Wednesday, February 28, 2018

As An Author, Be Realistic About Your Return on Investment

Being an author isn't easy. You need to be able to produce work on a regular basis, market yourself to both employers and an audience, and you need to find some way to carve out a tiny niche for yourself while an army of other writers are out there trying to do the same. It's sort of like being a literary prospector, and if anyone gets close to your claim, that's when the shovels and shotguns come out. In that kind of environment, it's very easy to get used to just saying, "yes," to any project that comes your way.

The next time you're about to agree to a project, though, stop and ask what your return on investment is likely to be.

How many doubloons are supposed to be down there?

Always Think About Your ROI

Think about this scenario, for a moment. A client comes up to you and says, "Hey, I know you're a busy writer, but I really need a 500-word article for my magazine. If I get you all the information, could you get a completed piece to me by the end of the week? I'll pay you $50 for it."

For most of us, that sounds like a pretty sweet deal. All the research is done for us, the word count is pretty reasonable, and we've got a nice, fat price tag attached to it. However, would you do that same project if you had to have it handed in by tomorrow? What if you had to reach a 1,500-word count? Would you do that same article for $10, instead of $50?

Yeah, no, I'm sort of busy with people offering me grown-up prices right now. Best of luck!
It's very easy to get into the habit of just saying yes, especially if you don't have a lot of prospects in your work life. However, if you have a lot of stuff to do, then you might want to start trimming off the ones that aren't giving you back what you put into them.

Be Realistic With Your ROI Expectations

In the above scenario, ROI is pretty easy to figure out. You have a select price for doing the job, and you can easily weigh how much you're going to get out of doing it. If that price isn't enough for all the effort you'd have to put in, then it's time to move on to another job that's more fitting in terms of effort and reward.

However, this can get complicated when we start chucking in royalty shares, pay based on traffic, and a slew of other scenarios.

Go with the sure thing, or roll the dice and hope for the best?
This one can get tricky. For example, you might spend a year writing a novel, and another three years getting it published, only to have it earn no more than a few hundred dollars in sales. Alternatively, you might write a blog post that gets a lot of attention, and which flares up every year or so, giving you steady (if unexpected) influxes of cash and followers for no more than an hour or two's work.

Sadly, the only real way to navigate these waters is experience, and a pessimistic look at prospects.

As an example, let's say that you are contemplating submitting a 10k-word short story for an open submission call. That's a hefty chunk of work for any writer, and you're going to dedicate a lot of effort to getting that piece done. But, assuming your story gets accepted, ask what you're likely to get as a result of that acceptance. Does the publisher have a good track record for sales, or are they small, new, or relatively unknown? Do you have any big names in this collection that will draw eyes from a big fan base? Is the book widely available, or do you have to go to a dark, obscure corner of Amazon to even find the ebook? Are you being offered an advance, or are you and all the other authors just expected to split the royalty sales at the end of the year?

These are all questions you need answers for. Because if this company puts out books that regularly score in the top ten categories for sales, then you might be looking at several years of steady checks. Especially if there's a big-name contributor, like Stephen King, who will get people to pick up the book based on the strength of their brand alone.

If, on the other hand, this company is just taking whatever stories it can get, splicing them together, and spitting it out onto the market, then you are not likely to get more than a check or two. Worse, those checks are probably going to be too small to get you a cheese burger off the dollar menu. Ditto if the company offers very little support in the way of marketing, reviews, etc., and you don't have the audience strength to make sales on your own.

Spend Your Efforts Wisely

There is more to being an author than money. Sometimes it's about the satisfaction of working on a particular project, the good feeling of doing something for charity, or the street cred that comes with being attached to certain names. However, you're using a very specific kind of alchemy. So ask yourself how much time, effort, and creative juice you're willing to use up on a project before you get too invested. Otherwise you might find yourself writing ad copy for less than a penny a word, and you won't have the time or energy left over for anything else.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. It's likely old hat for a lot of folks out there, but a reminder from time to time never goes amiss. For more content by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, and follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to support me, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click this link to Buy Me A Coffee! There's a free book in it for you, too, as a thank you for your help.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Think Carefully About Your Protagonist's Reward

Every protagonist wants something out of their story. Maybe it's to take back the throne they were denied, to get revenge for a murdered father, or just to finish the mission so they can go back to that cabin in the woods. However, it's important to think about your protagonist's reward for completing their story, and to ask what sort of message that sends to the audience. Both for critical reasons, and to make sure your story doesn't slip off into trope town in the last couple of pages.

My pleasure is to serve... what, a kingdom and a princess? Well, if you insist...

What Are You Giving, and Why Are You Giving It?

We've all read enough fairy tales to recognize the formula. Protagonist does something clever, noble, etc., and in the end is rewarded with the princess's hand in marriage, and a kingdom of their own. You know, the Standard Hero Reward. And most of us wouldn't dream of putting that trope into our books, even if we were writing a kind of updated fairy tale romance. However, this trope's children still invade our books from time to time.

Goddammit... where are these things coming from?
The eldest child of this trope is the Rescue Romance, where someone who was protected in a dangerous situation will develop a romantic attachment to the person who saved them. That trope's younger, wilder sibling is Rescue Sex, which is fully down with the idea that if you swing in like Errol Flynn, then a tumble in the sheets is the least you should get for your efforts.

Now, these are problematic for reasons that range from suspension of disbelief, to character agency, to what it says about the values of the world we've created. However, it's important to examine them, and to ask why you considered using them in the first place as a mechanism to move your story along.

Let's take the Rescue Romance, for example. It's a perfectly serviceable bridge for establishing your protagonist's good intentions, and perhaps for showing just how capable they are in a tussle. It also gives them an immediate connection to the character you want them to develop a relationship with. And it's a famous enough trope that the audience enough is guaranteed to be familiar with it.

So why not use it? Well, it carries a lot of bad baggage, and that can turn off your reader. However, if you can dig through the trope's guts to find out ways you can re-invent it for your story, then you might be able to cannibalize the parts that work, while avoiding the elements of a problematic reward.

The easiest example is to have the rescue, but to have something go wrong with the romance. For instance, the protagonist's efforts to protect the other character might make them look dangerous and brutish, instead of heroic. This would give the character a challenge to overcome, and teach the lesson that while violence can solve the problem at hand, it may not have the desired effect. Alternatively, the character who did the saving may not be interested in romantic attachments... but the character who almost became a victim is. So now the protagonist has a character who's convinced that they're romantically attached, and that this one incident means they have a deep relationship. It could even be a solid lead-up for a stalker-style scenario where no good deed truly goes unpunished.

Is It All Just Sex?

No, but that is one of the most common kinds of problematic rewards we throw at our protagonists.

Any time you reward your protagonist's behavior, it's important to ask what message that communicates to the reader. For example, if your protagonist steps into a bar fight, and puts three men in the hospital, what is their reward for that? Are they arrested? Sued in civil court for damages? Or is the whole thing declared self-defense, and the cops send them off with a wave and a smile? And does that solve the problem of gang members hanging around the local watering hole, or do people try to get rid of your main character before they make things worse?

And then I just walked away... can you believe that?
Whether it's getting their old job back and being given a raise by a boss who didn't believe in them, managing to finally achieve that dream of being a famous singer, or finally getting their crush's number, ask if the reward your giving your protagonist fits with the story you're telling. And, if it doesn't fit, then ask how you can alter it to fix the issue.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Sorry I missed last week, but I had a convention to attend. If you'd like to check out more of my work, take a glance at my Vocal archive. 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, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click here to Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, there's a free book in it for you as thanks for your support.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Successful Freelancers Are Like Sharks

The shark is, in many ways, a perfect machine. It has been carefully designed to complete a singular task, and it pursues that end with ruthless efficiency. Eat, swim, eat, and the cycle continues. If it stops, it dies, and since sharks don't want to die, they keep the cycle going. Have for thousands of years now.

If you want to be a successful writer, watch the shark in its natural habitat. Take notes. Then, when you wake up in the morning, remind yourself that you are a shark. Before you go back to bed that night, you need to swim, and eat.

Hello, have you read my book?!

Becoming A Typewriter Tigershark

You need to do a lot of things to be a successful writer, freelance or otherwise. You need to read a lot. You need to write a lot. You need to promote, market, and keep yourself out there. You need to make sure your old content is getting seen, and your fresh stuff is drawing in readers new and old. You need to be professional.

Most importantly, though, you need to be focused on achieving the task you have set for yourself.

See the shark... be the shark...
To put it another way, go to the gym and look around. The sharks will be immediately noticeable. Partly because of the sheer results of their regimens, but also because of the determination and focus you see in how they move around the floor. They aren't socializing with other gym-goers, they're not fiddling with their phones, and they're not watching the room between sets. They're there to make themselves better. Day in, day out, that is what their purpose is. It is the engine that drives them, and what pushes them to get results.

The same is true in any other situation. Those who achieve their goals are the ones who focus with a single-minded determination. The ones who seize every opportunity that comes their way, and create them where none already exist. The ones who dedicate themselves to becoming the goal. Who don't have an off-switch. The ones who do the job every day, rain or shine, healthy or sick, whether their pilot light is lit or not.

Now, it's okay if you're not a shark today. You don't have to be. However, if you expect to reach a goal, then you have to take a few more steps every day. So tomorrow, start that new project. Work on it every day until it's done. Submit it. Start a new one. Join a community with open calls for stories, and find more projects to devour. Write articles. Start a blog. Go to a con. Shake hands. Pass out business cards. Learn how to swim. Then start eating, and never stop.

Getting A Taste For Blood

Now, for folks who like the idea of being a shark, but who aren't sure how to do it, I thought I'd leave some easy, actionable tips here. These are the places I started, and they're still around for those who want to dip a toe into the waters.

If you want to write for money, and you aren't picky about who you do it for, head over to Text Broker. There are slews of clients on there, and they have work that needs done. Cut your teeth on some of their projects, because nothing starts the transformation like being given money for your word count. Even if it is just walking around cash for some folks. You should also check out Online Writing Jobs, because this site collects a whole bunch of freelance jobs in one place for you to apply for.

While I have written for a lot of different genres, one of my go-to places for open calls for stories is Horror Tree. Whether you just want to pad your publishing credits, or you want to establish them in the first place, I recommend checking them out and seeing who is looking for writers. You can also type in the phrase, "anthology open call," followed by the year to get a pretty decent list in any search engine. And, if you're looking to be a novelist, well, your best bet is to research publishers, read their submission guidelines, and make sure you have someone that fits your book. And if too many of them say no, hell with 'em, publish it yourself!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. Hopefully the combination of philosophy and practicality helps some folks out there who were wondering where to start climbing. If you'd like to stay on top of all my releases, simply follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to support me and my work, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click here to Buy Me A Coffee!