For a guy who went to one of the greatest universities in the United States, writer Doug Abrams admits that he didn’t learn much when it came to telling a story. “Everything I learned in my modern thought and literature program at Stanford about being a writer is wrong,” he admits.
How’s that? A degree from Stanford and no storytelling skills? That’s all right. After 20 years of practice following his exit from the prestigious university, Abrams could probably show the Stanford professors a thing or two about writing a captivating tale. His book, “The Lost Diary of Don Juan,” was just released in paperback and it has been published in 30 languages. Recently, several Hollywood producers bought the movie rights to the film. Not bad for a guy who graduated from college with no idea of how to tell a story.
As a result of Abrams’ constantly gracious nature, and his success story, the Santa Cruz-based author and literary agent will be sharing about the secrets to getting published in 30 languages at a reading and discussion on Monday, July 7 at the Capitola Book Café.
Calling every writer in the county—this is an enormous opportunity to learn tips of the trade from a working professional. Typically such forums are expensive, but out of sheer generosity, Abrams hopes that his story and his “secrets” will benefit his fellow writers in town.
Abrams’ book, a stellar, colorful, if not cinematic read, took five years of intense work and 30 drafts before it was published. But once Abrams’ agent got a hold of it, things moved quite quickly. “I think it was about 18 drafts before I showed my agent,” he says, chuckling. That’s “one of the things I’ll talk about [at the event]—how to prepare your book so it’s exciting for agents and publishers. … Before my agent submitted it (the manuscript) to the American publishers, a scout got a hold of it for a Brazilian publisher and [my agent] had an offer in 24 hours, before she had even submitted it to the American publishers. It’s a question of people falling in love with the story.”
And that goes back to Stanford. “I think what writing programs in college are solely focused on is … that they [concentrate] on the voice and style and tone and being literary, which is all important, but what they forget is that you’re writing stories … to keep people engaged and turning pages.
“This is what I feel so evangelistic about, sharing with people in this talk, which is because I spent 20 years banging my head against the wall, because we have lost track of the art of storytelling in our universities.”
During those 20 years of “banging his head against a wall,” Abrams studied with writing teachers, read plenty of books, made some mistakes here and there, and ultimately wrote himself a success story with the publication of “The Lost Diary of Don Juan.” In addition, he gained plenty of on-the-job experience in discovering what makes a truly exceptional, standout book. For many years, Abrams worked as an editor for Harper Collins. In 2000, he, his wife, and their three children moved to Santa Cruz and Abrams hung out his literary agent shingle. Soon, he was representing the likes of John Robbins and Desmond Tutu.
Nowadays, he spends his mornings working as a successful literary agent, and his afternoons writing.
Next up for him is another novel, an ecological thriller based on the story of a marine scientist and a “love even more powerful than passionate love,” he says. We’ll likely see it hit bookstores next spring or summer. (The same publisher that grabbed “The Lost Diary” secured a two-book deal with Abrams.)
But back to the secrets of getting published: Abrams will be dissecting the ins and outs of getting published. “Everybody feels it’s so hard to get a book published. Whenever people speak of the publishing world, it’s with doom and gloom, because it’s very challenging to publish a book and write a book. But, I think it’s because people have some fundamental misperceptions of what writing is about and publishing is about and what stories are about. One of my writing teachers is Robert McKee and he says if you write a good story you’ll have the entire world knocking at your door. That has been my experience. ‘Don Juan’ has been published from Taiwan to Turkey, Brazil to Bulgaria.”
Another tip? “Hire help,” Abrams says. “I hired book editors to read my book, a Hollywood script consultant to work with me … to help with the plot to make sure the twists and turns were working.”
He adds that another misconception writers may have is that if they just it down in front of a blank page, a story will write itself. Abrams, rather, believes in the art of thoroughly developing a plot and story extensively before starting to write the book.
Also at the Capitola Book Café event, Abrams will discuss the importance of villains in a story. In addition, among many other subjects, he’ll talk about finding an agent who will be a champion for your book.
The July 7 evening will likely follow this format: 20 minutes of reading from “The Lost Diary,” a 20-minute free lecture on the aforementioned tactics to getting published in 30 languages, and a question and answer time.
And finally, Abrams’ three goals for himself and other writers: Write a page-turning, dramatic story; write characters that are rich, full-bodied and three-dimensional; explore ideas that linger with people after they finish reading the book.
Santa Cruz author and literary agent Doug Abrams will be reading from his book and offering a talk on “How to Get Published in 30 Languages,” at 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 7 at the Capitola Book Café, 1475 41st Ave., Capitola. For more information, call 462-4415.
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