Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Your Book Is Probably Never Going To Be Perfect (And That's Okay)

Most authors out there are under the impression that a book must be flawless if it is going to be for sale. From plot holes, to spelling errors, to aberrant commas, everything needs to be ship-shape and squared away before the readers lay eyes on the work. Because if they spot so much as a single semicolon where it isn't supposed to be, then that's it for you. You had your chance, and now you've been condemned to the bin, written off as a hack for all eternity.

Ah, but then the twist!
Have you heard of Raymond Chandler? You know, the guy who wrote The Big Sleep, which gave us private detective Phil Marlowe and has been adapted into half a dozen films, and homaged in god only knows how many different works by now? Well, do you know what he said when he was questioned about who killed the chauffeur in that famous novel? The character who was intricate to one of the early plot arcs, and whose actions set several aspects of the case in motion?

He didn't know. He didn't know, because it had completely slipped his mind.

This isn't an isolated event, either. The more books you read (even books considered classics by today's standards, and titans within their genres), the more you realize that even the greats can screw it up. Sometimes it means that plot threads get left to dangle, other times they misspell things, and every now and again an artifact that was meant to be deleted during the editing process remains, sticking out of the rest of the prose like the top of a pyramid jutting out of a sand dune.

These aren't one-man-shows or fly-by-night operations; these are serious creators with a lot of mojo. And even they still miss the mark from time to time. Those mistakes usually get fixed in later printings and editions, but the earlier ones still show that errors were made.

They made mistakes. You will, too. Nobody is perfect.

Had Some Mistakes, But Not Enough To Lower The Rating

This is an actual review someone left on my novel Crier's Knife. They front-loaded it with praise, but added toward the end that though they noticed a few spelling mistakes, it wasn't enough to lessen their experience reading the book. So even though it got me a 5-star seal of approval, it also meant I had to track down those errors and repair them ASAP.

Which sent me into something of a blind panic trying to find and correct them all.
Now, this book was put out through Amazon, and I was working on a shoestring budget for it. Still, these errors made it past several review sweeps from me, and past all of my beta readers as well as the folks who helped with more substantive editing. In case you're wondering, there were 6 mistakes that were found and corrected.

This isn't unique to self-publishing, though. Take my other book, the steampunk noir collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam. I did three separate editing passes on this manuscript before I sent it in. It was then accepted by one publisher, whose editors did a sweep, and gave me corrections. My contract got cancelled, and it was then picked up by another publisher, who reviewed it prior to publication.

And there were still a few niggling errors in the text when all was said and done. Hell, in one story a character has a completely different last name by the end... give it a read, see if you can figure out which tale it was.

Stop Sweating: The Little Things Aren't Make or Break

Are there readers out there who won't tolerate a single misused apostrophe, or who indignantly close a book when they find their third grammar mistake? I'm sure there are... but I can also assure you they are a tiny portion of your overall audience.

If you have a good story, compelling characters, and a narrative that will not let go of the reader, they won't notice the occasional bump in the road. As long as those bumps are only occasional, it's even possible that some of your readers won't notice them at all! What's even better is that, in the modern age of publishing tools, you can fix mistakes like this relatively quickly once they're pointed out.

Don't skimp on your editing. By all means, try to make your story the best you possibly can before you submit it to a publisher, or throw it out onto the market. But don't drive yourself mad trying to figure out if you should or shouldn't put a comma before that conjunction; most people aren't here for that. Put the bulk of your effort into the story, the cast, and the experience, and you'll be able to survive a few little missteps.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing installment. For folks who'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by My Amazon Author Page where you can get any (or all) of my books!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to help support me, consider either Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron! Every little bit helps, trust me on that.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

10 Things You Can Do To Sell More Books

If you're an author, then you have two goals in life; write books, and sell books. As you've no doubt noticed the first is usually a lot easier to do. So if you're one of those authors who has books on the market, but you simply aren't selling as many copies as you'd like to, here are some concrete things you can do to start increasing your numbers today!

#10: Get An Eye-Catching Cover

Not to toot my own horn, or anything.
As I said back in Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover (Even Though Most People Do), the front of your book is going to be someone's first impression of your work. Which is why it's so important to get eye-catching artwork, but also to make sure you pick the right typeface, that your layout is pleasing, and that your book generally looks like something you'd see on the shelf in a bookstore.

I get it, being an indie publisher is tough when you're strapped for cash and you can't throw a few C-notes at a talented artist to make an awesome painting of a cybernetic dragon fighting a flying longship. But whether you spend hours dragging websites like Morgue File and Pixabay looking for just the right image, or you take my advice in Looking For Cover Art? Check Out Drive Thru RPG! to find an arresting cover, this is the first hurdle you have to clear.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so ask if your book's cover would make someone stop scrolling to find out the rest of the story.

#9: Provide Your Readers With A Decent Preview

Bait that hook early, and they won't stop biting!
Most people can tell within the first couple of pages whether they're going to buy a book or not. In the old days this meant picking the book up off the shelf, and reading for a bit to see if the author's style and the story was to your taste. These days, though, we have the preview feature. So while readers can't flip to page 72 and randomly start reading on your digital preview, anyone with an Internet connection can get the first couple chapters of your book.

Make sure you buried a hook in there, and that it will tug hard on readers who lay their eyes on the page.

In a book of short stories like my steampunk noir collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam, front-load what you think are the best three stories to be sure they grab your reader by the lapels. If you have a novel, like my sword and sorcery tale Crier's Knife, then you need to make sure you've provided context for who your protagonist is, what issues they have to overcome, and what the hook of your story is. Offering glimpses of world-building is nice, too, but remember that it's the actors on stage that fill seats, not how pretty the backdrops are.

If you'd like to take a quick break to read my previews, don't worry, the rest of the list will be here when you get back.

Finished? Great! Moving on...

#8: Get Reviews

Without hacking into Amazon's database, if possible.
When someone leaves a review of your book, it can give you a warm, fuzzy feeling to know that someone cared enough to leave their thoughts and feelings about it. However, reviews can be the difference between obscurity and success, as well. Because, as Search Engine Land points out, most people will read the reviews for a product or service before making their decision about whether or not to buy it.

So the more people you have leaving their reviews, the more input your future readers will have to judge your work with.

That's not the only reason you want a big stack of reviews, though. As I pointed out back in How Many Book Reviews Do You Need Before Amazon Promotes You?, books with a lot of reviews also tend to show up in that magical, "You Might Also Like" window along the bottom of the screen. That increased exposure can provide you a big boost, and the more views, purchases, and reviews you have, the more and more your work will show up in other searches.

50 is generally the number people shoot for, but tweaks to the algorithm mean that you can never have too much activity, too many sales, or too many reviews. Also, remember, they don't all have to be good reviews, so encourage everyone who reads your book to leave their two cents. Friends, family members... people who read your blog... everyone.

#7: Have A Giveaway

Everyone loves a deal!
The only thing readers love more than books is free books! All you have to do is walk past the freebie table at any convention, and watch as the boxes of books placed on it vanish into the ether. New or used, sci-fi or fantasy, weird, strange, or not usually your type, people are a lot more willing to take a risk with their time if it means they aren't taking a risk with their money.

That's why it's a good idea to host a book giveaway or two. As I said in Do Book Giveaways Really Work? people are usually more willing to download a copy of a book they might not be totally sold on. It's a great chance to get your name in front of a lot of people, and it can drive up your reviews if you get lucky and a lot of people download your book. If your book is part of a series, then it can act as a try-before-you-buy kind of scenario, hooking new readers who will now buy the other four or five books to find out what happens to their favorite characters. You'll even see run-off attention on other, unrelated books since lots of readers browse by author.

And, of course, a lot of people still want hard copies of books they like. So while they may have downloaded the ebook free of charge, at least a few people will come back for a physical printing. This approach costs you nothing, either, so there's no reason not to at least try it.

#6: Cross Promote Your Book

Hey, guys, did you hear that Trevor finally finished his book?
All of us have something else that we do. We work in an office, we organize war gaming conventions, we're personal trainers for suburbanites, what have you. There is an audience who knows you in your other capacity, and if you have their interest in that other platform, then use that platform to big-up your signal.

I talked about this more in Cross-Promotion, Book Sales, and You, but if you run a blog, a social media page, a YouTube channel, etc. where you have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of followers, then you need to try to mobilize them to get their interest in your book. This is why if you scroll through any of my posts over on my gaming blog Improved Initiative, you'll notice that I try to mention my work from time to time. Because folks might have come there to read about fantasy roleplaying games, but getting them interested in a sword and sorcery novel is certainly within the same ballpark.

#5: Get A Trailer

Lots of people think that trailers are just for movies, but you might be surprised at the sort of traction you can get with an eye (or rather ear) grabbing trailer. As I pointed out in Does Your Book Have A Trailer? Here's 5 Reasons It Should, people tend to respond well to book trailers. They set a tone, engage a different sense, put your book in front of a new audience's ears, and they can be intriguing. Best of all, trailers tend to be relatively inexpensive to make. In fact, if you have a mic, some friends, access to sound effects, and some basic sound editing software, you can probably make your own trailer in an afternoon. And even if they don't go viral, it's one more avenue for you to engage new readers that you weren't using before.

Also, since I can't say this enough, big thanks to Dungeon Keeper Radio for putting my trailer together!

#4: Get An Audio Version Out There

Sound check, 3... 2... 1...
Audio books, to be fair, are not simple things to make. Even if you're an experienced reader, you need to get your takes right, put them in the right order, add whatever sound effects your production needs, etc. And if you need someone else to read, or you're going a full-cast style production, then you have got your work cut out for you.

However, audio books are no longer purely the realm of big publishers. With a small investment in some free software, and a halfway decent mic (I personally recommend the Samson Go Microphone) you can get this project up-and-running on your own. You can even distribute it via the Audio Creation Exchange, if you want to use Amazon's platform. Because while it's true that not everyone likes audio books, you'll instantly increase your audience to include folks who listen to books during their commute, the visually impaired, artists who need a story while they sketch, and a slew of other people who may not have the time, desire, or ability to read the old-fashioned way.

#3: Do Some Readings

You're an entertainer, after all.
Authors, by and large, aren't center-of-attention sorts of folks. However, there is nothing more punk rock than the ability to get up in front of a crowd, open your book, and within the space of a few pages have them all hanging on your every word. If you can do that, I guarantee you will have people with cash in hand ready to relieve you of a few spare copies of your book.

Whether you head down to your local coffee shop's open mic night, you arrange a reading with a library or a university, or you volunteer to read at a convention, these are all good ways to put yourself in front of a crowd, and to show them what you've got. I can personally vouch for this method, as after I read my short story Stray Cat Strut in the collection From A Cat's View at Windy Con in Chicago I suddenly found that I had no more copies left, but a lot of people who wanted me to sign their recently-acquired books.

People love cats, sure, but hearing the story read aloud got them to get off their chairs and get a copy. Especially since my time ran out just before I could reveal the twist ending of this hard-boiled cat story.

Lastly, if you really are that shy as an author, you can do digital readings and share them over social media. YouTube is a glorious platform, and while it's tough as hell to get paid on, it can spread your message far and wide if you're willing to make the content.

#2: Hand Sell

It might seem like a nightmare, but trust me, it works.
More writers have balked at the idea of physically selling their books than at any other stage of the process. They already put in all the time and effort to write the damn thing, now they have to sell it, too?

Well, yeah, if you want to make bank.

Trust me, it's not that hard. If you have a book that catches people's eyes, and you know how to start a conversation with passers by, you can usually get people to take a few books off your hands. Whether you snag a spot at a local flea market, you set up at a friend's garage sale, or you rent a booth at a convention, all you need is a pitch, a smile, and maybe a little help from the list Tips For Hand-Selling Your Book. Oh, and a Square credit card reader. You will definitely want one of those.

You can do it. I believe in you.

#1: Be Persistent

Hey, did I tell you guys about my book?
I said this not too long ago in Successful Authors Are Persistence Hunters, but it bears repeating. Barring some huge stroke of luck that taps into this week's zeitgeist, it isn't likely that you'll make one Facebook post, host one giveaway, or record one soundbite, and hundreds of thousands of sales will upend upon your head.

Don't get me wrong, that Internet lottery is totally possible. It just isn't likely.

So remember this when you only sell a handful of copies during the Saturday at con, you don't generate a lot of interest with your latest round of Facebook posts, or when your sales numbers drop and you feel like giving up. Pick yourself up, and talk to one more person. Send one more email to a reviewer. Add one more link into your next article.

Persistence hunters don't quit. Slow and steady wins out over frenetic and explosive every, single time.

That's all for this week's Businss of Writing post! It was a bit of a doozy, and I hope all you fine folks found it to be of use. For more work by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page where you can check out all my latest book releases!

To stay on top of all my various projects, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to help support me, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Good Writers Understand The Rules, Before They Break Them

There is no faster way to start a fight on a writer's forum than to talk about the rules of writing. Whether it was stuff we learned when we were kids in school (never start a sentence with "and" or "but" for example), or it's a little more complex (questions of whether the three-act structure is superior, or if Chekhov's Gun is ironclad, or simply a matter of opinion), there are few things writers love to argue about more than someone else supposedly telling them how to write their books.

"And ANOTHER reason why you're wrong and write bad books," said both sides.
This week, I wanted to take a position that shouldn't be controversial (but probably will be). Because yes, it is your book, and you may choose to follow the conventional wisdom of writing rules, or tear them up and throw them out the window. Books have been successful either way.

However, if you're going to throw out all of the very sound advice folks have about what you should and shouldn't do when writing a book, it's important that you understand why you're doing so. Breaking the rules just for the sake of breaking them isn't going to make your story any better.

We All Had Training Wheels, Once Upon A Time

In his book The View From The Cheap Seats, Neil Gaiman talks about the intoxicating feeling that every writer has had when they first started writing stories. That sensation of power that you are the master of an entire universe, and that you can make your will manifest, can often leave you drunk with power. A feeling that can lead to you thinking you're so talented that you don't need all those rules; your work will be all the more special for ignoring that hogwash.

You get drunk with other things later on in your career, most of the time.
The important thing to remember, or so the more famous Neil said, was to understand the rules of storytelling before you discarded them out of hand. To grasp their whys, and hows, and wherefores so that you could see the logic that made them work, and to understand what it would mean if you ignored them for your particular story. They are, in a very real way, like the load-bearing beams that hold up your story's house. Are they functional? Sure. Can you get rid of them? Of course you can... but you'll need to replace them with something that serves to hold your story up so that your narrative doesn't fall apart on you.

Shit... what was that one there for, again?
The common sense rules of writing (which you can pretty much read as anything you'll find in a book about writing, and most of the advice from people who do this as a living) all have their place. They are the stepping stones that you need to cross, and the knowledge you need to understand. They're the safety net below the trapeze. And if you're going to try a new, high-flying act that defies all the established rules, it's important that you have plenty of practice under your belt so that you know every possible thing that could go wrong.

Or, as my father said regarding carpentry projects, "You need to learn the correct way to do something, before you find the right way to do it." Because they aren't always the same way, but you should have the knowledge and experience to know when the "correct" method isn't the one your project needs.

Most importantly, understanding all the existing rules lets you know which ones are going to really work for your style, your story, and your audience, and which ones you can ignore without worrying about structural integrity. Because while you can ignore any rules you want to when it comes to your story, you still need to understand why you would ignore them, and the kind of problems you might have to deal with in the absence of that particular rule.

Gaining that kind of understanding takes practice, and a lot of experimentation. But trust me when I say this; riding without a helmet just because you can is no guarantee that your story will be better... if anything, it means the crash might be a whole lot messier if you aren't sure exactly what you're doing.

That's all for this Craft of Writing installment. Remember, write responsibly, and take all criticism you get with a grain or two of salt. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife.

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to support me and my work directly, you can tip me by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

When You're An Author, Being Busy Isn't The Same As Being Successful

I've noticed something over the past few years; anytime I talk to someone who isn't a writer about all the projects I'm currently working on, they immediately think that I'm exaggerating how broke I am. After all, how could I possibly be broke if I'm actively writing a new novel, working on one client's game world, writing a new DM supplement every month for another client, maintaining two blogs, building an archive on Vocal, and ghostwriting blogs for a bevy of other customers? Especially when you look at all the new stuff I'm taking on in 2019, which I mentioned in my last post My Authorial Aspirations For The New Year?

There is a universal truth that I would like everyone to remember, writers and non-writers alike; just because a writer is busy, that doesn't mean they're making bank.

This is not a joke. The busier you are, often the LESS money you have!
How can that be? Well, I'm glad you asked.

What You Make Doesn't Necessarily Tie To What You Earn

Class is in session folks, so let me start with this truth; just because a writer writes something, that doesn't mean they're getting paid much (if anything) for the effort. Even if you think that thing they made is pretty bitching, or even if they're coming out with stuff faster than a panicked machine gunner with an itchy trigger finger, that rate of production doesn't mean they're raking in the cash. Often the faster one works, the more they are in need of a steady cash flow.

Let's take this blog, as well as my gaming blog Improved Initiative, as examples. I update this blog once a week, and the other twice a week. Both blogs are completely free to anyone who views them, and I spend several hours a week writing and promoting them... so what do I get out of that?

This is the part where we talk about numbers.
If you look around this page, you might notice there are ads on this blog. But it's more likely that you don't notice, because you can't see them. Most people who show up on my sites have Ad Block up, which means that my monthly ad revenue is only a couple of bucks. Even on months where I top 50,000 unique views, or more. I also have a Patreon page, and that is where most of my earnings from my blogs come from.

How much do I make there? Well it varies depending on how many people have chosen to pledge to me, but it tends to be in the $100 to $180 range every month. At present, it's a lot closer to $100 a month, since a bunch of my patrons scooted around this time last year when Patreon said it was going to start charging patrons service fees (something they quickly backtracked on when people left their platform), but my supporters never came back after that corporate debacle, which left me limping as a creator.

About half of all my writing projects are like that; the more popular you are, the more you make. My Vocal archive, which I mentioned earlier? It pays roughly 1 cent for every 3 reads an article gets. That's pretty great when I write an article that gets an ass-ton of views, like my piece It's Okay To Admit There Are Problems In Your Hobby which got 8k reads (which translated to roughly $35) in its first few days up. However, most pieces don't get those kinds of views, and all of them slack off after a time, earning pennies instead of dollars. It still adds up, but it is a bullish load of work just for an extra Jackson or two a month. The same thing happens with book sales, too. My sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife earns me a few dollars on every sale, for example, but I'm not exactly Neil Gaiman when it comes to my readership. I make a few sales a month, but thus far none of the books I get royalties from are burning up the charts.

But what about the other half of my writing? You know, the kind where a client pays me to write a piece (or pays me a certain per-word rate), and then I turn the work in? Surely that makes up for all the time and effort spent sweating on feast-or-famine projects like novels, blogs, pay-per-view articles, etc.?

That would be nice, wouldn't it?
The problem with being paid for writing work is mostly that the majority of clients you'll have will pay you when the work you gave them gets published, rather than when you hand it in. Sometimes that means your check will be in by the Friday after your article goes live on a given website. Other times you might not get a check until the anthology your short story was accepted for comes out; which is a six month waiting period. I've had clients hold onto articles I've written for a year or more before they finally published the piece, and sent me my check.

Don't get me wrong, there are some clients will pay you as soon as you hand your work in. They are far too few for me to pay my rent by depending on them, though, so I have to play the waiting game and hope for the best.

You Have To Play The Odds

Writing is a patchwork profession, and if you want to make sure you have enough stretches of earnings to cover your necessities, then it pays to stack the deck in your favor. That is why authors like me tend to be so goddamn busy all the time; the more things we produce, the better the chances are that enough of our earnings come home to roost before our bills come due.

Rent's due by the fifth, sweetie! Oh, you won't have it? Well, well, let me just get this eviction notice written up...
That is the reality a lot of us are dealing with. Even if we have hundreds of articles out there, dozens of books on the market, and clients who owe us several thousand dollars for the work we've completed, the machinery grinds slowly. The easiest way to avoid getting caught with your pants down is to write like demons are on your tail, and hope that you hit the lottery.

Because if I wrote a post that generated millions of views, or three dozen people all signed up to support me at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or something over on My Amazon Author Page became an overnight bestseller for no reason that I could pinpoint, do you know the first thing I would do? I would slow down. I'd take my time to plot out my blog posts for the week, rather than hammering them out in a post-Christmas caffeine haze. I'd up my daily word count on my novel so that I could put more (and more diverse) books onto the market in a fraction of the time I currently take. I would say no to project offers that came with minuscule price tags, and no guaranteed date of delivery on the invoice.

I might even take a day off. Something I haven't done without almost giving myself an anxiety attack in nearly five years.

So think about that, and remember that all of the creators whose work you love are running a race against the threshing machine of capitalism. So take a moment to like their posts, leave a review on the books they've written, share an article of theirs you like, and just generally do your part to help lighten the load.

Who knows? You might be the pebble that starts that avalanche of earnings they've been waiting for!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. If you want more from me, remember to check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my novel Crier's Knife, or my short story collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to support me, then Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron! Every little bit helps.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

My Authorial Aspirations For The New Year

As the year draws to a close, so many of us are looking toward 2019 and making promises. New year, new me, and you know the usual suspects on that list. I want to finally sign up for those classes, I want to get a better job, I want to get in shape and lose some weight, and so on, and so forth. By the by, if you haven't seen my How I Lost 40 Pounds By Eating More Taco Bell, I'd recommend checking it out if that's one of your goals.

I'm not typically one for resolutions, but I thought I'd take some time while the new year is just getting ready to hatch, and lay out some of my particular aspirations as an author. And if you're one of my readers, here's some stuff you should keep an eye out for.

I'm excited, how about you?

Aspiration #1: Writing The New Book

For folks who've been to My Amazon Author Page, you've likely noticed that the majority of the books on that page are anthologies that only feature a single short story by yours truly. Even my first book, New Avalon: Love And Loss in The City of Steam was a short story collection. However, in case you missed it, this year I released my first novel; a sword and sorcery tale titled Crier's Knife.

First couple of chapters are free!
I like writing novels, and so I've decided I'm going to keep at that a little longer. Rather than start on another Crier book right away, though, I'm instead going to start a new series. This book, tentatively titled Marked Territory, will showcase the Maine Coon enforcer Leo who made his debut in my short story "Stray Cat Strut" featured in the recently released From A Cat's View anthology. If you like gangland noir, and books where the entire cast is made up of animals, then this should be a lot of fun for you.

My outline is drying as we speak, and I'll be gearing up on that January 1st.

Aspiration #2: Reviews

As any author knows, reviews are the lifeblood of your work. Especially in today's Internet age, where a signal boost from the right person at the right time can make or break your year. The target number for any author is typically 50, because that's around the time Amazon starts helping to spread the word about your book by featuring you in searches and on other people's pages.

Seriously, if you like a book, tell people.
That's why, by the end of 2019, I would like to have 50 reviews on either Crier's Knife, or on New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam. At time of writing, the former has 4 reviews, and the latter has 12. That's not a bad start, but I think I can do better with a little bit of extra elbow grease. However, I know my limitations, and while 50 would be great, I'll consider it a success if I get either of them moved to between 30 and 35 reviews by this time next year.

Why am I focusing on reviews instead of on sales? Well, part of that is because reviews act as a kind of long-term investment. The other part is that sales come from a lot of different places, while reviews only come from one; you all, reading this right now.

So, if you can spare the time, help me out on this one, will you?

Aspiration #3: The Game

As anyone who's been to Improved Initiative knows, I write a lot of RPG-related material. Sometimes it's just world-building and fiction, sometimes it's supplements like what I featured in my Random Tables Courtesy of Azukail Games post, and sometimes it's complete adventures like False Valor, the first Critical Hit one-shot that came out earlier this year for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.

However, while I like working on existing games, I'd like to make something new. Something different. Something that players haven't gotten to taste before.

And, because it's me, there will be buckets of blood.
At the moment this project is just a concept and a pitch. What I can tell you is the game straddles that line between dark fantasy and horror, mixing in elements of cosmic terror with more traditional urban legends. It is my hope that, this year, I will take some concrete steps toward making that game a reality. And, with a little luck, I might be able to drop more details the next time I write one of these entries.

That's all for my Craft of Writing piece this time around. While it's a bit off-topic, it's important to write down what you intend to do, and to make it real. So what about the rest of you... what are you planning on doing this coming year?

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and feel free to head over to My Amazon Author Page. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And, lastly, if you'd like to give me a tip you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or become a patron by visiting The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Does Your Book Have A Trailer? Here's 5 Reasons It Should

In this day and age, we're all familiar with trailers. However, a lot of us forget that they aren't just for movies. From short infomercials about unbreakable pans, to sneak previews of plays, concerts, and festivals, it's possible to make a trailer for damn near anything. All you need to do is put together a video appetizer, and throw it out there to get people interested in what you're trying to sell.

As an example, thanks to Dungeon Keeper Radio, my novel Crier's Knife now has its very own book trailer!

If you have a book on the market, but you don't have a trailer for it yet, let me list some of the reasons why you should.

#1: Something Different

Everyone has a buy link for their book, or a link to a free preview of the first few chapters... but how many of them have a book trailer? Whether you go full-out with video production, or you stick to audio like I did, the point is that by changing up the formula you can catch people off-guard. So folks who might ignore a buy link, or just a picture of the cover, might click-through to see what a trailer is all about.

Once they've done that, you've got 'em.

#2: It's Good For Your Algorithm

As we all know, where your book turns up in search results is directly dependent on a search algorithm. However, while there are hundreds of factors that go into these digital number crunchers, one of those factors is how many sites link to your book. If your book trailer does absolutely nothing else, it can boost your signal and get you better results as long as you have it available online somewhere, and you make sure that buy link is front-and-center.

Of course, it helps if people are watching your trailer.

#3: People Pay Attention To Video

As technology has increased, more businesses than ever before are making use of video content. The reason is that, psychologically, people respond more to video than to any other form of communication. While images might capture someone's attention for a moment, video grabs them in a way that is much harder to ignore. By making video content, you're grabbing viewers hard, and giving them a pitch that will stay with them a lot longer than all but the catchiest of tag lines.

#4: More People Can Watch Them Than Ever Before

Accessibility is the name of the game, and the bigger your potential reach, the better your chances of finding new readers become. Given that huge swaths of the population have mobile devices where they will watch videos all day, it's quite likely that a trailer will capture their attention in ways that other, static ads never would. And as we all know, all it takes is getting someone to open that door for them to start eyeing your entire body of work... even if that trailer was only for your latest book.

#5: It's One More Thing For You To Talk About

The law of diminishing returns is never clearer than when it comes to you trying to drum up interest in your latest release. The first time you post about it, you'll get a small ocean of likes, shares, and most of your initial purchases. But the second time you post, you'll only get a fraction of that initial response. The third time you post, you're pretty much just down to your diehard fans.

However, whenever there is something new about your book (you were reviewed by someone in an online magazine, your were interviewed on a TV or radio show, etc.), that puts fresh life into your posts. You get more attention when you share fresh news than when you remind folks of something that's already happened, and a book trailer is just one more example of a fresh spin that can get a lot of eyes focused on your work.

Best of All, Getting a Trailer Isn't That Hard

Whether you have a YouTube or Vimeo channel already, or your trailer is being crafted by someone else, they tend to be relatively low-cost additions to your marketing plan. Especially if you have some basic editing skills, and you know where you can find royalty-free sound effects. Best of all, a trailer has the potential to earn you back what you spend on it several times over if it catches on and gets some real power behind it.

There are no guarantees when it comes to selling books, but as far as risky investments go, a book trailer is a pretty safe bet.

That's all for this Business of Writing post! Hopefully it helps some folks out there, and you enjoyed giving my book trailer a listen. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and be sure to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to support me, then you can leave me a one-time tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or you can become a regular patron at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. And, of course, if you'd like to get your hands on Crier's Knife, or any of my other books, just head over to My Amazon Author Page!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Avoid Back-Handed Inclusion in Your Book

Inclusion is one of those things that is becoming something of a buzzword in today's author circles. Everyone seems to be falling over each other to add it into their work, and to use it as an additional point in their favor when it comes time to move copies. The idea is pretty sound. If you have a more diverse cast, and you include elements like underrepresented ethnicities, cultures, sexualities, then you are both going to stand out from your competitors, and make your book more appealing to people who want to see that sort of thing.

In addition to, you know, trying to provide visibility for groups, communities, etc. who have traditionally been ignored/underserved in the past. If that sort of thing matters to you.

However, there is a trap that a lot of authors fall into when it comes to attempts to be inclusive. It's something that, after giving it a bit of though, I'm calling back-handed inclusion.

Yes, Sharon, you have non-white characters. But they all appear to be drug-dealers and spousal abusers.
Think of your inclusion like lemons. The goal is to present them in an appealing, well-thought-out way that enhances your dish's overall flavor while giving it a broader appeal. However, back-handed inclusion is when you take the lemons, carefully cut them, then squirt them into the eyes of your target audience before acting mystified that they aren't impressed with your presentation.

A More Concrete Example

A back-handed compliment is when you say something that sounds nice on the surface, but which is rotten once you get under the skin. The traditional, "That dress doesn't make you look nearly so fat!" being one of the more common, barbed examples.

For something that applies to writing, I'll give you an example that concretely illustrates what I'm talking about.

Several years back I met the very talented Lauren Jankowski (author of several books you can find on her Amazon Author Page, and the muscle behind Asexual Artists). I was on a panel with her, and several of the points she made regarding asexuality and how it's treated in fiction got the wheels in my brain turning. A bit of free advice for all the folks out there; when you first start learning about a community you aren't part of and aren't familiar with, take your time. I guarantee the first idea out of your mouth is going to be stupid.

Mine sure as shit was.

Story time!
For those of you who haven't read The Big Bad II, or my story Little Gods, it follows an adventure starring Richard Blackheart, warlock-for-hire. Richard is a bad man, hands-down. He's violent, vindictive, brutish, and fairly amoral. However, I enjoyed writing stories about him, and I wanted to  add something to his concept in the event I published more stories about him.

My thought was to make him an asexual character.

Now, that thought was not a problem in-and-of-itself. As a part of his makeup, it could be a neutral characteristic. One might even argue that, from a marketing perspective, it makes the character more unique in comparison to similar villainous protagonists where toxic and aggressive sexuality is more the norm. However, the issue was that his sexuality was being used as a way to make him more alien to the audience, and to show him as lacking something fundamental that "normal" people would be able to identify with.

If you've ever sat and listened to someone who identifies as asexual, you'd know this attitude of, "there's something wrong with you/you haven't met the right one yet/all people want to do this," is one of the most common (and insulting) refrains they hear.

That is what back-handed inclusion is. It's when your gay male characters become flamboyant jokes, but you still want credit for being more diverse in your casting. It's when your villain is a scheming, long-nosed, greedy parody of Jewish bankers, and you can't figure out why people are mad at you for trying to be more inclusive. Or it's when you tout your strong female lead, but it seems like the book is really about the guy constantly standing next to her that makes all the important decisions, and saves the day in the end.

It is not that you tried to include these characters. It is that you included them poorly, carelessly, or without putting a lot of thought into them that makes an example back-handed inclusion. Which is, in reality, not really inclusion at all.

Better To Be Embarrassed During Editing Than After Publishing

Don't let the potential of screwing up put you off trying to be more inclusive in your work. We all make mistakes, and that goes double for when we're trying to do something we don't have a lot of practice with, or knowledge about. So while your heart might be in the right place, it's still possible that your execution leaves a lot to be desired.

But if you catch those mistakes during your plotting/planning phase, then you can refine them into genuine inclusion and diversity. And if you catch them during editing, you'll save yourself a lot of frustration once your audience gets a look at what you've made.

Hot tip: Exotic is a word used for spices, foods, and fabric... not people.
Do your research. Reach out to people from the communities you're writing about. Do your best to get everything right, and to keep an eye out for when you're saying, "Wow, you don't look nearly so fat in that dress." Because that slap in the face you're going to get won't hurt any less just because you didn't mean to be insulting.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing installment. Hopefully it got some wheels turning! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page where you can check out my books... like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to support my work you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron.