Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Glimpse Into My Earnings as a Professional Author

Most of the time when people ask me what I do, and I tell them I'm an author, they feel the need to clarify, "No, I mean for money." There's a joke to be made there, because except for a select handful of us, most authors really don't make that much. Certainly nothing to brag about.

Since most people always see me asking for a like, a share, and contribution if they can afford it, I figured that as we're starting a new year I'd give folks a glimpse behind the curtain as how the sausage is made. At least when it comes to my take-home pay doing what I do.

So let's dig into the numbers, shall we?

And before we get into the numbers, don't forget to subscribe to my weekly newsletter to make sure you don't miss any of my fresh content and upcoming releases!

My Earnings as an Author


As all the regular readers know, I have my fingers in a lot of different pies at any point in time. However, what a lot of folks don't seem to realize is that at the best of times my sales from books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection The Rejects tend to be little more than pizza money. This is even more true for 2020, where I didn't get a chance to go to conventions and hand sell books, or hobnob with folks at my usual events. As such, I sold maybe a dozen copies of those books to eager readers in lockdown, which was maybe enough to buy a tank of gas. Or around $50 or so, depending on what the price of gas is these days.

While the preliminary numbers I have say my hard-boiled cat mystery Marked Territory likely did notably better, that one was published by Eric Flint's Ring of Fire Press. So I won't have an idea of what my exact numbers on sales (or royalties earned) for that book were for 2020 until next month when I get my check in the mail. And I won't get a check for any books sold between the start of the year and June until the end of August, so keep that 6-month cycle in mind for any earnings on that front.

So, if you haven't gotten a copy yet, get one today!

What a lot of folks might not know is that the bulk of my earnings as an author when it comes to sales actually come from the roleplaying game supplements and associated projects. However, I use the word "bulk" in the loosest possible context, here. Because for a simple break down my earnings for gaming products are:

- Royalties from sales: Just over $1k
- Affiliate earnings from sales: $564

So for roughly a year of work producing and selling RPG supplements, both my own and other folks, I brought in about $1,564. That's not nothing, but if you break it down over the year that's an average of about $100 and change a month. About enough to cover my Internet bill and utilities.

What about my Vocal archive, though? After all, it's been growing at a pretty rapid clip. While that's true, the popularity for my work on that site comes in waves. Still, I managed to earn about $1,153 in traffic throughout 2020. Which, for those who've been keeping track of the news, is less money than a lot of us received in our stimulus check during the early part of the year... and making it stretch is often just as difficult.

So how are you making the ends meet?

A majority of my earnings comes through the Patreon supporters of this blog, and my gaming blog Improved Initiative. The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page brought in just over $1,800 in 2020, making it far and away the largest source of income I have. It also, wonder of wonders, managed to grow a little bit during the pandemic as folks wanted to make sure I kept the content coming as more of my readers turned to online gaming as a way to stay in touch with other people, and pass the time in a safe way.

So between books, blogs, articles, RPGs, and all the content I created last year, what does that come down to? Well, it's roughly $5,000 in earnings. Total. For the whole year.

Now, to be clear, that isn't the full extent of everything I was doing in 2020. I took on a lot of projects that paid by-the-word, or a single fee. I did a lot of ghost blogging, too. However, a lot of the fill-in work and extra projects started to dry up by the summer, and more than one client mysteriously vanished by the Fall. So I did the work, but received no payment as their businesses went into hibernation to wait out the pandemic.

And at least a few of those folks won't be coming back, which means I can't depend on them being around to get me through 2021.

Long Story Short, I Need Your Help


While it's possible that as we all get our vaccines and stumble back to the lives we used to lead, one thing I don't have control over is what clients will and won't do. So while it's possible that some of my ghostwriting clients will come back, or that some RPG companies will need a fill-in writer, there's no way to guarantee that I'll be able to find someone with a slot to fill when the rent is due, or I need to buy groceries.

And honestly, I'd rather not rely on providence if I can make something happen without it.

Seriously, a hand up makes a BIG deal.

Firstly, if you have a little spare dosh to throw around that you want to turn into direct action you could:

- Buy a book! My Amazon author page is full of titles for you to choose from.
- Buy an RPG supplement! My complete list has over 90 products with my name on them.
- Become a Patreon patron! It puts money directly in my pocket every month, and lets me keep writing.
- Leave me a tip! Whether you Buy me a Ko-Fi or leave a tip on Vocal, it's always appreciated.

And if you don't have any spare room in your budget, don't worry! If that's the case you can:

- Read my Vocal articles! Sharing articles you like on your social media feeds and groups helps, too.
- Follow my social media pages (links below), and join my newsletter (above and bottom of the page)!
- Leave ratings and reviews of my stuff! Amazon, DTRPG, Barnes and Noble, it all helps!
- Share articles, books, and anything else of mine that you like! The bigger the signal, the larger the pool of folks who will be reading that can add their voice to the whole.

I've got a lot of stuff that's getting wrapped up right now, and 2021 should (with a little luck) be the year that my body of work grows noticeably larger! I just need a little push from everyone out there reading this so I can get the engine to turn over... hopefully at that point I'll be able to really put the pedal to the metal without stressing over rent, bills, and the other sundry parts of living in the 21st century.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my noir thriller Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Weird, Wild, and Outrageous Ideas Generate More Interest Than Bland, Safe, and Samey Stories

I have not been in the writing game as long as some people. Just last year I was moderating a panel on being a professional writer, and everyone else at the table had at least twenty years of experience on me. However, with more than a decade under my belt now, I feel like I've done at least one tour of the block, and there's something I've run into often enough that I think it goes beyond a trend at this point.

In short, it's a desire so many writers have to tell small stories. Stories that are familiar. Stories that feel like this trilogy, or that series, or this writer. Stories that don't tread any new ground, who don't make too many waves, and who are different and unique only in the names of the protagonists, or the map on the inside cover.

Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery in this case.

Too often writers feel the need to tell stories that are an echo of something. Not a deconstruction, or a twist on an existing trope, genre, or style, but just an echo. A call back. Something that takes no risks, that follows the formula other authors have laid down, and which provides exactly the sort of flavor one would expect from the genre recipe.

I'm not saying those stories are inherently bad, either. A good writer, like a good cook, can follow the recipe while still putting their own stamp on its flavor. But what I am saying is that you are far more likely to generate interest and enthusiasm with something that takes risks, and is a little louder, stranger, or more colorful than the same sandwich everyone's been eating for years.

Standing Out Is Always Better


A few years back I'd finally finished writing my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, and I was trying to decide on my next project. I revisited some modern fantasy ideas I'd had, some high fantasy concepts, one or two sci-fi premises, but I finally decided that the most bonkers idea was the one that was going up next.

In short, it was going to be the one about the Maine coon who prowled the mean streets of New York City, and kept getting caught up in other people's problems no matter how hard he tried to keep his whiskers clean.

This one, in case you haven't seen it yet.

While Leo made his debut in the short story collection From a Cat's View, everyone I talked to about a novel lit up as soon as they heard, "Traditional private detective setup, but with a protagonist that's a cat, in a world of street-level animals." Or, if I needed an even faster pitch, "Imagine if Walt Disney did an adult animated movie for a Dashiell Hammett novel."

And thus Marked Territory was born!

Now, I'm not saying that if I'd sat down to write a more traditional modern fantasy story about a psychic private eye with werewolf clients that I wouldn't have found readers for it. However, having pitched that to readers and publishers alike, I can say the response was notably tepid. Why? Well, because there were already three dozen series just like that in the market, and more coming out every year. While you could argue that my protagonist was unique, or the system of magic I had for my setting would set it apart, none of that was stuff that would immediately make the story stand out on the surface.

A cat solving mysteries in a world where humans were completely relegated to background characters? A story where there was blood, and swearing, and brutal fight scenes (because alley cats don't play nice) as the counterpoint to that cutesy premise of street beasts living lives like people? That isn't something that most readers (and even most publishers) have heard before.

That's the sort of thing I'm talking about. Because the pitch is easy enough to understand, and you cold argue it's just a traditional noir mystery wearing a new and unique coat (in that the heavy is a Maine coon, the gang leader is a tunnel rat, the dame in trouble is a church mouse, etc., etc.), but that brightly colored coat immediately differentiates it from the competition. It's weird, it's unusual, and while there are things it's similar to (Watership Down is one of the most common comparisons) it's still very much its own beast.

So if you want to turn a few heads, go big, go bold, go weird... you will thank me for it later!

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!


That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my most recent short story collection The Rejects!
 
And to stay on top of all my latest news and releases, collected once a week, make sure you subscribe to The Literary Mercenary's mailing list

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Shaun Hutson Has The Best Advice For Professional Writers Out There

Chances are good that a lot of you out there have no idea who Shaun Hutson is. If you have heard his name before, though, chances are you know him from novels like Slugs, The Skull, or Progeny. The Godfather of Gore, among other names, Hutson has released a frankly staggering number of novels over his career. While some of them are greatly entertaining, and most of them have been the subject of controversy due to their lurid content, the author himself seems to ignore what people say both good and bad.

However, in an interview I saw with him recently, he said something that I feel a lot of writers out there need to hear... especially those who expect to make a living in this trade.


For those wondering which part of the interview I'm referring to, it's the quote around the 5-minute mark. "When somebody says, 'Here's an obscene amount of money, Shaun, would you like to go and write a book?' then the muse descends with incredible speed."

That, right there, is the most important piece of advice I've been giving to people at cons and Q&A's for years, and it's coming out of the mouth of someone far more successful than I am. As a writer, do not buy into your own bullshit... you've got a job to do, so knuckle down and get it done!

Before I go on, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to make sure you don't miss any of my fresh content!

"How Do You Get Into a Mood To Write a Sex Scene?"


About a decade ago I was primarily writing romance fiction for a small publisher as a way to earn a few royalties, and to make some connections in the industry. Even back then I'd learned the primary lesson every author needs to internalize, which is that you need to do as much of your own promotion as you possibly can if you expect to get the word out about your books. To that end I'd asked my publisher if they had any go-to reviewers or interviewers they could hook me up with to start getting the word out about some of my releases.

They did, and to this day I have never forgotten what was probably the most insulting question I've ever been asked by an interviewer.

"Who's a good little author?" Miss, please, can we keep this professional?

I received an emailed list of questions, many of which were pretty straightforward. What's your story about, where can people find it, is it a standalone or part of a series, etc. About halfway into the questions, though, was this gem. Paraphrased, it was, "How do you get ready to write a really steamy love scene? Do you pour yourself some wine, have some chocolate, etc.?"

I re-read this question several times, processing it. It was, perhaps, the most blatant example I'd seen of the myth of writing writ large on the page right in front of me. It was like method acting applied to the written word, and the idea was so ludicrous that I had to laugh. It felt like someone who watched shows like Castle, or movies about really successful authors where they have ludicrous lives and massive bank accounts, but played totally straight. And the fact that this question was still present, in what looked like this reviewer's standard copy-and-paste questionnaire, meant I wasn't going to just let it slide.

While I contemplated putting out an elaborate, sarcastic routine that I went through in order to put myself in the proper frame of mind, I instead chose to be more honest, and less sexy. My response boiled down to, "I pop a top on a fresh can of cherry Coke, crack my knuckles, and write the scene. Same way I write intro prose, action scenes, and dialogue. Sex scenes aren't special, they're just another part of the story."

As Hutson says, sometimes the ideas don't flow freely. Sometimes you stare at a blank screen, trying to order your thoughts. Or you type a few sentences, delete them, and try again. But you don't sit around just waiting for inspiration to drop out of the sky like Newton's apple. You're a professional, and you've got a job to do.

The best thing you can do for yourself, and for your career, is to figure out wherever your switch is so that you can flip it on command. Because publishers have deadlines, and the reading public isn't going to wait around if your muse happens to have a club foot and a bad knee.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my noir thriller Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Don't Barrage Your Readers With Fantasy Terminology (It Doesn't Help)

"My name is A'lashan Fai'r," the Dowindra said, smiling. "Welcome to Sar'boran."

I nodded, and adjusted the corfan at my side. I looked around the Fenuril, and saw other Redanda standing at their posts. Shu'fi moved among them, heads bowed as they attended to their tasks. I touched the dinfar just behind my ear, and felt more than heard the chirping affirmative it gave.

"Thank you," I said. "Please, take me to the Umbrine. I have news that will not wait."

What the shit did I just read?

If you've read your share of fantasy novels over the years, chances are good you've come across passages like this more than once. Ideally you'll only see nonsense like this later on in the novel (or hopefully down the line in the series) when the reader already knows what all these terms mean so they can properly picture a scene. Too often, though, authors will just dump barrels of fantasy terminology onto their readers' heads, forgetting that while they have lived in this made-up world for years, the reader just got here, and they have no clue what you're talking about.

Also, before we get into the meat of this, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter so you don't miss any of my updates!

What The Hell is That?


If you review the paragraph I opened with, you realize that there's no context for almost any of the names and terms getting thrown around. What is a confar, for example? Is it a weapon? A badge of office? Both? Neither? And the person our protagonist is talking to is referred to as a Dowindra. Is that a profession? A species? A social position? What the hell is that thing behind his ear? Is it an actual cricket, like a magical creature, or some kind of bonded enchantment that connects to his brain?

You're introducing your reader to a world that's foreign to them. If you just dump them in the deep end, though, they're going to feel like they're reading an upper-level science textbook with absolutely zero foundational knowledge to understand what they're looking at.

And what the hell is this nonsense?

In order to ease the reader into your world you need to give them a sense of the familiar first. Allow them to get their bearings. For example, is your setting more urban, or agrarian? Cities and farms are concepts that readers can easily grasp, and it will give them some kind of context before you come down to more confusing details like the made up name of a city or country, districts, the ranks of the rulers, etc. Even with smaller elements, you get far more if you focus on descriptions before you assign names to things so that your reader actually knows what they're supposed to be envisioning later on when the name pops up again.

As an example, consider the following.

The stranger glanced around the room, his eyes taking in everything and everyone. His right hand never strayed far from the blade hanging from his hip. Short and curved, with a heavy guard, the steel practically hummed with power; a sleeping dragon waiting to roar into life. Though the stranger seemed a hard, dangerous man on his own, the confar announced that he was there on the orders of the guild.

This sort of thing gives your audience a much clearer image of what a confar is (a potent sidearm), and the sort of people who wield it (professional fighters in service to a particular guild). But before the item was named it was described, and given an association with an individual to help put what it is into context, and why seeing it might be kind of a big deal.

Once you've established what something is, you can just refer to it by name. Whether it's a particular fantasy species, an ethnicity, a magic item, a social rank, once you've given your audience a tutorial/introduction to it, you can cement it as part of the lexicon.

Easing The Reader In


Most folks who write genre fiction understand that they need to explain some things to readers. Common tropes and elements can usually be put in without much explanation (we get what a troll, or an orc, or a goblin is, so you only need to fill in the blanks if it differentiates from "standard" fantasy tropes), but anything that has an unfamiliar word attached to it needs an explanation to make it stick in the reader's minds.

There's another thing to remember, though... you need to pepper these things in here and there. Don't try to make your reader's do the cinnamon challenge to try to swallow everything at once.

Just three more schools of magic... you can do it!

If your readers get a lot of terms just thrown at their face right out of the gate, it becomes a distraction from the story you're actually trying to tell, and the world you're trying to build. Then instead of falling in love with your protagonist, or getting invested in the threat imperiling your setting, they're just trying to remember the difference between the Alfashni and Kekouri, and which ones have beaks, and why they're so sensitive about jokes regarding coconuts.

Space out how often you introduce new elements to the world, and try to feed them to your reader in some kind of sensical order. The easier it is to chew the lessons, the less they're going to distract or frustrate your audience as they try to get into your story.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!


That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my most recent short story collection The Rejects!
 
And to stay on top of all my latest news and releases, collected once a week, make sure you subscribe to The Literary Mercenary's mailing list

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Projects Take On Weight When You Have The Connections To Get Them Published

I remember when I was in my 20s that I could keep three dozen project ideas spinning in my head at any given time. From horror stories, to roleplaying games, to modern fantasy novels, they came out of my brain like cotton candy, and all I had to do to keep them in the air was lightly tap them every now and again to make sure they didn't fall out of place. It wasn't that they didn't have substance, or that it's somehow easier to create when you're young, either. Real talk, it was so easy to keep all those ideas in the air because there wasn't any immediacy to them. I'd work on them as I had time, polish them up, put them in a bottle, and toss it out into the world. They were a gamble that might pay off, but it was equally possible I'd just get another rejection letter to add to my growing pile.

Now that I have a publishing history, industry contacts, and the ability to skip the queue in a lot of circumstances, it's another story entirely. It's not that I don't generate fresh ideas with nearly every breath I take (it's a stress response, and 2020 has been nothing if not stressful). Rather, it's that those ideas are no longer maybe-one-day potentials; they are real seeds I have to make a decision on right now. Because now I can send a few emails, make a pitch, and get these things out of my head and into the hands of an editor as fast as I can commit them to a word document... and that immediately raises the stakes.

Brain to inbox is now a pipeline.


On the one hand, that is an amazingly freeing, powerful feeling. On the other hand it means all those ideas that were just so much fluff in the wind are now lead balls... and I have to throw them extra hard to keep them in the air.

Also, before I forget, make sure you sign up for my weekly newsletter if you want to stay on top of all the fresh nonsense that comes off my work desk!

When It's Time To Put Up, Or Shut Up


Perhaps the most enjoyable part of writing, as a profession, is playing around in the imagination sandbox. It's freeing to make worlds, create characters, map story arcs, and just do whatever strikes your fancy. And when getting those ideas published is still theoretical instead of practical, there isn't really any weight to them. Because the supply chain from your mind to the hands of your readers hasn't been created, so there's no real pressure on your follow-through just yet.

When it does exist, though, suddenly those ideas aren't just whimsical musings; they're raw gemstones. And you have the responsibility of figuring out which ones are good quality before you cut, polish, and put them out for people to ooh and ah over as fast as you can get the tumbler to tumble.

Space opera with a wild West twist? Sure, people seem to like that. When can I have it?


To be clear, I'm not asking for sympathy here. I'm also not trying to pull the whole, "Woe unto the creative genius, for he has universes within his mind, but can only reveal them one galaxy at a time," nonsense. This is more of a tradesman's warning for folks out there who haven't experienced this shift in thinking/fortunes yet.

Because when you're just starting out, you're free to make basically whatever you want, as you want. And when you're wildly successful you can do basically the same thing, except now there's probably a big, fat check attached to it. It's when you're established enough that you can get your projects reliably green lit, but you don't yet have the audience, clout, or sheer volume of past work to coast on, that you find yourself deciding which seeds to plant now rather than later in order to get your garden growing.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my noir thriller Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Only You Can Prevent Passive Protagonists!

Protagonists are the engine that drives your story. They may not be the character the fans love the best, and they may not be the most interesting aspect of the story you're telling, but your protagonist (or protagonists if you prefer ensemble casts) are the vehicles that let your readers move through the story, explore the world, and they are often the lens that sets the tone for the tale you're telling.

However, when it comes to your protagonists, it's generally better to have them do than to be done unto.
 
Well, I'm here. May as well get this over with!

Before we go any further, if you haven't done so yet, please sign up for my weekly newsletter!

Be A Subject, Not An Object


This is a mistake that a lot of writers (myself included) tend to fall into at some point in our careers. We focus more on the world, events, and characters around the protagonists, instead of on the protagonists themselves, and as a result the story kind of stops being about them. They're present for it, and they may even be necessary in some way, but they're not really doing anything. They're in the passenger seat, rather than behind the wheel.

And that can have a really negative effect on the overall narrative.

Einar... where the hell are we going?

This might seem sort of confusing, but it's a lot like the difference between active and passive language. In active language your subject is in control, taking the action, and doing things. Consider, "Einar slammed his fist into Valgard's face," versus, "Valgard was punched in the face by Einar." Even accounting for the slightly more explosive language of the first example, the second just lacks energy. It's disengaged from the action.

Passive protagonists have the same issue, and they can just suck the energy out of a story.

To be clear, this is not saying that your story has to be solely concerned with characters pursuing their own wants and goals. However, the characters do have to be active participants in the story you're telling, and their reactions, plans, and contributions should be the gas in the story's tank.

I didn't ask to be here... but I've got a job to do.

Consider a detective story. Your protagonist gets up in the morning, gets dressed, puts on their badge, and goes to work. The issues they deal with on the job may not be personal, and they may not even have a choice in the matter, as it's the superiors in the department who assigns the case load to detectives. But how the protagonist approaches the case, who they talk to, what risks they do or don't take, and what drives them on should all be elements of the story. The through line needs to be a product of their actions, rather than a path they're just walking down.

A detective merely going through the motions, walking along the trail of bread crumbs while tracking down a serial killer, ends up making the serial killer the most interesting character in the story. This is what I call the Hannibal Lecter problem, where the antagonist seems to be who the story is really about, and they are who commands the audience's attention and imagination even though they're not supposed to be the protagonist.

To prevent that, ask what your protagonist is doing in the narrative. What is their contribution, and how does it affect the actions they take, or the options they pursue? Do they walk that thin line where they get weird, gut feelings about the killer's motives and intentions, making them obsessed with catching the murderer so the detective can quiet the part of their mind that whispers they aren't all that different from the killers they catch? Are they dedicated to the job, facing down horrors, driven to seek justice, thinking of themselves as something akin to an old-fashioned knight? Do they take a cynical kind of pleasure in it, with killers like this representing the most dangerous beasts one can chase in the wilds of the concrete jungle? Do they do everything strictly by the book? Do they dip into the shady area of the law where their methods are questionable? Do they work until the case is done, or can they leave it at the office when the work day is over?

All of these things play into the struggle of the protagonist through the situation they're in.

The Lead Needs To Be More Than a Lamp


There's a test for several books regarding female characters and representation, asking if the story would be altered in a meaningful way if they were replaced with attractive lamps. The same thing can often be said of your protagonist. If they're nothing more than a lamp that gets carted around from scene to scene where other people ask questions, or make observations, then why is this our protagonist? What are they contributing to this narrative?

If everything in your story seems to be happening to someone, then you might need to step back and ask why. Because for every action there needs to be a reaction, and if the plot hits your protagonist, but they don't swing back at the plot when that happens, you might actually be carting around a lamp in a hat and jacket.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!


That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my most recent short story collection The Rejects!
 
And to stay on top of all my latest news and releases, collected once a week, make sure you subscribe to The Literary Mercenary's mailing list.

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Nobody Gets Audience Attention Like a Heel!

A lot of writers out there focus on being liked. Often this leads to them trying to keep their actual thoughts and opinions behind the curtain, always presenting a pleasant, positive face to the audience. Other times it means writers just ignore negative elements that come their way, hoping that the trolls will stay silent if they don't feed them, and just keep on walking.

This led to an interesting comparison from a friend with a good sense of marketing. Writers who focus on being the good guy, taking the high road, etc., are a lot like the Faces in professional wrestling. Short for "Babyface," the term refers to the obvious heroes that the audience is supposed to root for.

Then there's the heels... which are basically the opposite of that.

Oh shit... who just dropped the bass?

It's a rough gig being a heel. Your persona is often abrasive, or at the very least doesn't give much of a damn whether the audience likes them or not. A lot of hate gets thrown your way, because after all, you're a contrast to the good guys. But there's a weird phenomenon there, too. Because a lot of people actively support heels. And even the people who absolutely hate them often end up boosting their earnings and signal in unintended ways.
 
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Rage Shares Still Put Money in Your Pocket


I had a recent incident involving this, so I thought I'd share it as an example.

About a month ago I wrote an article titled Captain America is Chaotic Good. It received the editor's pick when it first went up on Vocal, and as soon as I got some space in my promotions calendar I shared it around in all my usual groups for tabletop gaming and assorted geekery. I knew two things going in. First, that Cap is a very popular character thanks to the wide spread of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Second, I knew that discussions on pop culture characters through the lens of the alignment system used in tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons often leads to pretty divisive conversations... which makes them fertile ground for an article that pays me based on how many people read it.

Brace yourself... the flame wars are coming!

It definitely got noticed. It didn't go viral by any stretch of the imagination, but there were quite a lot of reactions and comments, and more than a handful of shares to help drive up engagement. While I generally try to avoid stirring the pot personally as long as other people are taking care of the interacting, there was one person in particular whose behavior basically sums up exactly the sort of energy you can capture as a heel.

To paraphrase his opinion, he felt that opinion articles from random nobodies on the Internet discussing pop culture characters through the lens of gaming are a huge waste of time. However, stating this opinion in the comments section just meant there was more attention on the post. And then, just to prove how much he didn't care, he shared the link to his own Facebook wall to rant about it to his friends list about how useless he felt this sort of content was.
 
This is sort of like when conservatives, so outraged that Nike had partnered with an outspoken critic of police violence, bought new shoes for the express purpose of burning them in protest. It sends the opposite message you're intending if your protest actually increases the company's bottom line... but they didn't seem to realize that.

And if you find yourself in a situation like this, where someone absolutely rages against a thing you've written? Perhaps the best thing you can do is to simply tell them that if they don't like this kind of content, then maybe they should just scroll on by so that someone who is actually interested in it can take a look. Or, if you really want to shine them on, drop them a heart react and tell them thanks for the comment/share, because every little bit of attention really helps!

There Are Risks, Of Course


Before you go out there and start strutting around, loudly telling people booing you that you can't hear them so they increase their negative reactions to boost your signal, I'd like to add some caveats to this marketing strategy.

Firstly, unlike an actual wrestling heel, you're probably going to do more damage to yourself if you're legitimately rude and confrontational. Group mods don't care for it, and you can find yourself losing favor relatively quickly. Hence my suggestion of thanking folks slinging hate your way, because that will only increase the amount of attention they're giving you while you haven't said anything rude or insulting to them in the process. Sort of lets you have your dessert, and eat it too.

Not sure what else you do with a dessert, but whatever.

The other concern is that this strategy works better in some circumstances than in others. With the article I used as an example, it's perfect because the site only cares how many reads/views it gets when calculating my pay. There's no down vote on it, no place to leave angry comments or a 1-star review. If this same reaction was being had to my novel Marked Territory, then it's entirely possible that a lot of people would just leave it poor reviews to try to tank my score. Ideally they'd at least have to buy a copy to do that, but there's plenty of ways around that requirement as well.

Put simply, the more options the angry readers have to retaliate, the bigger the chance there is this could blow up in your face.

Additionally, I feel I should mention the simple caveat that I am not in the categories of folks who are most at risk from online harassment. I'm a big, white dude, so I don't present the same target as female-identifying individuals, creators of color, etc., etc. This is the sort of risk-reward proposal that I stand pretty good odds of coming out ahead on. So, before following in my footsteps on this one, make sure you're not putting yourself at serious risk in the hopes of earning a few extra bucks.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my noir thriller Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!