Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Writing a Book is an Investment, as Well as a Gamble

For those who don't follow my social media feeds, I complain about being broke a lot. I'm not currently in debt to my landlord, and I'm managing to hold things together as best I can while the pandemic rages, but I'm still well below the threshold for a lot of public aid programs. And while I'd love to suddenly have the fickle finger of the zeitgeist make me an overnight bestseller, until that happens I just keep chugging away and putting out as much content as I can (books, articles, blogs, and more) in the hopes that something gets traction.

What a lot of folks (particularly aspiring writers) don't seem to get, though, is that books are an investment. Something you write today might not catch on by the end of the month. It might not get popular till next month, next year, or even ever. Worse, the bigger the project is, and the more time and energy that goes into it, the more of a risk it is as an investment.

Smut projections look good... if you've got steampunk, off load it yesterday!

I wanted to talk about that this week. Because I've been getting dozens of ideas for novels while I've been staying home and out of circulation, but I also know that a lot of them are a big risk for me as a creator when it comes to time versus profits. And I want me readers to understand the thought process that determines what comes out next from my work desk.

Writing a Book Isn't Free

When a lot of people think of books, they imagine creating something out of nothing. It's just words on a page, after all, and in today's digital world where ebooks are a huge part of the market it's possible to build a successful career for yourself by making and marketing an entirely ephemeral product. However, even if you do the writing, the editing, the book layout, the cover design, and the marketing on your own, that book still cost you something to produce. It took your time, your energy, and your creativity, along with parts of your sanity in many cases.

Speaking of, go get your copy of my book today!

In exchange for all of that time, that energy, and that sheer mental sweat, this thing you've created has the potential to give you money. That's the nature of work, after all; you perform the task, and in exchange you are given money so that you can cover your expenses while also indulging in the occasional bit of excess.

What a lot of folks don't seem to realize, though, is that the more return on investment you need to make a project break even, the harder it can be to actually justify the project in the first place.

Let's Talk Numbers

So, let's say I wanted to write a novel. For this scenario I'm possessed by the ghost of Robert Louis Stevenson, and so I will be able to complete a manuscript in one month (for those wondering where I'm getting this number, it's the length of time it originally took him to pen The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). My average expenses throughout the month, for the bare minimum, include:

- $400 for my part of the rent
- $40 for Internet
- $80 for utilities

So discounting food, transportation, and other expenses that can go up and down depending on my household's status, I would need to make at least $520 from spending my month's energy writing that novel for it to really break even.

Yeah, that math checks out.

That is a tall order to ask for one project, working at the level I'm working at. The important thing to remember is that books can continue to sell over time, though. So if your monthly expenses remain relatively stable, and you continue making sales, you actually need less performance from future works to make sure you break even. And in an ideal world you have enough popular material on the market that your cushion will carry you from one month to another regardless of what else you put out.

Let's say I've been at my desk for a few months, and I've kicked out 5 novels in as many months. Now I just need each book to make about $104 every month in sales to cover the expenses I listed. That would be impressive, but far from unreasonable. And if I had 10 books on the market? Well, each one would need to make $50 and change in sales every month (on average) to maintain that cushion.

So on the one hand it's true that the more stuff you put out on the market, the better the chances you'll be able to keep your bills paid. On the other hand, nothing you do as a writer is guaranteed... and that's the rub.

It's All About Time, and Luck

Let's go back to that above scenario. That first book I wrote while I was harboring the spirit of a famous author had to sell a few hundred copies in order to pay my expenses for the month. If it manages to do that, great, I have essentially bought myself time to work on the sequel. And if it really captured the reading public's attention and sold gangbusters? Even better.

But what if it only sold 100 copies? Or a few dozen? What do I do then?

Well, I tried. Guess my luck wasn't good today.

If that happened in that first month, that would be devastating. Now I've got the power company wondering where their money is, a landlord threatening eviction, and on top of that I'm not eating. But what if it happened with the third book? Or the fourth one? It would still be inconvenient, but if the others were doing well enough that they could shoulder the weight then it wouldn't be as much of a problem, and I could probably muddle through to the next month where the next new release would be able to help boost my earnings.

You know the real issue, though? It doesn't take me a month to write a novel. That's an unrealistic turnaround time for most authors out there (for those of you citing Stephen King and other prolifics, the exceptions prove the rule on this one).

Maintaining a solid daily word count, I can write a first draft of a novel somewhere between 7 months and a year. If you want a cleaned up and edited version that I've gone over, and which the beta readers have seen, you're looking at a minimum of 10 months if I had a serious fire under me. If that novel is going to a traditional publishing house, it could be an additional 6 months to a year before it comes out, depending on their release schedule.

So that one novel would need to earn me more than $6,000 in sales just to make up for some of my bills in the time it took me to write it (to say nothing of additional time waiting for the publisher to put it on the market). And that's assuming there are no hiccups, no delays, no re-writes that add onto the time, and that I can immediately turn around to work on the next thing as soon as it's done.

Then, just to add insult to injury, even if the book does do well it's going to take more than a month for earnings to clear and be sent to me. Sometimes I'll only get a check during a particular quarter, depending on the publisher. So even if the book is clocking sales, I need to have the resources on-hand to wait for the money to actually get to me no matter how popular my work was.

If the game sounds rigged, that's a feature, not a flaw.

This is an even bleaker break down of what I talked about back in "You Can Only Be A Writer If You Can Afford It" Tells An Uncomfortable Truth. Because it takes time for you to get good at writing books, and it's unlikely the first one you write is going to get published. It's also unlikely the first book you publish is going to soar onto the bestseller lists. So you have to sink in even more time, more energy, more sweat, and more research to (as many Dark Souls players will say) git gud.

The Audience is What Really Makes The Difference

With all of this said, the important thing to remember is that writers aren't the ones with the power. You, the readers, are the kingmakers in this game. You are the ones with the power to help ensure that we can keep doing what we're doing.

Because it doesn't matter if we've written one book, a dozen, or a hundred... if no one reads them, our checks will all look the same.

Basically the opposite of this.

This is why I stress so much that if you know an author who's struggling, they need your help! And if you're not sure what to do, just follow the 10 Concrete Ways You Can Help The Authors You Like. If you have money, buy their books, contribute to their patron, buy their books as presents for your friends, and so on. If you don't have money, boost their signal, leave reviews, write blogs or make videos about them... spread the word so other people can find out about the creator you want to support.

Because there is only so much we can do from our side of this equation. And if you help open those floodgates, you're going to get a lot more books into your hands a lot faster.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Maybe We Should Avoid Writing Copaganda For a While?

For those of you who don't know, I actually got my bachelors degree in criminal justice forever and a day ago at Indiana University. I worked as a security guard through most of my later college years, and though I had some vague notion of maybe going into law enforcement post-graduation, my real motivator was because I wanted to write more accurate detective stories. Since doing all the research on laws, police procedure, and figuring out how things worked behind the scenes was going to take a huge amount of time and effort anyway, I thought I might as well get a B.S. for doing all that work.

When I first started my degree I already knew academically that cop shows, procedural crime novels, etc. were skewed in how they showed events. Much like how war movies and action films hyped things up and made them more exciting, I knew you had to keep the audience entertained if you wanted them to keep watching. It wasn't until I got into the nitty-gritty details of how law enforcement did (and sometimes didn't) work that I started noticing patterns in our entertainment where cops feature as protagonists.

That it is, for the most part, fucking propaganda.

In position, we heard there was a guy with a sign.

What is Copaganda?

The short version is that copaganda is the focus on police-friendly narratives that play up the idea that they are here to help, and that they are heroes. Stories about how cops kneel in solidarity with protesters are often run by the mainstream news, who leaves out that the same cops then attacked protesters once the cameras were off. It's how most of us had no idea what civil asset forfeiture was until John Oliver ran a piece on it on Last Week Tonight. It's about how over and over again we hear about "a few bad apples" when behavioral reports are repeatedly hidden from the public, and officers fired for violence or abuse of authority are often hired back at different departments, no questions asked.

Copaganda applies to fiction, too, and we have swallowed a lot of it over the years.

For those who haven't seen the above video, the short version is that cops (the sort we think of today), were often subjects of ridicule during the early part of the 20th century in fiction. Even before that, they were usually seen as problems to be dealt with, if they were mentioned at all. While Westerns might have a heroic sheriff or deputy, that was a very different kettle of fish. Private detectives, amateur sleuths, and even criminals all got leading roles, while police were usually the comic relief.

As the era of Prohibition came about, though, Hollywood and the police entered into a kind of devil's bargain. Hollywood was riddled with morality scandals (as well as actual crimes committed by many of its leading figures), and they needed somebody on their side to clean up after them and keep it out of the public eye. Police had been losing a public image war pretty hard, and they needed help polishing up their appearance in the eyes of the public. So one hand washed the other.

This didn't lead immediately to police detectives becoming leading men you could trust, but it did mean that cops were often treated as serious background characters in Hollywood's pieces (especially where the LAPD were involved). Even if the film focused on a private eye, such as the infamous Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, the actual police would be seen as doing their jobs and trying to actually fix things. This, of course, exploded when Dragnet basically invented the police procedural, first as a radio show, and then as a TV show.

Side note, while Dragnet claimed the cases presented were based on real police cases, Jack Webb was often more than happy to buff out some details here, or sweep problems under the rug. In return the LAPD was far more open with case files, equipment, personnel, etc. that could then be used to help stage a "dramatic re-enactment" of one of their cases. This is a lot like how the U.S. government is happy to provide gear, techs, training, etc. to Hollywood film studios for action movies as long as they aren't overly critical of the U.S. and its foreign policy decisions. Same shit, different Hollywood day.

Follow the money, as they say in mystery novels.

Dragnet, of course, is the granddaddy of a lot of today's copaganda entertainment, and the "special" relationship that TV shows and movies have with the police hasn't stopped since. If you're looking to see exactly how strong that relationship is, ask yourself how many times Internal Affairs agents are depicted as the good guys, how often "extreme" interrogation methods yield bad information, or how often police brutalize the wrong suspect (especially when that isn't a plot point, but rather just something that happens on the regular). These things, along with the stereotype of the, "loose cannon who doesn't play by the rules but gets results!" are all distinct flourishes that frame our fiction from a usually pro-cop frame.

It also contributes in meaningful ways to how we think of cops, and what they can and can't do.

That is, after all, the goal of copaganda.; to make us think of them as heroes putting their lives on the line (even though they're 16th on the most dangerous jobs list behind taxi drivers, roofers, and truckers), or to immediately try to see things from their perspective. If you find yourself rushing to defend a cop who hit his wife, or who assaulted a suspect, or who shot someone who was unarmed, ask yourself why. Then ask yourself if the assumption you're operating off of is a product of facts, knowledge, and experience, or if it's because it fits the narrative we've seen in our cop stories (which are all the information a lot of us have about police work).

Let's Take a Break From The Badges, Shall We?

Police, as characters, are really easy to write. It's one reason you can barely flip more than five channels before coming across a Dick Wolf show that's been running for nine seasons. After all, it's the cops' job to walk right into your plot, and to solve it as best they can.

But even that part isn't actually realistic if you look at the numbers, sadly.

Can you still write stories about cops? Absolutely you can! It's your book, and you can do whatever you want. However, it's important to look around at the world you're living in, and the facts in front of you, and to ask how much artistic license you're going to need to take to make this story work... and then how much more you'll need to make it palatable.

My advice for folks who don't want their work to be classified as copaganda (or to be ignored as just another pro-cop novel, if you're looking at things from a sales perspective), is to go back to the pre-1920s days and change the protagonist's profession. Make them a private eye, a gun-for-hire, or even an ex-cop who does work on the sly for people who can't get the regular police to look into their cases. If you want to go crazy with it, though, change the setting entirely so your main character is a cat who solves problems regarding packs of dogs putting the squeeze on local residents (the plot of my upcoming book Marked Territory from Ring of Fire Press, for those who are curious). Failing that, make it a sci-fi or fantasy story about police work (though this is not a guaranteed fix, and works best for stories like the film Robocop where the work has a lot to say in the subtext).

The stories we tell have messages, and they can resonate with our readers. That said, one of the most honest things you could do if you wanted to write a cop story for today's audience would be to give us something unvarnished, and which doesn't put a spit shine on things. Let the reader see the corruption, the grift, the power games, and the compromised morality, even if the story isn't about that. Talk about political pressure, and about the true masters the police have to serve in society. And if you really want to catch readers' attention, talk about what actually happens to good cops who try to make a difference.

Because those stories are heartbreaking, and are rarely told.

Also, since I mentioned it, don't be afraid to watch Robocop again in a post-ACAB world. It holds up quite well, and as I recently said in Robocop is Lawful Good, you can use him as an ideal mold for making a heroic, though tragic, cop character... at least in the first film.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my short story collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Strangeness of Professional Possibility (You Never Know Where Your Ideas Might Go)

We've all had those moments as writers where we sit back, and imagine what it would be like to get a chance to contribute to a favorite property of ours. A shot at writing for a beloved TV show, getting to tell a story for your favorite comic book, or to have your fiction be part of a game universe you love; these are the things we contemplate in our wildest flights of fancy. For a lot of folks out there, they think these ideas are just fan fiction that's never going to go anywhere, and it's just for their own amusement.

After all, we probably won't be one of those writers. The ones who get to drive the plot bus and lay the track for new canon. Surely there's a whole, secret process for how big companies pick who gets to contribute to popular media, and who is allowed to actually handle these properties that we love so much.

I mean, they've got to have a list, right?
I've felt this way for a long time, myself. I grew up reading Marvel comics, watching classic TV shows, and thinking to myself, "Man, I wish I could get some of my creativity into those things... but there's no way that will ever happen."

Funny thing, though... it totally could. And far more easily than you or I think.

No, This Isn't an Announcement Post

Let me be clear, I have not been picked to work on an Avengers script, or to provide my "What-If?" stories to Marvel's next edition (though if any folks with executive power on those properties is reading, shoot me a message and we can talk). I do have a new novel coming out from Ring of Fire September 1st (check the slate), but that's neither here nor there.

What I'm trying to say is that there's no hidden cabal of editors who pull writers' names out of a golden chalice. There's no creativity Olympics where only the best and the brightest are offered a chance to let their work shine in the public arena for all to see. You get these opportunities the same way you get practically everything else in the writing world; connections, impressions, and sheer dumb luck.

I'm serious... lucky opens at LEAST as many doors as talented.
As an example, I've sat on panels with people who've written comics for Marvel (Seanen McGuire has some killer insights if you get a chance to sit and listen to her, by the by), I've rubbed elbows with bestsellers, and I've shared drinks at after parties with the head editors of RPG companies. To be clear, I don't know a lot of these folks well enough to email them and ask for a job, or to give my input on the direction a property should go. But some of them know my name, and recognize my face when we pass in the halls.

There have also been times where I've had a conversation with someone, and they said they'd keep me in mind if a future project comes up. Or a time when I sent in an email asking if there were spots open for something, and got the response, "Sure, what'cha wanna write?" For the record, that's how my short story The Irregulars would up as part of Paizo's canon for the Golarion setting.

My experience isn't new or unique, either. Every panel I've ever been on where someone asks the question, "How do I break into the writing business?" the answers are almost universally to be in the places where you can make connections. Because it's true that winning awards or selling huge numbers of books will get attention, you don't have to do that to get your foot in the door. Volunteer to be a panelist at your local con, help run the green room, and put yourself out there. Even if it's a digital convention, or a social media group, there is no telling who you'll run into and what connections you'll make.

And if you never thought you'd have the chance to write a story about what would happen if Frank Castle made a deal with Mephisto to get him out of Vietnam where he becomes the next Ghost Rider... just wait. You might meet run into someone who hears that, knocks back their drink, and says, "You've got my attention, when can I have the script?"

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Is World Domination The Best You Can Come Up With?

For those who don't know, authors tend to hang out with one another. Even during pandemics, a lot of our social interaction is among our own number because we have very particular problems that sometimes only another writer can understand. Also, stories that strike us funny probably won't seem all that interesting to people who aren't pen monkeys. But I was recently chatting with my friend Alex Dumitru (whose stories in books like Duel of The Monsters and Attack of The Kaiju Volume Two: The Next Wave you should definitely check out) who told me a tale of his adventures in the depths of the Internet. What he stumbled across is something that I think we could all stand to learn from.

Because seriously... the lack of imagination on display in this one staggered me.

A Prompt, A Response, And The Failure of Imagination

This incident took place in an online writing group, and it started with a simple prompt. One of those little things to get the juices flowing, and to give you a jumping off point to start spinning your ideas. In short, it asked the question of what a character who was a modern-day science teacher (high school or college, I don't recall) would do if they found themselves in a medieval time period? What would they do with their knowledge in a time where so much of it simply had not been discovered yet?

As jumping off points went, it wasn't bad.
When presented with this question, my first thoughts were to ask how someone from today would adjust to that sort of life. There's new languages to learn, a whole different set of skills you need to master, and depending on the region of the world a bunch of different challenges (for the record the assumption most were making was that you'd be transported back to western Europe, not say, dumped in the center of the Middle East's burgeoning culture of mathematics and philosophy). Did the individual have any health concerns like eyeglasses that could become a problem? And so on, and so forth.

I tend to err on the side of, "Time travel sucks, and we forget just how much we take for granted," in case that wasn't coming across. The central question of the prompt, though, was basically asking what you would do if you could take a functioning knowledge of modern science back to a period that lacked it?

The first response to this prompt, before anyone could actually present something interesting, was to basically kickstart the arms race, build your own kingdom, and rule with an iron fist.

There's a lot to unpack there. But even if we can get past the extremely ugly attitude that has Colonizer! written on it in 12-foot-tall red letters, there is a stunning lack of creativity on display here. With all of the potential options this person had on the table in front of them, they just slammed their hand down on this one. And for those interested in the rest of the story, said individual basically picked this hill to die on, instigating a rather nasty back-and-forth that boiled down to their opinion that anyone with a serious advantage, whether it be physical might, intellectual know-how, or just more skill, would inherently use those attributes to put weaker, more ignorant people under their boot heels.

Clearly he didn't read my post The Failure of Imagination over on my sister blog Improved Initiative.

You Can Do Better Than This

The thing that really struck me about this story was how absolutely flat and hollow the argument being put on display was. The idea that hiding within your average science teacher is a techno-barbarian warlord just waiting to conquer struck me as something that was equal parts silly and sad. Partially because no explanation was given as to how he would turn his modern understanding into great military might (engineering better weapons, ensuring a particular force had access to crucible steel when no one else in the region did, etc.), but also because it was the vaguest possible motivation. It lacked teeth, and as such just didn't have any bite.

I'm looking as hard as I can, but there's just nothing here.
As a motivator, who the hell wants to rule a country they aren't part of, and up to that moment have had no stake in? Carving out a niche for yourself in society, sure, that makes sense. Setting up a trade also sounds sensible. But once your basic needs are taken care of, what motivates you past that point? Does our protagonist want to recreate the comforts of the modern era as closely as he can? Is his community threatened in some way that he is uniquely capable of handling (perhaps by preventing plague through his basic knowledge of modern medicine)?

What is driving their actions?

Now let's take a step back from our time-traveling science teacher, and look at a broader range of characters. Because our fiction is loaded with characters who want to conquer and control, but we so often take it as accepted that such things happen in our stories. Whether it's a dark army marching on the kingdom of light, or some warlord trying to step on the neck of the one town resisting him, some people out there believe that might makes right, and they just want to take control.

Why does that other kingdom consider you their enemy? Why does the Ragged Prince have such a burning need to take the throne? What do the giants get out of claiming territory and making humans their vassals?

If you don't have answers for these questions, you need to go back to the drawing board immediately.

All right, where the hell did this go wrong?
Take the warlord. He's got a small army at his command, but fighting men need food, a place to rest and train, and they need support. They're not farmers... so the logical course of action is to take over a town, and use its resources to upkeep your band. This gives you more resources, the ability to increase your numbers, and it makes you a more powerful force in the region.

It might mean you now have to fight off other bands of scum who want to steal what you've rightfully plundered, but that just comes with the territory.

Take the nation who feels it must crush their enemy with an all-out, total war. Why? Well, it might have something to do with the propaganda used to elevate someone to a position of leadership. A strategy they may not have actually expected to work, but which they now feel obliged to see through by throwing their armies against the nation they used as their scapegoat for the country's problems. Because they may have started this war machine up, but despite their position they don't actually have the power it would take to shut it down. It gets lost in the turning of gears and mobilization of warriors, showing how individuals can be swallowed up by the roar of war.

And the Ragged Prince? Well, he may just want the throne because his family was pulled down from it when he was a child, and he's clung to the belief that it is his by blood and right. But he's become so focused on actually gaining the throne that he hasn't thought beyond it. Much like the idea of revenge, it becomes a sweet need... but once you have it, what do you do next? It becomes a hollow ambition, but one he clings to all the harder when it's so central to his identity.

You Need Understandable Antagonists

Even if you don't want your bad guys to be sympathetic, you need them to be understandable. Not only that, but the bigger and more sweeping the actions they're taking are, the more the audience has to be able to understand things from their perspective. They need a resource, they require a technology, their way of life is dying/needs a certain type of support... whatever the reason is, you need to think beyond the old song about how everybody wants to rule the world.

Because most people don't. Most people just want security, resources, and purpose in their lives. And you'd get way more mileage out of a Bill Nye lookalike going back in time and building a tower on the edge of town where he sets up a laboratory to work on perfecting underground refrigeration and indoor plumbing than you would ever get out of that same guy trying to become the new King of the Britons.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my short story collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Victor Hugo, Notre Dame, and The Power of Prose

When you think of the cathedral of Notre Dame, chances are good you imagine the modern incarnation of it. With its spires and gargoyles, its artistic splendor wowing tourists from around the world (at least before the time of Covid-19, that is). And chances are that when you see it, it immediately brings to mind one of the most memorable and tragic figures in fiction... Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame.

If you listen closely, the bells still call his name.
This tale has been so firmly lodged in our consciousness, from its original blockbuster success as a novel, to stage productions, to movies and musicals, that we all tend to forget something important... that this tragic tale of lust, greed, and longing might actually be the reason Notre Dame still exists today.

How Victor Hugo Saved an Entire Cathedral

Notre Dame the structure was first built in the 1100s, and the construction lasted for decades. When it was finally completed, it was an amazing sight to behold. However, as the Washington Post points out, the cathedral was in a shambles after the French Revolution, and when it was handed back to the Catholic Church it had become an eyesore, and it was poised on the edge of being torn down because there just wasn't the interest in saving it from the hammer.

Until Victor Hugo clapped his hands, and got everyone's attention.

All of you, listen up! I have a tale to tell...
In the 1820s, Hugo started in on the now famous tale of Quasimodo and Esmeralda. His work about finding the beauty and the heart beneath a frightening, unlovely exterior was more than just a lesson in not judging people... it was a tale about the cathedral itself. Hunchbacked and half blind, the modern dissolution of the beauty and splendor Notre Dame had once had was reflected in the book's protagonist.

Whether the readers at the time dug that deeply into the symbolism, or whether they just got wrapped up in the beautifully-told tale, Hugo's work managed to focus attention on the plight of Notre Dame. It started the avalanche of public interest, and outcry, that led to the cathedral being restored. Because now people were interested. They were paying attention, and it wasn't just an ugly old church from the medieval period anymore... now it was their cathedral. It was where a major bestseller took place. It was the epicenter of this fictional legend.

And that legend exists to this day, judging from the number of people who regard Notre Dame as a place of awe and wonder.

Your Work Can Change Things

Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, it's important to point out that The Hunchback of Notre Dame was not some random, breakout novel. Victor Hugo was an established, popular writer, and he used his platform to draw attention to a cause he believed in. The fact that he had skill and passion for the project is probably one reason Quasimodo's tale resonated as hard as it did, but we must remember that he wasn't some struggling writer no one had heard of, looking up at Notre Dame from the gutter and trying to save her.

With that said, don't even let someone tell you that writing can't change things. That it can't make statements, draw attention to issues, and plant ideas into the minds of the public. The fiction we create often impacts the real world in meaningful (sometimes unexpected) ways.

Wait! I was just trying to get that fish!
As Gizmodo points out, the film Jaws terrified people so much that sharks have been killed in record numbers despite posing very little threat. Some people point out that Robin Cook's medical thriller Coma actually made people stop carrying organ donor cards because of the organ theft plot shown in the book, convincing many that it was a massive, extremely common occurrence at hospitals. To be clear, organ theft does happen, but the idea that medical personnel will just let you die so they can harvest your organs is nonsense.

So the next time someone tells you that your reader doesn't care about your book's politics, or how you depict people doesn't matter, remember that one of the best known landmarks in Paris only stands today because Victor Hugo decided to write a novel about it.

The power of writing is ephemeral, but it's no less real despite that.

Incidentally, for those interested in more unique and unusual places round the world, consider checking out some of the following:

- The Gardens of Bomarzo: A Renaissance-era park filled with bizarre statues and strange art, this Italian attraction is breathtaking.

- The Winchester Mystery House: A bizarre home in California, legends of ghosts and insanity are lurid and interesting... but it's likely they were just made up whole cloth.

- The Chicago Pedway: A series of tunnels beneath Chicago's busy streets, these tunnels are far more real than the Undertown that Jim Butcher created, and they feature prominently in my short story "Heart and Soul" found in my recent release The Rejects!

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A Mountain of Content (Moved With an Eye Dropper)

As folks who've been around this blog for a while know, I tend to keep a lot of plates spinning at any given time. I also run the gaming blog Improved Initiative, for example, in addition to blogging for clients, writing books like the sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife and the short story collection The Rejects that came out earlier this year. However, I've also been expanding my Vocal archive of articles for some time now... and I've got an update on what I've come to call The Great Reshuffling.

It's finally done. And for this week's Craft of Writing post, I wanted to talk about this back-breaking project that's taken me nearly a year to finally complete.

And let me tell you... it was a PROJECT!

What Was The Great Reshuffling?

For those who don't know, I had a pretty hefty article archive over on InfoBarrel for a while. It was never a big earner, but I got a check every month or so for my earnings. However, over the past several years the site just drew less and less traffic, which meant my work over there got fewer and fewer views. There weren't any other websites like it that I knew of (that is to say, sites where you could write whatever you wanted and earn money based on your traffic) so I just sort of let it die and tried to focus on other stuff.

Then I discovered Vocal.

And the numbers started jumping.
I've talked about this site before in both Want To Make Some Money Writing? Check Out Vocal! and then the updated post Looking To Make Some Money Writing? Check Out Vocal+ that I wrote when they launched their new Vocal+ membership program. The short version is that for every 1k reads your work receives (that's 1k reads total, not on a per-article basis), you receive a fee. With the normal, free site it's $3, and with the Vocal+ program it's $6. I'd been on Vocal for a year and some change, and I'd written a lot of articles for it, but I was having a hard time justifying the cost to pay for the Vocal+ members program.

And that was when I remembered I had a huge archive of stuff (some of which was pretty popular when I first wrote it) that I could just move to a new home. As such, I figured it was time to take my own advice from back in Recycling is Key To Being a Successful Author. So after emailing Vocal and InfoBarrel alike to make sure no terms of service were being violated, and that no one was going to raise a fuss, I started going through my old content, updating stuff that needed updated, and pushing it over to my Vocal archive.

And now, a little over a year later, roughly 100 of the best articles from that old archive have found their new home.

What Sort of Stuff Got Added To My Vocal Archive?

One of the biggest items that got moved over was what I dubbed my character conversion series. For readers who aren't regulars over on Improved Initiative, these were guides I wrote for tabletop gamers who wanted to recreate particular characters in their games. So whether you wanted to play a version of Tyrion Lannister, Guts from the anime Berserk, or to capture the essence of historical figures like Andrew Jackson or Harriet Tubman, these guides were a great starting point for Pathfinder players.

There's more on the list. A LOT more.
There are 68 guides in this series over at the Character Conversions contents list at time of writing, and roughly 50 of them were moved over from my InfoBarrel archive to Vocal. And they all got updates and facelifts along the way to include new content that hadn't been written at the time I first wrote them.

But what about the other half of the content? Well, it runs the gamut. However, some of the more popular articles that have now found a new home include:

- 5 True Facts About Dolph Lundgren
- Home Remedies For Your Cat's Urinary Tract Infection
- How To Kick in a Door
- The Vikings, Not Columbus, Were The First Europeans in The Americas
- What Was The Satanic Panic? The Forgotten Witch Hunt of The 1980s

And that's just a sample!

My current Vocal archive is just under 170 articles, and I've got a list of stuff I'm planning on adding to it now that the old content is buffed, catalogued, and ready for perusal. So if you're spending some more time in quarantine and you need some stuff to read, why not stop on in and see what I've got to offer? Between the new stuff that's going up all the time, and the old stuff you may have missed, there's quite a trove!

So go check out my Vocal archive today! And if you've got suggestions for more topics you'd like to see me cover, leave a comment below.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my short story collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Don't Worry, Cancel Culture Is Not a Thing

Over the past year and change I have heard a lot of creators wring their hands about so-called "cancel culture" and the effects it could have on them and their careers. Generally speaking, though, cancel culture exists only in the way that writer's block exists... it's a term we've come to accept as real, but the thing it describes is not what you think it is.

And if you're willing to put in the time, the energy, and the creativity to understand and circumvent the issues in the industry, neither of them will hold you back.

So take a deep breath, and screw your heads back on for a second.

People Don't Owe You Anything

The idea of cancel culture, as I understand it, is that when a public figure says or does something that people find problematic, hurtful, or otherwise objectionable, people who disagree with what was said or done withdraw their support for that person. Like, for example, when an author of a beloved young adult series keeps making anti-trans comments, so her fan base makes it a point to stop buying her merch, cease reading her books, and to move their support to other authors who write stories they like, but who don't come with baggage.

In other words, "cancel culture" is just the free market at work. You need to keep the mob happy if you expect them to cheer for you.

Win the crowd, win your royalties.
Your work does not exist in some vague nether realm, apart from the things you do and the stuff you say. It is your product, and if you do something that upsets your fan base, they are under no obligation to keep reading your books, buying your stuff, or coming to your events. It is your job to make them happy. So the onus is on you to be what your audience wants, not on them to be understanding of your situation and to be forgiving of your mistakes.

Another thing that I think gets lost in the conversation about this is that you are never going to be able to please everyone. Sooner or later if you have any success at all, you're going to end up disappointing or angering someone. What you need to do is stop and ask if you're doing it for the right reasons, and to make your thoughts and positions clear for those deciding whether or not to support you.

Respond Thoughtfully For Best Results

As an example, let's go back to Rowling's work. She was often criticized for her depictions of strict gender roles, relatively few characters who weren't white (even fewer of whom were important in the series), and almost no female characters with agency. Those criticisms didn't stop her from selling millions of books, nor did it stop her fan base from growing, but there is also no denying it's a blind spot in her series.

How you respond to that criticism can make a big difference in how you're perceived.

Once that is pointed out, you could say something like, "That is a valid point, and one that did not occur to me while writing this series. Now that I have fleshed out the world somewhat, and I have been made aware that this is something my readers care about, I will keep it in mind going forward." That might be something of a milk toast answer with no specifics attached to it, but if you back it up by writing a more diverse cast in the future, you'll prove to your fans that you're listening to them, and that you are trying to make them happy.

What you don't do is argue that it's your book, and you can write it however you want. You don't angrily tell your readers to go read someone else if they don't like your book. And most importantly, you don't belittle them for the willingness to criticize. None of that helps you. Listen to the criticism, determine if it is viable, and then once you've thought about it consider if you need to take action on it.

If the criticism is valid, address it. If there's a way you can keep your audience happy without sacrificing your artistic vision, then it can only help you to do it. You're not obligated to bend with the whims of the market, but you gain nothing by pissing off the people who buy your books, and pay your bills.

And if you don't want your income to be impacted by your political views, then keep them to yourself. Because we didn't "cancel" Orson Scott Card just because he said some things we disagree with. Readers stopped supporting him because his platform allowed him to undermine gay rights, and he actively gave money to organizations that tried to remove protections for LGBTQ+ people. Huge swaths of people refuse to eat at Chick-Fil-A for the same reason. They don't want to be party to that.

But How Are You Supposed To Learn?

I've seen this criticism several times. That if you just yank away your support, how are creators supposed to recognize they made a mistake, and do better?

Well, I'm not an economics expert, but generally when the actions you take negatively impact your income, you figure out pretty damn fast what you did wrong, and that maybe you should stop doing it if the impact is big enough.

Looks like you need a little motivation.
Generally speaking, "cancel culture" refers to people who have an audience, and a platform. If you want them to listen to your criticisms, and take you seriously, you defund them. Because that makes it clear there are real repercussions for the actions they've taken, things they've said, etc., and that they need to adapt if they want to keep your support. And if it's a hill the creator is willing to die on, then readers who disagree will part ways with them.

It is not the job of your customers to educate you, or to make you a better person. It is your job to give them a product they want, and to make sure they don't have to question where their money is going once they hand it over. And, generally speaking, it's not all that hard to do. Write a good story, pay attention to problematic tropes, and try to be on the right side of history.

Contrary to popular belief, if people like a thing you've made, they will not just shit can you the instant you say something offensive, or release something with a problematic description. People will bend over backwards to help the creators they like. So stop clutching your pearls, and worrying about someone "canceling" you because you didn't present exactly the right blend of diversity in your sci-fi novel, or because you had a villain use a slur because you wanted to make it clear they were the bad guy.

If you want people to cancel you, generally speaking, you have to try. Especially if you're making something they really want to enjoy.

Edit: "But What About Organized Mobs!?"

So, this has gotten more conversation than I expected, and a constant point people keep bringing up are, "What about mobs of organized people who try to take down your work and ruin your career? Doesn't that prove that cancel culture exists?"

Not really, and for a very important reason. By the definition we're using, you actually have to support something before you try to take away your support. Nine times out of ten when you see organized groups of people trying to ban something, they're not fans of that thing who were disappointed by a creator. Those Internet hate mobs who tried to drive Anita Sarkesian off the Internet weren't fans who disagreed with the direction her work had taken; they were enraged trolls who didn't want to hear a woman's opinion on their precious video games. Those angry mothers who tried to ban Grand Theft Auto years ago weren't huge supporters of Rock Star who wanted their voices heard; they just wanted the company to suffer. And so on, and so forth.

The behavior of groups of people attempting to ban media or behavior they don't like is not new. We've seen it with rap music in the 90s, and heavy metal in the 80s. We saw it when Christian activists targeted tabletop roleplaying games, and when advocates for sobriety got Prohibition passed. That's not a new phenomenon, and acting like it's this weird force that was birthed from the Internet is disingenuous at best.

And I would also put forth that there's no such thing as bad publicity. Because if a bunch of people who aren't patronizing your platform are upset by what you're doing, well, who cares? They have no bargaining power (in a financial sense, anyway, people can and will do awful shit, and GamerGate is a perfect example of unfettered, horrible behavior) because they can't support you even less than they are already. And if they make enough noise, they might draw people who will support you.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!