Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Understanding The Ben Franklin Effect (And How It Can Help Your Career)

It isn't easy maintaining your hustle as an author. Any time you don't dedicate to writing new stories is taken up by marketing, fishing for reviews, talking to your beta readers, trying to get interviews, and the dozens of other activities that keep the engine churning. Sometimes it can be hard keeping up that energy, especially if you aren't getting the kind of results you feel you should. If you've been struggling to get those results, then you might want to explore an odd bit of human psychology known as the Ben Franklin Effect.

Cause it's all about the Benjamins, baby.

What is The Benjamin Franklin Effect?

The basis of this psychological tic goes against everything you know. For example, say you had a coworker you've been at odds with. Ask them if you can borrow a book, or if they'd be willing to help you with a minor difficulty at your desk. Then keep asking them for progressively bigger favors. Psychologically, this co-worker is more likely to do those bigger favors for you specifically because you've already persuaded them to do smaller favors for you in the past.

Look Sharon, I know it's a big inconvenience, but will you kill Dave for me? Thanks.
Most of us treat other people's goodwill like a pool, and every time we ask them for a favor, we take a little goodwill out of the pool. However, according to the Ben Franklin Effect, by asking someone to do you a favor, you're actually building a response in that person.

The weird thing, though, is that by asking someone else to do you a favor, you will get better results than if you were doing them a favor.

How You Can Make This Work For You

The hardest thing for an author to do is to convince people to follow them. You could create the best content in the world, but you need to grab someone by the lapels to make them look at it. However, the Ben Franklin Effect can do at least part of your job for you.

How, you may ask? Well, all I have to do is ask you for a favor. Something small, like asking you to go check out my book New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam, and to read the free sample by clicking the "Look Inside" option on the cover image. Now, not all of you are going to do that, but those who do have taken a step closer to becoming fans of mine. Not because they like my book, but because I asked them to do something, and they did as I requested.

Seriously, though, don't you want to know what the stories in this book are like?
If you did as I asked, and you liked what you saw, that has made you more positively inclined toward me as an author. I didn't help you, you helped me, but your brain still gets tricked into being more likely to help me out. So if, at a later time in this post, I asked you to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter, you'd be much more likely to do so if you'd already acquiesced to my first request. Even though you following me boosts my numbers, helping me out, instead of me doing something for you. And, if I managed to persuade you to do all those things, then later on when I ask you to consider going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to donate $1 a month so I can keep this blog running, you'd be much more likely to do it. Especially if I offer you a free copy of New Avalon as a reward for becoming a patron.

Now, maybe you did some of those things. Maybe you did all of them. Maybe you did none of them. The important thing to remember, though, is that the Ben Franklin Effect isn't a one-time thing. Anytime you ask someone to do something for you, that's a new chance for you to tug them into your gravitational pull. So every time someone stops by this blog, I have a chance to ask them one more time to become a follower. If they're already a follower, I can ask them to become a reader. If they're already a reader, I can ask them to become a patron.

And, sooner or later, repetition is what gets the job done.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. Happy hunting, and remember, start small when asking for favors!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Do Not Write Accents Phonetically... Seriously, Just Don't

We all write different kinds of stories. Some of us write globe-trotting spy thrillers where secret agents play mind games with shadowy conspiracies. A few of us write about the horrors that lurk off the map, in the pine barrens, or dark, forgotten forests where neither sanity or cell phone service treads. And still others of us prefer whirlwind romances where perfect lovers find each other despite all odds.

No matter what you like to write, this piece of advice is for you. Stop writing your characters' accents phonetically. You're shooting yourself in the foot.

Madame... I have no goddamn clue what you just tried to communicate to me.

Why It's A Stupid Idea to Write Out an Accent

There may be some folks reading this piece who are already planning what they're going to say in the comment section below. However, let me ask you this. If you have a character speaking a foreign language, do you write out their literal words before translating them for your audience? Or do you just tell the audience what the character said?

Chances are good most of you just write the meaning of the dialogue, rather than writing out what someone said in French, or Spanish, or German, then translating it into English for the audience. And you do that for a very particular reason; because you know it's going to be a waste of time for your reader to read the dialogue in one language, then read the same dialogue in a different language. And if they don't speak the first language? Then it's an even bigger waste of time.

Phonetically writing out an accent works off the same principle.

Say it once, say it well.
We've all seen it, and some of us have done it. You have a character with a thick Scott's burr, perhaps. Or someone from South London. Maybe you've got a supporting character from Louisiana, or Texas. The way they speak is as much a part of their character as how they dress, or the skills they possess, and you want to make an impression on the audience with it.

The problem is that when you start writing out an accent, you're putting a hurdle in front of the reader. Because there are no rules for what a truncated word means, so what you write on the page may not be what your reader hears in their head. And there's always the risk your reader won't be able to parse the meaning. This will leave whole sections of your story as unintelligible gibberish which your reader will have to figure out through context.

That's a lot more work than just reading a book where the author conveys the information, and lets the reader keep up with the story.

Add Some Flair, But Be Less Literal

Characters shouldn't all sound the same, but there are better ways to bring across their speech patterns than by hoping your audience can sound out non-standard English. The easiest way, of course, is to simply tell your reader what a character's accent is. Whether it's a gentle Southern drawl, a thick Russian slur, or a clipped, public school accent, readers will get the picture without being bashed over the head with it. You can change up the speaker's word choice, the cadence of their speech, and the slang they use, too. All of this allows you to add unique character to someone, without forcing the reader to ponder over whether or not, "ach," is a real word, a slang term, a spelling error, or if they're just supposed to sound it out the way it's spelled.

Well, that's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Hopefully it gave folks something to think about. If you'd like to support this blog, and keep my nose to the grindstone, why not drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon Page? All it takes is $1 a month to get yourself some sweet swag, and to keep me in business. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, well, why not start?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How Much Impact Does AdBlock Have on The Creators You Follow?

Let's be honest, most of you use AdBlock in one form or another. Some of you might not even know that there are usually about 4 ads on a given Literary Mercenary article (two embedded in the right column, and two that comes in from the wings to the left and right). Now, those ads might clutter up the screen a bit, but they don't pop-up over the text, and they aren't sneakily trying to squirm under your mouse. You have to go outside the borders of this post to put your cursor on them.

But I get it. I really do. No one likes ads, and if you can put up a wall that stops you from ever having to look at them, why would you make an exception for just one page?

AdBlock is like a phalanx. One hole, and it crumbles.
Well, if you're not overly concerned with the people who make the content you're enjoying, then there is nothing I could say to convince you to be selective with your AdBlock. However, if you want to support the people who make the things you like (even if it's for the selfish reason that they'll keep making more stuff if they're supported), you might want to consider making an exception or two.

Why? Because I think you sincerely underestimate the number of people who block ads, and how big of an impact that has on creators.

Herd Immunity, and Making Money in The Age of The Internet

Since we all had high school science, we should be familiar with the idea of herd immunity. When you vaccinate an individual, they receive a weakened version of a disease, and it allows the body to fight off the infection by developing antibodies. It is, in a sense, the training wheels for how to fight a particular condition. This stops the person from getting sick when the real version of that disease comes along. Pretty basic stuff.

Of course, some people's bodies cannot deal with vaccines because even the weakened version of the disease will overwhelm them. So those people who cannot be vaccinated depend on all the other members of the herd to get vaccinated, and to act as a barrier for the disease. Because if there's a layer or three of people who won't get a disease, then the vulnerable people behind them will be protected as well.

What about when people stop vaccinating?
Herd immunity only works, of course, if everyone who can vaccinate does it. The fewer people who do, the more gaps you find in your protective barrier. Then diseases can slip through, and run rampant. Which is why there are diseases that had nearly been eradicated in the United States now surging back to prominence (and killing a whole lot of defenseless people who should have been vaccinated).

What does that have to do with the ads on the blogs, videos, and other pieces of content you ingest on a daily basis? Glad you asked!

Picture a constant stream of people flowing into a stadium. Perhaps there's a sporting event taking place, or there's a political rally, or the circus is in town; whatever is going on, people want to see it. What's even better is that there's no cost for admission. All you have to do is walk through the gate, and take a pair of glasses. These glasses don't stop you from enjoying the concert, or hearing the latest rallying cries, but they do allow you to see the ads posted along the walls, and up on the screens. For every person who sees those ads, the arena gets paid a crowd attendance fee. This lets them keep putting on shows without charging anyone for tickets.

Now, one or two people might decide not to take a pair of these glasses. They get the same show as everyone else, but they aren't distracted by all those pesky ads. As long as most people take a pair of the glasses, though, the arena is still going to be able to keep doing its thing. Especially if it's filling seats to capacity. The problem comes when too many people don't take the glasses, and thus aren't counted for the purposes of attendance. They don't see the ads, it's true, but even if you pack the seats, the arena only gets paid as if it had fifty people coming to the show.

That might not be enough attendance to make a profit, and if it keeps up for long enough the arena might have to shutter its doors.

In this metaphor, the arena is the website you're viewing. Putting on the glasses is your willingness to view the ads that actually pay that website's content creators and staff. Because wearing the specs might be inconvenient, but isn't it a small price to pay for getting all this great stuff for what amounts to "free," even while the creators whose work you enjoy are still getting paid, thus allowing them to keep making stuff for your enjoyment?

How Bad Is AdBlock, Really?

Maybe you think I'm exaggerating. After all, there are still plenty of people who don't block ads, so you shouldn't feel obligated to make exceptions in your ad-free life. On the one hand, you're right. Viewing ads is entirely your choice, and if you have the tools not to see them then you have the ability to skip past those annoyances. But choosing to do so is not consequence-free.

Though it might feel like it, from where you're sitting.
As a for instance, one of the ad programs I use is InfoLinks. I get a daily update from the company that tells me how many impressions I've had, and what I've earned in terms of ad revenue. I have two blogs on that account; this one, and my sister blog Improved Initiative.

Now, I've had this ad program for about two years and change now. The problem I kept experiencing was that the traffic Blogger said I was getting did not jive with the numbers I was being given by InfoLinks. We're not talking small discrepancies, either. More than half my traffic was missing from my daily reports. So I set up a Google Analytics account to track it from a third source, hoping it would explain the difference. According to Google, Blogger was right. So why is it that when an article like The Tale of The Black Samurai (Yes, There Really Was One), posted on my other blog, earns over 2,000 views on its own, but my daily views for the entire blog come to barely 560 hits on InfoLinks?

Because that is the number of people who use AdBlock software. Blogger and Google Analytics count how many people came to my blog that day, while InfoLinks only counts the number of people who saw my ads. It isn't just a few people sitting in the stands enjoying a free show; it's the majority of the people who walk through the doors. Because on that day where InfoLinks said about 560 people saw my ads over on Improved Initiative? I had over 3,500 hits that day. So instead of earning a couple bucks, I was given a single, shiny dime.

That was one day. Taken over a year, that kind of traffic would earn me over $600 if everyone was viewing my ads. In reality? It takes me about 15 months to earn $50.

Why Are You Laying All This Guilt On Me Because I Hate Ads?

While it might seem like I'm trying to lay blame on people here, I'm not. If you have the ability not to watch ads, you are welcome to use that ability. However, it is also a fact that by not allowing those ads to stream, you are taking money out of that creator's pocket. By withholding your view, they can't count you when it comes time to settle up with their ad revenue at the end of the month.

And that has an impact.
Judging from the numbers, only about 1 in 6 people who view Improved Initiative actually see my ads. Here on The Literary Mercenary, it's only about 1 in 8 (my most recent post generated about 450 views, but InfoLinks only counted about 55 of them).

Jumping those hurdles is like entering the pole vault, mistakenly thinking you're supposed to do a high jump. It isn't going to happen.

What Are You Comfortable With?

This is one of those times where I ask you, the reader, to look at a situation, and make a serious judgment. Is your comfort more important than the artist you like making a living? Because it's easy to think to yourself, "they don't need my views. There's plenty of other people looking at those ads." Which is a variation on, "I don't need to vaccinate my kids. Everyone else will do it."

Well, they're really not.

Well, what do you want me to do about it?
All I'm asking is for you, and all the readers who come across this post, to ask themselves what they're comfortable with. I, and the hundreds and thousands of other artists and creators across the Internet, depend on you for a paycheck. The reason we put ads on our blogs, or our video channels, or our art pages is because we still need to get paid, but we don't want to beg for money from everyone that passes if we don't have to.

Sadly, we sort of have to.

Now, there may be some readers who are much more comfortable just putting money into a creator's tip jar instead of watching their ads. This allows them to say, directly, that they like this person's work, and they want to see more of it. If you're that kind of person, and you don't want to deal with my ads, then I'd ask you to please stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. I don't ask much, and if you pledge at least $1 a month then I'll also give you some sweet swag as a way of saying thank you.

Alternatively, if you're a fan of a creator, you should buy the stuff they put out. I write books, like the steampunk noir short story collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam. I put out new stuff with a fair amount of regularity, too, so you should consider checking my Amazon Author Page if you like my work, and want to support me. Read a book, leave a review, and tell your friends; I wouldn't feel bad at all about someone who chose to do that, but who didn't want to put up with the hassle of my blog's ads.

If you don't want to do those things, though, and you come back to a creator's page to devour all their content with every new update, then it might be time to make an exception for their page on your AdBlock. You don't have to, of course, but if you don't, then what are you going to say when that web comic artist has to start doing one update a month instead of four because she had to get a 9-5 job? Or when that gaming blogger cuts posts from twice a week to once a week to focus on other projects you're not interested in, but which comes with a paycheck attached to it?

It's all about the money, and you're the one holding the purse strings. You get what you pay for... literally, as well as figuratively.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. Apologies if it felt like I was taking a truncheon, but this is an issue that still rages online, and it's one a lot of people aren't aware they're participating in every day. If you want to stay on top of all my latest releases, then why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Explicit Sexual Violence is NOT Acceptable in Mainstream Fiction

So, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day when a post from a writing group caught my attention. I'm not going to name names, link the post, or call anyone out. However, the writer in question was writing a book with several scenes of explicit sexual violence. In layman's terms, the book had onscreen rape, where the reader was going to watch the violation happen. The author's question was how many such scenes could they put in before general audiences would be turned off.

Let that sink in for a moment.
Now, the reason I decided to devote today's post to this subject is not because I think that sexual violence is a topic that should be scrubbed from fiction. However, the sheer, cavalier attitude that some writers, and particularly unpublished or new writers, treat it with makes me feel like this needs to be said. So I'm going to put it plainly, to ensure there's no misunderstanding.

Explicit sexual violence is NOT acceptable in mainstream fiction. There is no faster way to get your book rejected by agents, editors, and readers.

This is How You Send Yourself a Rejection Letter

I can already hear the keyboards of commenters who have come across this citing all the famous works of fiction that have rape in them (because, let's be honest, that IS what we're talking about). Some of them were even written by big-name authors, for big-name publishers, which puts the lie to my above admonition.

However, let me ask you this. How often does the act happen onscreen? How many times is the audience forced to see it happen, shot by shot, the same way horror movies linger on gore?

Because that's the major difference, here. You can bring up rape all you want without causing too much of an editorial ruckus in a mainstream title. You can have victims give full accounts after the fact, in courtroom scenes or police interviews. You can intimate all you want. As soon as you whip back the curtain and show the act, though, that is when the red REJECTION stamp comes down, and you can look forward to the form email in your inbox wishing you luck placing your project elsewhere.

Don't take my word for it, though, go read the submission guidelines for publishers out there. Most publishers, even those who cater to niche horror markets, will reject manuscripts for explicit sexual violence. Especially if said violence either serves no purpose, or is there for the express purpose of titillation. Even if the guidelines don't spell it out (which they do in most reputable publishers' guidelines), shoot them an email and ask if a book with multiple, explicit rape scenes would be rejected on that criteria alone.

Most publishers will answer that yes, they would be rejected that manuscript on the instant.

The Keyword Here is "Mainstream"

As someone who has spent time in a lot of ghost writing markets, and read countless calls for novels and short stories alike, I know there is literally a market for everything out there. There is an entire series of books whose whole premise is people being raped by bigfoot, for fuck's sake. No I won't link it here.

So yes, there is an audience out there who will have no problem with rape scenes that advance your plot. There is also an audience out there who will seek out your story expressly because of those scenes.

And like it or not, those people are YOUR people.
Anytime mainstream publishers refuse to put out stories that fill a need, self-publishing and niche publishers will pick up the slack. However, it's important to remember that they are niche publishers. If your dream is mass-market appeal with your story, and to one day have it put out through a publisher like Random House, Tor, Baen, or any of the other big names, then you need to remember that if you write for the big boys, you play by their rules. And one of those explicit rules is for you to tone down sexualized violence.

Can you get away with some of it? Sure. If you're particularly skillful, and the scene is integral to the plot, you may even manage to get a single, explicit scene into a mainstream book. But if you don't have a long track record and a big following, I wouldn't risk it.

Ask Yourself Why

This bit is completely aside from the chess game of intriguing an editor, or an agent. People who, by the way, have seen every iteration of rape scenes, and generally are not favorably impressed by one more round of the same. This is about you, the writer who has decided to put explicit scenes of sexual violence in your story. First off, don't make excuses for realism, or for tone, or because, "it's a horror/thriller/grimdark/etc." novel. Your story has those scenes in them because you chose to put them there. The same reason every part of your story exists the way it does. Unless you're working on commission, and you are told you must include certain types of scenes in your plot, then all of this is on you.

And you likely had plenty of time to think about it.
So, I'd like to ask a question. Why does your story need to have explicit sexual violence in it?

While you ponder that, I'm going to relate an incident that occurred to author Seanan McGuire (I'm paraphrasing, but the original is here). She was contacted by a fan who asked when some of her female protagonists were going to be raped. Not if, or do you think, but when. As if it was just some required stage of development that came along with being a strong female character. She was both disgusted, and incensed by this kind of assumption.

She made the point that, in fiction, rape is never just rape. It makes a statement. It exists for a purpose... unless it doesn't. So the questions you need to ask yourself is does this scene serve a purpose in my story? Is it a purpose that can be served in no other way? Or am I just going down a checklist and including elements that I think a story like this should have?

Also, while you're chewing over that, you might want to take a gander at an older post of mine titled The Big R: How To Deal With Rape in Your Fiction.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Apologies for those who had trouble reaching the end of it, but I've had this bug in my bonnet for a week or so now, and I needed to get it out. If you'd like to help support me and my blog, you should hop over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. All it takes is $1 per month to get yourself some sweet swag, and my everlasting gratitude. And, finally, if you're not following me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, why not start today?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Want To Make More Money With Your Blog? Try Sovrn

So, as most of you know, I was a big fan of Yahoo! Voices (once known as Associated Content). I had an archive of about 400 articles on there, and around the time it closed its doors I was finally pulling down triple digit royalties. When that vanished, though, I had to pick up the pieces and find new homes for my old articles. A number of those posts wound up getting reposted in my InfoBarrel archive (which is still trying to make up lost ground), and some of them found new homes on the two blogs I run. Some of them vanished into the ether, never to be seen again.

Trust me, not all of them were worth saving.
It's taken three years or so, but I'm finally getting to the point where the loss of Yahoo! Voices is just a bad limp, instead of a crippling strike to the knee. However, there was something special about that site.

It paid you based on your traffic, not on the number of ad clicks you got.

Getting Seen to Get Paid

Anyone who blogs is likely familiar with the way providers like Google AdSense work. You place their ads on your blog, and then you wait for one of your readers to see an ad they like. The reader clicks the ad, and boom, money in your bank. As systems go, it's fairly simple.

In order for this system to work for you, though, you need to have a colossal amount of traffic. You also need to make sure your traffic doesn't use Ad Block, or a similar program to stop your ads from displaying. Lastly, you need to make sure the people who come to your page see ads for things they actually want. Managing those first two steps is hard enough, but the third one can be nearly impossible.

That was what made Yahoo! Voices such a great site. It provided huge reach, a lot of visibility, and you got paid a set fee for every 1,000 views your articles got. You didn't have to worry about people clicking your ads; they just had to see them. That was particularly useful when I'd put out a new article, and it would get 30,000 views in the first week. These days getting that kind of traffic is rare for me, but even if I did manage it, it wouldn't do me any good.

Until recently, anyway.

What changed, you might ask?
I say this because I recently added Sovrn ads to my blogs. I've used a number of ad services in the past, including Chitika, InfoLinks, Google AdSense, and others, but all of them worked off the same model I mentioned above. If no one actually clicks-through on your links, then it doesn't matter how much traffic you get.

Sovrn is only concerned about your traffic. So if you command a huge audience, or a post goes viral, you get paid for being a billboard.

Now, if you're a blogger like me, that probably sounds pretty sweet. You don't have to wait for the slot machine payout of getting just the right person to come to your blog, who just so happens to be looking for a new set of shoes, or a coat, or a particular book (since most ads will try to display something based on the viewer's search history). You just need to get them to come check out your site. That's it. As long as the ads display, you get paid.

If that sounds good to you, check out Sovrn to get started today. I'm glad I found out about it, so I thought I'd do my part and share it with all of you, too.

Also, if you're not a blogger, but like the idea of earning money off writing articles, you might want to check out an older post Make Money Writing (By Joining

Thanks for tuning in to this week's Business of Writing post. If you'd like to help support me and my blog so I can keep useful information coming your way, stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. As little as $1 a month can make a big difference, and you get a free gift as well! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, why not start today?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Keeping a Consistent Tone Can Make or Break Your Book

Have you ever watched an 80's action movie? If you have (or if you've seen The Expendables, which is a callback to all those old action movies), then you're probably familiar with all the tropes. Our hero will be a hard-as-nails tough guy, he'll go up against insurmountable odds, and in the end he'll come out on top. He'll win the prize, defeat the bad guy, and if there is a female character in the movie, he'll get the girl.

You've got a 1 in 4 chance this guy's in the movie, too.
Die Hard, Rocky, Commando, Under Siege, and a dozen other movies I could name all fit squarely into this genre. And when you pop one of these movies in, you know what you're signing up for. You want explosions, gun fights, busted teeth, macho one-liners, and a body count that's up there with a minor war by the time the credits roll. But how would you feel if, about halfway through one of these good, old-fashioned shoot-em-ups, the hero broke down in tears and started talking about how every man he'd just killed had a life that was gone? Wives who'd never see them again, children who'd never talk to their father, or friends who'd just lost a companion?

You'd probably get mental whiplash, because that's a jarring shift in tone. Sort of like what would happen if you spliced single frames of pornography into family films, as the infamous Tyler Durden was known for. While that works as a joke/device in a Chuck Palahniuk novel, it wouldn't make for a very good movie.

Because tonal dissonance can ruin even the best art.

Keeping a Consistent Tone Takes Practice

It's not enough to know what genre your book is; you have to know what tone you're going for. Just like your setting, your tone is a major ingredient of the final product. So you need to know if your book is gritty, ridiculous, subversive, tense, or slapstick. And once you know what you want it to be, you have to make sure it maintains that tone throughout.

Whatever tone that happens to be.
It's also important to remember that, just like genre, a tone can be a blend of whatever you want. Horror-comedy exists, after all. So if you want to write a story that's a spoof of detective novels, you are faced with the challenge of keeping the tone of a procedural investigation, or a gritty private eye story, while still making it funny. If you want to write a fantasy story that focuses on the pain and suffering of those attempting to undertake a quest, and about the shades of gray both the heroes and villains have beneath their simple exteriors, you can do that, too.

Consistency is what's key.

Now, does that mean you can't have moments of hilarity in a high-octane thriller? Of course not. Does that mean your story about four friends going through a coming-of-age drama can't have moments of visceral horror where something goes awry? Hey, it's your book, you do you. But ask yourself this; if you were eating a bunch of creme-filled chocolates, and then you bit into one that had a ghost pepper in it, would you consider that a unique and clever twist on a routine dessert? Probably not. Especially if you didn't know there was a pepper in there when you signed up to eat chocolates.

Learn The Rules Before You Break Them

We all know there are technically no rules to good writing. Truly masterful authors can subvert all the traditional constraints, and create books that break all the rules without sacrificing quality.

It should be noted, though, that most of us are not masters of the art.

I don't have an entire section of the bookstore dedicated to my work, more's the pity.
As with anything else, before you decry a writing tradition, or piece of advice, as being too limiting, or stifling your creativity, take a step back. Ask what purpose this rule fills, and what end you achieve by breaking it.

Because it's not enough to know you can break the rules. You need to know why you're doing it before you swing that hammer.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. If you like what you see, and you want to support me and my blog, then why not take a trip over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page? All it takes to keep the lights on is a $1 per month pledge, and in addition to my gratitude I'll be happy to send you some sweet swag. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, why not start today?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Who Decides What You're Worth As A Writer?

For those who aren't regulars on my sister blog, Improved Initiative, you might not know that in addition to blogging and writing fiction, I also do a lot of work for tabletop roleplaying games. You know, those things where people sit around a table, roll funny-shaped dice, and tell collective stories.

Ringing any bells?
What most players don't know is there are very few people who produce all the content in this little corner of the publishing industry. In fact, if you put them together in one room, all the industry professionals on the American continent will fit in one, large ballroom. And because there are so few people in charge of making so much stuff, freelancers (like myself) fill in the gaps. We write the rules, the flavor text, and the short fiction that fills up these books.

There's no shortage of work available, either. However, because the going rate for freelancers is .02 per word (and sometimes as little as .01 per word), those who write for games either need to create a lot of content, or they need to be doing something else on the side so their RPG work is all gravy atop their budgetary meatloaf.

It might not seem fair when you earn low wages as a writer, but before you complain that you're working for slave fare, take a look at the big picture. It's often pretty enlightening.

The View From The Publisher's Side

On the one hand, there was an argument made by Christopher Helton that says people who buy RPG books don't understand what they're actually buying. You see, back in the 1970s when Dungeons and Dragons was still new, most of the books came in simple pamphlets. Even the hardcover editions were cheap enough that kids could save up for them on their allowance, or get them as birthday presents.

You know, the OLD books.
However, as times changed, books became more expensive to produce. So expecting to pay the same cost for modern RPG books that people paid in the 1970s and 1980s doesn't make any more sense than expecting to pay a quarter for a cup of coffee, or a nickel for a candy bar. Or expecting to buy a paperback for fifty cents, rather than the $10 we all know a bookstore is more likely to charge. Inflation happened, changes in publishing costs happened, and if more readers understood that so much of a gaming book's $60 or $70 price went to paying the artists and freelancers, as well as the production costs, they'd realize that the publishers aren't making that much more today than they were in decades past.

That's one side of the coin. There is another side, though, and it's the side pointed out by Louis Porter Jr.

As he mentioned in an episode of his YouTube series Transparency Agenda Daily, publishers are more than happy to pay writers more money. Because writers are an investment in a polished, professional, marketable product. However, before a writer can expect a hike in their pay rates, they have to understand two things. The first is that a publisher is working within a budget; they cannot pay you what they literally do not have. So if you ask for a rate that is worth more than the whole project, they can't give you that. It's why you won't see an A-list actor starring in a C-list movie, unless they're doing a favor for a friend, or they really liked the script. The second, and the one that's more important where writers are concerned, is that a writer has to prove they're worth the cost.

If you went to Random House, right now, and asked for the same contract and rates paid to authors like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, or J.K. Rowling, you'd probably be laughed out of the building. It's not because publishers aren't willing to pay those rates, since those are just three examples of authors who have publishers throwing money at them. No, it's because you don't have a track record to justify that kind of investment being made in you.

If you did, then the publisher would contact your agent, arrange a meeting, and start talks for your next book.

What Are You Worth?

It's all well and good to talk about people earning a living wage, and being able to cover all the necessities in life, but the unfortunate reality that many authors and publishers face is that those ideas really are luxuries. A project may pay so little that it's barely worth doing it, but an author who has rent due next month can't say no, or hold out for more money. A publisher may have great projects to produce, but because there's so little capital in their company they can't afford to spend money until after the project is released, and making something for them to spend on the next project.

And that, right there, is the crux of the matter. If you prove to a publisher that you can make money, then you have something you can bring to the negotiation table. If your record is good enough, you can even play hardball to get what you want.

Some negotiation tools are more unusual than others.
This is one of the harsh truths about the idea of being paid what you're worth. Because when most writers say that, they mean they want to be paid enough money that they don't have to work a day job, and so they can cover all their bills, and have a little savings at the end of the month. However, you need to look at your name, your brand, and your history, and ask if that's what you're worth in investment terms.

Are you skilled enough to produce content (RPG rules, novels, short stories, blog entries, etc.) in a way other writers can't? Do you have a following, or an audience? Do you have a noted history of making bank when you release a project, offering some assurance that if your name is on the cover then the publisher is going to see a return on their investment? Because those are the things that make you valuable in the eyes of a publisher. It's the reason many companies want to buy up the rights to existing self-published book series that have proven themselves when it comes to sales figures, and it's why Johnny Depp will always be paid more than someone who's never been in a movie before.

It isn't fair, and it isn't fun, but reality rarely is. And if you prepare yourself to deal with the situation as it is, rather than what you'd like it to be, then you're already one step across no-man's-land toward success.

Hopefully some folks found this week's Business of Writing post helpful, if not particularly uplifting. If you'd like to help support me and my blog, then why not head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, and toss $1 a month into my jar? It makes a bigger difference than you know, and it comes with some sweet swag! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter, now would be a great time to click that follow button.