A montage set to music: The best movies of 2013

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

Movies are all around us. Kind of like the Force, before George Lucas ruined it with all that claptrap about midichloridians or whatever.

Films live inside your TV, your iPhone, your laptop. They’re sitting on shiny metal disks and even being celebrated in these insanely large and dark stadiums where you pay $12 for popcorn and a Diet Coke that costs 20 cents.

And if you’re anything like me, movies are something magical.

So there’s this professional movie critic, David Ehrlich, a man you’d think only takes joy in ripping apart SMURFS 3: ARE WE THERE YET, PAPA SMURF while praising some black-and-white existential French movie where the hero finally kisses the girl and promptly gets hit by a bus–well, you’d think critics like him wouldn’t create something so joyful and beautiful as this.

Except of course he would. Why does anybody become a movie critic, book reviewer or rock journalist? Because they love nothing more than movies, books and making fun of Axl Rose and Vanilla Ice trying to stage a comeback.

3 ways to change the digital world FOREVER

media strategy saturday meme

It is official: social media now dominates the Series of Tubes.

Every year, these smart people produce a slick video about the interwebs, and this year’s video is especially good and interesting.

Now, having filled your brain with facts and numbers and industrial euro-pop dance music, WHAT DO WE DO?

Simple. We change the world.

Change # 1: One Contact Thing to rule them all

So you’ve got contacts in your gmail at home and Outlook at work, Twitter lists of followers and all kinds of Facebook friends, Tumblr buddies and Pinterest pals and a dozen other things.

It is an unholy mess.

Blessed be the app that gives us One Contact Thing, a single shebang with the magical powers to organize all your contacts, from all those stupid platforms, in one tidy place. The power will be unthinkable.

This means ending the nonsense about Instagram not talking to Twitter because she saw him flirting with Google or whatever. And yes, we need it to be easy and quick and on our phones. Because I’m not firing up the PC every time I need to look up a phone number or Twitter handle.

Whoever does this first — Apple, Google, Microsoft, some dude in his basement coding the app in his pajamas — will rule the interwebs forever and ever.

Change # 2: Obliterate voice mail and switch to texting

Am I saying we should take voice mail behind the barn and shoot it? No. I’m saying take it behind the barn, hang it, set it on fire, THEN shoot it.

Nobody likes voice mail. Nobody.

Don’t call my cell phone and make me dial up voice mail, punch in a password I keep forgetting, then listen for two minutes. Especially when 99.99 percent of all voice mail messages are things you can sum up in a short text like, “Phone tag, you’re it” or “Pick up some milk, yo” or “I’m a reclusive billionaire with $400 million sitting around, and instead of handing it to Karl Rove, who I wouldn’t trust at this point to run a successful race for student body president at Willapa Valley Junior High, I’d like some return on my investment.”

Send a text, people. College kids these days don’t even use email anymore. They think email is so 1994.

If it’s too complicated for a text, send an email.

If you really hate me, send a voice mail. Make it long. Don’t leave your number or email — assume that I’ve memorized it. And then when I call back, make sure you don’t answer your phone so I can start the whole thing rolling with a voice mail of my own.

Therefore, we will nuke voice mail from orbit, and the world will rejoice.

Change # 3: Real photos, good bios and no anonymous trolls

Twitter, Facebook and every other social media shebang is full of photos and bios of people that may be human, and might be young or old, male or female, con artist or genius.

You can’t tell, though, because (a) their profile photo is a shot of a cat, Yoda holding a lightsaber or a pile of leaves, (b) their Twittter handle is @jkringer392 and (c) their bio is a train wreck of obscure references to Star Trek fan fiction and such. I have seen all of these things and more. Who will pay for my therapy?

Related post: 30 achy breaky Twitter mistakeys

There are plenty of places for anonymous folks to say whatever they like. Sites like reddit will always be around. Have at it.

HOWEVER: papers of news, TV stations and serious blogs need to stop feeding the trolls by letting TrailerParkNinja and TexasMustSecede2016! dominate the comment sections with anonymous spam and hateful, nonsense. So let’s cut back on that by requiring commenters to use real photos and bios. Want to spew? Go spew in Anonymous Land.

If you’re going to be on the Series of Tubes, and want to be taken Seriously, you need a Serious photo — of you, not your cat — and a real bio. Period.

Long ago, only famous people needed public relations folks, who made sure actors, authors and other celebrities had good mug shots and nice bios. Today, everybody is online. Your photo, bio and name are what people see first. But average people don’t have a publicist. They’re flying in the dark with a blindfold, and yeah, it shows.  

Wonder why you aren’t getting many followers on Twitter or hits to your blog? Take a look at your photo and bio.

Trying to get a job / book deal / punk rock music contract? Take a hard look at what people see, in the first five seconds, when they check you out on Twitter and the Book of Face and such.

People don’t make a decision about you after reading your short stories or listening to three mp3s of sample songs on your blog. They glance at your photo and decide, in half a second, whether to interact with you or never give you a second thought. They do this all the time, in a hurry. Ten people just followed you on Twitter, and you follow back or not, clicking away with your mousity mouse, no-no-yes-no-yes-yes-no. You don’t ponder these decisions, right? Bam. So make it easy on people by taking it seriously. I’m talking to you, Miss Duckface, who shot your profile photo in the bathroom mirror using an iPhone.

People need a place –a Profile Doctor–to get easy and quick help with this sort of thing, without putting a public relations firm on retainer.

5 ways to make blog posts GO ALL VIRAL

There is no guaranteed method, no secret way, to make a blog post that causes the Series of Tubes to explode.

Anybody who says otherwise is a lying liar full of lying liaosity.

Because this is an art, not a science.

HOWEVER: There are things that are smart, and give you a chance.

yoda after the death star blows up
If your magical blog post causes the Series of Tubes to blow up like a Death Star orbiting the second moon of Yavin, then Yoda will celebrate by dropping it like it’s hot.

5) Swing for the fences

If all your blog posts are kinda the same — the same topic, the same length, the same tone — it’s a good bet none of them will ever magically shock the world.

Learn from PETA, which gets gobs and gobs of free ink and airtime by trying bold, crazy PR stunts.

Most of them fail. Sometimes, they get a little bad press for a stunt gone wrong.

But they keep swinging for the fences, because there is no real penalty for swinging and missing.

People only really pay attention when you hit that towering home run.

So PETA does the opposite of most non-profits, companies, politicians, authors, actors and would-be Famous Peoples: they don’t (a) craft a strategy full of bunts and singles, (b) assume all those bunts and singles will work 100 percent of the time, then (c) freak out when things don’t work out exactly according to the plan and (d) yell at their publicist for all those failures.

PETA knows most swings of the bat will miss. They’re smart about it. They don’t whine or cry in their IPA’s after hours, asking God why nobody prints their press releases. They swing hard. They know missing is part of the game. And they keep on swinging, knowing that all it takes is one solid smack of the bat to get their message through in newspapers, radio and TV around the world.

I did a bunch of posts examining how PETA and other folks do publicity right. Read them. It’ll make you rethink playing small ball.

4) Start with a killer photo

Words are great. I adore words, and I bet you do, too.

Treating photos as an afterthought, though, is crazy.

Because images are more powerful than words. They tap directly into a primal part of our brain and work all kinds of magic, bam, faster than you know it, all while your brain is still processing the first few words of the headline and such.

Every post should have one killer image.

Every post.

Snag a shot from flickr or morguefile. Snap away with your iPhone or Droid — or, if you’re lucky enough to have one, a Nikon of Infinite Beauty.

Use one of the online meme generators (they are legion) to add words to a fresh meme.

Better yet, find a photo and start an entirely new meme.

What if I told you ... how to get to Sesame Street?
Make your own meme already. DO IT NOW.

3) Embrace viral networks

Everybody basically has a blog, a Facebook page and uses Twitter — that’s pretty standard.

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: that won’t help you go viral.

Blogs just sit there, really. Nobody except your subscribers will realize you’ve got a new post.

The Book of Face is social networking, not social media. Same with Twitter.

They aren’t designed, really, for things to go viral. Are they better than a kick in the head? Yeah.

For a blog post to really go viral, you need it to make noise on Pinterest or Reddit, Digg or Stumbleupon — those sorts of sites.

Because lumping all these sites under the term “social media” is stupid.

What? Social networking and social media are not the same thing?

There’s social networking, where you make new friends and talk smack with those friends.

There’s social media, which sort of works as an alternative to mass media (papers of news, radio, TV) — but not really.

And then there are viral networks.

To make a blog post go viral, people who use viral networks must (a) see your post and (b) share it.

That means putting the right sharing buttons on each post.

It means joining a few of those viral networks to see how they work.

And it means using those networks to push sharing buttons on stuff your friends post, not just your own stuff.

This is where a killer photo comes in handy. Pinterest and other viral networks are incredibly visual. If your post doesn’t have an image, it’s basically impossible to post on many viral networks. Even if they let you post, I don’t suggest doing it. Because a photo is key.

2) Use the video, Luke

Moving pictures are even BETTER than regular old pictures, which are better than words.

Here. I’ll make it all simple with logic and such:

Video > Photos > Words

Find short clips on YouTube that illustrate your point.

Snag animated gifs that are related, and funny, and not gross or pervy.

Techno Viking does not listen to the prayers of men, or bloggers. He only wants to dance, and to crush his enemies, then dance a little more.
Techno Viking does not listen to the prayers of men, or bloggers. He only wants to dance, and to crush his enemies, then dance a little more.

There is no shortage of video clips and gifs. I am constantly amazed by the creativity of peoples on the Series of Tubes, and I tip my hat to them. You make me laugh, and learn things, because video is the most primal way of reaching people.

1) Wrap it all up with a head-turning headline

The Greatest Blog Post in the History of the Blogosphere won’t matter if your headline is something like “What I wrote this morning, after I had some Cocoa Puffs”

Give your post a great headline. How?

Bottom line, you want the headline to create interest by (a) raising interesting questions about (b) stuff people already care about, and I have to say  (c) if your blog is a thinly disguised diary, and eliminating the words “I” and “me” would cause the word counts of all your posts to drop by 20 percent, then yeah, that stuff isn’t really interesting or what people care about. Don’t do it.

Interesting questions include anything primal: life and death, love affairs and disasters, monsters and myths.

Stuff people already care about include books and movies, music and plays, stupid reality TV shows, politics, news, art, photography, stupid reality TV shows about celebrities and anything funny.

So what’s a good killer headline? Here are a few:

  • Top 10 things to do before Comet 1948A destroys Earth
  • Why JAWS and FATAL ATTRACTION are the same flipping story
  • If the Bachelor and Bachelorette are 0 for 40-whatever on engagements and marriages, is all hope for love lost — or is reality TV just an empty wasteland of vacuous, fame-chasing idiots?

Now, I’m kidding with that last headline. Bit too long.

On the other hand, it is unusual and would stand out. Bet you if I wrote a post with exactly that headline, it might make a splash. That last hed (journalism slang alert!) happily swings for the fences.

So don’t worry about missing, and don’t place all your bets on some golden post.

Swing hard.

Swing often.

Swing true.

Because every time you shoot for something bold and spectacular, even if you fail, you’ll get better at it. And you won’t learn how to hit home runs if all you do is aim for bunts and singles.

Banning women from college degrees is an achy breaky big mistakey

random thursday crazy kittteh meme

I try to stay away from politics on this silly blog. HOWEVER: government peoples in Iran just banned women from 77 different college degrees.

I am not making that up. Read the story here: Anger as Iran bans women from universities

Women are about 65 percent of college students now and the men who decided this new policy wanted to drop women below 50 percent. How? By making those degrees — including dangerous stuff like English literature — “single gender.”

Here are three reasons why that’s not wicked smart. Continue reading “Banning women from college degrees is an achy breaky big mistakey”

COUNTDOWN by Beyonce and some genius student in a snuggie

OK, so it’s one thing to take (1) one of the most talented singers in the solar system and (2) a bunch of professional backup dancers, set designers, choreographers and film peoples to make (3) a great music video that probably cost more money to make than you or I will ever see, even as we tour a secret Federal Reserve money factory that creates Benjamins by the bucketful.

It is quite another thing for a whippersnapper student, with no monies, to shoot the same video on his iPhone or whatever and edit it on his computer — doing the EXACT SAME VIDEO, frame for frame, effect for effect.

This kid is such a flipping genius that his blue snuggie, just by osmosis, has earned two doctorates in Applied Awesomesauce.

For musical peoples, here are the lyrics to COUNTDOWN.

Oh, killing me softly and I’m still falling
Still the one I need, I will always be with you
Oh, you got me all gone, don’t ever let me go
Say it real loud if you fly
If you leave me you’re out of your mind

My baby is a 10
We dressing to the 9
He pick me up we 8,
Make me feel so lucky 7
He kiss me in his 6
We be making love at 5
Still the one I do this 4
I’m tryna make us 3
From that 2
He’s still the 1

There’s ups and downs in this love
Got a lot to learn in this love
Through the good and the bad, still got love
Dedicated to the one I love, hey

Still love the way he talk, still love the way I sing
Still love the way he rock them black diamonds in that chain
Still all up on each other, ain’t a damn thing changed
My girls can’t tell me nothing, I’m gone in the brain
I’m all up under him like it’s cold, winter time
All up in the kitchen in my heels, dinner time
Do whatever that it takes, he got a winner’s mind
Give it all to him, meet him at the finish line

Me and my boo and my boo boo riding
All up in that black with his chick right beside him
Ladies, if you love your man show him you the flyest
Grind up on it, girl, show him how you ride it
Me and my boo and my boo boo riding
All up in that black with his chick right beside him
Ladies, if you love your man show him you the fliest
Grind up on it, girl, show him how you ride it

Oh, killing me softly and I’m still fallin’
Still the one I need, I will always be with you
Oh, you got me all gone, don’t ever let me go
Say it real loud if you fly
If you leave me you out of your mind
My baby is a 10
We dressing to the 9
He pick me up we 8,
Make me feel so lucky 7
He kiss me in his 6
We be making love at 5
Still the one I do this 4
I’m tryna make us 3
From that 2
He still the 1

Yup, I put it on him, it ain’t nothing that I can’t do
Yup, I buy my own, if he deserve it, buy his shit too
All up in the store, shorty, tricking if I want to
All up in the store, shorty, fly as we want to

Ooh ooh ooh ooh
Damn I think I love that boy
Do anything for that boy
Now I’ll never be the same
You and me until the end

Me and my boo and my boo boo riding
All up in that black with his chick right beside him
Ladies, if you love your man show you the flyest
Grind up on it, girl, show him how you ride it
Me and my boo and my boo lip locking
All up in the back because the chicks keep flocking
All that gossip in 10 years stop it
London speed it up, Houston rock it

Oh, killing softly and I’m still falling
Still the one I need, I will always be with you
Oh, you got me all gone, don’t ever let me go
Say it real loud if you fly,
If you leave me you’re out of your mind

My baby is a 10
We dressing to the 9
He pick me up we 8,
Make me feel so lucky 7
He kiss me in his 6
We be making love at 5
Still the one I do this 4
I’m tryna make us 3
From that 2
He still the 1

Zooming on das Autobahn to Belgium, the friendliest place IN THE WORLD

random thursday crazy kittteh meme

So I’m driving on the Autobahn from Frankfurt, Germany to Goze, Belgium on zero sleep for about 36 hours, which is not the wisest thing in the world when you’re going 160 kilometers per hour, seeing how closing your eyes and napping for half a second will be fatal.

But I do not nap, and the Citroen of Itty Bittiness does not slam into the guardrail and burst into flames.

Frankfurt is a big city full of skyscrapers, the Manhattan of Germany, and this is because after World War II, cities razed by bombs had citizens vote: (a) bulldoze the rubble and start over or (b) rebuild on the ancient, narrow cobblestone streets and painstakingly restore all that was destroyed.

The people of Frankfurt picked “start over.” And you can tell, with just a glance, how any random city in Germany voted after the war.

Goze, Belgium was not bombed to rubble during the war. It’s a tiny little town full of brick homes and brick business and stone churches.

If you’re not familiar with Belgium, let me give you a primer:

  • The Netherlands (Holland) is to the north, Germany to the east, France to the south and Luxemburg also hidden nearby, so people in the north speak Dutch / Flemish and those in the south speak French, though nobody really speaks German
  • Belgium is home to European parliament, NATO headquarters and 72 other important things, maybe because Belgium is friendly and has the best chocolate and beer IN THE WORLD
  • They are NOT French fries, but Belgium fries, invented right here, and the one thing that will make Belgium peoples unfriendly is to repeatedly ask for “French fries,” which I do not do

Just like three years ago, we stayed with my wife’s host family from when she lived here as an exchange student. I lived in Holland and Germany as a kid, so this whole area feels like home.

Battle of the beer: Germany versus Belgium

There’s a huge difference between Germany and Belgium when it comes to beer.

Back in 1516, a German king got tired of people going blind, getting sick or dying from moonshine and bad beer.

This king wrote the Reinheitsgebot (food purity laws), which said the only ingredients allowed for beer were water, barley and hops. He also set the price of beer and standardized things. Today, you can also use yeast, which is quite important, though they didn’t know about yeast back in 1516. Also: wheat malt and cane sugar. But you can’t use unmated barley anymore. NOBODY KNOWS WHY.

The Germans do a lot with those few ingredients. I drank many beers in many towns. Despite the lack of variety, they were all smooth and good.

HOWEVER: Belgium crushes Germany into powder when it comes to beer, because they have 250 different beers that are all excellent. Want a chocolate beer? Done. An IPA with hot chile peppers? They probably have it.

Belgium also has trappist ales — beer made by monks — with many recipes unchanged for almost 1000 years, which is longer than Joan Rivers has been alive. Chimay is probably the most famous. If you haven’t tried Chimay, hit Trader Joe’s and buy some. The stuff is as smooth as silk. If your lips ever touch a can of Budweiser again, you’ll spit it out and say, “Put it back in the horse.”

Things to do in Belgium

The country is small, flat and pretty, with all kinds of beautiful old villages and green fields. Do you like riding bicycles? Ride all over the place with a camera and a picnic basket. Go crazy.

It’s one of the friendliest places, too. People greet you with three kisses (right cheek, left cheek, right cheek) when they first meet you and one kiss whenever you see them again or say goodbye. This is much, much better than standing around or an awkward handshake. Everybody does it, and this breaks the ice.

Also helpful: everybody is handing out beer and wine like it’s going out of style, though they don’t binge. I never saw anybody staggering around, drunk out of their mind. They are professionals with the alcohol, and drink slowly and steadily rather than breaking out beer bongs and losing their heads like a college freshman who’s just discovered Bud Light comes in keg size.

So: ride around the countryside, meet people – and have dinner, which is not 20 minutes at the dining room table while people play with their iPhones. Dinner is a big social event that takes hours. Breakfast is a social event.  Also, lunch.

Basically, people in Belgium prefer the company of OTHER PEOPLE rather than televisions, iPhones and romance novels involving men in kilts.

This is refreshing and fun, despite the fact that I don’t speak a lick of French — because the secret is to listen rather than talk. In Iceland, Sweden, Belgium, France, Germany and elsewhere, people tended to talk to me in Icelandic, Swedish, French or German, as long as I (a) walked around like I knew what I was doing and (b) didn’t say anything.

This came naturally from being a kid in Germany and Holland, and from not speaking at all except to my sister for many years. She was my diplomat: “Guy is hungry for breakfast” and “Guy wonders if we can paint the dog white” and “Guy has just declared war on Syria.”

Over in Europe, I walked around not saying anything, pointing at stuff I wanted to buy and handing over monies. This works great. Try it sometime. If they ask, tell them Guy sent you, and that in solidarity, you also are cutting off diplomatic relations with Syria.

Build your own Writing Monster (Part 2 of Why critique groups MUST DIE)

Conventional wisdom is conventionally wrong.

Nowhere is this more true than in the fields of writing, social media and publicity — three lands where tradition and mythology rule the day.

Those who haven’t read these posts should start here, so they don’t get all Confused, because this is really Part 2 of Why critique groups MUST DIE.

So: if people listen to this silly blog and (a) stop trying to use Twitter to sell books and (b) go all Michael Bay as they blow up old, obsolete critique groups, what should they do instead?

Get a team. Build your own Writing Monster.

Hopefully, better than one of these.

Now, this is the opposite of a critique group, which is typically people who live in the same area, have the same rough skill level and do essentially the same thing, whether it’s writing romances about Men in Kilts, epic fantasies about elves with lightsabers riding dragons or dark mysteries about haunted detectives who are allergic to razors and brush their teeth with bourbon.

That’s not a team. Those are your buddies, your clones.

Successful authors, actors, pro athletes and other public figures have a team full of world-class specialists: publicists to get free ink and airtime, marketers to sell widgets, trainers to make them look good if paparazzi shoot them on a beach in Maui, minions to handle the scheduling and correspondence, editors to edit their words and speechwriters to, I don’t know, write the speeches.

If you want to truly break through and be world-class at whatever you’re trying to do (punk rock, zombie movies, novels about undead orcs and the high school girls who love them), then you must at least PRETEND to do things in a world-class way.

A traditional critique group is like trying to win a Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers with you as the quarterback and a collection of buddies who play flag football sometimes. If football is a foreign language, try this: the usual critique group is like playing a game of chess with a board full of the same piece: all pawns, all bishops or all knights. You need pawns and rooks, bishops and a queen, knights and a king. You need balance.

And if you’re competing against the best in the world, you can’t do it all yourself. That’s like playing the Super Bowl by yourself, or taking a lonely king into a match against the Bobby Fishers of the world.

How to build a Writing Monster

Name your Writing Monster whatever you like: an Anti-Critique Group, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Riot Grrls with Bloody Pens, The Legion of Doom, The Flaming Squirrels, Spork Hunters.

Whatever you call it, your team should consist of a TEAM OF SPECIALISTS, though not an A-TEAM, because that movie was worse than terrible, which I am willing to testify to in open court, under oath, despite the fact that I only saw the trailer once.

Unlike a critique group, it will:

  • Use the powers of the interwebs, connecting you at the speed of light with experts and buddies around the globe, orbiting the International Space Station or hunkered down in the secret bunker preparing for the zombie apocalypse.
  • Do many, many things — typically, short things of less than a page — rather than focus on critiquing 120,000-word memoirs about growing up on a potato farm in Idaho.
  • Run on friendship, barter or monies, kind of like a car that can run on gas, diesel, electricity or tequila.
  • Only consist of people you choose and adore, avoiding the whole group dynamic and political nonsense of an in-person critique group, meaning you not only don’t have to care if Steve thinks Tyler is a pompous and pretentious nancypants, but Steve doesn’t even have to know Tyler exists.

Bartertown for writers

Because you are not all yacht-owning members of the 1 percent, and cannot afford to have minions write a check to hire a team of world-class experts, you should try to do this by enlisting friends, making friends, bartering and yes, paying monies.

Unlike critique groups, you’ll start backwards, with VERY SHORT THINGS of four words or less than a page, things people don’t mind helping with.

Example: You could not send enough UPS trucks with suitcases stuffed with purple euros (the purple ones are worth 500) to get me to read your 120,000-word novel, you know, the one about elves with lightsabers and the orcs who love them. But if I knew you on Twitter, and by know I mean “vaguely recognize your Twitter handle,” and you were testing out different four-word loglines and taglines for the thing, like “Wizard ruins elf prom,” that’s no big deal. In fact, that’s quick, painless and fun. Nobody minds that sort of thing.

An anti-critique group should focus on the quick short things that actually matter the most.

Four words times four

The usual way is (a) write a novel / play / screenplay / punk rock album, (b) have everybody read it / listen to it / edit it, then (c) spend five minutes thinking about how to pitch it and sell the thing.

No. Start with the pitch, logline, tagline and headline.

Four words apiece. Five is cheating.

If you can’t do all four of those things in four words, it’s not a good idea yet.

Who you need: For loglines and taglines, a screenwriter or Hollywood vet. For pitches and headlines, talk to a publicist or a journalist.

Quirks and hooks

Unless you’re a household name already, you’ll need free ink and airtime to bust through.

Quality is not a hook. Right now, it doesn’t matter how great your novel / play / screenplay / punk rock album will be. You can’t pitch quality. Reporters and TV cameras will not show up because your shebang is just “so great.”

They need a hook, a quirk.

Think of AT LEAST three possible hooks and quirks that could get your free ink and airtime.

Who you need: A publicist, preferably in that specific field. Or a journalist, hopefully one who’s covered that beat. Buy a local reporter lunch. Ask what they’d do in your shoes.

A useful post: You can pitch ANYTHING except quality

Blueprints, setups, payoffs

Don’t skip ahead now and spend a year writing your 120,000-word novel or recording your punk rock masterpiece.

Draw the blueprints first. Lay out the turning points, setups and payoffs. Make sure the engine is hooked up to the transmission before you spend all kinds of time on the paint job.

Who you need: A screenwriter. Accept no substitutes. If you insist on accepting substitutes, go with a playwright or novelist, but only if that novelist is a plotter instead of a pantser. A pantser will be absolutely no use to you whatsoever. They’ll tell you to “just write it first.” Kiss six months of your life goodbye.

Useful post: Everything they taught us about stories was WRONG

Editing for structure and story

This is the most valuable kind of editing and worth every penny.

You should not barter for this. The deep editing of a screenplay or novel is a massive undertaking.

Who you need: the best book editor you can find.

I will once again pimp Theresa the Stevens, who is a Glowing Mystical Being, and say that she starts out editing your first 75 pages / query / synopsis for something like $200. That is a bargain.

Look around and hire somebody who edits YOUR genre of fiction, not for free as a favor to buddies on weekends, but for a living.

Before you write anything of length and get an editor, read these books on storytelling and structure:

  • SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder
  • STORY by Robert McKee

Useful posts:

Copy editing and proofing

If you’re a beginning writer, this is your bread and butter for bartering and making friends.

No matter how long you’ve been writing — for monies or for fun — you need somebody to copy edit and proof your stuff. This is the law. Newbie writers who offer to beta read or copy edit / proof, and are meticulous at it, will be universally beloved.

Who you want: Don’t go with a specialist like a book editor or novelist. That’s like using a Ferrari as a grocery cart.

Go with new writers. Ideally, a copy editor at a newspaper who’s writing her first novel — that sort of thing. But you want multiple people on tap for copying editing and proofing, especially if it’s anything of length.


Find yourself an actor, playwright or screenwriter. They rock at dialogue. Or find a novelist who is GOOD AT IT. Different novelists are good at different things.


For something short, or important, bribe a poet.

Yes, I make fun of Gertrude Stein, who is a babbler, not a poet. HOWEVER: Real poets are amazing writers. Nobody is better at polishing a bit of text until it is a shiny diamond made of words.

Layout, art and design

These folks are really specialized, though more and more people are teaching themselves how to format e-books, design their own covers, etc. However, most book covers, album covers and websites designed by amateurs look like they were, I don’t know, designed by amateurs. Try for somebody who does this for a living. It’s the first thing potential readers / buyers see, and you can’t undo that first impression.

Tools for free ink and airtime

Headshot: you need a high-resolution headshot, black-and-white, for media kits.

Hire a photographer for this. If Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie get the best pro photographers in the world plus hair and makeup for an hour, then burn 200 shots on SLR cameras that cost more than your car and photoshop the four best photos until they have one photo that is OK to publish on the cover of a magazine, then you having a buddy shoot your head shot on an iPhone and thinking that’ll do is delusional.

A lot of portrait photographers have what they call a Realtor special, because every Realtor needs a headshot for ads and such. Ask about that.

Twitter / Facebook / online headshots: Use a smaller version of your pro headshot. Sometimes, Twitter and Facebook will do funky things when they munch down your mug shot. This happens. Try different photos. Do not use a great photo on your blog and such, then a terrible shot on Twitter and elsewhere. Ask Katy Perry: one bad photo can erase the good done by 1,043 beautiful shots.

Pen name or stage name: If your name is hard to pronounce, or people won’t be sure if you’re a man or woman, get a pen name. Do it now. Talk to whoever.

Media kit: Get a publicist or journalist to help with a media kit. Put it on your blog  or website.

Social media audit: Does your profile on Twitter stink? Is your blog a mess? Find a publicist, journalist or one of the Barons of the Blogosphere.

Press release: One or two pages. Get a publicist or journalist.

Letter to the editor: 200 words. Best of the best would be an opinion page editor or speechwriter. Just fine would be a publicist or journalist.

Op-ed: 600 to 800 words. Find an opinion editor, speechwriter or publicist. You’d think a journalist would be good, but if they do hard news, probably no. Opinion is a different animal.

Speech or speech coaching: To get free ink and airtime, you must speak in public, charm reporters, go on radio and TV — all without sounding like a dork. First, read some books, like THANK YOU FOR ARGUING by Jay Heinrichs. Before you give your first speech, talk to a speechwriter or publicist. If that frightens you, talk to a high school /college debate coach or a community theater nerd. They rock. Note that a keynote speech — 30 minutes / 3,000 words — is a huge flipping deal that takes a ton of time and can cost $3,000 to $10,000 out in the freelance world. Don’t ask a speechwriter friend to write your keynote speech because “Hey, they’re your buddy.” They will quickly stop being your buddy.

Publicity and marketing: Get a publicist in that specific field (book publicist, Hollywood publicist, pro sports publicist, punk rock hype man). And get a copywriter or advertising / marketing genius who has experience selling books / punk rock CD’s / whatever. Do not barter or pay them in goats. Hire the best you can and pay them monies.

Making it work

I listed the best possible specialists under each shebang, and yes, you may not know such people, or be intimidated by the idea of talking to them on Twitter or whatever.

If that gives you hives, start small. Find somebody who does community theater and buy them coffee to yack about three-act structures and such. Ring the local high school debate coach and ask them about rhetoric and public speaking.

Doing this from the opposite direction also works, i.e., thinking of the experts you need rather than the products. Example: A good publicist will know marketing folks, a pro photographer that does good headshots and a speechwriter for clients giving keynotes. That’s a smart shortcut.

Journalists will also have similar strengths. Every reporter on the planet is required, by law, to write The Great American Novel, but journalism and fiction are completely different, so reporter struggling to crank out that novel would be happy to talk smack about possible hooks that might get you free ink and airtime, while writerly writer types can help them with the craft of fiction.

Later, I’ll do a post or page on standard word counts and industry rates, because (a) people wonder about such things and (b) it is quite useful.

HOWEVER: Don’t build a Writing Monster that you try to run with some kind of Excel spreadsheet, saying that since the press release you wrote for Jane is worth $200 out in the real world, she owes you five hours of copy editing your memoir about being in the failed boy band called Not In Sync At All.

And when I say hire experts when you need to and barter when you can, I don’t mean take that ball and run with it straight into Crazy Town for a touchdown. Writers are helpful, but don’t abuse that. Start small. Four words times four. Then the other things that are less than a page.

Final thought. Here are my suggestions for acceptable forms of barter: rounds of Dutch cheese, bottles of bourbon, purple euros, links to funny videos, French cigarettes, black beater Elantras, stapled stacks of 10,000 rupees and boxes of 7.62 mm ammo for the coming zombie apocalypse.