonald
Robert J. Emery’s Author Tip: “Writing novels is 180 degrees from writing for films and TV. For example, so much of the execution of a screenplay is left to the director’s imagination, not the writer’s. In turning to novels, I was tasked with painting with words vivid characters and scenes that readers could become deeply involved in without the benefit of visuals.”
Robert J. Emery writes as R.J. Eastwood. Check out his terrific blog and learn more about his writing journey.
MM A book begins as an idea in the writer’s imagination. Eventually, this grain of sand turns into a pearl. What was the grain of sand that fired your imagination?
RJE My fiction is published under the pen name R.J. Eastwood ( http://www.robertjemeryauthor.com). I set out to pen a suspense thriller that followed a DEA officer imprisoned for murdering a man who committed a heinous crime against him. Fifteen years into a 20-year sentence, he is paroled to a world on the verge of moral and economic collapse, thanks to the failed policies of a one-world, autocratic government controlled by wealthy businessmen. To maintain his freedom the protagonist must agree to become a government sanctioned assassin. The goal was to write a short and to the point novel (254 pages). I wanted to establish the characters and tell the story. It’s now up to readers to decide whether I hit the mark.
MM How did you approach turning this idea into a manuscript, and eventually a book? Did you take classes, read books, or just plunge in?
RJE My entire career has been as a writer/director of both motion pictures and TV. Transitioning to writing novels (this is my third) was a natural transition.
MM Authors today have many options when it comes to publication. Did you work with an agent, find a publisher through other means, or self-publish your book?
RJE My first five books (4 non-fiction, one novel) were published via traditional publishers. I turned to self-publishing for my most recent two novels as a way of gaining greater control over my work and to reap a bigger piece of the financial pie.
MM What is the biggest single lesson you learned during the writing process?
RJE Writing novels is 180 degrees different from writing for films and TV. For example, so much of the execution of a screenplay is left to the director’s imagination, not the writer’s. In turning to novels, I was tasked with painting with words vivid characters and scenes that readers could become deeply involved in without the benefit of visuals.
MM What would you advise others who are still at the idea stage?
RJE Lock down your characters, your opening and closing, and then let your imagination flow in between the first and last page. At least that’s what works for me. Once I’m into it, I like to see where the story I devised will take me. No notes, no outline for me. And be sure to write in a unique voice, not someone else’s.
MM Were there any writing tools you’d recommend? Did you use apps like Grammarly, Scrivener, or another outliner to help you structure your book?
RJE Beside the services of an editor, I use both Ginger and ProWritingAid programs once I have the book completed. Both programs are invaluable, especially ProWriting Aid which offers a lot of ways to evaluate the quality of your writing.
MM Was it hard to decide on a cover, or did you or your publisher hire a professional designer?
RJE I used Canva.com to rough out what I thought would make a good cover then turned that over to a professional book designer who brought it altogether in a finished piece.
MM Who is your ideal reader? Who would particularly enjoy your book/s?
RJE My three novels and my next all take place in the future with a tip of the hat to what just might be our future reality. My stories are not so much sci-fi as they are based on events that readers can relate to. I write for and promote to those readers.
MM How do you connect with readers? Do you like to do live events, such as book fairs or library talks, or have you found readers through social media, Goodreads, or Amazon?
RJE I’m big on all aspects and opportunities available on social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, Pinterest, Amazon, blog tours, and review sites. When I have the time, I try to write a blog that’s available on my author site. I also participate in Facebook author pages, which are great places to exchange ideas with other authors.
MM What has been your greatest reward in undertaking this publishing journey? (This doesn’t have to be a financial reward.)
RJE It can be daunting to spend time self-promoting when I would rather be writing. But like it or not, I do it religiously. The challenge is to keep coming up with fresh ideas to present your work to potential readers. You can’t keep running the same ad over and over or eventually eyes glaze over and move on.
MM (Follow-up question) Many writers dream of writing for television or the big screen. You’ve spent many years doing that. What is the difference, creatively speaking, between writing for the screen and writing a novel? (I’m thinking of a couple of issues. One is that film is much more collaborative, whereas a novel depends on you alone. Another is that film typically doesn’t go inside a character’s head, whereas, in fiction, you have a chance to do that if you use a close third or first person point of view.)
RJE Making the transition from writing screenplays and TV scripts proved to be far more difficult than I had imagined. Ideally, a screenplay is no more that 120-130 pages. These pages establish locations, a limited amount of motivation, and character dialogue. The producer, director, and actors take over from there. They are supported by a large number of collaborative filmmakers all working to support the director’s vision. Although my seven feature films were on a small scale, I often had as many as 60 or more crew members supporting my efforts.
Suddenly, I found myself sitting alone at a computer writing novels that required me to flesh out stories in far more detail than a screenplay—at least to 300 to 400 pages. My 2017 novel, The Autopsy of Planet Earth, is 563 pages. For my most recent novel, Midnight Black – The Purge (254 pages), I chose to write in first-person, stream of consciousness—the reader experiences every scene as it unfolds in the protagonist’s head. That proved to be a difficult POV to master, and I experienced much trial and error before I was satisfied that I nailed it.
As for screenplays, anyone wishing to write one, I strongly recommend reading a lot of screenplays before attempting one (there are hundreds available online.) And always use a professi0nal screenplay program. Follow the rules or your screenplay will never be read.
MM If an author wanted to get a novel made into a movie, how hard is that to do? What would you advise? Where would they have the greatest chance of success? (I guess I’m thinking that it would be quite difficult for an independently published author to get a novel made into a book, but maybe I’m wrong.)
RJE This is the most difficult area for a self-published author to accomplish. First, never send a producer or a production company an unsolicited work. Nine out of ten times it will be returned unread. Research literary agents willing to consider representing your book or screenplay. The good news is that in today’s streaming world producers are looking for material. With the likes of HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, opportunities are much greater than before.
The first thing an interested party will do is check your sales. If you’ve written a book, low sales will probably get a pass unless a production company falls in love with the material. But unless you can get your material in front of eyes, chances of it becoming a film and TV series are limited. Search Bowker.com. They are affiliated with an online service that posts screenplays and books on a site frequented by producers looking for material. An agent would be better if you can engage one. Sorry to put a damper on the process, but it is a difficult one.
Follow Robert J. Emery’s blog: http://www.robertjemeryauthor.com
Amazon Kindle: ASIN: B07L61WWQY – https://www.tinyurl.com/ycscpzaz
Amazon Paperback: ISBN: 9780578433035 – https://www.tinyurl.com/ycscpzaz
Amazon/Audible Audiobook: ISBN: 9780578433042 – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07P5HJNKW
YOU TUBE: https://youtu.be/95yO4rQqvzM