Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Career Management for Writers in a Changing World

Last week we took a detour from Theme-Plot integration into Business Model discussions. 


In November 2012 I went to a benefit concert where Theodore Bikel sang folksongs in many languages (all but one of which I know a bit of). As you probably know by now, I'm a big Theodore Bikel fan, and will rave about him below, but this is more about planning and executing a long, targeted and lucrative career in the arts. So first lets take a long look at a writer's career you should study. Here's a writer I have followed for about twenty years less than I've followed Theodore Bikel, and about whom I know a lot less. He's Allan Cole:

a very friendly guy, comfortable and voluble in the "new media" world -- blogging, Facebook, twitter, etc. I've run into him almost everywhere, and just take his presence forgranted because he's always around, saying something to think about or to relay to others who've been talking about it.

Just look at his picture.  Isn't that a guy you'd be glad to sit and listen to for a while?  Well, if you're planning a  career as a writer -- or even any kind of creative endeavor in any medium yet to be invented -- you would do well to pay attention to Allan Cole.

Here are some clues for how to start -- and don't grit your teeth.  Sometimes studying can be fun! 

Here's his IMDB page --


IMDB is the movie database with all the credits listed so you can see who did what -- or look up a PERSON who works on movies and see what movies or TV shows they've done.  All that with only a free account, and you can find great movies and TV shows and click through to buy with Amazon just like that!  With a paid account, there's lots more information for professionals. 

Here's Allan Cole's public bio from IMDB. 

Allan Cole is a best-selling author, screenwriter and former prize-winning newsman who brings a
rich background in travel and personal experience to his imaginative work. Raised in Europe and the Far East, Cole attended thirty-two schools and visited or lived in as many countries. He recalls hearing The Tempest for the first time as a child sitting on an ancient fortress wall in Cyprus - the island Shakespeare may have had in mind when he wrote the play. Rejecting invitations to become a CIA operative like his father, Cole became an award-winning investigative reporter and editor who dealt with everything from landmark murder cases to thieving government officials. Since that time he's concentrated on books and film. His novels include the landmark science fiction series, "Sten," the highly-praised fantasy trilogy, "Tales Of The Timuras," and the Vietnam war classic, "A Reckoning For Kings." Allan has sold more than a hundred television dramas, ranging from "Quincy" and "The Rockford Files" to "Walker, Texas Ranger." He lives in Boca Raton, Florida, with his wife, Kathryn.
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The "Sten" series novels mentioned in that bio (terrific reading!)

Here's #1 -- follow the link to find the others.

have been published then reprinted interntionally with huge sales numbers, and recently been republished in USA editions in ebook, paper, and audiobook from audible.com (fabulous reader!).  It's no wonder.  They're great reading or listening, but they have another dimension to them.

As I've been telling you on this blog, the knack of selling text-stories in today's market CHANGED.  The big sales now go to novels structured like screenplays -- and/or with scenes structured like screenplays -- and/or with characters formulated like TV characters.

I've been unable to tell you when that shift happened.  It wasn't abrupt, and it wasn't bally-hooed about in the media, and it wasn't noted in books on writing craft.  It just sneaked up on us.

Now I know when it happened.  I ran into one of Allen Cole's blogs, I don't remember where, perhaps on twitter, a couple years ago.  This one is about his adventures as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

http://allan-cole.blogspot.com/   -- titled MY HOLLYWOOD MISADVENTURES

As of Jan. 2013, http://alcole.blogspot.com/  carries installments of a biographical laugh-a-minute life story episode in Allan Cole's life titled THE BLUE MEANIE (also set in Los Angeles, but prior to the Misadventures).  It's about the time when Allan worked as a journalist and managed apartment buildings.

Who could resist such a title?   It's about "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen!" 

You will note Allan Cole had many successes in selling screenplays.  But what about the failures and the embarrassments and the just plain disasters wound up in the origin of those successes?  Most writers won't tell on themselves.  Allan Cole tells on himself, and makes you double over in laughter while he's at it. 

When you're done reading these blogs (a bunch are collected into an ebook for easy reading, find the link on the blog page at the top), you will have a new perspective on what it means "career in writing." 

And don't think this pertains just to Hollywood.  The same stuff goes on in print publishing.  It's the nature of big business to treat "talent" or "content providers" as the least important cogs in the wheels. 

Now remember, we're looking at a biography that stretches into the past in order to construct a game-plan for a life and  career that stretches into the future.

Look at the history of the STEN series.  It started in the early 1980's, a bit after Sime~Gen which began in 1969 -- from material developed decades before that. 

Note this blog:
-- where Allan gave us a wonderful series of posts during the election cycle titled HOW THE ETERNAL EMPEROR STEALS ELECTIONS -- the "Eternal Emperor" of note is one of the main characters in the STEN series who definitely belongs on the USA NETWORK CHARACTERS WELCOME series.  In fact, several of the characters from STEN, including Sten himself, belong on USA as stars of their own series! 

Here's a quote from Allan Cole on Facebook pointing us to parts of his autobiography:

Allan Cole I've written two parts of it:

Lucky In Cyprus - https://sites.google.com/site/colesnewspreviews/the-lucky-in-cyprus-page and

Tales Of The Blue Meanie - https://sites.google.com/site/colesnewspreviews/the-summer-of-love-page
I've got two more I'm writing (not counting the MisAdventures) Lucky In Okinawa and The Game Warden's Sons
-----------END QUOTE------------

Now think hard about this "changing world" that I've been talking about in posts like those about the crumbling business model for writers, the whole social media evolution and self-publishing, then Indie ebook-only publishers, now web-series TV. 

What I call "the fiction delivery system" is shifting hard, as hard in the coming decades as in the century after Guttenberg's movable type concept hit the world.

From historyguide.org

Guttenberg worked on his gadget in the mid-1400's -- 500 years later, a similar distribution channel opening created "Hollywood" -- i.e. flicks, film, movies.  Stories in pictures that MOVE.

But distribution was clumsy -- people had to go to special places to see these "flicks."

OK, but by 1950 Television was deploying those moving-image stories into people's living rooms.

There was a market for such pictured-fiction, they knew, from the hoards that frequented movie houses --- and from the immense success of radio fiction that developed concurrently. 

It's all about how much it costs to put the story into the consumer's hands.  Remember that when creating your career plans.  COST vs. PRICE

It costs such-and-so to create the product and move it to the consumer, but what will the consumer pay?  How much do they want it, and how much free cash flow do they have to spend on stuff they just want?

Now consider your age as you launch your writing career.  How many years will you be at this business?  Of course, there's always the chance you'll strike it rich and retire early, but really, is that what you (a born storyteller) want?  To not-write new stories?

Look now at the career arc of Theodore Bikel. 

He is a great writer, true, but he's an actor, a singer, raconteur and many other kinds of performer.

Here he is on IMDB

Here is his website:

And here is the photo from that website:  

And that's exactly how he looks today, so I didn't take any photos of him during his performance that I just went to see.

If he looks familiar -- or sounds familiar (you can get all his recordings as MP3 on Amazon ) it might be because he played Worf's human father on Star Trek. 

Here is the little auditorium at the benefit, and the tiny stage with really spiffy, ultra-modern sound equipment and excellent lighting -- all the technical trappings you could hope for anywhere.  I got there early.  Eventually, the place filled up. 

Many of the shows he was in happened so long ago they aren't on IMDB.  There is one film, in particular, I'd love to have titled Fraulein that Theo was in, and on one of his albums which is a recording at a live concert, he tells the story of how he was hired to play a Russian, and asked if he knew any Russian songs.  So he said, "A few." (actually it's more than a few, but that's how you talk in Hollywood.)  And they asked him to bring in a few and perform for them.  So he did, and they loved the songs -- but said they couldn't use them because of copyright.  All the songs were very old folk songs, but that's how they talk in Hollywood.  So they said they'd have a genuine old Russian folksong composed for him to sing.  He sang it in this film, it says on the recording of the concert.  The song is, I think, titled Nichevo. 

I have searched for this movie many times -- but as I was writing this blog entry, I poked around Amazon some more, and found this listed as available for STREAMING (to my Kindle Fire, or my TV, or probably even my phone if I could figure out how to do that).  So I got it. 

Here's the details from that movie on Amazon's page:

 Product Details
Synopsis: A Nazi's fiancee helps an escaped U.S. soldier, then meets him in postwar Berlin.
Starring: Dana Wynter, Mel Ferrer
Supporting actors: Dolores Michaels, Margaret Hayes, Theodore Bikel, Luis Van Rooten, Helmut Dantine, Herbert Berghof, James Edwards, Ivan Triesault, Blandine Ebinger, Jack Kruschen, Dorothy Arnold, John Banner, Edith Clair, Peter Coe, Gabriel Curtiz, Don Diamond, Ed Erwin, Fred Essler, Gerry Gaylor, Alex Goudavich
Directed by: Henry Koster
Genre: Romance, War, Drama
Runtime: 1 hour 37 minutes
Release year: 1958
Studio: 20th Century Fox
ASIN: B0025X6072 (Rental) and B0025X7W5G (Purchase)
Rights & Requirements
Rental rights: 24 hour viewing period Details
Purchase rights: Stream instantly and download to 2 locations. Details
Format: Amazon Instant Video (streaming online video and digital download)

1958 -- can you believe that?  I found a movie from 1958 mentioned on a record from I suppose the 1960's -- that I haven't seen -- with Theodore Bikel in it. 


This is a perfect example of what I'm pointing out to you here as an element to consider carefully as you manage your career as a writer, a "content provider."  1958 -- about 500 years after Guttenberg.  Think about that.  Think very carefully about the implications for our future -- "if this goes on ..."

Here's where to see the movie for yourself -- NOTE HOW YOUNG HE LOOKS compared to the picture from his website which is how he looks now.  Imagine your life "then" and "now."  And remember he was born in 1924.  He's going on 90.  What will your "backlist" look like when you're going on 90? 

Many of the shows he was in happened so long ago they aren't on IMDB.  There is one film, in particular, I'd love to have titled Frauline that starred Theo, but it doesn't turn up in google search -- it's very old.

Here's Theo's autobiography (told you he's a writer!)

I was sure I'd seen it on Kindle, but the only one I can find now is the paper edition.  *sigh* We really need an ebook edition.

I have the first edition which I got him to autograph long ago. 

Here's a quote from Kirkus Reviews:


"A compelling life, taking Bikel from pre–World War II Eastern Europe to an acting career in Israel; emigration to England after the war, training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and initial success in British theater and film; a leap to the Broadway stage and stardom in The Sound of Music; productive years as a Hollywood character actor; a new career as a folksinger in the late1950s; then several decades of activism, as president of Actors’ Equity and a prominent figure in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements."—Kirkus Reviews
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If you're planning a career -- not just "I want to get my book published," but "I want to make a living as a writer," you need to read dozens of such biographies before planning your life.

But this one is particularly interesting when compared to Allan Cole's life. 

Theo was born in 1924, barely escaped annihilation in the war, spent time learning acting in England and lived in Israel before it was "Israel" officially (again), and in Paris where he learned Russian gypsy songs.

Look at both of these careers as the relentless application of the need to communicate, regardless of the technological means at hand.  Each time, during these chronicled decades, these documented decades of history, that technology or life-circumstance changed, each man grabbed hold of what was available and poured "message" into the "speaking tube" between himself and his audience.

Allan Cole tells of how he just fell into screenwriting while trying to launch a novel career, and considers himself a novelist who sometimes writes for screen. 

I didn't know this when I started writing this post, but trading comments with Allan Cole on his Facebook Group, I mentioned Theo Bikel and here's what Allan Cole said:

Allan Cole Theodore Bikel! Fabulous actor, and dedicated supporter of worthy causes. First time I saw him was when he played one of the Nazi officers who captured Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen. Talk about being totally opposite the character you're playing. Now, that's acting. Followed him closely his entire career.
---------END QUOTE--------

In case you don't know the film, here it is, and you can rent it on Amazon for $2.99 to watch streaming instantly (see, that's what I mean by a changing world - some of the really oldest material is still available.  Plan your career accordingly.  Don't put out anything you're going to be ashamed of later. 

Read about Theo, and you'll always find an acoustical guitar around in his life somewhere.  He still plays acoustic guitar (and very well, too!).  When he had no work as an actor, he was singing at parties -- not even getting paid to do it -- way into the wee hours.  Today his voice is as deep, resonant and strong as ever. 

There's an energy inside these people that just pours out, and like water, finds a channel somewhere. 

Is that you?

Is that what you're like?  Is what you do who you are? 

Then check out the arc of technology into the future, such as we can see it today.

If civilization holds together long enough, we will see over the next few decades how technology will change our civilization at its roots, just as the printing press did. 

The way we communicate, and with whom we communicate, has changed.  All this "social networking" stuff is more like the moving type concept added to the printing press concept.  It's a furbish added on top of the internet, a refinement.

And there will be more such innovations, just as there came newspapers, magazines, color printing, paperback novels, the Ace Doubles novels, radio drama, TV drama.

And here we are, with these people whose lives are all about communicating, who are now "accessible" on the web -- and look at that concert venue!  I've been to many concerts, but that was the closest I've been to a stage. 

Oh, there was one unforgettable experience I had in Las Vegas one time I was passing through and spent some time at Circus Circus -- just happened to luck into sitting almost right under the net looking up at a flying act, dust from the net falling into my eyes.  NEVER been so close (and these guys were the world-famous sort who perform for Ringling).  Circus has been one of my primary hobbies for a long time, so it was a glamorous moment, yes, but instructive in so many other ways. 

So yes, life delivers a few of these moments when you can "make contact" with a performer.

But consider being the performer.

Writing is a performing art.  What does it take to keep performing regardless of the twists and turns  of the technology of your delivery channel?  Do you have that? 

You see, the trick is to know that you don't "change yourself" -- or your art or your product -- to fit changing times.  You draw upon the raw material you collected growing up, and shape that material to fit the currently available channels for output. 

In the 1950's, when television was new, singers took their record hits from record-store sales and radio, and performed them on TV.  Elvis Presley was a "discovery" on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (a variety show, recycling stage performances to TV.

Performers had to adapt to "the small screen."  Red Skelton is another name you should look up for a media-evolution spanning career study. 

I saw in the popularity of a weekly half-hour show called The Hit Parade the earliest origins of, believe it or not, videogaming.

The Hit Parade was just the biggest selling recorded singers/songs of the week -- and that was pre-vinyl when records were breakable.  The show actually spanned the transition to the 45RPM (those little records with the big holes.) 

It was "The Lucky Strike Hit Parade" -- it had only one sponsor, the cigarette brand Lucky Strike.  Despite loving the show, I never became a smoker.

What did I see in that televised show of singers standing at a mike on a stage just singing songs you heard on the radio?  I saw THE MUSIC VIDEO -- and then they invented the music video!

But when I saw Music Videos take off as an artform, I saw videogames -- interactiving games.

When I saw interactive videogames take off, I saw all kinds of things that are only now becoming part of our lives (such as actual pilot training done by simulator, and drone planes used for various purposes controlled remotely).  I wasn't the only one to project these developments.  SF writers poured out more visions of futures than will ever happen.

Speaking of changing media, here's another item I found posted on Allan Cole's facebook Group.
Allan Cole
Curtains for cursive? Typing replaces handwriting in schools
Keyboards continue their slow march to domination, overthrowing pens and pencils in schools across the nation. Read this article by Amanda Kooser on CNET.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
I've heard so many talking about this. I'm going to put this in that January blog post where I'm recommending writing students study the careers of Allan Cole and Theo Bikel. It's about anticipating media changes in the future. The new 007 movie, which I haven't seen, is reputed to have little in the way of imaginative, astonishing gadgetry we've never thought of before - but good chase scenes. Life in the arts is all about CHANGE -- I'm expecting videogames and music video artforms to converge soon.
---------END QUOTE -------------- 

I still think the music-video and video-game artforms (think about smartphones!) are on a collision course and will be the foundation of new artforms designed for new distribution technology that will carry the stories of the future.  The evolution will follow something similar to what we've seen in the graphic novel (which is one of the most exciting things happening!)

And remember it's all about COST vs. PRICE.  Business model.  That's the key to a long career.

Now, remember when you were 10 years old?  15?  What was life like then? 

Think about what life will be 60 years later.

Consider the shortening intervals between culture-shifting innovations in communications and travel technology.  500 years from Guttenberg to 1955 -- overlapping in there radio, TV, and computers, -- Star Trek and the internet overlapping development -- the web coming from European origin then overlapping, setting fire to inventions, and now web radio from around the world, and Web TV.

We've seen more real change in how we live in the last 50 years than in the previous 500.

Where will we be 50 years from now?  Consider 2012 saw the first real evidence that there really is such a thing as the "Higgs Boson" -- the "God Particle" that is the medium or origin of gravity, and thus possibly the key to interstellar travel.

Will we find the "particle" responsible for "time?" 

How could that change how you entertain your customers? 

What basic skills that I've been pointing you toward will you need 50 years from now?  How many of these story-structure skills will be useful to you then?  How much effort should you put into developing those skills?

Think about Theodore Bikel's voice training in England -- read his autobiography!   He tells "stories" in song.  That's what folksongs are -- little vignettes, stories encapsulated for transmission through the generations.  The Bible is a SONG -- ever heard it sung?  It's a SONG!!!  Look how long that's lasted.  The acoustic guitar -- that's a descendent of the lyre that King David (who wrote most of the songs sung in The Temple now available as the Book of Psalms, part of the Bible in many printings.)  Songs have structure.

Think about Allan Cole's experiences in the military.  Martial arts is often called poetry in motion.

Novels and feature films tell stories with a structure -- derived from life itself. 

What have you got that's similar to what these men with long, variegated careers had when they started? 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1 comment:

  1. Well, I'm not likely to be on this plane of existence 50 years from now, but still very thought-provoking. :)

    I'm a bit bemused by the concept of "planning your life." Didn't someone say, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans?"