On Sunday afternoon, April 2, 2017, at the Anaheim Convention Center, the Winner Twins (Brittany and Brianna) were joined by Steven L. Sears (writer and executive producer, Xena: Warrior Princess) for the “How to Create Your Own Novel: From the First Idea to Publishing and What You Need to Sell Your Work to TV and Film” WonderCon panel.
The Winner Twins started the afternoon by taking a moment to remember the passing of actor Richard Hatch, who used to participate as a panelist. Brittany said that she would pass on Hatch’s teachings periodically throughout the hour. She also provided an outline for what the panelist would cover: (1) generating ideas; (2) writing and editing process; and (3) marketing.
Brianna explained that she first comes up with the ending to the story, followed by the beginning and then the middle of the story. She stated that she goes on a “fiction fast” and reads other genres than the one she is currently working on, so she does not accidentally incorporate someone else’s idea and/or material. Often, she reads comparative literature and mythology. She also mentioned that her strength is in the details. Brianna advised the audience to not compare their initial idea or draft with a finished story, because it is an unfair comparison between the two. Brittany revealed that her approach is to write the bare bones of a story and works to answer the “what if” question. Because of her writing style, she and Brianna, not surprisingly, complement each other well. Sears, who has written for Riptide, The A-Team, Xena: Warrior Princess, Stingray, and several other television shows, has begun to write novels. For him, he gets his ideas from everywhere, because he is constantly thinking up concepts. For example, a line from a conversation can lead to a story. Sears explained he takes the “obviousness of life and turns it into a revelation.”
Sears advised the audience that writers are “not going to write something perfect, that’s what rewrites are for.” He added that he actually loves the process of rewriting. Brittany stated she had dyslexia, but that did not stop her from writing. She used a speak-to-word program. She recommended Voice Dream, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and Snap&Read Universal software. Additionally, she and Brianna stressed how important it is to hear your story read out loud. During the editing process, Brianna advised to re-read your draft and take notes. Do not edit until after taking notes, then reference those notes for rewriting the draft. She also revealed that few writers actually finish a draft, so she encouraged the audience to keep at it.
The sisters strongly advised to enter contests, such as the Scholastic Art and Writing Award and Writers of the Future. This is what they did with their first book, and they successfully won several awards. The other step they took was to set up a table at the various conventions. They shared their first booth experiences, which were anything but positive. They persevered, though, and kept going in spite of the rejections. Brianna added, “Don’t take it personally.” Brittany said that cons are great for networking books. She mentioned that the Greater Los Angeles Writing Society is an excellent resource, and GLAWS often has a table set up at the cons. Sears never read a book on how to write a novel, but instead stated he has a natural storytelling ability just looking for a venue. For him, he found that screenwriting was a good match, and he gained experience adapting others’ material from novels and graphic novels to screenplays.
Turning to selling, Brittany advised putting together a “pitch deck,” and Brianna suggested checking out Pinterest and Open Culture websites, as well as incorporating old/vintage book covers. PowerPoint is a good program for putting together the pitch. Brittany said to “learn to speak, sell, and tell your story.” Sears said the “look book” contains stills. Technically, he stated that writers cannot exploit photos found online, because not all photographs are fair use. He added that it is important to have a cursory knowledge of copyright law. The twins agreed. Brianna said to leave a paper trail of your drafts, including copyrighting your draft for a nominal fee ($35). Sears said following these steps provides proof of tangible ownership.
Prior to concluding the panel, the twins mentioned they had a book at their booth, The Write Path: Navigating Storytelling, in which they instruct how to come up with ideas and develop them into a story and provide further information on the editing process. The book is inspiring and informative. Sears also has a book, The Non-User-Friendly Guide for Aspiring TV Writers: Experience and Advice from the Trenches, and he gives advice for writers interested in getting into television writing. At the moment, the twin’s book is available at the cons while Sears’ book is available to order at Amazon.
Panel photo courtesy of Michele Brittany.