Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Explicit Sexual Violence is NOT Acceptable in Mainstream Fiction

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

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 However, the sheer, cavalier attitude that some writers, and particularly unpublished or new writers, treat it with makes me feel like this needs to be said.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

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

This is How You Send Yourself a Rejection Letter

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

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

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

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

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

The Keyword Here is "Mainstream"

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

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

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

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

Ask Yourself Why

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Want To Make More Money With Your Blog? Try Sovrn

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

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

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

Getting Seen to Get Paid

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

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

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

Until recently, anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Keeping a Consistent Tone Can Make or Break Your Book

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

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

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

Because tonal dissonance can ruin even the best art.

Keeping a Consistent Tone Takes Practice

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

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

Consistency is what's key.

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

Learn The Rules Before You Break Them

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Who Decides What You're Worth As A Writer?

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

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

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

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

The View From The Publisher's Side

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Are You Worth?

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

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

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

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

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

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