It isn’t you – The joys of character naming

One of the fun parts, but also one of the big challenges of writing a contemporary novel, is naming your characters. In my opinion, my rules if you like, the names must suit the characters, not constantly distract the reader due to being silly or having way too many syllables, and not be similar to the names of famous people. Personally, I also don’t deliberately use names of people I know, because I like to credit myself with having a little bit more imagination than that.

A contemporary romance is not a fantasy novel; you can’t call an IT manager Stormfist Wonderbra, unless you’re playing purely for laughs. The names have to be contemporary and they have to follow the above set of rules.

I started writing Kissing The Scorpion when I was out of work in 2012. I spent a considerable amount of time naming the characters, particularly the main ones. None of those characters are based on people I know and none of them are deliberately named after anyone I know or have ever known.

Following my own rules, I stuck with fairly standard names, not names that would jump out as being remarkable: Dave, Kate, Stan, Sandy, Chloe, Paul, Colin, etc. Same story with the surnames: Fletcher, Hayes, Reading. I’ll admit that Nicky Fox sounds like a porn star and Bruce Jensen deliberately sounds like a rock star (because he will be, one day), but I liked those names and they add a tiny bit of colour in amongst the relatively normal ones.

I didn’t name the characters after people I know. I also didn’t name Dave after the protagonist from one of my favourite series of crime novels by James Lee Burke. Seriously, I didn’t.

Kissing The Scorpion is based in a contemporary office setting. I have worked in a lot of different offices (which were pretty much all the same really) and I have put details in the book that will hopefully be familiar to anyone else who has ever worked in an office. This does not mean that the fictional office where my fictional characters work is based on any specific real office. It isn’t. If any of it feels familiar to a reader, I’ll take that as a massive compliment because it means I’m doing at least an average job of creating a believable setting.

Finally – band names. Difficult, seriously. I won’t bore you with the number of different names I came up with for Bruce Jensen’s band, Moscow In October, before choosing that one, but it was a lot. Three at least.

There you have it, another thrilling insight into the novel writing process. Apologies to anyone who thought I’d chosen their really cool name for one of my really cool characters. I didn’t. However, if you happen to be called Stormfist Wonderbra, you have my sympathy.

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Playing The Ace – sent for formatting

Playing The Ace, the second novel in the contemporary romance series “The Truth About Kate Hayes”, has been sent to Polgarus Studio for formatting. I used Polgarus’ services for formatting Kissing The Scorpion and I can relax knowing that they’re going to do a great job on the sequel.

There’s a better than 7 billion to one chance that you haven’t read Kissing The Scorpion yet. I know you’re really keen to change that, but you might like to resist the temptation for just another few weeks until I drop the price when the sequel is released.

If you would like to preview and/or review Playing The Ace, and receive a digital copy before it is officially released, please visit the contact page on this site to find out how to get in touch.

Cover art and the spirit of competition

You need to understand that not only am I a hypocrite, but that I view hypocrisy as a charming and hugely positive character trait. That doesn’t really have a heck of a lot to do with this blog post, but I felt the need to share it.

I really love the cover of Kissing The Scorpion. I worked on it with a very talented guy, a good friend of mine, and the result is incredibly close to how I imagined the cover would look, long before the book itself was even half finished.

When I say I worked on it with him, my contribution was pretty much choosing a font and asking questions such as, “What if we moved that up about half an inch?” Not exactly a massive contribution, but I’m not an artist. My 7 year old son can draw better pictures of zombie robots than I can. And I try, I really do.

One of the things I’ve decided for the forthcoming books in the series (The Truth About Kate Hayes), after seeing how the cover of Kissing The Scorpion turned out, is that the main image on each front cover is going to be a piece of tattoo art, specifically a tattoo worn by a character from each book.

The cover art for book 2 (Playing The Ace) is currently in some kind of limbo where I approached an artist, asked him to do a design, paid a deposit, and have subsequently heard very little about how the work is progressing. I’m sure I’ll hear something, eventually, bit it’s not a perfect situation as I was planning on publishing the book on Valentine’s day next year (2015) and that is starting to get close, at least in terms of my publishing schedule.

As book 3 (Painting The Dragon) is already written, at least past the first draft stage, I thought I’d get the cover art sorted out sooner rather than later. I found a great custom tattoo design site – www.tattoodo.com – which uses the motivating concept of competition to give you exactly the design you want, or your money back if you don’t get what you want.

It’s a consistently fresh, exciting and very quick way to get the cover design that you really want. Watching each design evolve from a rough sketch, with frequently entertaining comment-box discussions with the artists, is a source of fun that I hadn’t imagined. The only downside is that only one artist can win each contest and I will probably end up torn and emotional when it’s finally time to decide. Of course, you have to weigh that feeling of being judge, jury and executioner against the very personal karma balancing feelings that you get when the book you spent two years on, the one that you know is pretty frickin’ awesome, still has sales in single figures a whole month after it was released. Not everyone is a winner – deal with it.

Now, before you all race off to that site (other custom tattoo sites are available) to get your book cover art designed, I need to point out that it isn’t a cheap option. There are plenty of book cover artists out there (on the internet and elsewhere) who will produce a full cover design for less than the cost of a gold rated competition prize at tattoodo. Of course, you might not even end up using the design you get from one of those artists because it is amateurish photoshopped clip-art crap that still looks appalling after six months and a thousand revisions.

Do what all your potential readers do: pay your money (or not) and make your choice.

I didn’t get the timing right

I didn’t get the timing right. I know that now, and I can appreciate it as a learning experience, use it, benefit from it, write it on a Post-It note and stick it on my desk to forever remind me. But that still doesn’t make it any less of an irreversible, frustrating mistake.

What am I talking about?

Pre-release promotion. Apparently essential. And just another missed opportunity to check off the big list of missed opportunities when your début novel is already on Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc. and you come across the first of many helpful online articles about how essential it is to promote your book … before your book is actually released.

If you’re familiar with the film Pumping Iron, you will remember the scene just before the climactic Mr Olympia showdown involving Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, when Arnold is involved in a (probably scripted but you’re never sure with Arnold) conversation with Lou and Lou’s father;  Arnold is sympathising with them, pointing out that Ferrigno didn’t get the timing right. “A month from now would have been perfect for you.”

Well, a month before my publication date would probably have been the perfect time for me to start promoting, but at least I don’t have Arnold around to smugly explain this to me. Although, if he wants to request a free copy of Kissing The Scorpion (purely for review purposes, of course), he’s more than welcome to ask.

In the general scheme of things, does it matter that I missed the pre-release sweet-spot for publicising my début novel? Maybe not. I suspect that pre-release promotional activities for a début novel from an unknown author would attract the same amount of attention that the book itself has had during its first couple of weeks on Amazon. If you’re wondering how much that is, it’s not a heck of a lot.

What I’m finding more interesting than pointlessly cataloguing and regretting everything I’m doing wrong with my release and promotion strategy is the honest feedback I’m starting to get from people who have read, or are currently reading, Kissing The Scorpion. I don’t believe, as an author, that you can be fully confident that what you have written works on any level, let alone all the levels you convinced yourself it would work on during the years you spent writing it, until your readers tell you, honestly, that they’re being entertained by it. For me, with this novel, so far, that is what is happening and I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has taken the time to post reviews or contact me directly.

In the spirit of providing honest feedback and possibly some useful information for other first-time authors, I’ll post future blog entries about the levels of success I achieve with different promotional methods. The first one I’m trying will be a New Release Promotion due to appear on December 17th on Indie Author News. This is a promotion for books that have been available for no more than 3 months; it includes a book description, author bio and profile image, and it is shared on social media (Twitter, Google+, Facebook) for a couple of weeks. The article itself permanently stays on the Indie Author News website. I’ve read a selection of the existing articles and they generally look pretty good. I’ll be interested to see how this influences the sample downloads and sales of Kissing The Scorpion, but it’s more of an experiment than some kind of last resort straw-clutching exercise. I’m not crossing my fingers and hoping for a huge response, or any kind of a response, I just want to see what happens. If it works at all, I’ll do more with that site and I’ll post reports on this blog.

If you would like to contact me to request a review copy of Kissing The Scorpion, or ask me to link to your own blog or website, or just start a conversation, please use one of the contact methods on the Contact page on this site.