The debutant’s dilemma…

Submitted by Kevin Conroy Scott on Mon, 07/21/2014 – 16:01

How can aspiring writers gain experience these days? The debut novel, once a fertile hunting ground for publishers in thrall to the new, has become a high-risk game of 13-way auctions and all-or-nothing advances. Sure, publishers used to publish too many debuts, but now worthwhile debuts are being ignored and advances for less than £5,000 have become all too common.

With the proliferation of Creative Writing courses, MA graduates now have to turn to high quality, but eye-wateringly expensive, independent writing courses. This means paying £3,000 upwards to £9,000, which is beyond most post-graduates’ means when they have just paid £9,000 for an MA.

This debutant dilemma caught our attention at Tibor Jones and it mixed together with two long running interests of ours: interrogating the writing process and creating our own IP through fiction, so we could develop those works for film and television.

I’ve always been inspired by The Corman Film School, a collective of young film directors who were given small budgets to make popular genre films by the prolific B-movie producer Roger Corman in the 1950’s and 60’s. Francis Ford Coppola made Dementia 13 on a microscopic budget. Martin Scorsese made his start with Boxcar Bertha, a Bonnie & Clyde lookalike, this way. Would The Godfather or Goodfellas ever been made without Roger Corman giving these young directors a chance?

In an effort to help solve this problem and create our own IP, two years ago we paid Creative Writing MA graduates to work together on an idea that we gave them, develop the story and characters while we guided them towards a finished manuscript. We started in the home of packaged fiction, the YA market, home to many successes, from the Hardy Boys all the way to the Sweet Valley High and Gossip Girl Franchises. The YA market is just much more open to packaged fiction and experimentation within genres than the adult fiction market.

And here’s the fun part. Each one of our projects is written by a fictional son or daughter of our namesake, Tibor Jones. The first novel, A Bicycle in Amsterdam, which will be published digitally on October 1st, is written by Annuska Jones. The second, The Burnt Sea, which we are taking to market this October, is written by Zussana Jones. The third, Agatha Ugly, our love letter to Agatha Christie, is written by their sister, a-yet-to-be-determined Hungarian first name Jones.  So our collaborators get the experience of being paid to write, but save their names to build their own careers with their own work. Meanwhile, we build up a family of geniuses, a brand and our own library of content.

The writing process has been a revelation. Like our hero Ed Catmull and his team at Pixar, (who start each film saying ‘this movie sucks’), we start with a healthy mix of optimism and skepticism, then work around the kernel of the idea that excites us all and makes us want to stick with this project for at least nine months. At Pixar they say it’s like jumping out of an airplane and building your parachute on the way down. I think it’s more like a dinosaur excavation. The story that you were so excited about telling often evolves into something else, as if you thought you were finding the dinosaur’s arm but really you’ve found a tailbone of a completely different beast. And still you keep digging, looking for the truth of the story to guide your team to the light.

We’re now five projects into this process and we’re trying to write books of quality that will last. I keep telling our writers that Tibor Jones Studio wants to be the love-child of Pixar and Gorillaz, as dreamed up while attending the Royal Tennenbaum’s family reunion. After all, why can’t packaging be as artful as those reference points? Isn’t this how Liebel and Stoller wrote Hound Dog? How Morrissey and Marr wrote How Soon is Now?  Why shouldn’t Tibor Jones strive to contribute to the cultural canon in a similar way?

An aspiring writer, who has invested so much into a chancy pipedream, needs to be paid to work so they can learn, they need to work closely with people who have years of publishing experience behind them and they need to receive a percentage of revenues for the life of the project. This is what is beautiful about the ‘riot of cross-dressing’ that is our new digital universe. You don’t know until you try, and as Mr Catmull notes in his brilliant, must-read Creativity, Inc., mistakes are a necessary part of creativity. You must seek them out and embrace them.  Tibor Jones are working to create something that doesn’t yet exist which makes investing financially or emotional in a project scary. Young writers live with this uncertainty every day, more than even before, and I’m glad we can give them an opportunity to receive some support while trying to make something memorable.

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