The Pixar Challenge

EdCatmull_lores“Good artists borrow, great artists steal,” is a motto Steve Jobs lived by.

As a business owner, I see myself as an artist because I’m creating something from nearly nothing.

But artists still need inspiration. Filmmakers need a camera. Animators need a pencil or a computer. Sculptors need clay. And painters need landscapes or models.

But all artists need inspiration. Without it, nothing could be created.

My inspiration as the founder of a publishing studio is an animation studio located 2,307 miles away. My inspiration comes from Pixar Animation Studios, namely the founder and owner Ed Catmull.

Millions of people watch Pixar movies every year and even study the studio from a business standpoint and ask, “How do they do it?”

It’s no secret. Mr. Catmull was gracious enough to provide many answers to both artists and businesspeople through his ingenious book, Creativity, Inc.

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In the book, Catmul is open and honest about his and Pixar’s mistakes along the way to success and even after. His thesis is that creativity is found in people, not just ideas—a revelation I’m still trying to wrap my mind around.

So how, as a fledgling company, can Endever Publishing Studios mimic a multi-million-Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 10.58.49 AMdollar animation studio?

By their principles, for one. Pixar Animation gives their employees the freedom to express themselves and their ideas. They’re not hammered down by corporate policies and suits and ties. There are channels set in place for them to go through, but the channels are designed within the studio to be an asset to success, not a barrier, as most companies have it.

Their work ethic for another. I don’t mean just following the rules, but I mean going abovePresto_poster and beyond to win the trust and approval of their audiences (or customers). One example of this is by their short films they release along with every feature film they produce. Prior to (and excluding) the DVR releases of Pixar’s short films, they make virtually no money on their short films. They’re also in production to help aspiring artists and directors spread their wings in preparation for full-length features.

And lastly, but not conclusively, Endever Publishing Studios attempts to mimic Pixar’s storytelling techniques. This is critical seeing that Endever is in the business of storytelling. We are a studio that refuses to release ordinary material. I’m sure we’ll make mistakes in this regard, but we have a system that we are building from within to make the storytelling process as airtight and flawless as possible.

Catmull, in his book, even takes the liberty to give the readers a sneak-peak inside one of Pixar’s “Braintrust” sessions where the storytellers argue and analyze and hash out idea after idea after idea to extract exactly the feelings and thoughts they’re trying to convey to the audience. The process is rigorous, and even draining. But it’s a worthy expedition as Pixar makes films that not only entertain but that enlighten, affect, and even change lives.

It’s a wonder to me that no other businesses that I know of is following Pixar’s model. The leader of one of the greatest companies in the world has literally given us the answer sheet on how to run a successful business, how to begin the process of creating paramount and original stories, yet Dreamworks isn’t pulling the brakes on their mediocre creative factory to regroup, managers aren’t saying, “How can I make my employees feel enabled and motivated?”

If that’s happening, I don’t know about it.

I take Ed Catmull’s book as a challenge to the rest of us. A challenge to step up our game in both the creative and the business worlds. I want to be like Ed. I want my company to be like Pixar. I vow to keep my employees happy and make them feel enabled and that they have much to contribute to the company. I vow to not release a book or any published material produced by Endever until it is something that we believe will not only satisfy immediate readers but will withstand the test of time.

Consider me the first to accept the Pixar Challenge. Will you, as an artist or a business owner or manager, join me?

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Title Reveal for Endever’s Serial Blog

A few days ago I announced the release of a serial blog that will be released this Monday, August 1st.

Beyond building a readership to draw attention to Endever before releasing our debut novels later this year, we’ve decided to give our authors a chance to shine prior to their book releases.

They will be contributing to an ever-growing story with an ever-growing cast of colorful characters. A divorced lawyer-turned-ranch handler, a mother and daughter struggling to make ends meet and stay out of trouble, high school siblings whose wealthy parents have all but abandoned them, and many more.

Though they are scattered throughout the world, they all share one common goal: end-is-near

The fragile desire to survive the end of civilization as we know it.

When the world jolts on August First, no one has any idea that ordinary life has come to an abrupt end.

At first the decline is subtle. Faltering phone connections, weak internet signals.

And then it seems to all happen at once. Random airplane explosions, collapsing mountains. No more sun. No more rain.

In this altered world, survival is essential, it is not instinct. 

On August First, on Endever’s blog, dare to explore “THE UNDERNEATH.” 

Writers: Don’t Forget the Sugar

My favorite drink of all time.

It can be ordered at a bar or you can make it yourself.

Drink too much of it and you can get too sick to move. Refrain from drinking it at all and you could suffer major health issues.

I require it every time I come home from work, or home from a walk in the hot sun, or after playing with the kids, or even waking up in a sweat in the middle of the night.

There are three ingredients: Water, ice, and a squirt of lemon.

I have nothing against alcohol – I just don’t like it. I’ve tried whiskey, bourbon, beer and we now have several half-full bottles in the kitchen. Just doesn’t measure up to my taste buds.

I do enjoy a cold V-8 or a glass of milk. I even love bloody Mary – virgin, of course.

But just give me a cold glass of water with lemon and I’m all set. alkaline-lemon-water

But forget the lemon and I just might throw the water in your face. That’s just nasty. It’s like nonfat ice cream, or sugarless gum. What’s the point?

Most writers can tell a basic story. Introduction, conflict, resolution, the end. Easy. But what about the lemon? What about the stuff that makes the banal taste of water sweet (or sour)? What about the flavor?

Are you taking your story one step higher to add that touch of emotion, or comedy, or deeper insight into your characters? Don’t give your readers sugarless candy. Deliver the goods.

Give us a reason to relate to your character by cleverly providing a backstory.

Give us reason to find your characters’ departure from each other heartbreaking.

If you have a comic relief, don’t recycle old jokes you’ve heard elsewhere before. Be original. Give us fresh, new material that we can enjoy.

The Infamous Three-Letter Question

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My daughter is starting to ask “Why?” to everything that happens.

Most parents get annoyed by it, but I’ve decided to engage her, because I don’t want to stifle her curiosity, or give her any indication that asking “Why?” is at all a bad thing.

For instance, I showed her Disney’s The Muppets (2011) for the first time yesterday. “Daddy loves this movie,” I told her.

“Why?”

“Because it’s hilarious.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s so well written.”

“Why?”

“Because the writers took pride in their work and took their time writing it.”

“Why?”

“Because they wanted the movie to live up to the anticipated hype.”

“Why?”

“Because they had a lot to live up to in order to match the the Muppets’ legacy.”

“Why?”

“Because bad movies don’t add anything positive to the entertainment culture. But good movies contribute positively and bring new ideas to the table.”

And so on. I love that she’s asking why. It gives us loads to talk about. Who knows what paths the three-worded question can take us! But I’d better be careful because I have the propensity to make up things if I don’t know the answer.

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I have a “Why” for you. Why have we only had one J.K. Rowling in the last two decades? Why are good bestselling books so hard to come by? With as many people who are trying to become published authors, why do we hardly hear about breakout authors?

I have a suggested answer to these questions. Check out this weekend’s post I wrote about whether literary agents really are necessary to the publishing industry: Writer’s Cut Out the Middle Man!

Writers: Cut Out the Middle Man!

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I came across this article by Chuck Sambuchino, “The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents.”

With all due respect to all of the contributors of the article, I must call a time out.

Since when did these agents’ opinions become the standard by which books are written? Who set them up to be the gods of the publishing industry who grants and denies access into one of the most coveted industries in the creative arts? And who, among you struggling writers, is still bowing down to these agents’ decrees?

Think about it. Hollywood, though far from perfect, produces a large handful of blockbuster hits a year. Though it’s not as often as we might prefer, but time after time audiences are introduced to breakout directors, actors, and other big screen talents.

Why, then, have we only been given one J.K. Rowling in the last twenty years? One Suzanne Collins? And yet, James Patterson (whose name is bigger than his skill) is still raking in millions.

Literary-Agents-Today-WEBIt’s these gatekeepers, these literary agents, who are locking the gates to the rest of you. You hang on their every word and piece of advice because they’ve convinced you that it’s by their opinions alone your writing career lives or dies.

In the article above, Cricket Freeman from The August Agency demands writers to not kill the main character off in the first chapter. Yet, I’m reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, where that very thing occurs, and I’m loving it. One of the main character’s death at the end of chapter one propelled me to keep reading.

Laurie McLean from Forward Literary tells writers, “Damn the prologue, full speed ahead.”

Sometimes prologues are necessary. Especially to people whose tastes fall into slower-paced books.

Read the the tips and advice from these agents in the article and for almost each one you’ll find your favorite books break their exact rules.

Writers, it’s time to stop feeding the beast! If you’re a struggling author, you’ve no doubt spent countless hours trying to appease these self-proclaimed gatekeepers only to be rejected again and again and again – with no reason provided whatsoever!

Have you ever considered that their job is to deny your manuscripts, to keep the slush piles from reaching the desk of an actual publisher?

Think I’m crazy? Imagine if Brad Bird had written a query letter to a literary agent:

My book idea is about a sewer rat who dreams of being a cook in one of the finest restaurants in 1e20db52948b7d5b340921e8aa2e6126France. He’s a dirty, filthy vermin who convinces a garbage boy to act as his doppelgänger to cook the restaurant’s greatest dishes.

He’d be rejected five times to the moon and back and probably blocked from a majority of their emails.

I can go on, but I hope you get my point. That’s why you must cut out the middle man, because (with minuscule exceptions) a literary agent DOES NOT and WILL NOT take a chance on you! Why? Because you’re not James Patterson or his cousin. You don’t have a million and a half followers on you blog. You’re a nobody and literary agents couldn’t care less if you have the best idea in the world. They’re looking at names and reputations and resumes.

They’re not looking for ideas because ideas are risks. 

That’s why at Endever Publishing Studios, we put emphasis on ideas. We don’t leave you waiting for seven, eight, or nine weeks before getting back to you concerning your submission (while requesting you don’t query any other agents or publishers). We don’t look for perfection, because we know that it takes time and work to turn any idea into something wonderful and beautiful and, dare I say it, successful.

After all, that’s what we all really want in the end, right? Success?

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Think twice before sending out your eightieth or one-hundred-eightieth query letter to a literary agent. Don’t take their word as the gospel truth. If you feel like readers don’t see enough breakout authors in the industry, think about whose fault that is. Think about all the amazing books and stories we’re missing out on because these agents gave themselves the power to deem what readers should and should not read.

Take a look at my company’s submission guidelines and see if we might be a good fit for you. Yes, I realize our acceptance and denials are subjective as well, but we pride ourselves on our ability to limit that subjectiveness by looking at all submissions with an open mind.

We don’t ask ourselves what we like to read. Instead, we ask ourselves, could this idea contribute positively to the book industry? And if so, let’s make it better!

What I’m Learning So Far As a Business Owner

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The most common emotion I have as a brand new business owner is uncertainty. The next two emotions are fear and optimism. Somehow they go hand-in-hand.

I’m beginning to think it’s going to be a long while before I know what I’m really doing. Until then I must be content flying by the seat of my pants, believing in my ideas and my team, and play the role of the good news prophet.

There’s a difference between being a prophet who bears good news and a manager who wants to their ears to be tickled. We’ve all worked for bosses who only want to hear the good news. To me, that’s problem avoidance. One of the first things I told my partners when I selected them was that I want to hear the bad news. It’s my job as the founder and owner of Endever Publishing Studios to figure our how to clean up the mess. And if I can’t come up with a solution, then I ask for help. I wouldn’t have invited my teammates to be apart of Endever if I couldn’t rely on them for help.

After all, I’m just a business owner. I’m not perfect.

So what do I mean by being a good news prophet? While fear an optimism go hand-in-hand, I must not let my fear show. It’s imperative that I keep that part inside and display my optimism as much as I can. I must forecast good news so that my team and my writers will continue to believe in Endever.

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Does that mean I make stuff up just to lead them over a cliff?

Absolutely not! I’m busy working and reworking my business foundations until I feel I get something right. Pioneering a new publishing company means plotting out a succinct process for our book productions, routing book sales to benefit all parties involved and help the company grow, deciding what roles are most needed and what jobs those roles will consist of, and so on.

That’s where I’m at now as of the writing of this post. That way, when I get all the wheels greased and spinning in the right direction, I can forecast good news. I can be sure of myself because I will have sought out advise from key people, and in the end I will believe that I’ve made the right decisions for Endever and everyone involved.

That’s handling and cleaning up problems and prophesying good news. That’s freeing my teammates to do what I’ve instructed them to do within their area of expertise. And to me, that’s creating a safe and healthy environment for authors and other key players to join in the future.

I’ve got a long way to go, but like hopscotch, I’m doing my best to land straight in all the right spots.

Endever Updates – Six Months Later

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Wonderful news is happening over at Endever Publishing Studios! In case you’re unfamiliar with my publishing company, I founded it early this year because I was tired of the way traditional publishing companies operated.

  • They recycle the same famous authors in their rotation rarely giving new authors a chance.
  • Traditional publishers put more effort in promoting their own books than exploring the unknown future of the book industry itself.
  • It’s a corporate world where there is a thick black line separating the authors from the corporate bigwigs who are more concerned with the money in their pockets than the art driving the paychecks. There is no reason for the two to be separate.

This is the short version of why I began my own publishing company. I named it Endever Publishing Studios because we are more than a company, we are studio, and by definition a studio is a place where art is created and experimented with.

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Six months later my co-owner Lynn Galloway and I have just signed our fifth author, and have seven books in production. We have received help from all corners of the industry from lawyers to cover design artists to editors all offering support and help in any way they can.

I’m impressed with how far we’ve come in just a short amount of time. I’m also very excited to share what Endever has in store for you all in just a few short weeks. We’ve come far, but we have much further to go. And somehow, in our ridiculously busy lives of demanding jobs, kids, and spouses, we are making the dream come true and we cannot thank all of you enough who have pitched in and submitted. Even your words of support and encouragement go a long way to get us through the tough days where it would just be much easier to pretend Endever never existed.

So stay tuned, because we might call upon your area of expertise to contribute to our company. But you’ll also want to be involved so that you can know about our upcoming book releases. More details on that soon!

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