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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rise Of The Talking Ape Book

This weekend, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, will be filling movies theaters across the country.  It is another installment of the successful Planet of the Apes movie franchise that began in the late 1960’s.  The original movie, starring Charlton Heston, was based on a 1963 novel by Pierre Boulle.  So many of our movies come from books.

Just look at the movies playing now. Harry Potter, originally a book. Captain America, originally a comic book.  Winnie the Pooh, originally a children’s book.  And if you look at movies over the years you’ll see the genesis of a fair number of Oscar nominees and winners was a book; Gone with the Wind, Forrest Gump, The Joy Luck Club, The Shining, Misery, Goodfellas, The Princess Bride, and Godfather to name a few.

One of the themes found in popular books is that of the talking animal.  Some get turned into cartoons, comedies, or science fiction morality tales.  Talking horses (Mr. Ed on TV), talking pigs (Babe, the movie), and talking cats (Garfield) are not unusual by pop-culture standards, and yet we’re still fascinated with what animals think, feel and believe.  We wonder how far to take animal rights and struggle to define how we should treat animals and co-exist with the animal kingdom, from the pets we keep to the food we eat to the land we build on to the zoo we visit. Many non-fiction books explore these issues as well.

I have promoted many books involving dogs – what we should feed them; how to grieve their passing; what they may be thinking; how to train them; how they are like family members; how to anticipate the grief we’ll feel when a pit is dying; and how they teach us life lessons. You can’t go wrong writing about dogs and cats – over 140 million are owned as pets in the US. Their owners will buy anything they find cute, comforting or interesting as it concerns their furry loved ones. I should know – I own two dogs and treat them like my kids.

One of my clients at Planned Television Arts is J. E. Fishman and he’s the author of a new and fascinating novel, Primacy, which centers on a talking ape and puts under a microscope the ethical issue of animal testing labs.  His book just earned glowing reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, and he could be on its way to getting some notoriety.  If he succeeds it won’t be the first book involving a talking animal but rather it will be one of many of a growing trend. Pop-culture likes the rising chorus of talking animals. 

Maybe if we listen, we’ll learn something.

Fishman recently was interviewed by Book Marketing Buzz Blog. He is the founder of www.verbitrage.com pens a weekly column Publishing Primacy — Self-fulfillment and the Single Author — on The Nervous Breakdown: http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/author/jefishman.

1.      Joel, what is Verbitrage? Verbitrage is an authors' consortium that I founded based on the premise that recent changes in book publishing enable authors to publish their work not only independently, but as well as the majors would publish them. The rewards for authors will be greater, but this path is not for the faint of heart. It requires authors to take the financial risk that a publisher would have taken. All of our books will be offset printed (not print-on-demand), designed and edited by top-flight professionals, and distributed through normal book trade channels.

2.      Where do you see publishing five years from now? I imagine it will be just what we're seeing now but on steroids: more avenues for authors to get their stories out, more challenge overcoming all the noise out there, greater elasticity of supply due to e-books, but, for the same reason, fewer traditional bookstore outlets. Authors will move more fluidly among so-called Big Six publishers, smaller traditional publishers, and alternate business models, such as self-publishing. Mechanisms may arise to fund authors who are bootstrapping. The self-publishing surge that we've seen may abate a bit, as the numbers we've had recently could be a result of pent up supply. But who really knows?  In any case, I hope great storytelling will still find a way to rise to the top once in a while.

3.      As a former editor for a traditional book publisher what do you see as the advantages of one publishing with a traditional publisher? Advantages are relative. If you can't hook up with a trade distributor, as Verbitrage has, then the distribution offered by traditional publishers is a big asset so long as the book trade persists. Credibility in that trade is also something traditional publishers bring to the table, but every time the marketplace forces another bookstore out of business, that argument gets just a little less compelling. The biggest advantage, if it's offered, is the opportunity to direct capital risk away from the author. If you're already a brand-name author, this is very appealing. But for the rest, the trend has been shrinking advances, combined with many publishers insisting that authors do other things that can be expensive (in time and money), such as hiring their own publicists and building their own following. Publishers used to do that for you. These days, not so much.

4.      Your upcoming book, Primacy, is a thriller that tackles a serious social issue: animal rights. What are the challenges or advantages to fictionalizing such a topic? The advantage of fictionalization is always the same: it enables the author to create a compelling narrative and sympathetic characters, where in real life these things might not offer themselves up in a package that is as appealing. The challenge is creating a world that simulates real life in a plausible way without inviting people to second-guess every detail. You want your reader to stay focused on the central points of the narrative, not to go off into the weeds of a subject. The weeds can be interesting, but they're the stuff of the mind. Fiction is the stuff of the heart.

5.      What did you enjoy most when it came to writing your book? The most satisfying part, to paraphrase Flannery O'Connor, is when you can craft a plot twist that surprises but also makes perfect sense.

6.      What advice do you have for  authors looking to get published? First, focus on craft and story structure. Inspiration and talent are important but often overrated. Second, don't for a second take for granted that anyone owes you a read. You have to earn the reader's attention, especially if that reader is an agent or editor. Third, if you really believe in what you're doing, never quit. If the system resists you, push harder, find another way. But don't be stupid about it. You can't change that system, only how you relate to it.

7.      What would you recommend authors do to promote or market themselves? Don't set out to reinvent the wheel, get as much professional advice as you can, and try to look at your book objectively. Book readers are already a fraction of the overall market, and those who would be likely buyers of any given work are generally a tiny subset of that. Define who they are, to the extent possible, and zone in on them. Forget the masses.

Brian Feinblum is the chief marketing officer of Planned Television Arts (www.plannedtvarts.com) but the views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and are personal and do not reflect the official viewpoints of PTA. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com

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