Nancy Nigrosh, Instructor at UCLA Extension Writers' Program (2013-present)
Natalie, you can answer this question far better than I could because the answer is unique to each person who asks it, based on what you might consider “best” for your particular needs as a writer.
Agents aren’t one size fits all. Pretty much every agent specializes in representation of authors in a particular writing category or genre. Agents also have individualized needs in terms of potential clients – given time and resources already committed to current clients.
You can create a list of authors you admire - whose chosen writing type is similar to yours in some obvious way, find out who represents those authors, and you’d have the kind of list I think you might be looking for, and you may discover that a number of those writers are represented by agents in lots of locations other than Manhattan.
"Never cease to communicate what you do and how much you love it."
Dr. Ken Atchity (Yale PhD) resigned his tenured position as professor of comparative literature to pursue the least secure profession imaginable: that of a literary manager-producer—a story merchant. Since then he’s founded five companies, develops, sells, and publishes books and produces movies (30+ to date). Meanwhile he’s written over twenty books, fiction and nonfiction, of his own and set up nearly 20 New York Times bestsellers for clients. His most recent released film was The Meg, which has earned over half a billion dollars worldwide. It only took 22 years to get to the screen!
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I named my umbrella company Story Merchant to honor my ancestors, the ancient Phoenicians, traders extraordinaire, who invented the alphabet to facilitate their trade in stories from India to Egypt, from Gibraltar to the Middle East. This is why we find the same scenes in the Odyssey as in the Ramayana—where Odysseus or Rama strings a bow and shoots an arrow through 12 axes! An ambassador from Yemen once called me a story merchant, and explained the history to me. On our logo, the two symbols are the first and last letters of the Phoenician alphabet.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Born on a farm, I love waking up well before the sun. I read for an hour with my coffee, then work on my various writing projects—novels, nonfiction, and scripts—for two hours and then go to tennis or the gym at 8. When I return around 10, I handle the dozens of projects I’m managing or producing using a “rotation” method based on my attention span for each project and their priorities.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It’s a simple formula, really: vision + persistence. Neither without the other.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The proliferation of channels demanding stories for insatiable audiences continues to excite me.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Figuring out my attention span for each activity I engage in, and being careful not to exceed it.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’d say, “Younger Self, start doing what you love even younger than you did. And I started doing that when I was about 10.”
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
1. Everything is predictable in retrospect. 2. You always find out everything if you wait long enough. 3. I’m such a hard coach that clients sometimes leave me; but they nearly always come back.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Never cease to communicate what you do and how much you love it.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Figuring out what writers need, and providing a service to provide it. That’s why there are several “Story Merchant Companies”—The Writers Lifeline, for editing and ghostwriting; Story Merchant, for coaching and representation; Story Merchant Books for publishing; and Atchity Productions, for producing stories we’ve developed through one or another of the companies.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Impatience is a failure in the creative business. You overcome it with patience. I always said, “Patience is my middle name,” but now I say, “it’s also my first name and my last name.””
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Somebody should start a business just recording stories on video–a kind of WIKIPEDIA for stories.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I travel a lot, and the best $100 I’ve spent in a long while was to get a Global Pass to avoid the long reentry custom lines.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I’m in love with my ACT database.
I keep absolutely everything in it; emails, telephone conversations, reminders about things that entry might be interested in.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
In recent articles, we’ve looked at what it takes for films to break out at different ends of the indie budget spectrum. We’ve looked at low-budget films (with budgets under $3 million), those costing $10 million and $20 million, and also movies made for between $20 million to $50 million. Now we will fill in the gap by looking at films budgeted between $3 million and $10 million.
This budget range makes up an important part of the independent film landscape. The budget is high enough to support hiring well-known actors and actresses, or to spend more on the “polish” of the film through (for example) acquiring rights to well-known music, building more elaborate sets, or filming in remote locations.
However, the budgets are also low enough that every penny has to be spent wisely for the investment to show up on the screen. The group of films that broke out at this budget level include some of the best indie films of the century so far, several of which earned Oscar glory.
Model One: Character Study Dramas
Almost 60% of the most profitable films budgeted between $3 million and $10 million are dramas that give an insight into the minds of interesting characters.
The majority of these films are dark in tone, complex in their plotting and eschew the traditional happy ending. However, this category is not completely devoid of sunshine – some films are uplifting despite their dark settings (such as Billy Elliot) and a handful are genuinely cheerful (such as Bend It Like Beckham). Many of them feature well-established actors or actresses who were drawn to the opportunity to stretch their skills on camera (and maybe snag an Oscar nomination).
All of these films have been well reviewed, with an average Metascore of 77 out of 100, and an average audience rating of 7.7 on IMDb.
Model Two: High-Concept Horror
In a previous study, we found that horror films made up a large percentage of the most profitable films budgeted under $3 million, so it’s no surprise to see them also appearing on today’s list.
All have a very clear, simple premise that promises a dark, scary movie. Well, all except Shaun of the Dead, perhaps.
Model Three: Breakout Documentaries
Only three documentaries make our list, partly because not many documentaries cost over $3 million to make. These three films share two characteristics: they cost quite a lot to make by documentary standards, and they became cultural phenomena.
Excluding some long-running IMAX films, Fahrenheit 9/11 and March of the Penguins are the two highest-grossing documentaries of all time in the US, and the second- and third-highest grossing documentaries worldwide (after Michael Jackson’s This Is It).
Model Four: Crowd Pleasers
The final collection is that of movies which promise to deliver a fun time for a very specific audience.
These movies are likely to be best enjoyed with a group of friends or family who can directly relate to the characters on-screen. Note that the key element with all of these films is that the filmmakers knew exactly who they were making the film for. But also note that there’s virtually no overlap between the audiences for these films—this isn’t a case of finding the right genre, it’s a case of understanding exactly what your audience will like, and making a film to fit. At this budget range, that can be enough to make a very profitable film.
Today’s budget range has the highest percentage of films that stray outside the mainstream. 35% were not produced in the United States, compared to just 5% of the most profitable films made on between $20 million and $50 million. In addtion, these films are also much darker in tone than the most profitable films in other budget ranges. This is best illustrated by the MPAA rating, with 67% receiving an R rating.
We’ve now run analyses of indie films budgeted all the way from $500,000 up to $50 million. In each budget range, we’ve found interesting groups of films that seem to work well at that specific budget range: faith-based films at very low budgets, age-reversal family comedies at the high-budget range, music-based films at the higher mid-budget range, and now niche crowd-pleasers at the lower mid-budget range. There are also a couple of types of movie that can break out at any budget level: very high-quality dramas and (at least up to about a $20 million budget) horror films.
Taken as a whole, we think the analysis reveals two important lessons for the independent film-maker:
First, think about your budget in terms of the audience you’re trying to reach, and make sure that you focus on that audience when making the film. Studios spending $200 million plus to make and market a film need to worry about reaching all four “quadrants.” But the films that we have seen breaking out have almost all worked by their appeal to a specific audience.
Second, with few exceptions, quality counts. As budgets increase, we’ve seen more well-known actors and actresses starring in the films, but, in the main, the talent has been drawn to the quality of the film or the chance to do something new. Getting a great story and a great script is the first important step to creating financial movie magic.
In order to conduct this study, we began with a list of over 3,000 films from The Numbers’ financial database, investigating full financial details, including North American (i.e. “domestic”) and international box office, video sales and rentals, TV and ancillary revenue. We narrowed our focus to study feature films released between 2000 and 2016 and budgeted between $3 million and $10 million. Finally, we calculated the likely profit margin for the producers, after all revenue and expenses were taken into account.
The financial figures come from a variety of sources, including people directly connected to the films, verified third-party data and computation models based on partial data and industry norms. It is possible that one or two of the individual figures are different to our predictions, though en masse we are confident of the larger picture.
Sequels were excluded as their success could be attributed to their existing audience. This affected Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Paranormal Activity 3, Paranormal Activity 4, Insidious Chapter 2, High School Musical 2 and Clerks 2.
About the Authors
Stephen Follows is a writer, producer and film industry analyst. His film research has been featured in the New York Times, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Mirror, The Evening Standard, Newsweek, The New Statesman, AV Club and Indiewire. He acted as an industry consultant and guest on the BBC Radio 4 series The Business of Film, which topped the iTunes podcast chart, and has consulted for a wide variety of clients, including the Smithsonian in Washington. In addition to film analytics, Stephen is an award-winning writer-producer and runs a production company based in Ealing Studios, London.
Bruce Nash is the founder and President of Nash Information Services, LLC, the premier provider of movie industry data and research services and operator of The Numbers, a website that provides box office and video sales tracking, and daily industry news. Mr. Nash founded the company in 1997 and it now serves approximately 1,000 clients, from the major studios to first-time independent filmmakers. Mr. Nash provides regular commentary and analysis for media outlets, including the L.A. Times, the New York Times, Variety, the Wall Street Journal, 60 Minutes, and CBS News. Mr. Nash is the official adjudicator of movie records for the Guinness Book of Records. To learn more about his company’s services, visit Nash Information Services.
Former U.S. secret service agent Clint Hill with the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, the state’s highest accolade for its citizens. The award honors present and former North Dakotans who have made great achievements in their fields, and who have well represented the state’s values.
“Clint Hill is an exceptional North Dakotan who has risked his life and health time and time again to protect our nation and its commander in chief,” said the Governor.
Burgum is a former Microsoft executive who received the award himself in 2009 before being elected to office. He released a statement announcing Hill as the recipient of the award, and applauded him for his lengthy service to the nation. Hill served in the Secret Service for seventeen years between the 1960s and 1970s, witnessing the heightened tension of the Cold War. While serving, he was responsible for protecting five consecutive presidencies, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Gerald Ford.
Hill was born in Larimore, N.D., and grew up in Washburn, N.D. He later studied at Concordia College, where he played football, basketball, and baseball, and went on to earn degrees in both history and physical education. Although Hill wanted to work as a teacher after graduation, he was instead drafted by the U.S. army, where he served as a Counterintelligence Special Agent until he was honorably discharged in 1957. He was then employed by the Secret Service between 1958 and 1975, during which he protected the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford presidencies.
“It is an honor to be recognized by your home state, and North Dakota has always been my home,” said Hill. “I am honored and humbled to be placed in the company of the many incredible North Dakotans who have received this award.”
During the Kennedy administration, Hill was primarily responsible for protecting First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. When President Kennedy was shot in 1963, Hill ran and jumped into their car in order to shield the First Lady and President from further harm. Hill is credited with saving Jacqueline Kennedy’s life and was honored at a ceremony days later, which the First Lady attended.
“Mr. Hill has no doubt earned this medal for exceptional bravery. He displayed courage under the most difficult of circumstances” said Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon on Dec. 3, 1963.
Hill continued to serve for the First Lady’s detail for a year after the assassination. During President Johnson’s administration, Hill became the Special Agent in Charge of Presidential Protection. By 1971, he had been promoted to Assistant Director of the Presidential Protective Division. When Hill retired from the Secret Service in 1975, he was Assistant Director responsible for all protective forces.
Despite his success, Hill still felt immense grief over the assassination. This led to a struggle with alcoholism for a brief period following his retirement. Despite the guilt he felt, Hill was later able to find closure after visiting the scene of the incident and realizing that there was nothing he could have done. Writing also helped him express himself. After his career in the Secret Service, Hill became well known as an author. His books “Mrs. Kennedy and Me,” “Five Days in November” and “Five Presidents” became #1 New York Times bestsellers, and National Geographic is currently planning a television series based on “Five Presidents.” Hill would go on to receive Concordia’s Alumni Achievement Award in 2011.
Today, Hill spends his time as a guest speaker and has taught at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. He also continues to work with the Secret Service in discussing protective strategies and procedures. The Rough Rider award will be presented to Hill during a public ceremony on Nov. 19 at 1 p.m. at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. Read more
We often talk about literature as if it were some kind of magic thing—like it could be conjured without effort, if only we could arrange ourselves in a certain fashion, eat the right breakfast, perform our ablutions just so, organize our desks like our favorite writers, copy their daily rituals. Unfortunately, writing is hard, no matter what you do. When you’re working, you have to be a mercenary, taking whatever space you can get, doing whatever works on that day. But when you really love a novel, there’s still something mysteriously satisfying about seeing where it was made—it’s kind of like making a pilgrimage to where your lover was born and raised. It doesn’t mean anything, exactly, because you don’t believe in magic, and yet it does. At the very least, it’s fun. So for our mutual enjoyment, I present the places where some of literature’s most beloved works were written: some beautiful, some dark, all apparently capable of inspiring greatness.
Edith Wharton famously did most of her writing in bed (longhand, in the mornings, with her dogs). In her bedroom at The Mount, she wrote the book that would make her famous, The House of Mirth, as well as Ethan Frome, dropping each finished page to the floor for her secretary to pick up, organize, and type.
In Finca Vigía, his house in Cuba, built in 1886 by the Catalan architect Miguel Pascual y Baguer, Ernest Hemingway wrote seven books, including For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Moveable Feast, and The Old Man and the Sea, among others. He wrote in the library, which Roxana Robinson describes as “a long, pleasant, high-ceilinged room, lined with tall bookcases. In front of the windows is The Desk, huge and magisterial, about ten feet long and three feet wide, and curved like a boomerang. It’s made of dark polished wood, with carved supports at each end. Hemingway sat in the center, the ends curving forward.”
Like Ernest Hemingway and Ian Fleming, Agatha Christie frequented the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey. Her favorite room was 411, and it was here that she reportedly wrote the bestselling Murder on the Orient Express. It’s been refurbished since that time, of course, and updated with Agatha Christie-themed art. On the plus side, while the real Orient Express no longer runs, the hotel still stands, and you can actually stay there, in the very same room as your favorite crime writer.
Nietzsche once wrote, “There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”
Perhaps. Then again, Nietzsche never met Sebastian Maddox, the villain in my latest suspense thriller, Head Wounds. It’s the fifth in my series about Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh police.
What makes the brilliant, tech-savvy Maddox so relentlessly dangerous is that he’s in the grip of a rare delusion called erotomania, also known as De Clerambault’s Syndrome.
Simply put, erotomania is a disorder in which a person—in this case, Maddox—falsely believes that another person is in love with him, deeply, unconditionally, and usually secretly. The latter because this imaginary relationship must be hidden due to some social, personal, or professional circumstances. Perhaps the object of this romantic obsession is married, or a superior at work. Often it’s a famous athlete or media celebrity.
Not that these seeming roadblocks diminish the delusion. They can even provide a titillating excitement. Often, a person with erotomania believes his or her secret admirer is sending covert signals of their mutual love: wearing certain colors whenever a situation puts them together in public, or doing certain gestures whose meaning is only known to the two of them. Some even believe they’re receiving telepathic messages from their imagined beloved.
What makes the delusion even more insidious is that the object of this romantic obsession, once he or she learns of it, is helpless to do anything about it. They can strenuously and repeatedly rebuff the delusional lover, denying that there’s anything going on between them, but nothing dissuades the other’s ardent devotion.
I know of one case wherein the recipient of these unwanted declarations of love was finally forced to call the police and obtain a restraining order. Even then, her obsessed lover said he understood that this action was a test of his love. A challenge from her to prove the constancy and sincerity of his feelings.
As psychoanalyst George Atwood once said of any delusion, “it’s a belief whose validity is not open to discussion.”
This is especially true of erotomania. People exhibiting its implacable symptoms can rarely be shaken from their beliefs.
Like Parsifal in his quest for the Holy Grail, nothing dissuades them from their mission.
In Head Wounds, Sebastian Maddox’s crusade—when thwarted in his desires— turns quite deadly, and requires all of Rinaldi’s resourcefulness to save someone he cares about. In real life, the treatment options for the condition are limited to a combination of therapy and medication, usually antipsychotics like pimozide. If the symptoms appear to stem from an underlying cause, such as bipolar disorder, the therapeutic approach would also involve medication, typically lithium.
What makes erotomania so intriguing as a psychological condition, and so compelling in an antagonist in a thriller, is the delusional person’s ironclad conviction—the unshakeable certainty of his or her belief.
Nonetheless, as philosopher Charles Renouvier reminds us, “Plainly speaking, there is no such thing as certainty. There are only people who are certain.”