Wednesday, February 13, 2019

There is No Such Thing as Forced Diversity

I've written fairly often about what people would term "social justice" issues in fiction. From Asexual Awareness in Fiction, to What Would A Woman Do?, or even my fairly recent post from late last year Avoid Back-Handed Inclusion in Your Book, I've had a lot to say about representation in fiction. While a lot of the response has been positive, there has been one, consistent complaint used as a push-back whenever I (or someone else) talks about these topics. A line of reasoning that those embracing it seem to feel is the perfect counter-thrust to completely derail the conversation.

They simply say that they are all about diversity, but that "forced diversity" can ruin a book.

I don't know if you realize it, but those words are literally meaningless together.
I'm not the first person to say this, but I am going to re-affirm what other folks have said. There's no such thing as forced diversity. No one is forcing you to do anything. Either make your book more diverse, or don't. But if you choose not to, don't pretend it has something to do with a purer expression of your craft when it's just that you can't be bothered to swap up the color and gender palette.

Diversity And Representation Are Marketing Concerns


If your book has an all-white, all-heterosexual cast, that isn't going to stop it from selling. Those kinds of books have been selling for literal centuries with no problems. Also, this cannot be overstated, no one is going to make you change that roster. There isn't some kind of quota at publishers that say you have to have X number of black characters, Y number of strong female characters, and Z number of trans or genderqueer characters. Readers don't keep those checklists, either. It isn't going to be held against you.

However, it's not going to earn you any points, either.

This is the point where we talk about numbers.
You know that point I made above about how all-white, heteronormative casts have been the norm in books for literal centuries? Given that there are thousands of other books out there who made the same casting decision, how is yours going to stand out?

Because, and this is a little-known fact that some folks seem to miss, if you include an under-served group in your cast then members of said community are a lot more likely to actually check out your book. Why? Because getting the chance to see yourself in a work of fiction, and to have the issues you struggle with represented on the page, the screen, etc. is a huge selling point. And the more underserved a demographic is, the less competition you'll have in that area.

So, if you wanted to take a purely capitalist approach to things, then yes having a prominent trans character in your main cast would immediately put your story on some people's radars. From asexual strippers who hunt vampires, to a burly black cop comfortable in his gay sexuality hunting down serial killers, you would raise eyebrows, and get people to pay attention. Even if these characters aren't your main lead, just having them featured as part of the major cast of characters will generate buzz.

They're Story Concerns, Too


If you're one of those writers who just wants to be realistic in their casting (assuming you write fiction set in the real world), then you should also be interested in having a more diverse cast... because that's the world we live in! That isn't a new fact, either; people of all skin tones, a wide variety of sexualities, and all kinds of genders have existed in different cultures all over the planet without regard to where lines are drawn on modern maps for most of recorded history. From gay friars who were happily devoted to one another in medieval England, to Japanese mercenaries fighting the Dutch in the 1600s, our real-world history was a pretty diverse place.

But we're not even on Earth!
And if your story is set in a fantasy or sci-fi world that has no bearing on our Earth? Well, let me ask you this... does your story have humans in it? Because if it does, and they're supposed to be humans we can identify with, then you can only improve your setting by adding more options to it. Because it might seem easier to make fantasy or alien races a stand-in for a certain religion, ethnicity, sexuality, etc., but it just makes more sense to be genuinely diverse in your casting.

Again, remember, no one is forcing you to do this. If you think it's just easier to leave Buck Manwell, Space Force Captain and rugged, womanizing adventurer exactly the way he is, it's your book. You can do, or not do, whatever you want with it. And if you're just writing that book for your own pleasure, then that's fine... but if you're writing that book with the intent to sell copies, build an audience, and increase your professional reach, then diversifying your cast just makes sense.

Not only that, but it's a fairly easy habit to get into. Just look around, and ask why you've made certain characters in your cast the "default" setting. Then change them, and see what happens. You might be surprised at the results you get.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing installment! Hopefully it got the wheels turning for some folks. For more work by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or stop by My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular monthly patron. Every little bit helps!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

"The Rule of 10" or "Why Numbers Are Deceptive in The Writing World"

Despite the fact that authors deal in words, it is numbers that rule our lives. Everything from page count, to margin size, to cover image dimensions, to how many re-tweets our book release announcement gets are the determining factors in whether our careers rise or fall.

That's bad enough, but I've talked about this before in posts like Authors Live Under The Tyranny of Numbers (Here's How You Can Help!). Today I'd like to talk about something else, though. Namely about how frustratingly deceptive numbers can be for all the creative professionals out there.

Come on baby... papa needs a bestseller!

There's Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics


Figuring out how well your book is or isn't doing can feel like reading tea leaves. The reason for this is that it's easy to get caught up in numbers that look good for you, but whose true import is difficult to determine. Even if you have access to all the necessary metrics, authors are often just as surprised as anyone when a book does well. Or, worse, they might think their book is doing really well, when it actually isn't.

How does that happen?

Well, if you're solely focused on your sales, you're never going to get confused. More sales equals more success, and as long as those numbers are good, you're doing great. The problem is that there's so many other numbers out there, and they're easy to reach for if you don't have those reassuringly high sales figures.

No, I only sold 5 copies. But there were THOUSANDS of free downloads!
For example, say your book is enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program. That means you get credit for members who read your book, and you earn a fee per page. Since that's the case, it's only natural that you'd get excited when those numbers start climbing. 300 pages here, 250 pages there, hey, looks like you're doing pretty good! Even if no one buys your book outright, if enough KU members just read it, that won't matter, will it?

Well, that depends. Because the per-page value of a read will fluctuate based on the number of members in the program in a given month, as well as the total number of pages being read that month. Not only that, but what looks like a lot of page numbers to you might, in fact, be nothing more than a drop in the bucket. You won't know that until the month is over, though, and you find out that what you thought was going to be a few hundred bucks in your pocket is just a single Jackson and some change. All because a bunch of members cancelled their accounts, and those who were left read more books, thus lowering the value of every individual page that was read that month.

This is just one example of how numbers can be deceptive for authors, especially if you don't have any concrete idea of what those high numbers really mean.

As another example, I recently hosted a free download for my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife. It did fairy well for me, with exactly 700 downloads over the weekend. That's a pretty solid number, and something to be excited about... or is it? Because if I'd sold 700 books over the weekend, sure, I'd be over the moon. That would probably be over $2,000 in my pocket! But I gave away 700 free copies, hoping that it would generate buzz through people telling their friends, leaving reviews, etc. The problem is that while more downloads is always good, it is not at all indicative of the amount of buzz your giveaway is generating. Because 100 people who tell all their friends, make social media posts, and leave reviews are exponentially more valuable than 100,000 people who read the book, and then tossed the file in their recycle bin never to be mentioned again.

The Rule of 10


As a way to avoid getting caught up in false excitement over things like social media shares, free downloads, and other metrics whose impacts are difficult to track, I find it's easy to implement the Rule of 10. While not a scientific term, it helps you keep things in perspective, and gets you asking important questions about the value of the statistics you're looking at.

More goddamn numbers.
Imagine you're going to move, so you ask your friends to help you pack up and haul stuff. Chances are good you'll get help from 1 in 10 of the people you ask. Some may tell you they can't because of work, or say they'll help only to be mysteriously absent on loading day, but motivation doesn't matter here; you can expect a 10% rate of help on your request.

The same thing is true when it comes to your numbers as an author. Some people might really wish they could help, and other people assure you they'll be there to help you get the job done, but only 1 in 10 of those people is going to actually show up when it matters.

Take that giveaway I mentioned. 700 people downloaded the book, and of those 700 people I'd bank that about 70 people actually read it. There might be more, or there might be less, but that's a number I think is fairly realistic. Then, of those 70 people, I predict that 7 of them will actually give me some return on the freebie investment (go buy another book of mine, follow me on social media, leave a review on the book they read, etc.).

You can apply this rule to most other promotional efforts that are difficult to track, too. A blog post about your new book is blowing up? Cool. So of the 10,000 people who read the article, maybe 1,000 people actually checked out your book's page. Of those 1,000 people, you might get 100 of them who read your free sample, buy the book, or save it for later.

Now, 100 sales is still 100 sales... but it's important to remember the connection between, "This piece of promotion is getting really popular!" and, "Holy crap, my sales are through the roof!" is a nebulous one at the best of times.

Be That 10%


I said this in 10 Concrete Ways You Can Help The Authors You Like, but it bears repeating; if you can be the activity in an author's career, then you are that 1 friend in 10 who said they would help, and actually showed up on moving day. So tell your friends, buy a copy, leave a review, and see if you can ask around to find other 10% people who have the follow-through to help authors move books.

Trust me, if only 1 in 10 folks is helping, we need all the help we can muster.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing entry. If you'd like to see more of my work then check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. To help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron today!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Remember, It's Okay To Be Expansive When Writing A Novel

Folks who've been following this blog for the past few years know that, until fairly recently, most of my published fiction was short stories. In fact, I spent the first few years of this latest leg of my writing career doing nothing by churning out short fiction to get into as many collections and anthologies as I could. And while I feel I learned a lot during that period, as I said in What I Learned Writing Short Stories For Two Years, I did pick up one, tiny, problematic habit.

I forget that I have 100,000 words to tell my story, instead of 10,000.

Shit... I'm almost to the denouement and I'm just rounding 30k...
While anyone (myself included) will tell you to ax unnecessary words, there's another side to that coin. Namely that you should feel free to spread out, and give your story a little elbow room while you're writing when you want to have a fully-realized novel.

Breathe Deep, Dive Deeper


One of the best things about writing short stories is that you learn to think in word count... unfortunately, the word counts you write to tend to be on the shorter side. 10k words for a short story is pretty long, and I've never submitted anything longer than 13k for publication. So when you train yourself to keep it short and sweet, you tend to focus on hitting the high points while not spending a lot of time on the events in between.

But if you're writing a novel, you have at least 50k words to play around with. And if you're writing sci-fi or fantasy, then 100k words seems to be more the speed folks are looking for.

Einarr, we're short words. Time to pillage again!
Don't just toss in scenes just to have them; that's just as bad from the other direction. At the same time, though, feel free to include stuff you would normally cut from a manuscript because you didn't have the words for it. As an example, say your protagonist is on his way to have words with the local mob lieutenant. Rather than just giving us a brief, inner monologue of what the protagonist knows about that mafioso, turn it into a conversation with a contact of his. If he's a police detective, he should talk with an informant, or his partner. If he's a private eye, hash out the details with another gumshoe who's had run-ins with this person before.

You could go a little further than that, too. Show our hero tracking down the place, and put him through the rigmarole of going into the meeting. Have him meet some of the goons, and find out one of those goons is a long-nosed switchblade by the name of Sal, and his nephew is a big bruiser from Jersey named Jeffrey. People gave him shit about the name until he busted a couple of chops over it. Show our hero getting the pat down, have him chat with the secretary, mention the shotgun she has rigged up under her desk, etc., etc.

Those details are what's going to help decide the flow of your story. They're going to suck the reader in, and they're going to reveal a thousand little things about your protagonist, and their world. Things that may not be completely necessary to your telling, but that doesn't mean they aren't doing their job.

You don't need to add scenes to pad your word count. But remember that you have plenty of room to breathe when you're writing. So take a look around the room. Mention the weather. Give that bartender a name, a face, and some dialogue. Go through the ritual of sharpening a sword, building a campfire, or reconnoitering a place before an assault. Talk about what your protagonist is cooking while reviewing their case, or mention some of their carousing before things go sideways at the bar that fateful night.

You've got the space. Use it so that your story doesn't feel rushed.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Hopefully it helps folks out there who struggle with overcoming an anemic word count. For more of my work check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page to find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to support me you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron! Every little bit helps.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

10 Concrete Ways You Can Help The Authors You Like

A few weeks ago I put together a list of 10 Things You Can Do To Sell More Books. However, that list is pretty much only talking to the authors out there about all the things they can personally do to increase their sales... problem is, that's only half the equation.

The other half is your readers, and the actions they take on your behalf.

Every, single one of you beautiful people.
Authors get a lot of credit for their hustle, but the truth is that without readers doing their part, we're just screaming into the void. That's why, if you want to support an author, do the things on this list. Some of them will cost money, others will only cost you time, but all of them will help give that pen monkey more visibility so they can get you their next book in record time.

So, without further ado, if you want to help the authors you like you should...

#1: Buy Their Books


A lot of you out there already are, and bless you for that.
This is the most basic, fundamental way you can show your support for a creator. If they wrote a book, go buy a copy of that book. If you want a hard copy, buy that. If you're more of an ebook reader, get an ebook. If a holiday is coming up, ask your friends or family to buy you copies of this book that you like. Alternatively, gift a book you love to other people.

The main part of an author's income is from sales, but there's more to it than that. The more you sell, the more power you have when it comes to getting noticed. If you sell a thousand copies, no one's really impressed. But 10,000 copies? 100,000 copies? That's when big publishers start knocking on your door and offering contracts because you are doing something right.

On that note, if you've got a couple of bucks floating around, why not head over to My Amazon Author Page and grab yourself a copy of my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my steampunk noir collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam?

Or, if you're more of a tabletop RPG fan, take a look at my work on Drive Thru RPG. I'm sure you'll find something that fits your tastes.

#2: Leave A Review


Seriously, the numbers add up here.
I mentioned this back in How Many Book Reviews Do You Need Before Amazon Promotes You?, but it's worth repeating here. If you want to help an author then review their book, plain and simple. It doesn't matter if you read the physical copy, a digital copy, or you downloaded it for free during a giveaway; leave a review, and it can be the pebble that starts the avalanche.

The more reviews a book gets, the more attention it receives from website algorithms (especially on Amazon). That means it shows up in the recommendation boxes, and that it will have a much stronger signal so other people can find it. Not only that, but people who are thinking about buying a book trust reviews. So the more reviews you have, the more likely people are to purchase your work.

It takes a few minutes of your time, but it is an action that sets the gears in motion; don't neglect it!

#3: Follow Them on Social Media


Again, a lot of you are already here.
One of the recurring themes for this list is going to be numbers. The more numbers an author has, the easier it is for them to get found. Social media is no different.

Whether your author has a Facebook page, a Twitter page, a Tumblr account, or something else entirely (all the links go to my pages, by the by, so feel free to follow if you haven't already), the more people they have, the more they'll get noticed. The more people an author has following them, the more likely their posts are to get seen, spread, and to reach people who aren't already reading their work. So even if all you do is click "Like", you've done something to help.

To increase your signal boost, though, interact with the posts your authors make. Leave comments (algorithms love comments), and share the posts you like with your own audience. Because whether your social media pool is big or small, that one interaction can be like ripples in a pond. Don't underestimate the impact you can have.

#4: Talk To Your Local Library


Now we're getting into the new stuff.
Chances are good you already knew about the first three points on this list. They are pretty obvious, after all. However, there are a lot of people out there who still use the public library, and these institutions can help boost an author's signal to a wider audience.

So if your local library doesn't carry the authors you like, ask if you can fill out a request form. A certain amount of money is allocated every year to getting new books (digital and physical, since lots of libraries offer the ability to check out ebooks now), and if folks request that a certain indie or small press title be included in the catalog then you have just helped an author make a sale. Not only that, but there's a chance that more people will read that book, leave reviews, buy their own copies (or get that book for friends as a gift),  etc. Sometimes more than one person has to make the request, though, so don't be afraid to get a petition going among your friends.

Little things add up over time, especially if there are a lot of fans across the country who all submit this paperwork to their local institutions.

#5: Tell Your Friends and Family


You know them, so you'll know what they like.
We talked about part of this with the social media section above, but we don't live in a cyberpunk dystopia just yet. Especially when you consider that you've likely configured your social media settings so that only certain people see the things you like, comment, and share.

But your in-person life? Your lines of direct communication between you and all the other people you know? Tossing a few comments here, and a recommendation or two there, can have a bigger impact than you think.

Before you protest that you're just one person, stop and think for a second. Who do you know that you could slip a book suggestion to? Your aunt Richanne who has always had a thing for sword swinging fantasy? Your roommate's boyfriend Geoff who goes through books the way locusts go through crops? What about that work friend whose name you can't quite recall, but you have lunch together sometimes?

All of these are viable people you could talk to, and maybe give a nudge to check out a particular author.

You don't need to pound the pavement and go door-to-door. But when you find yourself in small talk with people, feel free to talk about books. You might plant a seed, and that seed might get passed from person to person until your one, casual conversation has grown dozens of new fans this author wouldn't have otherwise had.

#6: Use Your Position


Networks are complicated things.
Most folks out there are probably thinking, "I don't have a position that would help an author." Trust me, you do. You just need to think about it for a second.

For example, do you have a friend who writes for a website dedicated to genre news? Got an aunt who has a radio show? A cousin with a YouTube channel that has a decent following? All it would take is a request from you to re-direct some of those resources to help boost that author's signal with a review, an interview, or any other kind of coverage.

Sometimes all you need to do is look at what groups you belong to, or even where you work, to find opportunities. As an example, say you're a high school teacher. Does an author you want to support write YA books? Well, recommend them to your students. Or if you have a personal connection with that author, and they happen to be local, invite them to speak to your class. Maybe introduce them to your creative writing club. This gives the students a chance to ask all those questions they might be curious about, and to get insight from an industry professional. It also means at least a few of them may become regular readers.

Do you volunteer with a local theater? Are you part of a Renaissance Faire cast? Are you a member of a book club? Chances are you do something, or know somebody, that would be a help if you used your noodle.

#7: Tip Them


Like I said, every little bit helps.
While selling books is one income stream for authors, it usually isn't enough to pay their bills with. As such, we tend to do other stuff to supplement writing books. We run YouTube channels, we write blogs, we post articles, we put together reviews, and so on, and so forth. Most of the time, those things are free to you, but we ask that you leave us a tip if you can.

This goes a lot further than you might think when it comes to keeping landlords off our backs, and tacos in our bellies. So if an author you like has a Patreon or a Ko-Fi (The Literary Mercenary's Patreon and Ko-Fi pages are at these links), consider contributing to them if you can. Even if it's just a little bit every month, we notice, and it helps a lot.

Also, if an author you like happens to write for a website like Vocal, there is often a tip icon there as well. Keep your eyes peeled, and ask if what you just read was worth the same handful of change you would leave in a barista's jar.

#8: Be Persistent


Hey, did I tell you about this great book?
Authors who make it are the ones who don't give up, like I mentioned in Successful Authors Are Persistence Hunters. However, the same is true for folks just like you who want to help boost their signal. Because while it would be great if people listened to you the first, second, or third time you made a recommendation, you sometimes need to tell people to do something five times or more before the idea finally takes root in their heads.

Now, don't spend all of your time and effort trying to boost our signals (you're fans, not interns). But if an author you like updates their blog once or twice a week, share that link. If there's a giveaway going on, mention it once or twice to make sure everyone hears about it. You don't have to be so frequent that you annoy the folks on your list, but think of your signal boosting efforts like water. A single raindrop isn't going to do much, but even a slow and steady trickle can wear a track in the hardest stone.

#9: Show Up


Seriously, just being there does help.
Whether it's a book signing, a con appearance, a reading at a local open mic night, or any other kind of event, sometimes just being a warm body can make a difference.

Picture this; you walk into a library, and there's a door leading off to a side room. Are you more likely to investigate what's going on if you see an empty room with only a table and someone sitting behind it, or if there's the buzz of conversation, laughter, and a dozen people in there?

Probably that second one, right?

People are drawn to crowds, even if that crowd isn't really all that big when it comes to the numbers. But that magnetism can make a difference, and pull other people into your orbit. It might only be for a moment, but a moment is long enough to plant that seed, and perhaps get a business card or a bookmark into their hand even if they don't choose to buy an actual copy of the book(s) at that moment.

And I can tell you from experience, there is nothing that slaps you across the ego harder than an event where no one shows up, except for the janitor wondering if it's okay to sweep since it's just the two of you.

#10: Reach Out


Trust me when I say it's like water in the desert.
The other items on this list are all about how you can help your authors reach a bigger audience, sell more books, and generally excel at the business half of their career. However, it's important to remember that sometimes what they really need is a piece of fan mail to get them through the day.

I'm serious about this, and the smaller the author is in terms of reach, the more vital I guarantee you this is. Because they can't just look at their sales figures and be satisfied that a thousand people that week thought their book was worth dropping a couple of bucks on, or that fifty new reviews went up.

So if you have a moment, and you want to do something nice for the authors in your life, shoot them an email, or just leave a post on their social media. Tell them that they're doing good work, and you can't wait to see more of it. If it's not too personal, talk about something they made that really stuck with you.

We need to hear that.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. Hopefully folks out there find it useful, and if you've been trying to tell your audience how they can help you stop sinking, just shoot them this list!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Your Book Is Probably Never Going To Be Perfect (And That's Okay)

Most authors out there are under the impression that a book must be flawless if it is going to be for sale. From plot holes, to spelling errors, to aberrant commas, everything needs to be ship-shape and squared away before the readers lay eyes on the work. Because if they spot so much as a single semicolon where it isn't supposed to be, then that's it for you. You had your chance, and now you've been condemned to the bin, written off as a hack for all eternity.

Ah, but then the twist!
Have you heard of Raymond Chandler? You know, the guy who wrote The Big Sleep, which gave us private detective Phil Marlowe and has been adapted into half a dozen films, and homaged in god only knows how many different works by now? Well, do you know what he said when he was questioned about who killed the chauffeur in that famous novel? The character who was intricate to one of the early plot arcs, and whose actions set several aspects of the case in motion?

He didn't know. He didn't know, because it had completely slipped his mind.

This isn't an isolated event, either. The more books you read (even books considered classics by today's standards, and titans within their genres), the more you realize that even the greats can screw it up. Sometimes it means that plot threads get left to dangle, other times they misspell things, and every now and again an artifact that was meant to be deleted during the editing process remains, sticking out of the rest of the prose like the top of a pyramid jutting out of a sand dune.

These aren't one-man-shows or fly-by-night operations; these are serious creators with a lot of mojo. And even they still miss the mark from time to time. Those mistakes usually get fixed in later printings and editions, but the earlier ones still show that errors were made.

They made mistakes. You will, too. Nobody is perfect.

Had Some Mistakes, But Not Enough To Lower The Rating


This is an actual review someone left on my novel Crier's Knife. They front-loaded it with praise, but added toward the end that though they noticed a few spelling mistakes, it wasn't enough to lessen their experience reading the book. So even though it got me a 5-star seal of approval, it also meant I had to track down those errors and repair them ASAP.

Which sent me into something of a blind panic trying to find and correct them all.
Now, this book was put out through Amazon, and I was working on a shoestring budget for it. Still, these errors made it past several review sweeps from me, and past all of my beta readers as well as the folks who helped with more substantive editing. In case you're wondering, there were 6 mistakes that were found and corrected.

This isn't unique to self-publishing, though. Take my other book, the steampunk noir collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam. I did three separate editing passes on this manuscript before I sent it in. It was then accepted by one publisher, whose editors did a sweep, and gave me corrections. My contract got cancelled, and it was then picked up by another publisher, who reviewed it prior to publication.

And there were still a few niggling errors in the text when all was said and done. Hell, in one story a character has a completely different last name by the end... give it a read, see if you can figure out which tale it was.

Stop Sweating: The Little Things Aren't Make or Break


Are there readers out there who won't tolerate a single misused apostrophe, or who indignantly close a book when they find their third grammar mistake? I'm sure there are... but I can also assure you they are a tiny portion of your overall audience.

If you have a good story, compelling characters, and a narrative that will not let go of the reader, they won't notice the occasional bump in the road. As long as those bumps are only occasional, it's even possible that some of your readers won't notice them at all! What's even better is that, in the modern age of publishing tools, you can fix mistakes like this relatively quickly once they're pointed out.

Don't skimp on your editing. By all means, try to make your story the best you possibly can before you submit it to a publisher, or throw it out onto the market. But don't drive yourself mad trying to figure out if you should or shouldn't put a comma before that conjunction; most people aren't here for that. Put the bulk of your effort into the story, the cast, and the experience, and you'll be able to survive a few little missteps.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing installment. For folks who'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by My Amazon Author Page where you can get any (or all) of my books!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to help support me, consider either Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron! Every little bit helps, trust me on that.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

10 Things You Can Do To Sell More Books

If you're an author, then you have two goals in life; write books, and sell books. As you've no doubt noticed the first is usually a lot easier to do. So if you're one of those authors who has books on the market, but you simply aren't selling as many copies as you'd like to, here are some concrete things you can do to start increasing your numbers today!

#10: Get An Eye-Catching Cover


Not to toot my own horn, or anything.
As I said back in Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover (Even Though Most People Do), the front of your book is going to be someone's first impression of your work. Which is why it's so important to get eye-catching artwork, but also to make sure you pick the right typeface, that your layout is pleasing, and that your book generally looks like something you'd see on the shelf in a bookstore.

I get it, being an indie publisher is tough when you're strapped for cash and you can't throw a few C-notes at a talented artist to make an awesome painting of a cybernetic dragon fighting a flying longship. But whether you spend hours dragging websites like Morgue File and Pixabay looking for just the right image, or you take my advice in Looking For Cover Art? Check Out Drive Thru RPG! to find an arresting cover, this is the first hurdle you have to clear.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so ask if your book's cover would make someone stop scrolling to find out the rest of the story.

#9: Provide Your Readers With A Decent Preview


Bait that hook early, and they won't stop biting!
Most people can tell within the first couple of pages whether they're going to buy a book or not. In the old days this meant picking the book up off the shelf, and reading for a bit to see if the author's style and the story was to your taste. These days, though, we have the preview feature. So while readers can't flip to page 72 and randomly start reading on your digital preview, anyone with an Internet connection can get the first couple chapters of your book.

Make sure you buried a hook in there, and that it will tug hard on readers who lay their eyes on the page.

In a book of short stories like my steampunk noir collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam, front-load what you think are the best three stories to be sure they grab your reader by the lapels. If you have a novel, like my sword and sorcery tale Crier's Knife, then you need to make sure you've provided context for who your protagonist is, what issues they have to overcome, and what the hook of your story is. Offering glimpses of world-building is nice, too, but remember that it's the actors on stage that fill seats, not how pretty the backdrops are.

If you'd like to take a quick break to read my previews, don't worry, the rest of the list will be here when you get back.

Finished? Great! Moving on...

#8: Get Reviews


Without hacking into Amazon's database, if possible.
When someone leaves a review of your book, it can give you a warm, fuzzy feeling to know that someone cared enough to leave their thoughts and feelings about it. However, reviews can be the difference between obscurity and success, as well. Because, as Search Engine Land points out, most people will read the reviews for a product or service before making their decision about whether or not to buy it.

So the more people you have leaving their reviews, the more input your future readers will have to judge your work with.

That's not the only reason you want a big stack of reviews, though. As I pointed out back in How Many Book Reviews Do You Need Before Amazon Promotes You?, books with a lot of reviews also tend to show up in that magical, "You Might Also Like" window along the bottom of the screen. That increased exposure can provide you a big boost, and the more views, purchases, and reviews you have, the more and more your work will show up in other searches.

50 is generally the number people shoot for, but tweaks to the algorithm mean that you can never have too much activity, too many sales, or too many reviews. Also, remember, they don't all have to be good reviews, so encourage everyone who reads your book to leave their two cents. Friends, family members... people who read your blog... everyone.

#7: Have A Giveaway


Everyone loves a deal!
The only thing readers love more than books is free books! All you have to do is walk past the freebie table at any convention, and watch as the boxes of books placed on it vanish into the ether. New or used, sci-fi or fantasy, weird, strange, or not usually your type, people are a lot more willing to take a risk with their time if it means they aren't taking a risk with their money.

That's why it's a good idea to host a book giveaway or two. As I said in Do Book Giveaways Really Work? people are usually more willing to download a copy of a book they might not be totally sold on. It's a great chance to get your name in front of a lot of people, and it can drive up your reviews if you get lucky and a lot of people download your book. If your book is part of a series, then it can act as a try-before-you-buy kind of scenario, hooking new readers who will now buy the other four or five books to find out what happens to their favorite characters. You'll even see run-off attention on other, unrelated books since lots of readers browse by author.

And, of course, a lot of people still want hard copies of books they like. So while they may have downloaded the ebook free of charge, at least a few people will come back for a physical printing. This approach costs you nothing, either, so there's no reason not to at least try it.

#6: Cross Promote Your Book


Hey, guys, did you hear that Trevor finally finished his book?
All of us have something else that we do. We work in an office, we organize war gaming conventions, we're personal trainers for suburbanites, what have you. There is an audience who knows you in your other capacity, and if you have their interest in that other platform, then use that platform to big-up your signal.

I talked about this more in Cross-Promotion, Book Sales, and You, but if you run a blog, a social media page, a YouTube channel, etc. where you have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of followers, then you need to try to mobilize them to get their interest in your book. This is why if you scroll through any of my posts over on my gaming blog Improved Initiative, you'll notice that I try to mention my work from time to time. Because folks might have come there to read about fantasy roleplaying games, but getting them interested in a sword and sorcery novel is certainly within the same ballpark.

#5: Get A Trailer



Lots of people think that trailers are just for movies, but you might be surprised at the sort of traction you can get with an eye (or rather ear) grabbing trailer. As I pointed out in Does Your Book Have A Trailer? Here's 5 Reasons It Should, people tend to respond well to book trailers. They set a tone, engage a different sense, put your book in front of a new audience's ears, and they can be intriguing. Best of all, trailers tend to be relatively inexpensive to make. In fact, if you have a mic, some friends, access to sound effects, and some basic sound editing software, you can probably make your own trailer in an afternoon. And even if they don't go viral, it's one more avenue for you to engage new readers that you weren't using before.

Also, since I can't say this enough, big thanks to Dungeon Keeper Radio for putting my trailer together!

#4: Get An Audio Version Out There


Sound check, 3... 2... 1...
Audio books, to be fair, are not simple things to make. Even if you're an experienced reader, you need to get your takes right, put them in the right order, add whatever sound effects your production needs, etc. And if you need someone else to read, or you're going a full-cast style production, then you have got your work cut out for you.

However, audio books are no longer purely the realm of big publishers. With a small investment in some free software, and a halfway decent mic (I personally recommend the Samson Go Microphone) you can get this project up-and-running on your own. You can even distribute it via the Audio Creation Exchange, if you want to use Amazon's platform. Because while it's true that not everyone likes audio books, you'll instantly increase your audience to include folks who listen to books during their commute, the visually impaired, artists who need a story while they sketch, and a slew of other people who may not have the time, desire, or ability to read the old-fashioned way.

#3: Do Some Readings


You're an entertainer, after all.
Authors, by and large, aren't center-of-attention sorts of folks. However, there is nothing more punk rock than the ability to get up in front of a crowd, open your book, and within the space of a few pages have them all hanging on your every word. If you can do that, I guarantee you will have people with cash in hand ready to relieve you of a few spare copies of your book.

Whether you head down to your local coffee shop's open mic night, you arrange a reading with a library or a university, or you volunteer to read at a convention, these are all good ways to put yourself in front of a crowd, and to show them what you've got. I can personally vouch for this method, as after I read my short story Stray Cat Strut in the collection From A Cat's View at Windy Con in Chicago I suddenly found that I had no more copies left, but a lot of people who wanted me to sign their recently-acquired books.

People love cats, sure, but hearing the story read aloud got them to get off their chairs and get a copy. Especially since my time ran out just before I could reveal the twist ending of this hard-boiled cat story.

Lastly, if you really are that shy as an author, you can do digital readings and share them over social media. YouTube is a glorious platform, and while it's tough as hell to get paid on, it can spread your message far and wide if you're willing to make the content.

#2: Hand Sell


It might seem like a nightmare, but trust me, it works.
More writers have balked at the idea of physically selling their books than at any other stage of the process. They already put in all the time and effort to write the damn thing, now they have to sell it, too?

Well, yeah, if you want to make bank.

Trust me, it's not that hard. If you have a book that catches people's eyes, and you know how to start a conversation with passers by, you can usually get people to take a few books off your hands. Whether you snag a spot at a local flea market, you set up at a friend's garage sale, or you rent a booth at a convention, all you need is a pitch, a smile, and maybe a little help from the list Tips For Hand-Selling Your Book. Oh, and a Square credit card reader. You will definitely want one of those.

You can do it. I believe in you.

#1: Be Persistent


Hey, did I tell you guys about my book?
I said this not too long ago in Successful Authors Are Persistence Hunters, but it bears repeating. Barring some huge stroke of luck that taps into this week's zeitgeist, it isn't likely that you'll make one Facebook post, host one giveaway, or record one soundbite, and hundreds of thousands of sales will upend upon your head.

Don't get me wrong, that Internet lottery is totally possible. It just isn't likely.

So remember this when you only sell a handful of copies during the Saturday at con, you don't generate a lot of interest with your latest round of Facebook posts, or when your sales numbers drop and you feel like giving up. Pick yourself up, and talk to one more person. Send one more email to a reviewer. Add one more link into your next article.

Persistence hunters don't quit. Slow and steady wins out over frenetic and explosive every, single time.

That's all for this week's Businss of Writing post! It was a bit of a doozy, and I hope all you fine folks found it to be of use. For more work by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page where you can check out all my latest book releases!

To stay on top of all my various projects, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to help support me, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Good Writers Understand The Rules, Before They Break Them

There is no faster way to start a fight on a writer's forum than to talk about the rules of writing. Whether it was stuff we learned when we were kids in school (never start a sentence with "and" or "but" for example), or it's a little more complex (questions of whether the three-act structure is superior, or if Chekhov's Gun is ironclad, or simply a matter of opinion), there are few things writers love to argue about more than someone else supposedly telling them how to write their books.

"And ANOTHER reason why you're wrong and write bad books," said both sides.
This week, I wanted to take a position that shouldn't be controversial (but probably will be). Because yes, it is your book, and you may choose to follow the conventional wisdom of writing rules, or tear them up and throw them out the window. Books have been successful either way.

However, if you're going to throw out all of the very sound advice folks have about what you should and shouldn't do when writing a book, it's important that you understand why you're doing so. Breaking the rules just for the sake of breaking them isn't going to make your story any better.

We All Had Training Wheels, Once Upon A Time


In his book The View From The Cheap Seats, Neil Gaiman talks about the intoxicating feeling that every writer has had when they first started writing stories. That sensation of power that you are the master of an entire universe, and that you can make your will manifest, can often leave you drunk with power. A feeling that can lead to you thinking you're so talented that you don't need all those rules; your work will be all the more special for ignoring that hogwash.

You get drunk with other things later on in your career, most of the time.
The important thing to remember, or so the more famous Neil said, was to understand the rules of storytelling before you discarded them out of hand. To grasp their whys, and hows, and wherefores so that you could see the logic that made them work, and to understand what it would mean if you ignored them for your particular story. They are, in a very real way, like the load-bearing beams that hold up your story's house. Are they functional? Sure. Can you get rid of them? Of course you can... but you'll need to replace them with something that serves to hold your story up so that your narrative doesn't fall apart on you.

Shit... what was that one there for, again?
The common sense rules of writing (which you can pretty much read as anything you'll find in a book about writing, and most of the advice from people who do this as a living) all have their place. They are the stepping stones that you need to cross, and the knowledge you need to understand. They're the safety net below the trapeze. And if you're going to try a new, high-flying act that defies all the established rules, it's important that you have plenty of practice under your belt so that you know every possible thing that could go wrong.

Or, as my father said regarding carpentry projects, "You need to learn the correct way to do something, before you find the right way to do it." Because they aren't always the same way, but you should have the knowledge and experience to know when the "correct" method isn't the one your project needs.

Most importantly, understanding all the existing rules lets you know which ones are going to really work for your style, your story, and your audience, and which ones you can ignore without worrying about structural integrity. Because while you can ignore any rules you want to when it comes to your story, you still need to understand why you would ignore them, and the kind of problems you might have to deal with in the absence of that particular rule.

Gaining that kind of understanding takes practice, and a lot of experimentation. But trust me when I say this; riding without a helmet just because you can is no guarantee that your story will be better... if anything, it means the crash might be a whole lot messier if you aren't sure exactly what you're doing.

That's all for this Craft of Writing installment. Remember, write responsibly, and take all criticism you get with a grain or two of salt. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife.

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to support me and my work directly, you can tip me by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today!