Sunday, 15 July 2012

What's in a Nom de Plume?

Sometime ago, after I'd had a novel, countless television concepts and even a couple of screenplays rejected many, many, many...(content cut for space) times, I discovered and investigated E-Publishing. I'd often thought about self publishing. I remember having lunch with my first agent who told me he'd been asked to rep a young writer discovered by a large publisher. The young author had self published and the publisher had read his book.

In interviews since the author claims he thinks the publishing company may have made an offer because they thought his book was published by an established company due to the way he set it out and blurbed the cover.

That authors name is Mathew Riley - now one of Australia's most successful and least critically heralded writers. The reason his books are so well read is because - they're popular. The reason his books are so often beaten up by the critics - I really don't want to say because they're popular, but there seems to be a  certain literary disconnect between what the masses like and what the critics believe they ought to like and why. 

Dare I say there is a bit of snobbery about what a writer should be, rather than what they are. I am first to admit I wish I could write like Annie Prouix and others. Beside them I feel like a grade school student with a crayon. But I often feel there is an attitude that the only writers worth considering need to write to that level and that this belief is commonly held amongst those who make the decisions in the industry. Perhaps they have a point.

But it's probably also valid to argue this attitude is a form of intellectual censorship. "We will only allow work to be published that we, those inside the building, feel is worthy to be read." Of course if the bean counters wrenched control from the literary snobs it would be far worse and ONLY populist books with tits on the cover would be published and that too would be a travesty.  

But how do you find the balance?

In 2002 I set up a new TV show that was well and truly aimed at the masses and I had to take script notes every week from the network script executive. When she entered the room the sun ran for cover and storm clouds followed her with a growl or rolling thunder. Her greatest quote was when she begged me to help her, "Create scripts with words so beautiful they'll seem like honey dripping from heaven."
Instead, I gave her stories that pulsed sex and action over that first season. Surprisingly that script executive never really warmed to me, but the show was a hit and continues on air to this day - now in it's tenth season.

In my own time I always wrote my own stories, no matter how busy I was with my regular paid work. First I wrote TV concepts, screenplays and then novels. I got some nibbles with concepts and screenplays, one screenplay optioned, some development money for another. I had attached directors and producers and even got as far as signing a letter of intent for production funding. But always something derailed things and left me alone to build up the enthusiasm for the next swing towards breaking through.

While I did have some success with film and TV, my novels never garnered even the slightest glimmer of hope. They were always D.O.A. There was just no interest from anyone and I sent out copies to many publishing houses in two different continents. My agent at the time came closest to a sale with a rejection letter that began - "I enjoyed your manuscript, in fact I enjoyed it so much I took it to bed with me, so why am I not making you an offer..." From there it went down hill quickly.

I known I make a few gaffs in a grammatical sense or throw in a spelling clanger with a their, there or they're from time to time. It's embarrassing because it's not that I don't know what should be written, it's that I have some sort of disconnect between me as an editor and me as a writer. The writer misses so much. The editor lasts about 20 pages and then gets dragged back into the story and swaps to being the writer again. When I edit another person's work I'm razor sharp - I just can't distance myself from my own work. And people spot one of those clangers and assume I'm illiterate.

In the back of my head I felt this was why my novels never got anywhere. One clanger and they'd be thrown aside by a grammar Nazi who found punctuation errors so heinous they could read no further. I'm sure this isn't the case and I just had to wait until my writing and editing skills caught up to my story telling skills, because despite all the rejections I always felt the stories were strong.

So when E-Publishing become simple and cheap, I decided to publish online using my middle name and not my surname. I did this because I didn't want my friends and family pressed into reading my book if it truly was the waffle all the reject letters had hinted at. I was also pretty battered around by that stage and definitely tired of the insincere and awkward, 'It's good', responses I'd been getting from those I knew who clearly had only skimmed it if that. I wanted to know once and for all if anyone out there, with no connection or reason to read something I'd written, would read my book for the story.

That's why Scott Norton was born. In my head he looks like this...

And with the book now downloaded so many times it's a name I've decided to keep. My full name is Scott Norton Taylor, so it's not a non de plume designed to really throw anyone off. But my online book Inner City now has thousands of downloads and messages on boards scattered around the internet - and the audience it was aimed at, the young adult group, seem to really get it. At least enough to prove to me that what I'd been told so many times, was wrong. There is an audience for my stories, I just have to grow that audience or find someone with an established marketing network who is willing to take a punt and help grow it with me.

It also gives me a way to keep my scripted work separate from my prose. And that means there's less chance of having my novels judged on the strength of my contributions to TV shows I've worked on that I often had little if any control of regarding stories or quality. 

That's a long way of saying that Scott Norton and Scott Taylor are one in the same and today Scott Taylor has been listed in the quarter finals of the Page International Screenwriting Awards - TWICE! The first for my screenplay of Inner City. (After intense negotiations between messrs Norton and Taylor for the book rights) And secondly for a TV Sitcom Pilot entitled - "I Am Nothing Like My Mother" - that can be read at

So once again it's time for the reaction from me that this sort of news deserves.....

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