Worth the Risk

Welcome to the blog! You might be eager to know who won the Shadowfell series. If that statement confuses you, check here and here for the interview with the always gracious author of the Shadowell series, Juliet Marillier. Book 3 debuts on Feburary 25 in Australia! (The U.S. debut is July 9. Check Juliet’s website for more details.)

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                           Raven_Flight_cover_draft_(424x640)   THE_CALLER_FC_r2_1

Without further ado, the winner is . . .

Sue Knight!

Congrats, Sue! To prove you’re a real person and not a Spambot, please confirm below, then email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to provide the email address attached to your Kindle, iPhone, iPad, or other eReader, and the country in which you live, since that will determine to which Amazon I will head. Because these are highly coveted books, if you haven’t at least confirmed by the end of February 25, I’ll have to choose another winner. Thanks again to all who commented.

On with the subject of this post (and it is a fitting one, since I was just discussing a great author like Juliet): blockbusters.

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Um, I don’t mean these . . .

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The other day, while reading the March 2014 issue of Game Informer, I stumbled upon a discussion of blockbusters in an interview Matt Helgeson conducted with Anita Elberse on her book, Blockbusters. Who’s she? I didn’t know either until I read the article. (I didn’t read the book.) She’s a professor at Harvard Business School and a marketing expert.

One of Anita’s comments jumped out at me:

[I]n order to be successful, it is probably best for content producers to make blockbuster bets. They should spend a disproportionate part of their budget on what they see as a handful of the most likely winners. But, the alternative strategy also feels intuitive to many people—a strategy in which content producers say, “It’s so incredibly hard to predict what’s going to work in the marketplace, we’re going to make a larger number of smaller bets and spend our resources equally. Then we’ll see what sticks in the marketplace.”

While Elberse’s statements might inspire a “Duh” from you (or not), they emphasize what I already guessed: participation in the entertainment industry is a gamble no matter what. As Elberse later said, “It’s incredibly risky to make entertainment products in the first place.”

Many experts try to find ways to predict whether a book, videogame, or a movie will be a blockbuster. Don’t we all wish we had a golden formula that would guarantee a product’s success, especially if that product is ours?

While reading the interview with Elberse, I felt discouraged at first. The discussion of blockbusters led to thoughts like this: How on earth do I make my book blockbuster worthy??? and Arrrrrggggggghhhhh! Such thoughts in the past have resulted in my uttering, “What’s the use?” followed by a period of non-writing. I hurt myself once by a three-year, no-writing decision. So this time, I decided not to try for such a needle-in-a-haystack goal as producing a blockbuster (and no, I don’t know the steps for doing so), and instead shoot for a measurable goal: quality. I can produce the best book within my power to do so. Maybe that’s your goal too.

car images clip art-6I don’t need an expert to tell me that life is “incredibly risky” at times. If you don’t believe that, take a look at the statistics for traffic accidents. (Then again, maybe you don’t want to see them.) Does the risk of an accident mean I should stop driving like I stopped writing? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? The risk factor actually spurs me to work toward being a better driver. I can’t control what another driver does. I can only do my part to ensure safety on the road. Such is the case whenever I read articles on the search for the next blockbuster. I can only do what I can do to make myself a better writer.

Theories about how to produce the best product always will abound in times of economic hardship. Such theories might tempt us to panic or doubt our ability to produce anything anyone else might want to read. But we have to believe that what we produce is worth the risk of producing it. Like many other things, producing it begins with love. Do I love what I’m doing enough to keep making the effort to do it, despite setbacks?

Are you willing to take the risk? Do you agree with Elberse, or do you have your own “blockbuster theory”?

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Quality, like this hamster, is only a step away . . .

Helgeson, Matt, “The Blockbuster Rule.” Game Informer March 2014: 14-15. Print.

Blockbuster logo from telegraph.co.uk. Blockbusters cover from Goodreads. Game Informer logo from gameinformer.com/blogs. Cat from LOL Cats.

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28 thoughts on “Worth the Risk

  1. If there was some kind of golden formula for writing a blockbuster, do you think this would compromise your own writing in trying to get your writing to ‘fit’ in with this system? Or would you just continue to write your novel unaffected by this, in a way that feels right?
    I have no opinion on this, I just wonder what you writers would do?

    • A bit of research before you start your book goes a long way. But just because your book doesn’t ‘fit’ doesn’t mean it can’t be a blockbuster. I’d always advise just writing whatever you want and then worry about it later. What are we writers or just capitalists trying to get rich?

    • Good question, Andy. It might compromise it a bit. I can’t help thinking of films that fit the formula, but were not successful at the box office. But that’s a good question to ponder.

  2. The trouble is, we’re writers and most of us are not good at marketing ourselves or our work. And why should we be? We have a whole strata of people who do this for a living. And therein lies the problem. What if we don’t have an agent or a publisher or a producer to do it for us? Well, we remain on the outside of the fortress throwing the equivalent of literary hand grenades over the wall. (Perhaps some sort of Trojan horse might be a better siege tactic?)
    In my experience most of the people running publishing houses, movie studios etc are accountants – it doesn’t mean they’re not creative, but basically they’re there to make money. So we’ve got to glam up and make ourselves attractive. Look like money. Or even better still, actually make some money (grab some attention) in our own way before approaching them.
    I had a children’s book that Bloomsbury were interested in publishing. They asked me to make go away and start again as they didn’t like the direction I took the book after a rewrite. I lost patience and told them to stuff it. I was young and had a comic book out, a film optioned and felt like I was holding all the aces.
    What an idiot. Anyway, I’ve still got the manuscript for the book, still working on it but have no agent at present – it’s still the same book that attracted the publisher’s attention in the first place but it’s going nowhere!
    So, my blockbuster sits on my desk. I’ve even had a film option taken on it – that was eventually turned down by Sony. But, hey ho. I’ll keep plugging away at it until I think I’ve got it right, then try again. How do I know it’s a blockbuster? Because I know just about the same as the accountants out there – It’s love and not money that makes the world go round.

    • Are you going to search for an agent, John? I hope your finds a home. Several years ago, I submitted to them and received a nice “send us something else” note. I never did. I was too floored by the perceived rejection. Now I feel stupid for not following up with the editor.

      • I’m talking to a screen agent presently, as I’ve got a few films and TV ideas in development (and a kids series airing soon on the BBC). But my children’s book will probably sit for a while… I think it just needs another pass.

  3. I never thought about books as blockbusters for some reason. Maybe I focused a lot on finding a niche with what I enjoy writing. It’s too easy to offend and make a ‘mistake’ with books/movies/TV these days, so I would think hitting the right note and the right time is a big factor. Then again, I’m just rambling.

    • When I worked full-time in publishing, the hope of a bestseller was always in the ether. You get caught up in the “will it be this book?” hope whenever you read a manuscript. But so many hyped books tank. And there have been movies that followed the formula and tanked as well. So, hitting the right note at the right time seems to be key.

  4. I’m in the same camp as Charles, I’ve never really thought about a book in terms of being a blockbuster. I think it’s hard enough to predict whether or not your book will be published, much less becoming a blockbuster.

  5. Maybe we really do need to think about marketing ourselves like actors do. They are out promoting their shows and movies and creating the buzz needed to get an audience. I think authors should have the same opportunity. How about an awards show for writers? The Writer’s Oscar, on national TV. 🙂

  6. the funny thing about all of this is that no one really knows what will be a blockbuster. sure, the execs can guess at something that is really different or edgy or breaking some mold. But like L Marie points out they are taking a risk on it. think of all the big $$$ celebrity books that have fizzled out. Perhaps knowing which model a publisher uses (lots of $$ on a few or spread over a greater number) could be useful, otherwise, we’re guessing even more than they are. We have to write our best and write the stories that ring true to us. If that’s the next Harry Potter, great! If not, that’s okay too. I can’t predict that my novel will sell like hotcakes or that it will win the Newbury, but I can make it as good as I can. Do some reasonable promoting and then move on to the next book. I can’t put all my time into just one project or I’m taking an even greater risk than the publisher.

    • I totally understand, Nancy. We’ve become an increasingly market-driven society. I went to Half-price Bookstore the other day and found so many books on the shelf that I’ve never heard of. I wonder if they’re still in print or have gone out of print due to dwindling marketing dollars.

  7. Having been part of the hype machine for The LEGO Movie, and knowing the history of the company’s efforts to make a “blockbuster” movie (this being the first one that actually got made), I can see the wisdom of the approach. But not everyone wants to see/read/play even the blockbusters, and one can survive creatively–not prosper maybe, but survive–producing a quality work that speaks to a smaller number of people who actively want it. Call it a niche product or preaching to the choir–it’s still gratifying to know you have an appreciative audience and you’re perhaps the only one giving them what they want. That’s the way I felt about my novel, Gringolandia. It was never meant to be a blockbuster, though I still have dreams of a wonderful indie Latin American film director picking it up.

  8. Thanks for this great post, L. Marie! I love that you were reading Game Informer, which then led to Harvard Business Review and you pulled it right back to writing in a way that made me think about my own work. While there are people who seem to church out blockbusters (or best sellers), I sort of love the paradox that in order to write a book that resonates with a lot of people, you need to write a book that resonates with you.

  9. I think it’s a lot like the stock market Linda. There will be those precious few who can predict where things are headed and make a killing. The rest of us are better off not stressing about the quick win and instead focusing on the steady gain. I think writing what you want to read is the “steady gain” that most of us should work on. If anything, at least you’ll be happy with your story, even if no one else is.

    • I agree with that Phillip. While I can enjoy the success of the Harry Potter type blockbuster books and movies, I find I still have to do my own thing, whether it hits big or not.

  10. For me writing a blockbuster is like winning lottery. I prefer to focus on writing a good story for the few people who will enjoy it. And if that story ever turns into a blockbuster that’s great. If not, that’s great too.
    However I’m curious if there is a formula. Only because I like that kind of stuff. It’s like a conspiracy theory. lol

  11. It’s all so confusing and contradictory. Publishers say what they’re looking for but say “don’t write to the market,” quality literature matters but they want “commercial” fiction (not exactly sure what that means no matter how many times I hear it) and so on. So, I write what I’m inspired to write, honing my craft, submitting, networking and praying!

    • I think that’s all you can do, Naomi. It’s what I do. Because yes, the message is mixed. That’s why we need to know what we want to write and not depend on the market to tell us.

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