Thursday, June 21, 2018

Trouble Reaching Word Count? Try Fighter's Block!

I have made my feelings about writer's block clear in the past (they're in the post Writer's Block Isn't Real, So Stop Complaining About It for those who didn't read that installment). However, I also recognize that different writers will need different methods of motivation, and will think around corners in unique ways when it comes to their work. That's why, when I heard about Fighter's Block, I figured I'd do my part to spread the word about the app.

Right tool for the right job, and such.

How Does Fighter's Block Work?

Have you ever played a turn-based roleplaying game like Final Fantasy? Same thing, except instead of pushing buttons on a controller, you're adding word count to your manuscript in order to defeat the monster before it defeats you.

Before the battle begins, you input the word count you're aiming for (start small if you're not used to this, is my advice). Once you have your word count in place, you can change the cosmetic aspects of the battle to suit your preferences (different hero, different monster, etc.). Once you have all of your settings just how you like them, click Fight and start writing. The monster will continuously attack you, dealing damage. In order to keep yourself healed, and to overcome the monster, you have to write. Plain and simple.

Of course, there is a pause button in the event you need to get more coffee, go to the bathroom, or something like that. And to judge from the big question mark boxes, there are extras you can unlock over time the more you use the app.

What Do You Have To Lose?

The point of Fighter's Block is that it gives you a stimulating challenge. You've got a pause button in case you need to take a moment to think through a piece of dialogue, or a particular fight scene, but the rest of it is just training your brain and your hands to work in concert to get from where you are to where you want to be on your manuscript. And if you like to gamify solutions to your writing problems, this is one of the more interesting apps I've seen for doing so.

Also, if you're looking for an editing method for solving story structure, I'd recommend my other recent post The Rubber Ducky Method Can Help You Solve Plot Problems. Because if it's dumb, but it works, then it ain't dumb.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing installment. Hopefully you find it useful, and if you try out Fighter's Block, leave a comment so others can see how it worked for you. For more of my work check out my Vocal archive, and to stay on top of all my latest releases follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help fund my ongoing efforts consider dropping a few quarters into The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or just Buy Me A Ko-Fi if you felt this was a valuable piece of information.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Your Brand Is Just As Important As Your Books

Authors are full of odd beliefs, and quaint ideas. Perhaps the oddest belief I've personally come across, though, is the idea that their work exists in a kind of white space, separate and apart from who they are, and the life they live. This notion that your art will be judged entirely apart from you as its creator is, frankly put, ludicrous. All you need to do is to look at any artist in the world, and ask if who they were wasn't taking into consideration when examining their art.

"If you set his politics aside, though, the book isn't too bad."
You are an integral part of your book's success. Or, at least, the persona you create for yourself as the writer is.

Brand Management and Book Sales

We tend to think of a brand as something for shopping malls, or chain restaurants, but we never realize that as authors we are also our own business. As such, our brand is a combination of our reputation, our unique imagery, our niche, and all the things the public associates with us. Take a moment, and think of some businesses out there. Now ask what their carefully-crafted brand is supposed to say to you. Chances are you thought of things like Wal-Mart being a friendly store that has everything you need, or McDonald's giving you an affordable meal exactly the way you want it. But brand is more than just your commercials, your uniforms, and your reputation. It's also your actions, your attitude, and what you choose to show people.

Case in point.
Wendy's, for those who don't know, is a fast food place that sells burgers. A little pricier than McDonald's and Burger King, its brand was based on old-fashioned quality and taste. But thanks to social media, it scored serious brand points by also being snarky at other businesses in a way that got them attention in a good way. Seen as clever and amusing, they gained followers (and one presumes sold more burgers as a result of the hijinks).

What does that have to do with books? Well, ask Orson Scott Card.

If you don't know who Card is, he was the author of Ender's Game, as well as other popular novels. However, he is also a person who has espoused extremely negative views of homosexuality, and those views are on record (things like how being gay is a direct result of child abuse, for instance). Whether that was intentional or not, those views have become part of his brand as an author. Hence why lots of readers have turned away from him as a creator, and why boycotts of his work (and movies based on his work) tend to spring up.

Remember that. Because your brand is about more than your color scheme, your genre, your name (or pen name), and what's on your business card. It's also about the tone you take in public, how you comport yourself, and what you go on the record saying. For good, or for ill.

Your Reputation Follows You

Your brand isn't something you can just walk away from. It follows you, and every time you take to social media, publish an article, or put out another book, that brand is being added to. Which is why it pays to sit a spell, and actually think about what side of you the public should see. Do you want to be seen as a writer of a particular genre? Do  you want to come across as cooky and unusual? Mysterious and withdrawn? Or do you want to seem friendly and approachable to encourage more people to follow your work?

Good artwork helps. Especially if it's instantly identifiable.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing. Hopefully it catches people's attention, and gets you thinking about how you look from your reader's perspective. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and to stay on top of all my releases follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support me and my work, Buy Me a Ko-Fi or drop a few quarters onto The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. My eternal gratitude, as well as a free book, shall shortly follow.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Rubber Ducky Method Can Help You Solve Plot Problems

We've all had those moments where we're looking at our manuscript, and we know something isn't right. You've been over the timeline, you've checked character motivations, and everything seems like it should fit. But you're still coming up with 2+2 = chair, and that is not a satisfying conclusion at all.

If you find yourself in a tight spot, and you need a little help, it might be time to try out the Rubber Ducky Method.

All right, I'm here. Let's fix the problem!

What The Hell Is The Rubber Ducky Method?

The Rubber Ducky Method, or Rubber Ducking as it's called, is actually something used by computer programmers to fix their code as something of a last resort when they can't find a problem. According to a story found in The Pragmatic Programmer,  there was a computer programmer who carried a little rubber ducky around with him when he was at work. When none of the usual methods of solving the problem worked, he would take that tiny rubber fowl, sit him on the desk facing the screen, and then explain the code to him line-by-line.

The programmer would not skip lines that looked okay, nor would he allow himself to be vague. He would explain every detail to Mr. Quackers, reviewing it with him detail by detail and line by line until they found the problem together.

There you are, you little bastard! Thanks again, Quackers!
In addition to feeling like something a writer trying hard to up their eccentricity score would do, this method works because it forces you out of your own head. Whether you're explaining your story to a rubber duck, your stuffed bear, or to your writing mug, the point is that you have to actually explain what you're doing to this new companion the same way you'd have to explain it to a friend or co-worker. Which is an ideal way of realizing that, no, the explanation for why the protagonist is being double-crossed by the count doesn't actually make sense, since it's a move that doesn't benefit him in any way, and it is the hollow note that's screwing up your manuscript's flow.

This task tends to fall to my squire, when I'm in need of assistance.

If Nothing Else Works, The Absurd Is Worth A Try

Every writer has their methods, and some of those methods are stranger than others. However, if you find yourself staring at your screen, trying to will sensible story structure into place with angry glares and frustrated growling noises, it might be time to get a pocket-sized writing buddy. Someone supportive, and non-judgmental, who only wants to help you figure out why this plot twist toward act three is falling on its face.

What have you got to lose?

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. I hope it works for folks out there, and anyone with stories to share about it should feel free to leave them in the comments. If you'd like to see more of my work, then stop by my Vocal archive. To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support my projects, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or tossing some change into The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Both options help a lot, and there's a free book in it for you as thanks!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Quit Your Hand-Wringing, People Are Still Reading Books

A certain headline comes across my news feed every couple of months. Though the specific formula for it might alter, the gist is always the same. "My god, no one reads books anymore! Our society is crumbling! Whatever shall we do?!"

Sorry, I didn't hear you. I was too busy reading a book.
Why does this particular rallying cry of, "My god, think of the books!" crop up so much? I have no idea, since according to the data, people are reading at about the same rate they have for years... at least in American markets.

Pew Research, Reading, and Trends

Unbeknownst to most people (including me, until fairly recently), the Pew Research Center does a yearly survey in the United States about reading habits. They want to know how many books someone reads, what format those books are in, and to look for trends among recipients.

Well, the 2018 numbers are in. Print books, despite what you may have heard, are still the preferred format for readers in the U.S. Ebooks are seeing some increased use (not surprising given how many of us have smartphones and tablets these days), and even audio books are getting some love with one in five Americans saying they listen to them. I am definitely one of those five, no surprise since libraries offer them for free, and Audible has been a thing for a few years, now. But the big number, the one that will probably surprise a lot of people? Well, it's the fact that about three-quarters of the U.S. population has read at least one book in the past year. And the average number of books people read per year is 12... so about one a month.

You're shocked. I can tell.
That isn't some step back from the edge, either. The percentage of Americans who read is about the same as it's been for years now, and the only time it's been any higher than right now was during the 50 Shades of Grey craze... so that should give you an idea of how much impact that book had, love it or hate it.

So, if you're a writer, don't worry. Your livelihood is not in peril. People still read books, people still want more books, and they aren't being phased out by TV, video games, and YouTube.

Of course, there is one other thing...

If So Many People Are Reading, Why Can't I Sell Books?

While reading is staying fairly steady as far as numbers go (with little changes here and there due to generational habits), the number of books that's available has skyrocketed! Thanks to the ubiquity of self-publishing options, and the sheer number of smaller presses out there, it's now easier than it's been at any point in history to become a published author. If you add in the fact that older titles are still being read, that exacerbates the whole situation.

Now ask yourself, if the number of people reading is staying constant, and they're reading about the same number of books every year while the available books to be read increases dramatically... well, you do the math.

Yeah, those numbers aren't looking too good.
So, rather than lament that no one is reading books anymore, you need to realize that you are competing for eyeballs when it comes to your work. As such, you need to step up your game. Ask what kinds of books people are reading, and find a unique niche for yourself and your work. Build a brand, network with fellow authors, and promote yourself. Host a giveaway, turn up at conventions, and do whatever you need to do to make sure people are seeing your book. Because there are millions of people in America alone who are reading about 4-12 books a year. And if you can get them to pick even one of your books, then you have a chance to hook them for more.

Getting that shot is tough, but it's not because people aren't craving another pile of 100,000 words or so to touch them in their feels, and give them a tour of a place they've never been before. So get to work!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing installment. If you're looking for more work of mine, and you've already dug through my archives here, you could always check out my Vocal articles. Or, if you're in a mood for fantasy, head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or dropping some change into The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Every little bit helps, and I can't do it without you!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Time Isn't On Your Side As A Writer

There are a lot of writers out there who take comfort in stories of late blooming authors. Tales of how someone didn't start releasing books until well into their forties, fifties, or sixties, finally standing up to tell their stories long past when other people would have given up and moved on. And I agree, there is something heartening about a story whose message is, "It's never too late."

This applies to more than just writers, of course.
With that said, I would like to grab all of you who are hanging onto that feel-good message, and give you a thorough shaking. Because it might be true that it's never too late to succeed, but it is definitely never too early to get started!

Are You Ready For The Marathon?

I've said it before, but it bears repeating; a writer's career is an iceberg. The part we all see (and the part those success stories I mentioned earlier focus on) is the actual release. The book, the collection, the work making it into the light of day, and being consumed by the masses. What we don't see is all the effort that went into making that project a reality.

That bottom part is what we're talking about, in case you were wondering.
That huge, pendulous foundation? That is the amount of work you put in behind the scenes. That's all the reading you do to brush up on technique, and to get genre savvy. That's all the sessions of taking notes, fleshing out ideas, and talking with your friends, loved ones, and occasionally rubber ducks about your stories. Most importantly, though, it represents the amount of time you spend actually writing, reviewing, editing, and publishing your work.

Because that's a thing that a lot of folks seem to forget... writing takes a long time. And good writing takes even longer, as a rule.

First off, let's talk about getting the idea ready. For some lucky few of us, stories come in a flash of inspiration, all gift-wrapped and ready to go. For the rest of us, though, we have to sit on the idea, and sculpt out the basics. Figure out who the main cast is, what is supposed to be happening, what world we're writing in, stuff like that. In my experience, and factoring in other writers I've talked to, this can take anywhere from a few hours, to a few days, to a few months. Some writers spend years on this stage, though I wouldn't recommend that.

So, let's say you're lucky, and it didn't take you more than a few days to nail down all your specifics. Cool. Now it's time to hammer out that first draft. If you're a Robert Louis Stevenson, or a Stephen King, you can bang that puppy out in a month or two. However, most of us don't get anywhere near 10,000 words per day. And given that most novels these days tend to trend more to 100,000 words than 50,000 words, you need to ask how long it's going to take you to reach that goal. Especially if you aren't writing every day, or you run into road blocks that require you to go back and change parts of your story in order to keep things cohesive.

For me, this process typically takes about a year or so. Lots of writers I know can do it in half that time, but I don't know too many folks who can claim less than a season for a first draft. And, typically, folks who can pound out a rough draft in such a short amount of time already have a lot of experience as authors, which isn't factoring into this equation.

Let's say you're really good, you write every day, and things go smoothly. So it's been about 7-9 months since you first decided to write this novel. Solid length of time for giving birth to a project. But wait, you're not done. Not even close! Because now you have to go through and edit that book you just wrote to make sure all those pesky mistakes, plot contradictions, and other errors are handled. Depending on your skill, experience, and how straightforward things went during the rough draft, this step can take anywhere from a few weeks, to most of a year.

Oh but wait, you're not done yet!
Once you've gotten that book as good as you think it can be, you then need to turn it over to your beta readers. Because no matter how good you think you are, you need fresh eyes on it to detect any problems you aren't seeing. Because what seems clear as day to you might confuse your readers, and they will notice when you spell a character's name differently in chapter 3, or when you give conflicting explanations about an event.

Depending on your beta readers, this review can take as little as a week, or as much as a few months. So let's say they're attentive, and get the changes back to you within a month. Then you need to make changes based on their feedback, which can take even more time.

At this point, we're looking at about 10 months to a year and change of effort, just to get one book to the point where it's ready for submission. If you want to put it up for sale yourself, that means you need to convert the file, make sure it follows all the guidelines for where you're publishing it, acquire the cover art, and generally handle all those loose ends. If you're fairly tech savvy, and you can handle all the blocking, conversion, and getting an attractive book cover put together. This could take a few hours on the weekend. If you're buying art, aren't all that familiar with the formatting requirements, etc., you can tack on more time. So, in general, getting your book ready to go up will take between a day and a week, depending on a bunch of different factors.

If you don't want to go the self-publishing route, though, you've got a long wait on your hands. Submissions to publishers often take months to get looked at, and bigger publishers can have you waiting years on a yes or no as they skim through all the other hopeful novelists out there. And a lot of publishers don't accept simultaneous submissions, so you have to get a yes or no before pitching your book to someone different. Also, even if your book does get accepted, it can take several months to several years before it gets released.

So, to recap. From inception to release, if everything goes smooth, you work hard, and you don't run into too many issues, you're looking at between 6 months if you're really good, and a year or so if you experience set backs for a self-published book. For a traditionally published book, you're looking at a year to several years, assuming your work doesn't get caught in the grinder just before it slows to a halt.

What Was The Point Of All That?

So why did I walk you through all of that? Especially since every writer is different, and average times are just a shot in the dark? Mostly, it was to point out all the time, energy, and raw effort it takes to get a project from being an electrical impulse in your brain, to being a fully-rendered story people can buy and read. Because it doesn't just happen overnight, and if you take comfort in the "some day" approach, then you might be overlooking how much work you have to do just to get to the point where you can see if this book was a winner or not.

Because more than anything else, writing takes time. And while you're never too old to tell stories, there isn't really any time to waste if you want to actually do this thing. If you want to be ready for that marathon in two years, you need to get off the couch and start your training today! Same goes for being a successful author. Pre-season started yesterday... so what are you going to do?

Also, for those who were interested in this post, you might also enjoy Making A Living As A Writer Is A Waiting Game and Don't Wait Until You're "Good Enough" To Get Paid.

That's all for this installment of Craft of Writing. Hopefully it did something to stoke your pilot light, if you were still in that "one day" frame of mind. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and to stay on top of all my updates follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to support me and my work, you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or drop a few quarters into The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Either way, my eternal thanks and some free books are yours for the asking.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Will Wattpad Futures Let You Make Money Off Your Stories?

If you're a writer who spends time on the Internet, chances are good you've already come across Wattpad. If you've never been there, it's a website that allows writers to post their work for free, and for readers to glut themselves on all the content available. While you might have to search through a lot of stories to find authors who mesh with the style and quality you're looking for, it's the go-to place for a lot of readers who want to just read, rather than risk buying a story that isn't very good.

Given my handle, it's no surprise that Wattpad has not been a website I've been all that interested in. After all, writing takes a lot of time and effort... why just put that up on a website if there's no way to turn a profit from it? Because sure, you might make a big splash and get your work noticed, but that's a big gamble to make. Fortunately for those who want to both entertain the masses and pay their bills, Wattpad is trying out something new. It's called Wattpad Futures.

What is that, you ask? Well, that's what I'm here to tell you.

How Does It Work?

The idea behind Wattpad Futures is pretty simple, really. Authors in the program have their stories enrolled, and between every chapter the site displays an ad. So the more people read, and the more those ads get seen, the more the writer makes from it. Not only that, but the Futures program uses a PPM setup (which is a fancy way of saying you receive a set dollar rate for every 1,000 ads that get seen by readers). These futures are paid out every quarter, assuming the author amasses at least $100. If you don't make at least $100 a quarter (and that's easy to do, assuming you haven't written a hugely popular story on a site crammed with other fiction), then it's saved until the next time around.

Also, stories that involve copyrighted characters, settings, etc. are not eligible (though stories about real people as characters are, it seems from the FAQ).

How Do I Get In On This?

Well, at the moment, you need to wait. Wattpad has been messing with this program for a while, and it's currently in a closed beta. Only Wattpad Stars who are 18 years of age or older were invited to participate, and the first quarter of the program recently ended back in March. However, it doesn't seem the program blew up, and it's possible that in the future it will be open to more writers than are currently participating in it.

So, if you're already on Wattpad, you should keep an eye on this program. However, if you're not on Wattpad, you should ask if you want to start building your base there in the hopes that the doors will open for you. This could be especially problematic if you write stories that don't come in multiple parts, as the transitions are where you get your money's worth with these ads.

If you're looking for alternative programs where you could submit your work, and get paid based on the number of reads you get, then you might want to take a look at my coverage of both Vocal and Infobarrel. I've used both of them, and at least as of time of writing, they're pretty reliable income streams for writers willing to put the effort into them.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing installment. Hopefully this has caught a few writers' eyes, as Wattpad becoming a potential income stream is pretty big news. If you'd like to check out more work of mine, you should stop in to take a look at my Vocal archive. To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help me keep doing what I do, consider dropping a few coins over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or just Buying Me A Ko-Fi.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

"Can You Draw A Circle?" or "Do Your Skills Suit Market Demand?"

As I've mentioned before, one of my favorite things to do is volunteer for programming at conventions. Capricon is a favorite of mine, in particular, and I make it a point to volunteer in several capacities. Which is why I was sitting on a panel about how to get into the games business at the opposite end of the table from Clifford VanMeter. If you don't know who he is, seriously, go check out his website, it's full of amazing art.

This is one of my personal favorites.
Anyway, we were all telling our stories about how we'd first gotten our foots in the door in the world of publishing. Turns out Cliff had been in the game since before Internet access was a standard part of the publishing world, and he'd made his mark in the early Star Trek roleplaying game as a go-to artist for their ships. Not because he was an extremely talented artist (or so he said), but because he possessed the skill the company needed... someone who could draw circles.

Because, despite all of the great artists who were hanging around TSR headquarters (big publisher of RPGs, for those not in the know), and all of the talent chomping at the bit to get in on this action, a lot of them had trouble with the circular design of a lot of Star Trek ships. As such, their art always looked a little off, and the company wasn't happy with it. And when Cliff heard the editors and art directors talking about it (in-person, as he was dropping something off in the office, though these days you can sometimes get similar results on social media), he spoke up and said that he could do the job everyone else was falling down on. And while he was the first to admit his ship illustrations may have been less dynamic than what other artists could produce, they were recognizable, technically correct, and exactly what the books needed.

Can You Draw A Circle?

What does this have to do with writing? Well, it's all about whether or not you can draw a circle when that's what a publisher (or the public) wants from you.

Because cash flows to those who have the skills that are in-demand.
On the surface, the lesson is fairly simple. No matter how talented you are, in order to get work (or increase your fan base if you're independent) you have to make things that please your paymasters. Which is why you should make sure you can draw (or write, since that's my bivouac) in a variety of styles, sizes, themes, and genres in order to make sure that you always have something you can bring to the table.

The other lesson, the one that I think is just as important to get from Cliff's story, is that you can't be afraid to speak up when you see an opportunity. Whether you're at a convention and someone on the panel mentions they have a hard time finding writers who work in your genre, or you have a chance to catch an editor and ask them what the company is looking for, you will miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

There's something else, too. Something a lot of folks miss, but which Cliff went on to emphasize by the end of the panel. That you can never get comfortable just doing one thing. If you put all your eggs in a single basket, it might still be in one piece by the time you get home. But if the bottom falls out, then you're left with a skill set that was once a valuable commodity that has been splatted all over the sidewalk.

Does The Market Need You?

People love to talk about the free market, and about how the collective desires of the public can shape your fortunes. It's just as true in the cases of artists as it is in stock market savants and investment prophets, though. Because if your work strikes a chord (whether it's with readers, or with the publishers who will get your stuff in front of readers), that can make you into an overnight success. However, if your specific niche falls out of favor (such as how very few folks gush about steampunk anymore, or how modern fantasy is no longer the jump-start label it was a decade back when there wasn't so much of it underfoot), then you face either diminishing returns, or attempting to do something different.

It's important to remember that you are here to provide things the public wants to see. The public doesn't exist simply to buy your books, and subsidize your career. Put more simply, you work for them, even if they don't realize it.

Which is why, at the end of the day, if they want you to draw circles, you'd better be able to deliver.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing. Hopefully folks found it helpful! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive. To keep up-to-date on all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support me and my work, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon to leave a tip in my jar, or just Buy Me A Ko-Fi! Either way, a free book is yours for the asking when you donate.