Welcome to my Writers Blog

Feel free to read, comment, argue or complain. I would prefer complaints to be amusing rather than trivial.
Ideally you would like to read more, buy my book, ask for help, maybe commission me to write (I can dream). Email me at norristeve@gmail.com - I would love to hear from you. Otherwise just click the social network tabs, so more people get to enjoy.

Friday, 30 September 2011

E- Book Promotion Days

Those of us in the independent sector of publishing will no doubt know that marketing a new book is akin to burning pound or dollar notes. You do all the promotion, you blog like mad, network like a social prostitute and throw money on great ideas, and all you get as a reward is one measly sale on Amazon.

But the other great thing you notice is that one measly sale makes a significant difference on your chart rating, promoting your book thousands of places up the scale. Many of us will know with the monolithic world of Amazon, that being at the top of your various genre charts is vital to the Mr and Mrs Bloggs of the world seeing your book and considering a purchase. But whilst you are dwindling in the realms of number 100 or even 1000 in the genre not even the most avid book searching geek is going to delve that far to find you.

This week I have attempted a bit of a promotion and it seemed to work in pushing my kindle book ( A Very English Revolution) to the front page of the Political Thriller chart, and that’s with only minimal additional sales (less than 10 I think). Maybe there is a chance that Bloggs will get his wallet out now.

This morning I thought of a great way for all of us to do something similar to help each other.

My idea is to promote our e-books as a collective. I have chosen e-books rather than paper copies because most of us sell e-books a much lower cost so it makes the exercise more viable than paper, although if it’s successful maybe we can consider paper as well.

Here’s the idea.

We create a list of interested authors who all possess a kindle. I can keep a register of interested parties or publish it somewhere, whatever we choose. Each author agrees a promotion day and the others share this on their blogs and social networks. When that day comes around each of us buy and download the book on the same day, therefore boosting that days sales ranking. If there are enough of us doing it then there is a chance of success.

Success breeds success, so if it works for one person then others will follow and each of us will have more of a chance to make front page heaven.  Of course this does require trust in our fellow authors to do the deed, but what can I say? It’s an idea, if it works then we all win. You never know we might be downloading a great book we might otherwise totally bypass.

Interested to know what people think. Please share it around writer sites, as the more people are interested the more we can make this work. People can find me out in the virtual world but otherwise a mail at norristeve@gmail.com will engineer a direct response.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Building a Character for a Story - One of Steve's five minute guides to writing

The number one essential for a good story is strong characters. The best story in the world will not be read if you don’t believe in the characters whose head you are living. We also know that characters can be good, bad or both at the same time.
So what makes that character stand out and lift off the page so that the reader wants to know more? This is what readers and writers consistently yearn for. So challenge yourself to think hard about every character you write.

I’m not suggesting I have the answer to this, by the way, although clearly by putting virtual pen to paper in this blog, I’m perhaps suggesting I have some knowledge. Perhaps experience is a better word, knowledge assumes you know everything. With writing I learnt there are no rights or wrongs just rules to be broken. I know it doesn’t make sense but as a writer you can do what you like, it’s your work. It’s more a question of whether you want people to read it or you want to challenge the genre.

Back to characters. Everyone is different and see different things in people. Often people see things in my characters that I hadn’t a clue was there. I created them, yet they take on a personality of their own. I also found that when writing, characters can take on the story themselves. Whatever plan I had for them, often changes as they develop through the story.
This is maybe because life never quite works as planned, people go off at tangents, react in an unexpected way. So as your character goes through the story, let them have deviations. They are more real for it. As the writer and editor of your story of course you have to limit this for the sake of writing prudence but if you don’t allow your characters some kind of free reign on the page they will stay one dimensional.
Where to start?

Story before character or character before story?

Doesn’t matter, either can work. Inspiration for writing comes from many sources. Sometimes you see something in a person that inspires an idea. Other times you have a great story and you need someone to tell it.

Never Copy

This is so important for a fiction writer. If you see someone and think, ‘wow they’d make a great character for a book’. That’s fine, great idea. I do myself but immediately I take the central premise of what that person is about and then change everything else, sex, age, habits, name. Why? Because the character you know will always constrain if you don’t give you them a new lease of life. Plus what will that person think when they read the story? For me this is a rule I won’t break. People you meet and know are great ideas for characters but the only characters in your stories should be ones you created in your head.
There maybe different rules for working with historic characters, but as I’ve never tried that genre I might leave others to witter about that.

Writing in first person

Many writers love writing in the first person. And I do occasionally as it really allows you to develop a point of view. But you will have to think about how you portray your character to the reader and how much of yourself sneaks in. Readers often believe the person writing to be themselves when reading stories in the first person. Sometimes it’s fun to play with that idea. Take your character to another extreme and see what readers suddenly make of the head they’re in.

How to build a character?

In my book, A Very English Revolution, the characters came before the story. One of the central characters Rachel however was hatched from another character. The political part of the story started was based on the idea of an experienced middle aged business woman (Anna) who was fed up of the world of politics and decides to take it on herself. That gave me a good start but I quickly came up with a Cinderella character to her. A faithful assistant who made everything Anna do come to life. That was Rachel. As I thought about Rachel, younger, faithful to her boss, determined but not ambitious, she became more interesting. I then gave her a backstory, even gave her an alter-ego as a folk singer, then a book and now a sequel that centre’s largely on her personality.

Do characters need a passion?

The character Rachel, above, I gave passion. With one or two others, she was the inspiring, determined type of character needed to build a thriller. But a further character Sarah, who also features throughout the story, in a supporting role, has little passion. She is frustrated with life and home, but finds her way into the story when faced with a family trauma. Her cynicism with life and truth is what provides the question that the book fights to answer. For all her apparent weakness throughout the story, especially against forthright characters like Rachel, she probably ends the stronger.

Characters need to be fed

I don’t mean a virtual steak and chips, I mean they need to be challenged. They need to be put against the wall and every bit of anger, passion, dread, fear squeezed out of them. If you don’t challenge your character, feed them great lines and make them do things, where is your story? If you wimp out of writing the difficult lines for your character, glossing over the juicy bits, your reader will not be challenged either and therefore will skip to page 300 to find out what the end is, and miss the dulls stuff out.

The extra dimension

Every character needs another dimension. There is usually one that serves the story. E.G. For a female character to fall in love for a love story, she has to be willing to fall in love and you build a story that places in her that spot. Then you might add some personal baggage that creates a problem or challenge. Great, that all serves the story, but find something else. Smoking habit, nervous habit, a shopping habit, an element that perhaps conflicts with the other aspects of the character. This is what will give them life.

Dodge the Cliché

Tricky to do but one we have to do. Most things have already been done, so don’t go searching for a character in other books to see if it already exists. It’s a check against infinity so pointless. In crime for example there are so many heavy drinking policemen with marital difficulties. Seeking a variation of that norm may not be worth it as people almost expect it. A policeman with a normal life might be quite boring, but seek something that makes them different without going too weird. That’s why it’s important that characters are created in your own head and own voice. That will give them a unique flavour anyway. And if it sounds familiar to you then it probably does to the reader. You then have a choice to go with the cliché (e.g. the policeman example above) with a variation or trash the dimension that provides the cliché and start again.

Lots to ponder over in the notes above. I would love to learn how others take on the idea of a character and maybe even more techniques for dodging the cliché. Pretty sure there are far better character builders than me.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Marketing, Luck or Good Judgement

I’ve been pushing my book down various avenues in the last few months and overall been quite disappointed with the results. Everything in life is a learning curve and it does take a while to see what gets results and what doesn’t.
Here are some of the things that have brought success and what hasn’t.
1)      Book Signings – This was tricky at first but now worked out the secret to getting this right. First thing I’ve learnt is that book stores like to do signings whether you’re known or not. This is because it gives the store something to focus on for a day and generate interest. So don’t be shy about going down to any store and asking. I would be surprised if they turn you away. Also on the day make sure you have something to give people to provide information. A leaflet or even some sweets or chocolates. Anything to generate interest and get people talking. People are often shy of approaching an author therefore finding a way of getting the conversation going is essential to sealing the deal.
2)      Facebook Advertising – This is an interesting but ultimately tricky task. I tried a few different ways. The key to it is identifying target groups, like people who like reading. Well firstly that’s all well and good if people indicate on their facebook page that they like reading. Some do but probably there are many readers out there who don’t. Having said that you don’t pay for how often your ad appears but how often people click on it. I found more success out of targeting local markets rather likes/dislikes. The other trick is that people might click on your page but it doesn’t mean they will click on to buy. Whatever you direct them to, make sure how to buy and what you are selling is clear, otherwise they will disappear before you know it.
3)      Google Adwords – A bit like facebook advertising but even more of a minefield of targeting the right market place. I tried to get my kindle marketing going with this because I dropped the price to £2 to generate more interest but haven’t yet found the combination that really works. Genre specific headings or book writing in general can result on many clicks, but still not people buying. I know others have had much more success in the e-book market and I need to spend more time on this and how they did it.
4)      Print Media – This is the golden calf of advertising but difficult to achieve. After a few challenges with my local newspaper, which had little to do with me, they have finally got round to printing a story on me. I’m hoping for some success from this, but really want to get more regional papers to take an interest. I have tried sending books directly to them but so far I’ve been ignored. I will keep trying.
5)      Blogging and social media- This is very time consuming and intensive. It’s very difficult to keep the momentum on this one but I think I’ve some more ways to do it but it doesn’t mean that everyone chooses to read what you have to say.
Interested to know others success/failure stories with marketing. It’s a very big and scary world out there but do believe who people know who you are and they like you, then they will buy your book.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Closed Shop

Recently I stepped above my permitted level in the literary world and requested to join the CWA. The Crime Writers Association is an association for people who write about crime. I figured it would be useful to share thoughts with my fellow genre writers. A £50 membership fee was requested for which I was prepared to pay to place myself in the world of fellow crime writers, given that I had now a properly published a novel with crime written into the genre.

I made a polite enquiry for which a polite rejection was quickly received. They had checked up on me and decided in their wisdom, that as I had contributed to the cost of my own publishing, I was not worthy of membership. I thought about swearing at this point. To be honest I thought about swearing a lot. What a bunch of elitist…fill in the blanks.

Are they really that scared of small publishers or even self publishers who can’t make their way in the mainstream market because God forbid, it’s more competition. There are millions of new writers in the market place, to be fair some are better than others, but the level of competition for a decent story to tell is impossible without a previous history within the closed shop of the literary clique.

Now I clearly might be burning my bridges with said CWA for the future, but what the fuck, they have already declared their colours. New talent is the way of the world, it’s what makes things fresh and challenges each of us to do better at what we do. If these closed shops insist on existing, they will die out like the dinosaurs they are. Books may decrease in value, the reward for writing may be less and less as production increases, but surely more books in the world is a good thing. More people reading and expressing their thoughts in literature. The music industry is learning from it, time for the writing industry to do the same.

Revenge will be mine, that’s what I keep telling myself.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Offensive Writing

Many of us when choosing to write will have an axe to grind, whether something that brews in the moment or is a long held belief. I wondered when writing my novel and throughout my other work who I would choose to offend and whether it was right that I offended them. Who therefore is a legitimate target?
This may seem like a simple discussion but I don’t think it is. For a start if you seek to maximise your audience you better be careful you don’t upset your reader. On the other hand we are encouraged to brave and fearless and write what we like, write about what vexes us. Oh the freedom. Say what you want to. Easy to say, less easy to do and be prepared that your honesty may not be rewarded. For as many people who might agree with you, there are many that will turn away from it.
Personally I think there is a middle ground where you can still be brave but avoid all out attacks on individuals. I have tried to do this by challenging myself to sit on the other side of the fence for a moment. Easy to express an opinion about somebody or something. Have a rant…story over.
What about writing from the opposite point of view? Put yourself in the shoes of those who trouble you and see why they do the things they do. Balance your argument against theirs. You can still be the winner but at least you challenged yourself and maybe you challenged the person on the other side. Your argument will be so much stronger with the reader because you explored the controversy and came to a conclusion that was fair.
So where do my bad guys fall? Well I definitely put them on the opposite side of the fence, but sometimes you can put them on your side. They may share your argument but they seek to exploit the argument for their own gains. Politicians and rich exploitative business men are easy targets for this as we struggle to understand apparent greed. Naturally that is another argument to explore.
The outcome of this ramble is that as a writer, perhaps it’s more fun for you and your readers to jump over the other side and see what the view looks like. It can be quite therapeutic and lead to a powerful story.
© S.G.Norris

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Lies, misconceptions and writers

Can a writer lie to the reader? This was a question rattling round in my brain the last few days. Not sure why it crossed my mind but it intrigued me anyway. Clearly most stories attempt to deceive the reader into believing one thing then springing a surprise on them. But most of the time, at least that I can remember, this is only a sleight of hand. The reader is left with the feeling that they should have known this all along, if they had read the clues correctly. Indeed a writer has to leave clues both to deceive and hint that something is not right and the readers challenge is to guess which one is right or wrong.
A writer clearly can lie to his characters in the story but the reader often is complicit in this lie. This is because they know the characters reason for the lie and accept that as part of the story. It is also true that the reader isn’t necessarily aware of the character’s lie until the end of the story but again that is accepted by the reader, as they know some characters by their nature will be lying in the story.
No my question is not about lying to other characters but lying to the reader directly. This might be a rubbish example but it’s one that comes to mind. The writer tells you the reader that the year is 1968 and the day is Tuesday. Or perhaps they are 70 years old but tell you that they are only 50. Through the course of the story the truth may be revealed for whatever reason either through a direct revelation or just in the space of time.  I wonder whether this would annoy me. Going back to the first point, a writer would often build a view of a character or place that may mislead you but would never actually state an incorrect lie. Another example maybe a murderer who the author writes in the first person clearly states didn’t commit the crime, but is later revealed to be a murderer. That of course maybe a clumsy mistake but if the writer deliberately did it, he would have to be very clever about justifying it. Claiming the character believed it of himself might get you so far but as a reader you may not forgive it. The famous Dallas lie of Bobby Ewing appearing from the shower after being dead for a series was roundly trounced by the audience even though everyone mourned his original omission.
Throughout this debate I am trying to think of an example where the writer could or has got away with it. Remember misconception is one thing, but an outright lie is another. Anyone know a story where a writer successfully carried this off?