Word Count 70: Dean Burnett webinar, BAFTA Rocliffe comedy script comp, podcast with comedy author Joel Morris

by Suw on March 12, 2024

Plus new profit-sharing publisher, why the names in Dune are actually great, Amazon sued over counterfeit books, and more!

Hi there,

Lots and lots of interesting stuff to share with you this week, so it’s a bit of an epic newsletter. But there is a cute photo of Copurrnicus at the end to reward you for your hard work, so let’s dive in.

Event: Dr Dean Burnett in conversation

I’ll be chatting to Dr Dean Burnett, neuroscientist, podcaster, comedian and author of the international bestsellers The Idiot Brain and The Happy Brain, at 19:00 GMT on Tuesday 19 March. We’ll be talking about why he decided to give up his career as a lecturer at the University of Cardiff to become an author, how he researches his books and what he thinks of writer’s block. The webinar is free and on Zoom, so if you’d like to join us, grab your ticket now!

Opportunity: BAFTA Rocliffe comedy competition open

The BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Competition for comedy, including sitcom, sketches, feature films and shorts, is open to submissions until 21 March 2024. They will take both live action and animation formats. Unfortunately, it costs a whopping £58 to enter.

Stop, look, listen: We Can Be Weirdos – E43 Be Funny or Die

I’m halfway through Joel Morris’s fantastic new book about comedy, Be Funny or Die, which I cannot recommend highly enough (full review coming when I’ve finished it!). So I jumped straight on this episode of Dan Schreiber’s podcast, We Can Be Weirdos, in which he talks to Joel about the book, whether ghosts exist and the way we try to do a little magic every time we say “Good luck”. It’s a lovely listen!

Read this: New publisher promises profit-share

Authors Equity founders Don Weisberg, Madeline McIntosh and Nina von Moltke.

Authors Equity is a new publishing company that will profit-share with authors, paying out on a monthly basis, instead of via a traditional advance. Founded by three publishing industry veterans, Don Weisberg, Madeline McIntosh and Nina von Moltke, and funded by authors like James Clear, Louise Penny and Tim Ferriss, Authors Equity “promises to give authors more control and participation in the production of books, and create a collaborative model for publishing books that is currently lacking in the industry”.

The devil’s in the details of course, because how will they define ‘profit’?   There are different way to calculate profit and some would be more advantageous to authors than others. Hollywood does quite a lot of profit-sharing — that’s what ‘points’ are, a percentage point of the net profit — and has become adept at creative bookkeeping to reduce the amount of money actually paid out.

Neither of the articles mention this rather massive elephant in the room, instead focusing on the loss of an advance. From the NYT:

Some in the industry expressed skepticism about the approach, noting that many writers can’t afford to wait and hope that a book will succeed.

“It’s putting the risk more on the author than the publisher,” said Robert Gottlieb, a literary agent and chairman at Trident Media Group, which represents more than 2,000 authors. “Most authors need the advance, and if that’s taken out of the equation, the risk is enormous.”

That might seem like a major hurdle for a lot of authors, but let’s face it, most advances are so low that authors are already forced to work a main job to pay their bills. Losing a few grand up front will make no functional difference to authors in that situation.

I can imagine that a profit-share might appeal to two types of authors: Those already successful authors/celebrities who know that they are going to sell well, and those two-job authors for whom developing a portfolio of a steady income streams is more attractive than a paltry advance. It won’t be any good for authors dreaming of a lottery win advance, or those who are getting a decent sized advance but aren’t earning out. But perhaps it doesn’t have to be for everyone to still be a useful addition to the publishing landscape.

Tip-top tip: Be thoughtful about your SFF names

I loved this piece from Lincoln Michel about how good the names are in Dune. I’m not some big Dune aficionado, but I kinda like that the protagonist is called Paul Atreides. It’s an easy name to read and pronounce, whether out loud or mentally.

One thing I cannot abide in science fiction and fantasy are deliberately obtuse names that are hard to parse. As Michel says:

You probably won’t effectively evoke a far future if everyone is named Jim Johnson, Allie Smith, and Tom Miller. OTOH, it’s simply annoying to read a book where everyone is named Fl’imabib DoXlolak, Sththk Ta Lo, and Tlijadjlll’d’d’d’d’a Gonkdaborg.

I can’t count the number of books I’ve read that have tried to create a sense of the alien by ramming a bunch of consonants and random punctuation symbols together. That jerks me out of the story so completely that instead of creating a sense of the alien it’s just straight alienating.

One author who was really good at creating naming schemas was Anne McCaffrey in her Pern books. She created a whole tradition for how her characters would get their names by mixing syllables from parents’ names, plus a second tradition that dragon riders’ names would be shortened. The names of her characters make sense within their own world, and are a part of the world building without ending up looking or sounding ridiculous.

Michel shares some great thoughts about naming alien terminologies and creating alien jargon as well, so the piece is well worth reading.

Read this, two: Amazon sued over counterfeit books

Bestselling self-published author David Goggins is suing Amazon over its unwillingness to remove counterfeit versions of his book, Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds.

Amazon allowed the sale of counterfeit versions of his self-published book on its platform, leading to negative reviews and lost revenue […].

[I]nauthentic versions began appearing on Amazon in June 2019 which included poor print quality, missing pages, and wrong dimensions, according to the complaint.

Amazon only took action after Goggins complained to his millions of Instagram followers, which Goggins says proves that they could have done something earlier but simply chose not to. It’ll be interesting to see how this case shakes out. Honestly, the only way Amazon is ever going to clean up its act is if it’s forced to by the courts.

Thread of the week: Philip Ralph on the closure of Doctors

The BBC has axed Doctors, a British daytime soap that has been running for 24 years, and Philip Ralph has an excellent thread on why this is a disaster for the actors, crew and screenwriters especially.

Doctors was a training ground, a series on which screenwriters could cut their teeth and learn their trade. It also provided consistent work for a lot of people. And it’s not being replaced by another long-running show, but probably by game shows and other thin daytime TV gruel, so there are hundreds of people who are now going to be out of work.

And, to be clear, Doctors was still incredibly popular. The BBC said it was axed because it was expensive, but that’s not a good enough reason, given how huge the knock-on effects will be. As Ralph says:

The soaps are collapsing. Mid scale drama is contracting. This leaves just the high profile writers and creatives succeeding, and everyone else scrabbling around for scraps, hoping to somehow ‘win the lottery’ and get onto an existing show or even more miraculous in the current climate – get their own original series idea commissioned. There’s no ‘career ladder’ left. There’s incredible good fortune – or there’s nothing. And that’s no way to build and grow a sustainable industry.

Over and over again we’re seeing industries ditch their entry level positions, which is what Doctors was for a lot of people, in favour of short term gain. But they are going to regret that in five to ten years, when they realise that they’ve no promotable talent coming through. Where are the screenwriters of the future going to get experience and learn how the industry works?

Read this, three: UK screenwriters get 10 per cent rise

It’s not often that you see writers getting a pay rise, so it’s lovely to see this news from the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain:

Writers commissioned by the BBC and BBC Studios will receive a significant increase on minimum fees and compensation for the commercial exploitation of their work across a number of new platforms, following the renegotiation of the BBC Script Agreement for Television and Online.

[…] the minimum rate for a 60-minute teleplay increase from £12,780 to £14,040. Series minimum rates will rise to £12,900 per 60 minutes, dramatisations to £9,360 per 60 minutes and adaptations to £5,760 per 60 minutes.

Even sketch writers will see a 4 per cent increase in their per minute minimum rate, which will go up to £123.

Of course, trying to actually get a job writing for the BBC is a bit like trying to win the lottery by typing a lot.

Obligatory cat photo

Getting my ironing board and 2m of fabric out must send some sort of only-heard-by-cats batsignal, because Copurrnicus invariably appears within seconds to make himself comfy. That he makes ironing impossible is of no relevance to him at all, because all he wants is to pretend he’s camping.

Of course, the time I bought him a Tiny Tent so that he could indulge in a bit of glamping any time he fancied, he completely spurned it. Because cat.

(If you’re wondering what the fabric is for, I’m replacing the lining and pockets on a beloved coat, so it’s already really slippery and a nightmare to work with, without Copurrnicus making it harder!)

Right, that’s it for this week. Thanks for reading to the end, if you made it this far!

All the best,


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