I recently caught up with Norm Schriever author of The Book Marketing Bible, Prayer Room in Paradise, and South of Normal. I want to thank Norm for sharing a few thoughts on his writing.
I sort of compare your writing to a young Hunter Thompson without the drugs. Is that a fair comparison?
Norm: Haha that’s a generous comparison because Hunter was a hell of a writer, though I think he’s unfortunately known too much for the drug thing and not enough his words. When I started out, I had a little gonzo to my writing, but as I kept writing and my own personal style evolved, I think it’s gone away from that a lot. By now my writing has nothing to do with partying or angst of youth, though there are loud tones of rebellion. Charles Bukowski is my favorite writer but similarly, it’s not because of any romance to his bar-poet drinker’s lifestyle, but I love that he burns life down to its lowest common denominator and then sifts through the smoke and ashes to find anything that survived – usually hope or salvation or humanity in the most unexpected places. I’m all about fighting for the underdog, too, but ultimately I’d like to be known for writing like Norm Schriever.
In the forward to Prayer Room in Paradise your friend Shane starts out, “What would it be like to walk away from it all?” Can I ask you that same question? What demon crawled into Norm’s head that made you walk away from it all?
Norm: It’s interesting that the assumption is that there was some demon that made me walk away from it all, that the paradigm from U.S. thinking is that something was wrong. Yet American’s get the least vacation, work some of the longest hours, and have one of the highest rates of depression and anxiety in the world. Think about it – I chose to reject a conventional work-a-day life for the chance to explore this big beautiful, amazing planet that we’ve been given the gift to exist on. But for some reason, we don’t value that as right. Exploration, challenging myself, shattering my comfort zone, experiencing everything I possibly can and connecting with people all over the world as brothers and sisters is just in my soul. For a long time I rejected that, trying to do what society and everyone told me I should do – go to school, get a job, settle down, work hard to make money, buy a bunch of shit, get married, repeat for 50 years until I die. I tried that I really did, but after a while my true nature just screams to be heard, and to be true to myself – and truly happy – I hit the road.
Your descriptions are similar to your characterizations. What comes to mind here is from South of Normal when you visited Pistol Pete in the prison, the first time. So much detail. It was so well developed without being boring like so much descriptive writing you just want to skip over. Can you tell me a little bit about how you see things, or how you go about developing a scene like that one in the jail?
Good question. Between the books, I dedicated myself to studying my craft by reading every book, article, and blog bout writing I could find, writing every single day to practice and reading some of the greats. The common thing I learned is that less is always more. Young writers tend to over -describe (like I did) and that actually diminished the impact and makes it boring for the reader. So I wanted the reader to see the prison through my eyes, of course, but also have to interpret what wasn’t said. There is a lot of symbolism, foreshadowing, and emotional aspects of fear and confusion and desperation and hope they’ll get by reading between the lines, but I realized I needed to leave some space for that to happen. Also, God is in the details, right? So a mannerism, a look, a tone of voice, the shine on a prison guard’s boots, all of these little details add up to humanize the bigger story better than any grand exposition every could.
Travel is such an important part of your work. First around the world, then Costa Rica, now Southeast Asia, specifically Cambodia, I think. What are you working on now? Can we expect another book about your adventures there?
Norm: The last 9 months I’ve lived in Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, and now Laos. Day to day I write blogs for and handle online marketing for companies in the US, which I love, and that pays the bills. I also blog personally about anything I see that fascinates me or is worthy of mention. I just finished and published a marketing book for authors, and will do a follow-up book about blogging by the end of the summer. But yes, I will write a book about my experience, SE Asia – from surviving the super typhoon to seeing people starving in the streets every day, but so much beauty and joy it’s crazy, too. I’ve been taking copious notes and putting it all together this whole time, but it will most likely be 6 months or more before even the first rough draft is done. The working title is The Queens of Dragon Town.
What drew me into your writing was The Book Marketing Bible. Can you tell me a little about what motivated you to write it?
They say, “If you can’t find the book you want to read, then write it,” and I did just that with The Book Marketing Bible. When I started out as an inexperienced, self-published author, I read so many books on marketing, but none of them really provided the authentic, comprehensive, and practical info I desperately needed. So three years later, as I’ve had a modicum of success and landed one (now two ) Amazon best sellers, I wanted to give back – to extend a hand to all of those talented, confused, overwhelmed writers who are in the same position I was a few years ago looking for help.
The Book Marking Bible offers a lot of unique tips for authors. A couple of them I really like are to celebrate your bad reviews and to make a stupid bet with your followers about something you will do if you hit a certain goal. What’s the craziest or most humiliating thing you ever did to win a bet?
Norm: Hahaha well just being a writer is probably the most humiliating thing you can do in life if you’re honest! But I really haven’t made too many bets with readers in the past (though I offer it as a technique.) I guess I do enough stupid stuff that no one has to bet me anything!
Two other ideas I liked were your suggestions to get one of your words or sayings in the urban dictionary and to finagle your way into a Wikipedia listing. What about you, has Norm tried these or other crazy ideas to push the envelope and get included?
Norm: I haven’t undertaken Wikipedia yet but “South of Normal” is an official definition with the urban dictionary. I definitely try different marketing and PR techniques all the time and some work, others don’t. A lot of it is just time commitment and consistency – if you try to do everything you’ll end up half-assing it all and get nowhere, so I’m constantly juggling between my own writing projects, professional blogging every day, charity projects, the challenges of living life in third world countries, etc. So I have a million creative ideas on tap, it’s just a matter of finding time to undertake them! One that I do love that I think is WAY under used is to interview people that are authorities or well known in your topic or field. That’s incredibly effective on many levels and pretty easy to do.
You’re asking $8.99 for The Book Marketing Bible. It seems to be selling well. Pricing is such a sticking with Kindle books. So many authors find themselves bottled up in the 99 cents or $2.99 price range. Where the hell did $8.99 come from? Don’t get me wrong, I think it is well worth the $8.99, but where did that price come from?
Norm: Think about it like this – if someone is offering you advice how to sell books and make a fair profit as a writer and they give away their book for almost nothing, how helpful do you really think their advice will be? It’s all about value and perception. For books that offer entertainment, sure I price mine at .99 to $2.99, but when it comes to nuts and bolts that will make authors tens of thousands of dollars if they actually take the advice, they’re bound to take it way more seriously if it’s positioned where it’s not competing on price, but the value it offers. Of course, I didn’t want to price it abnormally (over $10) and be persona non grata on Amazon.com, so I thought 8.99 was more than fair.
The last question, I promise. What else do you want us to know about Norm Schriever or his writing?
Norm: Every morning I wake up and think of this: One day soon, whether its tomorrow or 50 years from now, I won’t be here anymore, and my writing is the only thing I’ll have left of me in this world. I want to help us, to make this world a better place, to ease suffering and unite the human family. I want someone to pick up one of my books 100 years from now and speak to that person – to give them hope, joy, to make them laugh, to make them realize there was someone else who cares for them, to allow them to feel more human. That’s a damn powerful concept. I’m honored to carry that responsibility and try to write up to that legacy every day.
Norm Schriever is the author of two books written about his personal experiences, Prayer Room in Paradise and South of Normal. He has recently released The Book Marketing Bible, his way of giving back to help new writers succeed. Norm is currently traveling in Southeast Asia gathering material for his new book, tentatively titled – The Queen of Dragon Town. To find out more about Norm, you can visit his Amazon Author page.