Make Yourself A Movie Trailer

Imagine that your novel is a major motion picture…it’s not that hard, is it? This movie has fantastic actors, a brilliant script, breathtaking cinematography: it’s a stunner.

Now imagine the movie trailer…you’re sitting in the theater trying to ignore that kid three seats away that keeps bellowing “mmmwaaa” like a drunk lamb (it turns out that they like beer…who knew?), and alternately slipping on spilled soda and sticking on some tacky substance that releases a regular waft of tutti-frutti. The theater darkens…the room falls silent.


Except for that.

An image flickers on the screen. You gasp, dude, it’s your trailer…

“In a world gone mad…one man…one woman…one deli sandwich (extra pickle-lily no on the jalapenos)…from the people that brought you…”

The theater goes silent in anticipation.


Except for that.

That’s what your book is like if your are not…don’t have a…haven’t written a…

It probably never happened in history that some writer just sorta wrapped up a manuscript and dropped it off at a publisher’s house and went to bed to wake up the next day to find that he was a phenom and the Daily Enquirer had already saved column 1, page 1 for him. Of course not…the Enquirer is a tabloid.

All that to say that, mega publisher or no, don’t force your first book to stand on its own. Start today, right now…good heavens, you mean you haven’t started yet?!?…to build a name for yourself, make a coherent framework in your career into which the book will fit. It doesn’t have to be a huge name…the book will do that if it’s good…but it should enough oomph to fill out the dust jacket.

“Author John Reinhart lives in Ventura, CA with three dogs, four cats, five rabbits, and the ocasional sheep. He has a nifty collection of rubber bands and really likes padded socks. This is is his first novel.”

In the trailer, “from the author of nothing prior to this” just doesn’t fly. “From the publisher of Hairball dot com…” now that has something going for it.

In the good old days of Harcourt Brace, they took the nifty picture of you at the typewriter smoking a cigarette and looking authorly, and did all that behind-the-scenes Madmen stuff because they had invested a bunch of money in you.

The money’s gone, which means you, my dear, must do the Madmen stuff yourself.

“In a world gone mad…one man…one woman…one clever backstory to get you to buy my book…”


Beating the Biscuits out of the Bears

Snarling Bear

What are you supposed to do when you’re hiking along a trail, happy as a lark in a predator-free environment, when, son of a biscuit, there’s a bear, like, right there, growling and frothing and pawing the ground like a bull, although he’s only seen those on TV because we know that bulls and bears only get together in the stock market, ready to have you, yes you, for lunch?

You don’t run, right? Run, and, bango, the bear’s looking for bread because he’s ready for a you-sandwich. No, no, no. You make yourself look much bigger than you really are, right? You need to suddenly grow six inches and six sizes and froth at your mouth and shake your head like, dude, there is something really wrong with you. If you do that, chances are pretty good that the bear will remember that he’s on one of those low-carb diets, and really, you look a little fluffy, like maybe you’re stuffed with mayonnaise, and well, gee, maybe he left the kids on the stove and, maybe some other time, huh?

In the world of online writing, the bear is the vast void of the Internet, the inescapable sea of voices, writers just like you, well, almost a lot like you, sort of, that yell dude, it’s me! Read my stuff! Just like the frothing fellow on the trail, this bear eats you – well, your work – and away it goes, and you find yourself looking down the path wondering how come you worked so hard but got nothing but bear-bite marks on your keester. And, just like the trail-growler’s lunch, you die, because, as writers, we all die when our work goes nowhere.

So, you gotta be big…bigger than big. You have to be a phenom. And maybe you’re just a tiny little phenom, like not so big a phenom that we read about you in the tabloids at the supermarket – really? Are you the batchild? – but big enough to have your voice heard over the moaning, bad-writing multitudes mewling for attention. Because you’re a better writer than that.

Bears live in creepy caves that most often have a boatload of icky spiderwebs. While the world wide web has nothing to do with bears, although, of course you and I know that it does, it, too, hangs out on servers, which are like creepy, sort of icky boxes of hot metal and plastic. But I digress. Don’t let that keep you from climbing across the world wide web like a thousand-legged spider, because that’s how it really, really works: all of the silken webs tie together, and you can use ‘em to catch more than just flies.

When you write for a publisher, look for ways to get the same piece published at other sites. Start your own site. Start your own blog. Publish the same piece in as many places as you can think of. Spread everything you write just as far as your imagination can take you. Each piece you write then becomes a web, and you become the spider at the middle.

The robots that look for similarities across the web see you, yes, you. Your name rises in the search rankings. Eventually, and this is no joke, you become someone. Yours is not the mewling voice, not the blather of the multitudes. Yours is the voice of authority.

Are you famous? Well, somewhat.

Because yours is the voice that beat the biscuits out of the bear.

Phineas Begins Anew


I’ve added the first chapter of my most recent rewrite of Phineas Caswell, the novel, variously called Marigold’s End, Phineas Caswell, The Journal of Phineas Caswell, and The Treasure of the Tres Hermanas. Those are the ones that come to mind – I guarantee there are more.

My brother told me a story once about an old man who carved elaborate, beautiful wooden doors. He would sit at them day after day, whittling, cutting, shaping, without end. Someone asked when he knew a door was done. His answer was simple: “when someone takes it away from me.”


Phineas, the novel, is headed for online publishing: I’ve been told precisely 753 times that this story doesn’t lend itself to the young-adult publishing model. I was actually told that by the head editor at Disney – yes, that Disney.  I believe that one was the Journal of Phineas Caswell

Suzanne, the love of my life and my editor (all the same person), prompted this last rewrite. And believe me, this is the last one – I’ve twisted this poor kid so many ways from Sunday his name may as well be Larry.  Reach inside, she suggested, but not for what you know, what you feel.

Beyond queasy, I didn’t know quite what she meant, but eventually figured it out.

Chapter One, over on the page called Phineas the Novel, comes from down inside. It comes from a place of regret, of something lost than can never be regained. It’s not a generated feeling –  I have some regrets, believe you me. I sold that hillside, ocean-view house for $175k when today you can’t  touch it for under two million… just kidding (although, I did sell that house, and I do regret not having two million bucks).

My daughter cried when she read it and said “you can’t start a children’s story this way.”

Tells me we’re on to something!

Do me a favor and visit the Phineas the Novel page and let me know what you think.



Confessions of a Paid Churnalist


I’ll admit it: the money was dreadful. Some months, most months, I was lucky when I made a dollar. A buck, a petty king’s ransom, for my heroic writing efforts. Pieces carefully crafted, worked, worked again, researched, pieced together from a number of sources, and for what… in the Content Farming heyday perhaps $15 – not bad for a 500 word essay.  Now, no upfront pay, but perhaps $0.83 in royalties when someone stumbles across it.

I was a big wheel at Triond, an online content farm that pumped my work out to dozens of online sites. Yes, they paid me, and it was exciting. I have well over 100,000 reads on my work now, all of it the produce of farms designed to drive online advertising results.  But the big wheel at Triond has ground to a halt, as Triond itself slows down, its servers somehow tangled up in an unending maze of tumbling wait icons.

Triond, Associated Content/ Yahoo Voices, Factoidz, the places where I could write and find ready publishing, gone. The era of the free-form content farm has passed.

In fact, it’s not a surprise that the era of free-from content farming has passed: it was sort of a scam. Triond is still going, but their site is seriously dysfunctional. All of these sites pursued the flawed business idea of flooding search engines with search-term rich content in an effort to lure advertising dollars to them.  The scam consisted of using robots to lure robots to generate money, and it worked, sort of. The advertising robots got smart and stopped falling for the crop of search-term articles from the content farmers, and the money stopped flowing.

I did good work. I was careful with my facts and figures, and I traced my sources. And I turned a blind eye to the dreadful writing of my starry-eyed colleagues, encouraging them, helpfully pointing out places one might say “we weren’t the ones” in the place of “we wasn’t…”.

In the end, though, it was churnalism – the rehashing of press releases into news. I found a lot of really good press releases, and really did develop stories, but, alas, it was still based in someone’s press release.

If you have read this far, perhaps you, too, thought you were the one who was going to make it big in online writing. Man, I had over 200 articles going at once. At once!

Good dreams die hard. Maybe the era of free-form content farming has passed. But maybe that tricky old Internet will come up with a new way for hard working churnalists to make a buck!

A Paying Venue


Here’s good way to make a buck as a freelance writer. You know that writing opportunities abound on the Web – you can write all day long, on virtually any subject, and find a way to publish it. But making a nickel at it… well, that’s a little different.

Writer Access ( pays you to write copy for their customers. You’ll see from their website that they offer themselves as sort of a writer bank, from which you, Mr. Customer, can hire freelance writers to do your job.  They’ll pay you, o Freelance Writer, a percentage of what they make. That can range anywhere from $1.75 for a 150 word piece of advertising copy up to $37 for a full web page. They pay you within two weeks of their receiving funds from their customer.

You have to qualify as a writer for them by submitting a thorough resume and completing an online questionnaire. Once they accept you, you must complete a really tough Writer’s Test, not designed to wash you out but to rank you among their scadillions of writers.

And they have scadillions of writers. New jobs are posted almost daily. They come in batches from companies seeking writing services. Sometimes the jobs can number in the low hundreds. If you are not diligent and scoop up the jobs right away, they will quickly vanish into the hands of other, more aggressive writers.

Writing topics are assigned by the company seeking the job, and range from monster truck suspensions to things you need for your new apartment to medical supplies.

Once your piece is written, it is reviewed by Writer Access’s editors to make sure it hits the customer’s target. The customer then reviews it and either accepts it or turns it back with a request for revision. Once it’s all done, the company accepts the piece and pays Writer Access, and Writer Access pays your PayPal account. It’s smooth, engaging, and pays pretty well.

The key is to visit their site often, and dive on jobs the minute they appear. Some may be technically beyond you, such a blog post discussing the best way to use a certain kind of vacuum pump, but others, such as advertising copy for a table lamp, might fit perfectly.

Don’t expect to pay your rent through Writer Access, because jobs come and go, but make them just one of your resources and have fun.

You will be amazed at what you can do!



Back on Examiner Again

Back on Examiner!
Back on Examiner!

Writing online for certain publishers is always a great rush. I enjoy watching the number spiral up at whenever there’s a chance to post an exoplanet piece. And getting published at is always a delight.

Examiner does a great job of making you feel like a part of their writing team. You get the job title of “Examiner” for whatever city you live in – I am the Santa Barbara NASA Examiner. At $.12 in earnings, the title hasn’t quite justified the expense of business cards, but it is nice to have one. Here’s the latest of my pieces published by them, the first in three years!:

The world for writers has changed, and will remain so just as long as the Internet stays free. When access to the world wide web is taxed, this wonderful opportunity to share your thoughts with the world will be lost.

On a slightly different note, the folks doing all that exoplanetary research have made an outstanding discovery: an Earth-sized, rocky-core planet orbiting another sun. You can find more about it here:


The Laughtrack is Not Dead

Edie and Eddie

You remember those sitcoms from the 60’s and 70’s, don’t you? The ones with the canned laughter, like Bewitched and Gilligan’s Island?

Try out this experiment and see what you think… watch Edie and Eddie Open House, here:, and then watch Edie and Eddie New House, here:

Which one did you like better? The laughtrack comes from a pantomime video made by a Spanish fellow, and has just enough audience ambiance to make you think that maybe, maybe, someone really is watching.

In theory, you are supposed to like the laughtrack version better, because someone else is laughing. I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Don’t judge the quality of the video: it’s crummy. The point of the exercise is the audio, not the video. Concentrate, would you?

Let me know what you think!

What’s in a Name?

Marigolds End

While we write our novels one at a time, we writers have to think about each book as part of an enterprise. How many books are in the Harry Potter series? Septimus Prime? The Name of this Book is a Secret? If a publisher is going to look at you, of course they’ll look at your talent as a writer, and at the ideas in your book. But they are looking beyond it, too. Is this an idea that has legs? Will there be more than just this one book? Do we want to invest our publishing machinery on a single book?

To that end, my book, PHINEAS CASWELL, is now titled MARIGOLD’S END. It ties in with the story, has a dramatic hook, and has the legs to be part of a series, which it will be. Number one in a series.

The energy behind the new title bled over into a new cover, which I think is exciting and intriguing at the same time. Now we’re getting somewhere!

Eliminating Was


Writing for the now, writing with action and verve, can be a challenge. Lets’s try that again: it can be tough to write good action sentences. Passive sentences certainly have their place in expressive, contemplative and descriptive passages. But they can spell death for an action scene.

Lothar was waiting behind the door, anxiously clutching the hatchet. VS Lothar anxiously clutched the hatchet on the other side of the door.

The second sentence implies action and shifts the focus to Lothar, where the first sentence describes what was on the other side of the door.

I issued this challenge to myself in the reworking of Phineas : eliminate the word “was”.

To accomplish it, I used Word’s Find feature to examine each instance of the word and come up with a better alternative. The word absolutely fits in some circumstances, such as in dialog. But, in most cases, a better word choice, and perhaps a more expressive sentence structure, can usually be found. I mean, you can usually find a better word choice!

Was is a pervasive word that can drop an anchor on your action passage.

The Exoplanet Mystery Continues


The readership puzzle surrounding exoplanets, those planets that orbit stars other than our own, continues to deepen.

My articles with the word “exoplanet” in their title have an immediate and extensive readership compared to those that do not, even though the article search terms are the same.

Readership numbers at Science Ray, my science article publisher, leap through the roof when an exoplanet piece publishes: my daily readership shot from 150 to 2,200 with this latest piece. The numbers are slowly declining as the piece ages, but the boost in the daily average remains mystifying.

I feel like Butch Cassidy: Who are these guys?