Celebrity Character Creation

CCIAOnescaleThe Write Romantics are glad to welcome back friend of the blog, Zanna Mackenzie this week to offer us a guest post all about creating celebrity characters, which some of us know from experience are great fun to write! Over to you Zanna…

Whether or not we regularly purchase the gossip magazines and follow the ups and downs in the lives of our favourite celebrities I think we all share a fascination with what it must be like to live your life in the glare of the media spotlight.
How would it feel to be followed everywhere by eager paparazzi, all pushing and shoving for a photo of you? Not to mention the reality of the more unflattering the photo, the greater the demand for it! What would it be like to pick up a newspaper or magazine and read something about yourself which is a total lie? To have to put up with horrible things being said about you and have people share their opinions and criticisms on everything you wear, do and say.
It must be awful to be constantly riddled with doubts as to whether somebody really wants to be with you as a date you or friend because they actually like you – or because of who or what you are? E.G. – famous!

Having to live your life this way must bring lots of dilemmas, heartbreak and sorrow – much of which is often played out in front of the world’s media, whether you want it to be or not.

But underneath all the oodles of money in their bank accounts, the wardrobes of designer clothes, glamourous mansions with private swimming pools and the eye wateringly expensive cars, these people are just human beings like the rest of us. And maybe sometimes they even wish they weren’t famous and find themselves craving a tiny bit of peace, quiet and privacy.

I recently watched The Voice UK – a reality series about people trying to win a singing contest – and whilst I thought allCCIATWOscale of the contestants were amazing and the finalists fabulous, my favourite singer actually won – Stevie. He came across as a very likable guy with a huge desire to sing and an amazing voice. He’s a fireman, a family man, rather handsome too. As he sang his about-to-be-released single at the end of the show, his wife watched from one of the coach’s chairs and she understandably looked proud and was crying and happy all at the same time. But I have to admit if that had been me in her position then a little part of me would also be fearful for what the future might hold if my husband became famous – all that scrutiny, all those women flirting with him, all that media spotlight, upheaval and pressure. It would turn their lives upside down.

Fame can be fabulous, we see all the glitz, money and success, but it can also be pretty scary.

All of which explains why, I think, we have a love for celebrity characters in the books we write and read. From pop stars to movies stars, even royals and WAGs, their lives are endlessly fascinating, dramatic and quite simply the stuff of which books are made!

ZannaM scaleZanna Mackenzie is the author of a series of romantic comedy mysteries based around the agents of the CCIA – otherwise known as the Celebrity Crimes Investigation Agency. Books 1 and 2 in the Amber Reed CCIA Mysteries are out now, with book 3 due for release in May.

http://viewauthor.at/ZannaMackenzie

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Serious About Series, a guest post from Zanna Mackenzie

ZannaM scale

Our guest today is the wonderful Zanna Mackenzie who has been a good friend to the blog since we started out over a year ago and is one of the contributors to our charity anthology. Zanna’s current release ‘If You Only Knew’ is available from Crooked Cat here. In her guest post, Zanna has stopped by to tell us all about a new found love of her own…


Series – Don’t you just love them?

I’m not talking TV series here (though I love many of those too!) – no, I’m talking about novels which come in series.

Other than Sophie Kinsella’s widely loved Shopaholic series and Kate Johnson’s wonderful Sophie Green Mysteries I hadn’t had much experience of book series until a few months ago, when I finally purchased a basic Kindle.

I wasn’t sure if I would take to the ereader or the concept of ebooks but so many great new releases seemed to be ebook only?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? versions that I thought I’d reached the point of having to give an ereader a try. At the time I was convinced I’d just use it for those ‘want to read a book but it’s only available as an ebook’ times and still get my usual paperback fix for everything else.

But two unexpected things happened….

First, I took to my Kindle straight away and it became my ‘must have’ accessory, always by my side.

Secondly, I discovered a whole new and exciting world of books and found my reading habits changed completely. Pre ereader I was a huge chicklit fan. After I discovered ebooks I found myself also drawn to reading a few new genres I’d only briefly dipped a toe into before. The genres…? Romantic suspense and cozy mystery romance.

I became a big fan of books where there was a crime or mystery to solve alongside a burgeoning romance between the male and female lead characters. I discovered books with characters who were female amateur sleuths, and books with spies, FBI and CIA agents. I tried lots of new authors; enjoyed books set in exciting adventurous locations such as Alaska and Canada and fell in love with a whole new and very different reading experience.

dreamstimefree_84378What delighted me even more was that many of these books were part of a series! If I like the writing style of an author then I’m keen to explore more books they have written. With a series where I’ve taken to the characters and their adventures continue in the next book, well, it’s a definite I’ll want to read them! Reading the next book in a series is like the chance to catch up with old friends, it’s wonderful. No worries about whether you’ll like the book or take to the characters or having to spend time getting up to speed with who is who, lives where or does what. You can immerse yourself straight away in the book and start enjoying it.

Many people in the publishing industry believe that writing a series of books is the way to go these days, whether each story is a novella or a full length novel. Though, as it’s thought the ‘ideal’ is to create your series by publishing a story every 3-4 months that would mean you’d need to be a very fast writer to put that number of full length novels out each year rather than novellas!

What do you think? Have you written a series? Are you thinking of doing so? What series have you read and loved?

Zanna Mackenzie is a former member of the Romantic Novelist’s Association’s New Writers Scheme (NWS). She has three traditionally published books available in paperback and ebook versions. Find out more about Zanna on her blog: www.zannamackenzie.blogspot.co.uk

Short Stories are in the Saturday Spotlight with Margaret Mounsdon

 

The Write Romantics are compiling an anthology of short stories to be released later this autumn in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust and Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Several writing friends have kindly given their time and talent by providing short stories and we’ve all contributed ourselves. For some of us, this was quite a challenge as we’re novelists; not short story writers. We were therefore delighted to welcome prolific short story writer, Margaret Mounsdon, to The Saturday Spotlight.
 
CIMG2091Over to Margaret …
 
As I said to Jessica the two things I love talking about most in this world are myself and writing! So I am honoured to be a guest on the blog and hope everyone finds what I have to say is interesting.
 
A little introduction for those of you who’ve never heard of me.
 
My name is Margaret Mounsdon and I have been published in the womens’ magazines, namely Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly, People’s Friend, The Lady and Take A Break’s Fiction Feast. Apart from the UK my short stories have been published in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Norway and Sweden.
 
I have had 25 light romance novels published and I’m in the process of putting my backlist on Amazon ebooks.
 
img078I have won or been placed in several short story competitions and the reason I am telling you all this is not to blow my own trumpet but to let you know it is possible to do this without knowing a single soul in the publishing industry or having an agent, or being able to pull strings with editors, publishing assistants, whatever.
 
Unlike mainstream fiction when the publishers want to know all about you for publicity purposes, in the short story market it doesn’t matter. You can quietly sell your stories with as much or as little publicity as you like. Different rights to short stories can be sold several times and can become ‘nice little earners’ over the years.
 
About 14 years ago I had no idea how the published short story business worked. I knew I liked reading them in the in magazines and sometimes I thought I can do as good as that. Eventually I decided to have a go.
 
I have to say I was not an overnight success. I started writing in the 1990’s and my first short story acceptance was from Woman’s Weekly in 2000. Having said that a lot of my rejected stories have since been re-worked and most of them have found a home so it pays not to throw any of your work away.
 
Thanks to all those who posted questions. I’ll do my best to answer them.
 
What do you think makes a good short story?
I like to have a good opening line. It’s important to make the reader want to read on. Some examples of mine are:-
  • ‘You find out who your true friends are when you appear at a party dressed as a trifle and custard.’ WWFS
  • ‘Don’t I know you?’ ‘ Yes I was once your wife.’ WW
  • ‘Private detective seeks assistant – must be discreet, practical and flexible.’ WWFS
  • ‘Vanessa stopped stalking Kevin after she left school.’ TAB FF
As you can see from these examples there is a broad range of choice and, as long as you follow the bounds of decency, almost nowhere you can’t go
 
Do you have any advice on how to crack the short story market?
One way is competitions. They are an excellent way to get in. The Lady magazine unfortunately no long publishes fiction but they used to have a short story competition which I duly entered one year. I didn’t win and I wasn’t placed but I received an email from their fiction editor who liked my story and offered to buy it and it was duly published. All because I entered their competition. Apart from that you must study everything in the magazines, including the adverts. I even completed the crosswords! Up to date market study is very important.
 
Also Woman’s Weekly run fiction writing days at their London office. I am going on one for serials (a market I’ve never been able to crack) in October.
 
img077Any tips on creating a believable romance in a short story?
Believe in your characters. Make them as genuine as possible. Make their problems creditable. Don’t create a situation ‘just  because’. Every action has to have a reason.
 
Do you create characters for short stories differently from the way you create the characters in your novels?
The characters in my novels are much more in depth. I do histories for them and cut pictures out of magazines and supplements etc. In short stories I work more on an idea and go from there.
 
What type of short stories do you enjoy writing the most?
I’ve been asked by People’s Friend to write a 10,000 long/short story for one of their ‘specials’. They wanted a ‘cosy’ type crime caper. These are great fun. Think Midsomer Murders meets Miss Fisher.
 
Do you plot your short stories or have an idea and start writing?
I usually get an idea then sit down and get typing. I managed to get a story out of a trip to our local recycling centre, and another when I was in a queue in a charity shop and I eavesdropped on a conversation. Inspiration can strike anywhere so take a notebook with you at all times. Coffee shops are good places to get ideas.
 
What gives you the most satisfaction; writing short stories or a novel. Why?
I have no preference but if I’ve just done a 42,000 word novella for People’s Friend, I like to take a break and a 1500 word short story makes a nice change.  
 
Do you buy the editions of magazines in which your short stories appear or do you get sent a copy?
Woman’s Weekly send copies. TAB Fiction Feast, My Weekly and People’s Friend don’t, but you do usually get told when your story is coming out. I tend to browse in WH Smith or the supermarket, just in case they’ve changed the dates. Also titles can get changed so you need to double check the magazines.
 
Fountain.Tell us more about getting “the call” for your first novel
It was with the defunct Heartline publisher. I’d met Sue Curran at a writing day. She agreed to look at my NWS submission. I was actually out when the call came. When I got back there was an answerphone message asking me to call her. She explained about Heartline and what they were planning to do. I still didn’t really ‘twig’ that they wanted to publish because they were only starting up. When she called back several times more, the penny finally dropped. I was ‘in’. I did a dance round the room and the joy of acceptance never goes away fourteen years later!
 
Why did you write under a pen name? Have you used this for all your novels?
I only wrote as Clare Tyler for my two Heartline novels. They had another Margaret on their books at the same time and suggested I used a different name. I have only used it once since when People’s Friend had two of my stories in one edition of their magazine and they wanted me to use another name for the second one. These days it’s Margaret Mounsdon all the way.
 
I have a People’s Friend novella coming out on 28 August. I entitled it Angela’s Return Home. The titles do get changed but it will be under the Margaret Mounsdon name.
 
Details of my novels can be found on my blogYou can follow me on twitter @SwwjMargaret and on my website through which I can be contacted if anyone’s got any more queries.    
 
Thank you for inviting me to be your guest today.
 
Margaret 
 
 
Thank you for joining us, Margaret. It’s been really fascinating to get a much deeper insight into the short story market which we haven’t really explored on our blog before. We appreciate your time and your advice.

For anyone interested in finding out more about our anthology of short stories, please see our earlier post. We’re running a competition for a book title and you’ve got a little over a week to get your ideas in to win a gift voucher so get your thinking cap on and get emailing!

 
Enjoy your weekend
Jessica
 
(We’d love your questions/responses to this post. Comments can be left my clicking on the button at the end of the tabs below)

 

Indie Emily directs a writing destiny

Emily5We are delighted to be joined on the blog today by Emily Harvale, a successful indie author and self-confessed chocaholic – definitely a girl after our own hearts! Emily grew up in Hastings, East Sussex, and now shares a home with her adorable cat, Phoebe, who gets in the way of Emily’s writing whenever she can. When she’s not writing, Emily has lots of other hobbies; many of which, like watching a good movie, are enhanced by a glass of wine. She absolutely adores Christmas, something which you might not be surprised to hear when you review her back catalogue.

Thanks so much for joining us on the blog today, Emily. As you know, a number of the Write Romantics are thinking of going solo. So, we’ll start with the obvious question, what made you decide to self-publish and what do you think the benefits are?

A few things influenced my decision. I have ongoing health issues, requiring a number of operations over the last couple of years, so I didn’t want to contact an agent/publisher and have to tell them I’d be in and out of hospital for the foreseeable future! I received a wonderful report from the RNA’s new writers’ scheme and I wanted to know if other people also thought I was, “a talented writer who would go far”. What better way is there to find out than to ask the general public? I heard about indie publishing via Talli Roland. (I am an indie – for independent – publisher now, thanks to Amazon’s recent change). I’m a businesswoman and, after weighing up the pros and cons and realising there were no cons, I decided that indie publishing was the perfect route for me, so I added the extra chapter as suggested by the RNA reader, and went for it. I believe in jumping in with both feet and life is too short to wait for others to make my dreams, reality.

EmilyThere are so many benefits, in my opinion, that it would take all day to tell you, but the main ones for me are: speed of publication and being able to set my own schedule; choosing my own covers/cover artist; freedom to publish as many books as I want, when I want; not having to write in a specific genre; finding and working with professional editors etc. with whom I have built a good relationship … and money! Substantially more money than if I had waited, or taken another route.

Are there any downsides or things that surprised you about indie publishing?

I was surprised by how simple it is – and how easy it is to make mistakes! Things are constantly changing and it’s important to keep up to date. It’s also important to check one’s own books once they’re live. I recently had a formatting problem that only appeared on certain devices (iPad/Kindle Fire) but on the previewer, it looked perfect on all devices. That was a surprise. Things are not always as they seem. Other than that, I honestly can’t think of any downsides; only upsides. People say indie publishers have to do more marketing but I haven’t found that. I do far, far less than many ‘traditionally published’ authors I know of. I’m a huge fan of indie publishing. HUGE!

Do you buy-in any services to deal with things like proof-reading, formatting and book cover design?

I pay for a professional editor, a cover designer, and now a formatter (I believe in learning from my mistakes). I also pay for a very talented webmaster who has been with me from the beginning and who does lots of clever stuff for me, and not just on my website.

Emily2What approach do you take to marketing, how much of your time does it take up and what is your number one tip for increasing sales?

Er … I do very little marketing. I do some posts on Facebook and Twitter and, of course, send out my newsletter when a new book comes out or when I have my new cover or any other news. When my books achieve a high position in the humour or romantic comedy charts, (A Slippery Slope reached no. 1 in humour and no. 8 in rom com and they’ve all been in the top 5 of humour and top 10 of romantic comedy) I post about that, but that’s it really. I should plan a marketing strategy but it’s something I just haven’t got around to yet. My first book only sold around 500 copies until I did a 2 day free promotion on Amazon in December 2012, resulting in more than 12,000 free downloads. Since then, sales have been exceedingly good and I haven’t had/needed any reduced price promos (my books sell for £1.99; short stories .78p). Amazon did pick one of my books for their Summer Promotion last year, which was a lovely surprise, and I’m sure that helped boost sales even more. I gave away my short stories to my fans for free, as a ‘Thank You’ in December 2013 because I’ve been very lucky and they’ve been wonderfully loyal. I think it’s important to thank one’s fans. I’m fairly certain I could increase sales further if I made some effort at marketing. It’s on my list but it’s not a high priority as doing nothing much seems to be working extremely well – for me – and I’m not sure I’d be any good at marketing anyway! Perhaps less really is more.

Do you or would you ever consider writing in another genre and, if so, would you use a pseudonym?

I’ve written a ghost story (novella) but as it’s a romance too I’ll probably publish it under Emily Harvale. I’ve written a romantic suspense but it needs some work and I’ll decide whether to use a different name for that when I’m finally happy with it. I’m also writing a ‘cosy crime’ but that may turn into a romantic suspense. Yet another plus about indie publishing: I can decide what my books are, aren’t, or may be. I love writing my light-hearted, humorous romances though (yes that’s what I call them) and a lot of people seem to enjoy reading them, so I’m concentrating on those for now.

Would you ever consider representation by an agent or a contract with a traditional publisher?Emily3

When I’ve had my ‘final’ operation this summer, I may think about seeing if I can find an agent, mainly because I’m interested in subsidiary rights. I don’t believe in saying ‘never’ because things changed, but I would only consider a contract with a traditional publisher if the advance and terms were of considerable benefit to me. I’m certainly not seeking a publisher at the moment. My books are selling well and I’m making a really good living on my own by just publishing on Amazon. A large publishing house could increase my readership but I honestly don’t think a small one could. I have friends with smaller publishers and they don’t sell as many books, or receive as much in Royalties, as I do. I don’t see the point in losing money. To be honest, I think I can increase my readership myself, over time. I’ve already had a couple of orders via Waterstones. It may take me longer but I’ll get there.

Do you ever encounter any snobbery from traditionalists about choosing the indie publishing route and, if so, how do you deal with it?

Sometimes, unfortunately, from other writers, but I usually ignore it – or offer to discuss it over a bottle of champagne! Generally I’ve got no time for people who look down their noses at others. Readers couldn’t care less, on the whole, because they just want good stories. The Society of Authors see it as, “a perfectly valid form of publishing,” so that’s good enough for me. Actually, becoming a Full Member of the SoA was one of the highlights of indie publishing. I’d always wanted to be a member of the SoA and I sing their praises from the rooftops. The emails and posts on Facebook and Twitter, I get from readers, never, ever mention it – and as they are the ones buying my books, they’re the ones whose opinions I value. The world is changing; some people may not like it but they’re going to have to accept it or remain in the past. That’s their choice.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process from the initial idea to the release of the novel and roughly how long that process takes you as an indie author?

I’m not a planner so when I have an idea I just sit and write – virtually non-stop. I can write the first ‘fun’ draft (I don’t believe in using the negative term, ‘sh…. first draft’ because writing is fun) in a couple of weeks. I then leave it and work on something else – or tackle the jungle which clearly doesn’t want to be a garden – for a week or so. I then read and rewrite as necessary and as many times as I think it needs it. My short stories are each around 10,000 words and they took just two weeks to write and rewrite. My editor had them for about a week and after the edits were done, I published them. Four weeks from the ideas to publication. My novels (around 75,000+ words) can take anything from three months upwards but if I’m not happy with a book, I won’t let it go until I am. Another bonus of indie publishing: I can set my own schedule and don’t need to ‘rush’ to meet a deadline.

Do you think it’s worth publishing in paperback, as well as digitally and how do the sales compare?

I publish a paperback via Createspace but to be honest, I never check the sales figures. I do get regular monthly payments from them so they are clearly selling some copies. Very few compared to the digital sales though – probably between 1% and 10%.

You’ve written seven novels now, do you find it easy to create new characters and storylines or do you ever worry about unconsciously repeating themes?

The characters just turn up at my desk and tell me their stories. I do worry that they may start to get repetitive and I try to make sure they don’t. I think my readers will tell me if the stories are getting boring but I also think that certain similarities are inevitable. Girl meets boy, girl gets boy – nothing new there. I hope that the path to getting him, and the people involved, are different every time. I did want to massacre everyone at a wedding, once – just to stir things up with a surprise ending – but I decided not to.

Emily4Do you read all of your reviews and, if so, have you had any that you have found it difficult to deal with or that have bowled you over?

I usually read my first few reviews, or if someone has told me via email or on Facebook or Twitter that they’ve left a review, I read that. Most of them have been good but my first one star review filled me with self-doubt. It was followed by some five star ones and that helped. I never read reviews when I buy a book because I trust my own judgement and I always read the ‘Look Inside’ sample, so I realised that it didn’t matter if people didn’t like mine (unless every single person hated it, of course!) and I stopped worrying about reviews. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but that is all it is – an opinion. I hate anchovies, and I’m sure many other people do too, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with anchovies, they’re just not to my taste. It’s the same with books. Some of the reviews I’ve had are wonderful – and all my reviews are genuine, I don’t ask family or friends to post good reviews. That’s futile and a little immoral in my opinion. It’s often the emails, Facebook posts/messages and Twitter comments that really get to me – and yes, some of them have moved me to tears … in a good way. To be told that someone was going through hell but that my books made them feel hopeful and happy is actually mind-blowing! Or that chemo was bearable because of my books! Or that an unhappy divorce didn’t seem so bad now! It makes me feel very proud but oddly, very humble. It also makes me want to write even better books.

If you could go back and give your pre-published self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Stop wasting time; go for it – but use professionals from day one.

What are the best and worst things about writing for a living?

Best: Freedom to do what I want, when I want and to have the money to do it.

Worst: Ditto. If I want to tackle the jungle, or have a long lunch with friends, I can, and do, even when I should be working/writing.

Emily1What are your writing plans and hopes for the future?

That’s the most difficult one to answer because I don’t really plan these days. I suppose I’m planning to put all my books with retailers other than Amazon later this year. I plan to put together some sort of marketing strategy. (Yeah, right!) I plan to continue writing as many books as I can/want to. I hope the future is as good and as bright as the present and that my readership continues to grow. Oh … and I hope I win the jackpot with my premium bonds – but that’s not really writing related; although if I did I’d buy a ski chalet and run writing/skiing retreats, so it sort of is.

Seriously though, I hope more people achieve their dreams by indie publishing and not giving a fig for what some people think.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog. I really enjoyed answering your questions. I know some of you are thinking of indie publishing and I sincerely hope that your experience is as wonderful as mine has been. Indie publishers are a friendly and helpful bunch. I don’t regret it for one second and I’m sure you won’t either. One of my favourite sayings is:

“The future is a blank page. You can write your own, or you can wait until someone writes it for you.”

I prefer to write my own.

Good luck and best wishes to you all.

Emily

It was brilliant to have you on the blog Emily and we hope you’ll come back and see us again soon!

Find out more about Emily and her books at the links below:

Amazon Author Central pages, (.UK and .COM) listing all her books and author bio.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Emily-Harvale/e/B007BKQ1SW

http://www.amazon.com/author/emilyharvale

My website: http://www.emilyharvale.com