motion picture production, branding


MARK LAROSE INTERVIEWS KEN ATCHITY


Writers Web Press recently caught up with Dr. Kenneth Atchity at the Yale Club in New York. The president of arguably the most innovative and successful literary management and editorial company in the nation, Atchity Entertainment International, Ken Atchity is an entrepreneur, educator, producer and author. Leaving a secure career to found AEI, the Georgetown and Yale graduate was a tenured professor, teaching comparative literature at Occidental College and various courses in the UCLA Writing Program. During his years of speaking on campuses and at writers' conferences across the nation and in Europe, he met many writers on the brink of success, but who needed some professional guidance. Atchity and partner Chi-Li Wong became convinced of the need for a new type of company. Risking his career and investing everything in his vision, he became a literary entrepreneur.

Dr. Atchity is quick to point out that AEI is not a literary agency, and he is not a literary agent. The technical difference is that literary agents can't produce movies. But there are other significant differences that prompted Atchity and his partner Chi-Li Wong to eke out a niche in uncharted territory. He knows of only one other, but he predicts there will be many more editorial, production, and management companies like AEI before long.

"There are many editorial companies out there, but many of them also have a bad reputation. They want to edit books, but once they're finished, the writers are on their own. There was no one out there helping authors write salable work and helping them sell it," Atchity points out, "What makes us different is that we help writers along until they're ready to publish and then we manage their careers."

AEI is actually two distinct companies: the original representation company, which manages writers and produces films, founded in 1995; and The Writer's Lifeline, 1996, a one-on-one coaching and consulting service designed to help writers reduce their learning curve from ten years to a year and a half or less. "We know writers will figure out how to write their books so they'll sell, we just help them cut down on the time spent doing it."

For these services, AEI charges from $75 to $120 per hour, depending on the editor assigned to the project. They will also make flat deals for whole books, which can cost from $6,000 to $20,000, "though the high figure reflects the need to translate it from a foreign language and other unusual editorial services. Now that we've been doing this for nearly two years, we have statistics on which to base our rates. Coaching a writer through a complete rewrite takes about 180 hours. If my editors do the re-write, they usually have to spend 500 hours on a book. This is an incredibly time- and emotion-intensive business, which explains why there aren't a whole lot of people out there doing it."

If Atchity likes an idea, but the writer doesn't have the money, he will also cut a percentage deal. "But this is usually the worse deal they've made in their lives," Atchity notes, "Steve Alten paid $6,000 for consultation in the Writers Lifeline program. If we'd made a deal for 50%, he would have lost one and a half million dollars when we sold MEG."

Both companies have hit pay dirt for the savvy entrepreneur. Having produced twenty television films, with twelve more television and feature films in production, Atchity and company have also found publishers for numerous books and scripts for AEI's clients. Half of Atchity's many successes have been with authors who have had no need of editorial services when they signed with AEI's management company. Half have been with graduates of his Writers; Lifeline consulting company, which employs a host of talented editors and film consultants, including story analyst and senior editor and director of development David Angsten, Executive Vice President of Editorial, Andrea McKeown, and Executive Editor, Monica Faulkner.

One of AEI's most recent success came with the sale of the film rights to Mark Gardner's Columbia Malignancy, a non-fiction expose of America's largest for-profit hospital corporation. Atchity drew attention to Gardner by arranging for a Page One article in The Wall Street Journal and a featured interview on "20/20." Another recent non-fiction sale is Dr. Jerry Blaskovich's Anatomy of Deceit an inside story on the atrocities committed during the war in Croatia and the worldwide conspiracy to cover them up.

AEI has had monstrous successes with graduates of the Lifeline program. This was the case with first-time novelist Steve Alten. Under AEI's expert tutelage, Alten re-wrote MEG (short for Carcharodon megalodon), a thriller about a prehistoric shark thought to be extinct. Atchity and Wong partnered with Warren Zide to sell the book. Atchity then sold the completed novel to Walt Disney Pictures for an estimated $700,000 on a "partial" manuscript. Atchity then sold the completed novel to Doubleday for $2 million. He then sold the film rights . Released last month, MEG hit most of the major bestseller lists before arriving in bookstores and has sold over 100,000 copies after Allen appeared on the "Today Show". At last year's Frankfurt Book Fair, MEG garnered $1.2 million in advances for foreign rights in eleven countries.

The successes for Atchity and company don't come close to ending there. Other recent masterstrokes include Cheryl Saban's novel, The Sins of the Mother, which AEI will co-produce with Saban Productions, the producers of the incredibly successful Power Rangers TV series and features. AEI signed Saban to a three-book deal with Dove Books. After a nationwide tour, and radio and TV sweeps, The Sins of the Mothers hit the Los Angeles Times bestseller list in July.

A virtual success machine, AEI has sold the film rights to Sign of the Watcher, by Brett Bartlett after twelve studios passed on an earlier draft. (Purchase price: $750,000). AEI has also found publishers for books by many other Lifeline graduates, such as James Michael Pratt's The Last Valentine, which went to St. Martin's Press for a princely sum in the high six-figure range and will be offered to Hollywood in the Fall. Rick Lynch's novel 180 Seconds At Willow Park was sold to Dove Books, and is now in development at New Line Cinema (purchase price: $450,000).

AEI is also becoming widely recognized as a top-notch freelance development company. Atchity often takes referrals from major publishing houses and film producers with good ideas or raw manuscripts, and turns them into salable products. The list of successes for this literary and film production powerhouse goes on and on. And there's no sign of a slowdown in sight. Indeed, it

looks like all works with a glimmer will continue to become gold for AEI and its entrepreneurial wizard, Ken Atchity, his partner Chi-Li Wong, their staff of literary alchemists, and, most importantly, their talented clients.

Atchity makes no secret of how he spells success. "We see ourselves as story people, not just novel, non-fiction, or film people. Another thing that makes us different is that we help clients optimize their chances for commercial success. We'll steer the writer in the best direction, whether that be a screenplay, a novel, or in television. What we do is try to do is provide a bridge between the writer and the business world. No one else is doing that, and any writer will tell you it's a very big gap. We also try to prioritize a writer's career. So many times I see writers spending years on projects we can't sell. When writers come in with several ideas, we'll advise them to work on the one we can sell."

In today's difficult marketplace, there just isn't any percentage in writing books for yourself. Atchity encourages writers to find their audience first. "I tell authors to write a book we can sell. Then once they find their audience they can write the books they want to write. It irritates me when writers take the attitude that because they wrote a book they should be published or rich. 'Everyone is writing a book. They get discouraged or angry when they spend years on a project and find they can't sell it. They get mad and believe the system is against them. Well, that's just the way it is in the modern marketplace. We're not crusaders, trying to change the system. We try to make the system work for people."

Dr. Atchity is himself the author of thirteen books. The most recent is Writing Treatments That Sell. Co-authored by his partner, Chi-Li Wong, this is the very first book that deals with the basic idea of the treatment, the concept of a story in its shortest salable form. Treatments are particularly important in Hollywood, where multi-million dollar deals are struck to make films from nothing more than a raw concept. Here again the entrepreneur stresses the importance of presentation.

As noted in his book on career change, The Mercury Transition, and in his book on writing, A Writer's Time, Dr. Atchity says it takes four things to succeed. "The first is persistence. Steve Alten sent out thirty-nine queries. Ours was the only positive response. That's the thing, though. It only takes one. You don't need to find ten publishers or producers, so if you believe in yourself, it's important to be persistent."

The second element is access. "You have to have contacts. A writer needs help to access the system," Atchity notes. "Thirdly, it's important to be a fun person. You want to stay off everyone's "Life's-Too-Short" list, and present yourself and your work in an engaging and powerful manner."

"Talent is the last thing you need." Surprisingly, Atchity says it is possible in today's world to get by without a lot of talent. "The idea is everything, and it can be developed into a salable book or script. When I hear people say, I wrote a better book than this or that one that got published, I know they either got discouraged and gave up, they didn't make the right contacts, or they were too obnoxious to work with. That's why there are so many books out there that aren't very well written or that aren't effective. The author may not have had talent, but he was persistent, had access, and he was a fun person to work with. Of course, our dream client is someone who has all three of these elements plus talent and don't misunderstand, we love and appreciate great writing if it's conveying a great commercial story."

For writers interested in contacting AEI, Atchity recommends a query. Though he will accept very brief email queries, Atchity says, "They're only good for asking if we're interested in a certain type of material. Email is not good psychology for writers. For one thing, it suggests an air of immediacy that demands a prompt response. But it doesn't work that way. Even if a novel is ready to publish, and most aren't, it probably won't come out for a year. So what's the big hurry?"

This is a pet peeve for Atchity and others in the industry. "It's the same with authors who send us a disk or tell us to visit their website -- as though we had browsing time. It gives us a bad impression. It's a sign of arrogance or laziness. It forces us to take on the expense and to do the work of pulling it up and printing it out. Time is the same as money. I have to pay someone to do these things. It's real money. I can't tell you how much it bothers me when authors, uninvited, do things like sending email with attached files. With computer viruses and the time and expense involved, we just delete them unread. I had one guy send me a whole novel from Italy. It tied up our high-speed download server for an hour. Someone needs to formulate a system of Internet submission ethics. This is really very important. The best thing about this business is the writers, and the worst thing about it is the writers. If writers would just take the time to figure out what it takes to be a pleasure to work with and do those things, they'd get a lot farther faster. And they should get advisers who know the business inside out. Every month we see a deal ruined by an attorney who has no idea what he's talking about."

Although writers often hear about the film producers, agents, and publishers who search for new talent, Dr. Atchity says AEI never surfs the Internet searching for new authors. "It's just not possible. In a business that up and running and responsible for a hundred people and careers, you just don't have the time. Perhaps if someone is just starting out, they might take the time to look, but we never do. I'm sorry if we sound grumpy, but the time we're forced to waste eats into our selling time. Writers should find out how to present their work properly."

Atchity does, however, see the Internet as a valuable tool for authors. In fact, he says he could see himself recommending Internet publishing to some of his own clients for the exposure. "We have two books coming out later this summer, Anatomy of Deceit by Dr. Jerry Blaskovich, which chronicles his experiences in Croatia where he went to verify the alleged atrocities, and the best "southern" novel I've read in years, The Cruelest Lie by Milt Lyles. I could see publishing excerpts of this work on the Internet."

Indeed, the entrepreneur says he'd consider publishing some of his own work on the Internet. "For instance, I might be interested in publishing books like The Mercury Transition, which is out of print. I'd also consider publishing my book, Cajun Household Wisdom." Half Cajun, the Louisiana native says the rights to this work reverted to him when Longmeadow Press went out of business. "I want to do something with it, but I just haven't had the time." Atchity adds that AEI is also very interested in reference works like those he has written and published several himself, including The Renaissance Reader (Harper Collins); The Classical Greek Reader, (Henry Holt; Oxford University Press); and The Classical Roman Reader, (Holt).

A wealth of information on Dr. Kenneth Atchity, his books, AEI, and the types of work the company is interested in seeing can be found on its Website at aeionline.com. AEI will accept email queries of fifty words or less at jp@aeionline.com. We will delete long email queries unread.

Written queries should be sent to:

Submissions Editor
AEI
9601 Wilshire Blvd. #1202
Beverly Hills CA 90210