Strike Force Behind The Book: strikeforce.mp3
Writers Roundtable Interview With Dale Brown
Dale Brown Interview With: Peter Anthony Holder
When a former pilot turns his hand to thrillers you can take their authenticity
for granted. His writing is exceptional and the dialogue, plots and characters
are first-class... far too good to be missed.'
--Sunday Mirror

‘Dale Brown is a superb storyteller’

‘Dale Brown is the best military adventure writer in the country’

By Dale Brown
30 May 2001

It is one of those dilemmas that fascinate and frustrate at the same time: they desperately want what you have, but they are primed to say "No." This is the dilemma of the writing world.

The bad news: only about one out of every one hundred quality manuscripts will be published; about the same ratio of good scripts will ever finally be produced. The good news: thousands of agents, editors, and publishers scour the world every day to find the one. Your job is simple: create it, then get it into their hands.

What do I need to do to be published or produced?

[IMAGE]The first and most essential task is the most obvious but often the most overlooked: you must write and finish the script. The entire publishing and producing world hinges on that one simple law: in order for any book, movie, TV show, magazine, or article to be made, it must first be created. That's the writer's job. Everybody is waiting on you.

Do I need to be an established writer or an English major to be published?

No, BUT...

You have to assume some basic responsibilities to play this game. You have to be willing to study your craft: learn about writing, structure, grammar, character, plot, story, pace, and all the ingredients that go into a good novel or script. But more importantly, you must write. Nothing happens until your idea, imagination, art, and perspective is put down on paper and placed into the hands of someone willing to evaluate it and make a decision on its future.

How do I get writing credits if I'm just a beginner?

Bylines are yours for the taking. I started in grade school by winning an Honorable Mention in a writing contest sponsored by St. Bonaventure University. I worked on the Grand Island High School newspaper. At Penn State University, I submitted "Letters To The Editor" on oddities in campus life that eventually grew into feature articles and my own column. I wrote freelance computer game reviews for obscure little magazines, and wrote articles and features for the Air Force base newspapers on why us fliers were launching dozens of B-52 and FB-111 bombers in the middle of the night. Every byline is an opportunity to hone your skills, learn to work with editors and publishers, learn to take criticism, and gather credits to show other publishers that you know how to write.

What do I do when I finish my manuscript?

Put it away. Come back in a week and try to read it as if for the first time. Be critical. Polish it, cut away unnecessary scene or sentences, tighten it as much as you can. Let other folks whose opinion you trust read a chapter or two, encourage them to be honest—then be sure to take their opinions to heart. This doesn't mean take every comment as gospel. Think carefully about comments you receive, and make changes only if you feel the comments are valid.

Next, compose a one-page business letter that tells what your story is about and a little about yourself. This letter, the query, should be as riveting, as fresh, and as alive as the absolute best scene in your script. Then get a list of literary or screen agents from the library or the Internet and start sending it out.

The query is what will introduce you and your work to agents and managers. It will make or break your writing career. Agents don't have time to read sample chapters or scenes from unknown writers, so they use the query letter to make a snap-judgment about your writing skills. You have about 150-200 words to prove to the agent that you can write something that they can sell and make a commission.

Agents looking for clients read queries-a lot of them, sometimes hundreds a week--because they have to in order to stay in business. They must make a decision whether to invest their precious time and energy into developing you and your work for the market, based mostly on the quality of that query letter. So it's important to use every erg of talent, imagination, and flair you possess into composing that query.

Can I try to sell my story before I actually finish it?

No. Why? If you encounter that rare but happy circumstance and the agent you contact actually likes your work and wants to read the entire script or manuscript, you're sunk. You must now explain that it's not finished. You've lost all credibility. Few agents or managers can afford to wait. They have salaries to pay, rent to pay, business to do. They must move on to the pile of queries and find a script they can really sell.

What do you do when the rejection letters start coming in, or it's been weeks since you sent an agent some sample chapters and he hasn't responded?

Do what you were doing before: keep on writing, polish and tighten your script, read, learn more about your craft, network, gather information, and most importantly—keep on writing. Work on the next novel or screenplay, enroll in some classes or seminars, join a writers group, volunteer to write a newsletter for your church or club. Keep sending out the queries. Analyze any responses you get and try to apply their comments to your work. Don't wallow in despair—that's a waste of energy and spirit. Get reacquainted with your family and friends—then, once you've convinced them that you are once again a normal human being and not a self-centered solitary S.O.B. monster, go back to your computer and start writing.

After thirteen consecutive best-selling novels to my credit, I have taken the plunge and started the process of finding an agent to represent my original screenplays. I research the market, write and polish the scripts I think have some market potential, get some feedback from producers and script consultants who attend seminars and "pitch-fests," polish it some more, then send it out to agents and managers, seeking representation. Writing and selling to Hollywood is different than writing and selling to New York City, but the idea is the same: create the absolute best work you can, then get it in the hands of someone who can represent it to the industry.

My reward so far for all this extra work? Rejection letters. Most of the agents and managers I've written to have never responded at all. Most of the ones that did respond were very encouraging... but still rejections.

What do I do now?

Press on. My newest novel needs attention, and I've got three cool ideas waiting on the back burner. But when I can, I'll turn my attention to the scripts, take any feedback I've received, judge whether or not it's good or bad advice, then rewrite and tighten some more. Maybe I'll start a new screenplay when I see a new twist in the market (boy, Spy Kids sure did well... how about Spy Kids on a space station? Spy Kids go to Oxford?). In the meantime, maybe I'll write a commentary on National Missile Defense, or the "Army Of One" ad campaign, or the ramifications of China ramming a Navy spy plane. Maybe I'll attend Richard Krevolin's comedy screenwriting workshop at Lake Tahoe, or the Maui Writers Conference... or maybe just try to teach my four year-old how to write his name.

The bottom line? Sit down and write until you're finished, polish and market your work until it sells, then sit down and write some more. Don't do it until it hurts-do it until it feels good.

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