Monday, July 25, 2011

The Blue Book Project

I hate my Blue Books. If you don’t know what they are - they’re these booklets I sell from the website, each on a specific subject of screenwriting and each 48 pages (including covers). There are supposed to be 20 of them, but I still have 3 that are in some form of “not finished” - in one case, the material is there but I just haven’t put it in booklet form.

The reason why the Blue Books exist is my friend Jim... When I was sending out preview copies of the Action Book to pro-screenwriters for cover blurbs, he asked me what I was going to sell in the book. I said, I don’t understand that question. He explained that my book would be in bookstores all over the place, and when people bought the book and took it home... what other products would I have listed in the book so that people who liked my book could buy something else like it? Okay, now I was understanding the question, but my answer was: Nothing. I didn’t have anything else to sell, and I only had the Action Book by accident: I had these xeroxed pointers on how to write an action script that I gave to my friends, which had turned into a 100 page booklet with a red cover, that turned into a 200 page book with a glossy blue cover, which turned into the 240 page version that I sold about 13,000 copies of and is now for sale on e-bay for hundreds of dollars because it has been out of print for so long. But every step along the way on the Action Book was just a reaction to whatever happened with the last version. The 240 page version was that original xerox thing with some additional articles added. I was never really trying to write a book... and I had no idea what I could use that book to sell.

So Jim said I should think about some other stuff, and I thought it would be cool to have a book where you picked the chapters yourself - if you wanted to know more about characters and visual storytelling and great endings, you could just buy those “chapters” and make your own book. I jotted down 20 “chapter” ideas - and put a page in the back of the book announcing them. Except, the problem was, people *did* like the Action Book and *did* want to but the danged booklets! So that meant I had to write them. And they kind of came in batches - a bunch came out in 2000, and then in 2002, and then in 2004... and then a couple have come out since then and the last three...

But just writing them was only one of the problems. I had to manufacture them myself. At first, this was fairly easy - the place that copied my scripts gave me a great deal if I ordered about a zillion Blue Books - they would not only knock the price down, if they had nothing better to do they would fold and staple them for free. If you have ever priced folding and stapling (called “saddle stitching” for some reason) at Kinkos, you know this was the deal of the century. Kinkos charges folds by the page - and a 48 page booklet would cost a pile of money in addition to the copy costs. Then, my script copy place went out of business - and to this day that has caused all kinds of issues with the Blue Books, main one being the fold and staple thing.

The other wonderful issue with the Blue Books is that people order weird things. For instance, I suddenly got a bunch or orders for #12 and #4 - and ran out of those two booklets. The new place that prints them has a “bulk discount”, but when I only need some odds and ends, the price goes up and sometimes I basically break even. I might run 20 sets of 17 booklets and get a price break, then get 30 orders for #12 for some weird reason and it screws up everything. If next batch I get extra #12s, there will be a run on #6. You just can’t predict this.

But the biggest problem? Postage. If I mail a complete set of Blue Books to Australia, it costs more that half the cost of the Blue Books themselves - and people often complain. And they are right to complain - if you pay more than half for shipping, something is wrong. The books are heavy - they cost a lot to ship. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve tried to switch over to classes on audio CD - they cost much less to ship. Even with the $1.50 padded envelope, I can get more info sent to someone on a CD that weighs less than that same amount of info on *paper*. But I’ve had a couple of CD classes waiting for me to go into a booth and record.

So I have a possible solution... what do you think?

I’m reading more books on my Kindle than on paper... and someone gave me a link to an article that said 75% (or some large number) of Kindle books sold are technical and educational books with a niche audience. So maybe that’s the answer for the Blue Books? No expensive postage - you just pay for the book. And I knock some money off because there’s no paper involved. (There will still be the paper versions if people want them.) At first I thought I’d do a page one rewrite on every book - a lot of them were written *11 years ago* and could use some work (many have film examples that no one remembers anymore... or examples from films that stink). But a full rewrite would take a long time... that’s 816 pages! And you know, by the time I finished it would be at least 2,000 pages because I’d want to add more. The danged Script Tips from the year 2000 started off as 2 paragraphs and once I get done rewriting them they usually end up 8-10 pages!

I talked this over with some friends, who all said: If you sell them on paper as they are now, why would you need to rewrite them for Kindle/Nook/e-book? Just put out exactly what you have! Good question. But changing formats means I’ll be touching the words again, not just the paper the words are printed on... and I feel kind of compelled to rewrite them while I’m at it.

So look for the new Blue Books in about 20 years...

Or, dang it! What if I did a touch up on each Blue Book for now, and add 4-5 Script Tips on the same subject? The Script Tips pop up every year and a half on the website for free, and eventually it will be every 2 years... but they would be a “bonus” in the e-Blue Books, so I wouldn’t be charging for something you get for free. Does that make sense? And the older Blue Books will probably get a lot more touching up than the more recent ones - since they need it.

Eventually all of the Blue Books will get a more thorough rewrite, but this will work for now... and hopefully I'll get those last three finished and up as well. I will also code them for Nook and other platforms.

I am also *considering* setting up the paper versions on Amazon as a print on demand. When I looked into it, the main problem is that to print a 48 page booklet costs the same as printing a 100 page booklet. And if I charge less than $6.99 it would literally cost me money. So if I do that, I would make the paper Blue Books 100 pages and charge about $7.99 – which is $3 more than now, but for twice the material. I may play around and see if $7.49 for twice the material works. This would solve all of my printing problems – but kind of by passing on a price increase to you. I hate doing that, but sometimes I have too many things going on and this would take one thing off my To Do List.

What do you think?


PS: First one is done and up on Kindle right now - the Your Idea Machine Blue Book. I added about 10,000 words in the rewrite (new techniques to come up with story ideas), not counting the Script Tips. Total words = 40,052, which is about 160 pages. Paper price was $4.99 plus postage for 48 pages, Kindle price is $2.99 and no postage costs at all. Hey, there's even Kindle for your computer if you don't have the device... free. Nook version is on the way, and other platforms, too. This is the first, most of the rest should come out in September if all goes as planned.

Of course, it never does.

- Bill

PS: Due to a screw up the cover isn't up, yet.


James Moran said...

I'll gladly buy e-versions of your books, they're fantastic. Shipping costs don't worry me, I just hate having to wait! Can they be released in iBooks/whatever format that is? Or you could just do a straight PDF version, and sell it direct from the blog with PayPal, I'd click Buy on that right now, I don't care how old the movie examples are- I've probably seen them all. And if anyone hasn't, they should...

So I vote for releasing them all untouched, as is, with the caveat that they're not up to date- then re-release them as and when you do update them, for a slightly higher price. said...

Brilliant! And about time, too since publishers are going the way of the record labels. Downloaded it and was able to read it on my Macbook Pro via Kindle reader app with no problems.

Will buy the rest as they come out since having them on the computer (and/or phone) is lot easier then lugging hard copies around. (That's how I lost my copy of "Secrets Of Action Screenwriting" Argh!)

And that begs the question... Any idea when "Secrets Of Action Screenwriting" will be coming out on Kindle? ;)

DJ Kuul A said...

Any chance of seeing these in e-pub or other formats that are friendlier with other readers like the Nook or Kobo?

wcmartell said...

Nook version is coming soon! The problem is, the codes are different so instead of doing a bunch of work and then publishing to everything, you have do do more (boring) work.

And - Secrets Of Action for Kindle (and Nook) hopefully at beginning of September.

Andrew Bellware said...

I'd certainly buy all the books bundled together in a hard-copy version! ;-)

Unknown said...


Great idea. Do you know about Smashwords? Upload once and distribute to Nook, Kobo, iBook, etc. -- all formates besides Kindle. Also check out CreateSpace. Upload a PDF and CreateSpace will print nice quality paperbacks on demand. You don't have to worry about printing or inventory or shipping. And CreateSpace is part of Amazon so you're added to their catalog. I did my short fiction/movie tie in that way:

Scott Squires said...

To the person who wanted it in iBooks or PDF formats. You can get Kindle app (free) for iPad, iPhone and I'm assuming other devices besides just the Kindle reader itself. They also have kindle reader apps for desktop machines.

James said...

Honestly, I don't think you need to touch them up at all. Just put them out there.

If you want to, do it, but don't let that be a reason not to put them out there.

I'd probably do a $0.99 per pamphlet deal or a bulk 15 bucks for the 17+3. Something like that.

Kindle, Amazon, iTunes fees are f$%#ing ridiculous at the moment. They should be charging a 5% (to 10% tops fee per transaction). I don't know how they can claim what they are doing is worth in some cases up to 65% -- but that's a different rant.

Jonas Jensen said...

I just bought it from Amazon, but for some reason it can't be found by searching for it (or for you).

wcmartell said...

It seems there's a lag time between when the book is availabel and when it can be searched for. It is just now in Amazon's search engine.

I'm trying to avoid the 99 cents thing for a couple of reasons - main one being that the paper versions sell for $4.99 and it would be unfair to the people who just bought them at that price, next is the "99 cent ghetto" - a theory that is popping up that a book length product at 99 cents may not sell as well because people may think it is too cheap (discussions on the Kindle forums on this), and last - anything under $2.99 and Amazon gets a *much* larger cut - at 99 cents you literally make nothing. They lower your royalty rate and also charge you for "delivery".

Releasing them all "as is" will still take some work, so I think I might as well do a quick pass through each anyway.

But as of now - the Action Book is the priority. I'm working on the last of the rewriting in August and it will be available in late Aug or early Sept.

wcmartell said...

For instance, I'm kind of tinkering on the Outline book after I finish my pages for the day, and have decided to write a whole new chapter on "freewriting" in addition to rewriting what I have and adding some Script Tips. That subject isn't covered and should be.

I also plan to continue the "Your Assignment" thing I did in the Ideas book, which makes it more lessons/workbook style. I like that format because it's "interactive".

Martin_B said...

This is what Amazon says:

Your Idea Machine (Screenwriting Blue Books) by William C. Martell (Kindle Edition - Jul 24, 2011) - Kindle eBook
Buy: $4.99

Auto-delivered wirelessly

I tried to buy it but there's a problem with my credit card number, apparently. My main query is

I have Kindle on my laptop with a dial-up connection. Will I be able to download it?

You say $2.99. Amazon says $4.99. How much will I be charged?

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