Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Literary Polyamory: It's Okay To Write More Than One Genre

Authors have a tendency to define ourselves by our work. We also have a tendency to pick a single fictional neighborhood, and settle into it. Part of that is because we might be working on a series, or we really enjoy one genre, but it's also a marketing concern. After all, readers search for new books based on genre labels, so it's important to establish yourself in your district, and to raise your flag as high as you possibly can if you want to get noticed. Once your name is synonymous with a given genre, then you have reached the top of the mountain.

Can you see me yet? Buy my book!
It works, too. If you make a name for yourself doing one thing really well, then people who are interested in that thing are going to seek you out. But sometimes you may want a change from your usual. Maybe you want to stop telling stories about wizard schools, and pen a series of private detective stories. Perhaps you'd like to set aside your dark fantasy tales and do some grim, gritty dystopian novels. Or maybe you're known for writing modern fantasy stories about monster hunters, but you really want to try your hand at some hard sci-fi.

Well, there's nothing that says you have to stay married to a single genre.

Literary Polyamory: When You Have Multiple, Loving Genres

Nowhere is it written that just because you've written romance, horror, sci-fi, or fantasy stories in the past that you are no longer allowed to write other kinds of stories. All you have to do is have a sit-down with your primary genre, and talk things out. They're usually pretty understanding, as long as you make it clear what you want.

No, really, it's fine. Horror and I have an open relationship these days.
There are a couple ways you can go about this. The first, which is the method I use, is to just write whatever the hell you feel like at any given moment. Seriously, if you take a look at my Amazon Author Page, you'll find horror, sci-fi, fantasy, RPGs, and steampunk all sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on my shelf. It's pretty freeing, but it does present a bit of a marketing dilemma. Because while there are some readers who are more than happy to check out my various publications on the strength of my name alone, aside from those five or six people, readers tend to be picky. Some will read my horror stories, but not the fantasy. Some love the steampunk, but aren't interested in my other sci-fi. And my readers who enjoy my roleplaying game work aren't clamoring to buy my fiction. That's the risk you take when you decide to put one name on all your work.

The other strategy is to create a pen name dedicated to your work in other genres.

All the examples I mentioned earlier are authors who were already seeing success in one genre, but they wanted to do something different. So they decided to put a different name on the cover as a way to help readers separate their work more easily. Stephen King wrote harsh, gritty fiction under the name Richard Bachman, Seanan McGuire writes sci-fi under the name Mira Grant, and J.K. Rowling has written mysteries under the name Robert Galbraith. Sometimes authors try to distance themselves from their pen names, and sometimes they don't, but the result is that a pen name is one more search term that's easier to type in. If you want the author's main genre, search under their name. If you want to see their side project, you've got another term to use.

Never the twain shall meet.

The advantage of this approach is that it's easier on readers' brains. People, in general, like to put things into neat little boxes. They like to read certain genres, and they like it when an author has a certain style, and certain expectations. So by separating your body of work into more easily-digested portions, readers don't have to parse through the whole buffet to find the dishes that appeal to them. With that said, it can be quite hard putting out books under one name, much less under two, three, or more.

Write What You Want

A friend of mine once attended a panel at Wizard World in Chicago that had John Carpenter on it. When it came time to ask questions of the guests, my friend asked, "how do you decide what to work on next?" The answer, without varnish or careful thought was, "what gets your dick hard?"

So many things...
This is one of the most freeing pieces of advice I've ever heard, and I would recommend anyone planning on being a creative professional follow it. Because you can have all the talent, skill, and resources in the world, but if your heart isn't in a project then it's going to show. In fact, that lack of heart might be a book's downfall. So if you need a break from your established genre, take one. Cleanse your palate, and start a project that puts some spring back into your step.

Your readers will thank you for it.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Hopefully there are some folks who found it interesting, or at least helpful to consider. If you'd like to support me and my blog, stop on by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to toss some bread in my jar. All it takes is $1 a month to make a big difference, and to get some sweet swag as a thank you present. And, lastly, if you want to keep up to date on my latest posts, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

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

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

Cause it's all about the Benjamins, baby.

What is The Benjamin Franklin Effect?

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

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

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

How You Can Make This Work For You

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phonetically writing out an accent works off the same principle.

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

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

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

Add Some Flair, But Be Less Literal

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

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

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Bad Is AdBlock, Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Are You Comfortable With?

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

Well, they're really not.

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

Sadly, we sort of have to.

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

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

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

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

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