Sam Horn - Intrigue

Friday, August 31, 2007

My Favorite Scene in Movies . . . Was Improvised

One of the many pleasures of Emceeing the Maui Writers Conference is having the privilege to meet in person a number of Academy Award winning screenwriters and Pulitzer Prize winning authors you've admired from afar.

Last night, we had our Presenters Orientation and Dinner so the agents, editors, authors, and screenwriters could get to know each other, on top of the conference center at the Maui Marriott, overlooking Wailea Beach with the orange, red, yellow sun setting behind the island of Molokai.

Let me put you in the scene. Everyone (all 75 of them) is standing around in small groups, talking about their latest projects.

There’s Michael Arndt, screenwriter for the breakout hit movie Little Miss Sunshine who's nowworking at Pixar Animation Studios on Toy Story 3. Next to him is lawyer-author Scott Turow (Presumed Innocent) talking to felllow novelist John Lescroart (The Suspect, The Hunt Club) Neil Nyren, Publisher and Editor in Chief of major New York publisher G. P. Putnam's (clients include Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Patricia Cornwell, Dave Barry) is greeting agent Susan Crawford who represents Muhammed Ali, John Travolta and Stan Lee. The Secret contributor Lisa Nichols is telling Michael Palmieri (former executive with Tristar, Paramount, Warner and Twentieth Century Fox) about her new TV talk show.

I shake the hand of Pamela Wallace, screenwriter for the Academy-Award-winning, Writers Guild of America Award-winning movie Witness, and welcome her to the conference.

I tell her, “I’ve been burning to ask you something about your screenplay for Witness.”

"What's that?" she asked.

“That magnificent scene in the barn, when Harrison Ford starts singing along to “Don’t know much about history, don’t know much about biology, all I do know is I love you, and I'm hoping you love me too . . what a wonderful world that would be . . .” to Kelly McGillis?"

Pamela answered, "Yes, I know the one you're talking about."

"Kelly is playing a rather prim and proper yet slightly rebellious young Amish woman. Her eyes and face shine as the impish Ford starts serenading her. She laughs out loud with delight when he takes her hand and starts dancing with her. That magical scene just crackles with sexual energy. Is that how you envisioned it when you wrote it?”

Pam laughed and said, “Harrison improvised that! In the screenplay, they were just sitting in the car listening to the radio and talking. He spontaneously started singing along to the song and the scene just unfolded organically from there. It’s the best scene in the movie!” Pam added with a modest grin.

That's just part of the magic unfolding here at Maui Writers Conference. Insider tips on what really happened on the movie set, when a book went to auction and got a 7 figure deal, or when an agent discovered a hot new prospect.

Want to know what's on tap for tonight?

Following our opening chant by Pali Ahui and his hula halau Na Maile Ku Honua, former U.S. Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin will be sharing some of his respected work. This is guaranteed to be a "chicken skin" moment for all 800 participants as this National Book Award winner and former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets reads from some of his spellbinding books of prose and poems including The River Sound, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and the Pulitzer Prize winning The Carrier of Ladders.

Check back tomorrow when I'll share some of the best tips on how to become an Authorpreneur (monetize your writing career) and how to pitch your idea, book, or screenplay so you get interest from a decision-maker who has the power to get it published or produced.

Want more information ont he Maui Writers Conference? Visit

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Blogging Live from Maui Writers Conference - Retreat

Have you ever gotten one of those postcards that said, "Wish you were here."

I'm guessing you wish you were here at the 15th annual Maui Writers Conference in Hawaii -- so I'm take you here by sharing some of the highlights of this year's conference and retreat.

I'm teaching the Business - Self Help book retreat right now. Participants have come from around the world to polish their manuscripts and proposals to prepare them to pitch to top agents and editors in a few days at the conference.

Participants in my workshop include the former Global Creative Director of Yahoo, a Guatamalan businessman whose company makes bread for McDonalds and ships it frozen to U.S. locations, the former Executive Director of Coachville, attorneys, professors, psychologists and an eclectic mix of others working on projects ranging from catapulting your business success to being a better parent.

A highlight of yesterday's session was talking about how NOT to bury the lead when pitching your project. I told them a story of last year, when three days into our retreat, I was talking of the importance of presenting our credentials for maximum impact. I told the group:

"Now is NOT the time to be bashful or shy. If you have an achievement that will help position you as an expert in your topic, share it. Agents and editors can't read your mind. They won't know about your credentials unless you tell them. It is NOT bragging to talk about your awards, accomplishments, or extraordinary experiences -- it is simply telling the agent and editor that you have a PLATFORM that will establish credibility, visibility, and appeal for your work."

I continued, "Don't make sweeping, subjective claims. Back them up with names and numbers so agents and editors know your bio is factual. For example, don't say 'I'm a nationally respected speaker who presents to a variety of organizations across the country.' We don't know what that means. We have no idea if that's the local Rotary Club and an adult education program on the other coast -- or major associations and Fortune 500 companies.

Say, (if it's true) "My client list includes Young Presidents Organization, National Governors Association, and NASA and I've presented programs to more than 50,000 people in 10 states and 4 foreign countries including Mexico, Canada, Ireland and Switzerland." See how this line has "teeth?"

The participants then divided into smaller groups to strategize how they could introduce their credentials in order of priority to win instant buy-in from busy agents and editors.

A few minutes later, I heard a SHRIEK from the corner. Andrea gasped, "YOU HAVE WHAT?!"

Turns out one of our participants, a soft-spoken doctor, had been nominated for a Nobel in Medicine, had played a role in inventing the nicotene patch, and had the only patent for an anti-aging process.

Yikes. If you're pitching something -- whether it's to land a book deal, win a contract or receive funding -- START with whatever will get the decision-makers' favorable attention. You want their eyebrows to go UP which means they're intrigued and impressed.

As soon as their eyebrows go up, you've got your projects' foot in their mental door -- they're already thinking positively about what you're saying or selling.

I know this is getting long -- however I'll share one more tip.

I had the good fotune to interview New York Times best-selling author James Rollins over breakfast yesterday morning -- while looking out at Maui's marvelously blue ocean, sunny beach and majestic palm trees.

James is actually a Maui Writers Conference-Retreat success story. A veterinarian from Northern California, he came to the retreat years ago and worked with John Saul and the rest, as they say, is history. James' thriller Map of Boneswas chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of the most likely to win over Dan Brown's faithful audience.

In preparation for a presentation I'll be giving this Sunday at the conference, I asked James, "Where do you get your ideas?" (By the way, many authors are tired of being aked this question because it comes up in almost every interview and at most book-signings. Still, it's fascinating to hear the different systems authors use to kick-start their creativity. I've produced a top-ten list of idea-gnerating methods collected from a variety of authors, screenwriters, and creative types and will be sharing it in my program.)

James said, "After writing a dozen books, you can't rely on the 'hand of God' to tap you on the shoulder and deliver an inspired idea for a book. So, I subscribe to a lot of magazines ranging from Discover to Scientific American -- anything to do with my interests which are animals, physics, inventions, you name it. I also read a lot of newspapers every day, looking for some interesting tidbit that makes it through my screen. If it catches my interest, it means it's new instead of being commonplace. That means it has potential to be explored -- because it will break new ground."

"Keeping my antennae up for these types of 'Hmmm . . . haven't seen that before . . . didn't know that' ideas turns writing into a never-ending adventure for me and my readers."

Great insight, James. Tomorrow, I'll share some best-practice tips from Academy-award winning screenwriter Bobby Moresco (Crash, Million-Dollar Baby) and Pulitzer Prize winning author Ron Powers (Mark Twain: A Life and co-author with James Bradley of Flags of our Fathers.)

Have you been to the Maui Writers Conference or Retreat? I'd love to hear from you. Share your highlight so others can vicariously attend MWC through your eyes and experience.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How to Grab Readers with a Brilliant First Paragraph

“James Boddie rose from a leather chair in the living room of his townhouse, minutes from downtown Baltimore, and walked upstairs to retrieve something. ‘I want to show you this,’ he said.

He’d been telling stories about his grandson, Michael Vick, stories about how a poor kid from a rough neighborhood in Newport News, VA could use football to build a fancy hours for his mother and life of fame and riches for himself. Stories of taking a train to New York to be with his grandson when the Atlanta Falcons made Vick, a quarterback from VA Tech with a powerful left arm and magical legs, the top pick in the NFL draft in 2001.

Boddie returned with a frame containing . . .”

So begins the attention-grabbing first paragraph written by Mark Maske in an article entitled Playing to Wrong Crowd for the 8-21-07 Washington Post.

What’s the point?

There have probably been hundreds of articles written about Michael Vick in newspapers around the country in the past few weeks.

I bet that is the ONLY ONE that starts out that way. The reporter was not content to be common. I imagine he thought, “How can I start this article in an unexpected way? How can I grab my audience from the get-go? How can I paint a word picture so readers see what I’m saying? How can I quote someone talking so people feel like they’re a fly-on-the-wall?”

From now on, don’t start your article, blog, or book with what you think.

Don’t start off with what you believe.

Don’t start off by explaining something or by telling us what you’re going to tell us.

Put us in a real-life scene. Describe it with visual detail so it comes alive. Feature back-and-forth dialogue in quote marks.

Do that and we’ll keep reading.

What are your tips for grabbing readers? Have you written an article that starts with an intriguing first paragraph? Send us a sample (100 words max) that POP!s . . . and I'll send the first three submissions my Write Here - Write Now calendar with 365 inspiring quotes to help you jump-start your creativity.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

How to Create a Million-Dollar Business Name and Brand

What's in a business name and brand?

Your future.

You have about 10 seconds to get people's favorable attention. If your business name or brand is unpronounceable, nonsensical, or boring . . .people will move on and you will have lost potential clients and sales.

Your goal is to produce a business name and brand that POP! - that are Purposeful,, Original, and Pithy - so people are instantly intrigued.

A compelling business name and brand can catapult your company's appeal, marketshare and revenue.

For example, two farmers in Virginia were looking for a health-conscious, low-fat alternative to traditional beef. They cross-bred a cow and a yak to produce what they laughingly call a "Frankensteer."

What to call these cattle-yak hybrids? Use one of Sam Horn's POP! Techniques called Alphabetizing to create a hybrid name. Take the word "cattle" and talk it through the Alphabet, changing the sound of the first syllable to match the related letter. Eventually, you come up with YATTLE.

Big deal, you say. You bet it's a big deal. Washington Post ran a two page article on August 11 about this new species - and now millions of people know about Yattle because these enterprising entrepreneurs used a little brainpower to come up with an attention-grabbing name that helped their pet project get noticed on a national level.

Want to corner a niche? Create a niche. And the best way to create a niche is to coin a new word. When you create a new word for your business name and brand, you have no competition because you are now one-of-a-kind. That's what generates media attention. That's what helps yor product POP! off the shelf. That's what motivates people to check out your website. That's what compels people to remember your business name and brand.

Want a few other examples? What would you call a musical based on Dr. Seuss's work? Seussical.

What do call a new form of "portable" yogurt that's designed for busy, on-the-go parents and kids? Gogurt.

What would you name a sight-seeing business in Alaska that takes tourists up in float planes? Flight-seeing.

The good news? You don't have to have a million dollar budget to come up with a million-dollar business name and brand -- you just need a little brainpower and Sam Horn's POP! Process.

The Alphabetizing technique is just one of 25 POP! Techniques entrepreneurs and organizations can use to create a business name and brand that help them stand out from the crowd. For more information about Sam Horn's POP! Process and Brand Camps, visit

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Best Websites I've Seen in '07

Does your business/domain name cause you to break out or blend in?

These four websites POP! out . . . for all the right reasons.

Comedian Steven Wright said, "My grandfather invented Cliff Notes. It was in 1952 and he . . . well, to make a long story short."

1. This first domain name is a perfect example of how you can capture and "Cliff Note" your business concept into an easy-to-remember 11 letter(!) domain name. Plus, it features a visual verb which transforms it from passive to active. Well done!

2. Spencer Koppel, a self-confessed nerd, developed an online social network for pocket-protector types. Personal ads include such profiles as "Tall, dork, and hansome." The name? Geek 2 Geek.

3. Then there's - a "dating site where gray matters." Bravo.

4. One of my favorites is, created by Ricky Durham in memory of his brother who died after a 15 year battle with Crohn's disease. Durham says, "He didn't feel comfortable meeting people because he had a colostomy bag. If he had been able to go online and find someone who shared - and understood -- his illness, it might have been different." The site has more than 1000 members with diagnoses ranging from diabetes to cancer to deafness. Kudos.

All of these business/domain names fit the POP! criteria - they're Purposeful, Original and Pithy.

Do you have a business/domain name that POP!s? Tell us about it. I'm collecting entries for my 2007 POP! Hall of Fame. Who knows? You may be featured in an upcoming post and receive free international attention for your organization or offering.