Interview - Kenneth Atchity the American Story Merchant
Kenneth Atchity is an American producer and Author who has worked as a literary manager, editor, speaker, writing coach, brand consultant and professor of comparative literature. He’s been called the story merchant.
He is the captain of ships such as www.storymerchant.com ; Atchity Entertainment International, inc (www.aeionline.com ); The Writers Lifeline, Inc (www.thewriterslifeline.com ) and The Louisiana Wave Studio which together produce films and develop books for publication, screenplays, and films for television and cinema--and consult with writers about their career strategies and tactics.
In this interview we are aiming to discover more about Kenneth himself and the world he lives in. As per the first interview http://ow.ly/dx211 which was based on the launching of the Messiah Matrix – we are enormously grateful for Kenneth to stand off his time for a written interview.
Kenneth, your entertainment career started in 1967 and is still flourishing can you tell our readers a bit more about your journey?
My journey has been a rollicking literary adventure, from my days as a professor at Occidental College and the University of Bologna, Italy, to the decision I made to leave the academic world and enter the commercial world of storytelling. There’s literally never been a dull moment—and the one thread that weaves through it all is my passion for stories of all kinds. I’ve been a first-hand witness to the world’s hunger for stories, and privileged to be able to bring them to their audiences.
You are known for producing filmography such as “The Lost Valentine,” “Life or Something Like It,” “14 Days with Alzheimers,” “Hysteria,” “The Expatriate,” and “The Kennedy Detail,” which is but a few. What do you feel has been your best work in the filmography range?
Much as I love the movies I’ve been lucky enough to work on, I feel my best work is yet to come.
You founded Story Merchant for strategic coaching in writers in 2010. What inspired the idea behind these two new divisions?
I founded Story Merchant because the world of publishing and entertainment has changed so much in the last few years I found I was unable to spend time with individual writers in a way that made business sense—and Story Merchant allows me to do that through its (1) coaching services; (b) its publishing arm, Story Merchant Books; and its marketing arm, Story Merchant Book Marketing. We began (c), with my partner a former head of Fox Family Films, because the number one challenge of any author publishing a new book is how to make it VISIBLE in a world where thousands of books are published every single week. VISIBILITY is the published writer’s biggest challenge, so SMBM is focused on making writers visible.
Your academic career started in 1970 up to 1986 where you received the Faculty Achievement Award and the Distinguished Instructor at UCLA Writers program. How did you accomplish such awards within the same year?
You don’t really achieve awards—you just do your thing, and they either come or not. For people who love what they do, it’s not the awards that motivate it’s the privilege of getting to do what you love on a daily basis. It’s nice to be recognized, but an authorpreneur needs to be self-motivated because there’s a long wait between moments of recognition.
Your work has appeared in numerous journals and newspapers such as the American Quarterly, Classical Philology, Comparative Literature Studies, Contemporary Literature Criticism etc – how does it feel to be seen as such a popular and sought after writer?
It feels great to do the work of writing—the research, the composition, the revision. The more you publish the more you will publish. And it’s very satisfying to look back down a long road and see that many of my dreams—and those of my clients and partners--reached fruition.
You have written books such as : How to Publish Your Novel (SquareOne) (2005); How to Quit Your Day Job and Live Out Your Dreams (Skyhorse) (2012), plus Writing Treatments That Sell: How to Create and Market Your Story Ideas to the Motion Picture and TV Industry (Owl Books, 2003) and Write Time (2012, available through amazon.com).
How has exposure been on these books?
It grows over the years. It’s nice to know that several of the books have been through several editions and continue to resonate with writers year after year. It’s an extension of my years in the classroom to reach out and help people accelerate their progress along the success curve.
Have readers ever given you input on how it has assisted them with their career requirements and goals?
I couldn’t have written any of these books without constant input from students and clients along the way. It’s their experiences, in failure and success, that I describe in these books.
Your companies - Atchity Entertainment International, Story Merchant, and The Writer's Lifeline have been responsible for launching numerous books and films. I mean the list of stuff you have done is never ending, where to from here?
If I’m lucky enough to continue, I will continue pushing forward the projects I’m involved with—both my own personal projects like my first novel The Messiah Matrix which we talked about here earlier, and the many projects of my clients—wonderful books, screenplays, and stories that are just waiting their turn to see the light of day. And my honor and responsibility is to move them toward the light!
Have you ever thought about stretching your skills into countries that are not as skilled as America?
I did experiment a few years ago with reaching out to Brazil, at the request of a consultant from that country. I wish there were a way to do that at least in other English-speaking countries around the world because the world I work in, publishing and producing, is increasingly global so the principles I propound are universal.
In 1990 you founded the editorial and consulting company The Writer’s Lifeline, Inc. I am told that this company has been responsible for over a dozen best sellers. Can you tell our readers a bit more about what the company consists of?
The Writers Lifeline, consisting of select editors I’ve chosen over the years to work with clients, is all about bringing “a writer’s skill and craft to the level of their vision and ambition.” On one hand, we ghost-write stories and information that the author needs put into the world; but on the other, our primary mission, is we make books and scripts ready for publication and production by giving them the conceptual, structural, style, and copy editing they need to stand out as professionally worthy of commercial acceptance.
You also do a lot of television, radio, web and television interviews and classes on contemporary literature, creativity, dreams, myth, writing, producing, publishing, time-management, business expansion, brand launching, and various other academic and entertainment-publishing subjects.
Where do you see yourself going with all of this within the future?
I am consolidating more and more of this into Story Merchant Book Marketing so that I can buy the time to help writers more. Writers need to remember the simple arithmetic, money buys time (that’s what the saying “Time is money” is all about). We all want unlimited freedom to create, so that means we need to achieve unlimited financial reward for the fruits of our creation. Anything I can do to concentrate and streamline my time helps me get more stories into the world.
In 2011 you were nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Documentary Programs on The Kennedy Detail – this was shown on Discovery Channel last year. And now you’ve turned the same book into a feature film, currently being written by director Stephen Gyllenhaal that will be released in 2013..
What do you expect to see from viewers on this release?
I know we will see respect for the amazing men who served President Kennedy even at the moment of this death—and had to endure the pain of it, and then go on with their work of attempting to protect the next president, and to move the country forward despite tragedy. I’ve seen that respect pouring out throughout the book tour for The Kennedy Detail and in the television audience’s reaction to the documentary—so I know the feature audience will express it as well.
How did it feel to be nominated for such an award?
It felt surreal to be in the room with the icons of television news and get to meet some of them at the pre- and after-party. There’s something so ‘arbitrary’ about awards and nominations—as I said earlier, you just do your work and focus on it, and sometimes it’s recognized. The recognition is time-consuming—I could be at my phone working on future deals. But it’s good to pause for them, take a breath, and put it all in perspective. There are SO MANY wonderful people working in publishing, television, and film that just being in the same room with them makes you realize that dreaming is the foundation for the reality we all live in. I got to be in the room with fellow dreamers. That’s like dying and going to heaven!
South Africa seems to be a country that holds a lot of promise in many things. Filmography and publishing are but some of its lesser opportunities.
How do you perceive these two factors to grow in the future?
As the world continues to shrink thanks to the technologies and the internet, film and publishing will grow in all parts of the world. I’ve been offered to amazing South African projects in the last two months, and there are many out there being dreamed at this very moment—persistence will turn them into realities.
For someone like me – Hollywood and big novel publishing brands seems to be something that is not easy to come by. It’s as if success is mostly concluded through the people you know and the money you could spend. Have you ever thought about branching out internationally?
I’ve become all too aware of my limitations—primarily the limitation of the hours in the day. The only way I could conceive of branching out further is with the help of energetic partners who can build the infrastructure. Otherwise I’m happy with my present base, though I have clients in South Africa, Hong Kong, Germany, Belgium, France, England, Australia, Canada—and probably a few others I’ve forgotten at the moment.
If someone wanted to submit a manuscript or screenplay for your recommendation – what steps do they need to follow?
The best way to get my attention these days is to submit it to the ‘project launch analysis’ on www.thewriterslifeline.com That way your project gets read, analysed, and reported back to me—for me to take a look at if it’s ready to move forward. If it’s not ready, you’ll be told why and we can help you do something about it.
What genres do you follow?
We have worked in every imaginable genre. I just love GOOD STORIES of all kinds.
Which age groups are you limited to?
We aren’t limited to any age groups. We’ve found ways to work with them all.
Where can people follow your work and access your sites for possible submissions and enquiries?
My personal blog is a nexus that changes daily but gives you access to all the websites: its http://www.kenatchityblog.com/
What do you prefer – reading, writing or screen?
I equally prefer reading and watching movies.
These days I find that the line between novel publishing and putting it to screen has become fairly narrow. There are very few books I have read that hasn’t made it to film or possible future filming.
I’m surprised because it’s my experience that the book that makes it to film is 1 in a hundred or more. Great books are the exception, but it still can take years to get to the screen.
What is your viewpoint on such a matter?
Persist. Do it right. Learn everything you can, especially from other people’s experience.
What are your views when it comes to online kindle reading and actual printed novels – do you feel that the market will always remain for physical publishing?
I’m sure it will remain for another 50 years, though I’m not sure it’ll be that long. When Gutenberg invented the printing press I’m sure folks still said, “I prefer my scroll.” But 50 years later I doubt that anyone was still making scrolls, and few still reading from them.
Final words for striving authors and producers around the world.
If you have a dream, you have a responsibility to yourself and to us to make it come true. That’s the most important thing in your life. Don’t let anything stand in its way. And let me know if we can help you get there!