Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Creators Need Support, Not Another Hustle

If you're a regular reader here, or if you know a creative professional in your daily life, chances are you're already well aware of the struggle most of us face. Whether we're trying to sell books, get reads on our articles, hustle for Patreon patrons, or a dozen other things it can often feel like we're dancing on the edge of a volcano, and that we might fall in at any moment.

The volcano in this metaphor is capitalism, and there's no safety net to stop us from being burned up like an evil ring at the end of a trilogy if we miss a payment.

Capital has but one master, and it answers to no other!

And while there are a lot of folks out there who are willing to give advice, I want to take this week to ask you to please, pretty please, stop suggesting that we pick up "side" jobs or "real" jobs until we make it. Because you're not helping, and if possible you're making things worse.

Before I get into the nitty gritty details of that, though, remember to subscribe to my weekly newsletter if you want to stay on top of all my content. Also, if you want to help me stay on top of my own bills consider becoming a Patreon patron!

A Side Job? Oh If Only I'd Thought of That...


If you have a friend, family member, or even just a close acquaintance that's a creative professional, chances are good you've let fly with this sentiment at some point. You've probably wondered why the simple solution of just picking up a few shifts at a local grocery store or gas station until they break big hasn't occurred to them. After all, it seems so easy. The author sacrifices a bit of time, they get an extra few hundred bucks a month, and they're not as worried about the performance of their work.

A win all around, right?

Just don't be poor? Shit, why didn't I think of that!

There's a lot of reasons why you're probably getting scornful looks from your creative friends if you've made this suggestion to them, either in-person or in text. So I want to take a moment to break down both why it's insulting, and the underlying message that it conveys to them since it's something the person making the suggestion rarely thinks about again, but which will stick with the creator for months to years afterward.

First and foremost, let's talk about the tone of the suggestion. It's often presented as a simple solution to one's problem, as if somehow the creator in question doesn't know what wage labor is, and hasn't even considered it as an option. Secondly, the suggestion is usually presented as something that's easily achievable, which it often isn't. Even if there are businesses hiring in someone's area (far from a guarantee), there may not be any that are willing to offer the schedule a creator needs, to be understanding with their requirements (you can't go to shows and conventions if your job won't give you weekends off, for example), or which will compensate them fairly for their efforts.

Thirdly, and this is the category I often find myself in, a creator only has so much time and energy in a given day. If they are suddenly using that time and energy to perform labor for someone else (and especially if it's labor they hate, find difficult, or which is extremely draining for them), they aren't going to be able to make art at the same rate they were before. In some cases it's possible that this "side" job siphons out all their energy entirely, making it impossible for them to keep making their art at all.

As the song says, being a rock star is a fun job, but it's still a job. And when someone is already giving their all to push a rock up a hill, you showing up and suggesting they put on this pair of ankle weights as if that will somehow make things easier is not helping.

There's Also The Underlying Message We're Hearing


In the interest of absolute clarity, I'm not talking about when a friend offers a writer a job as a stringer for a news site they have connections at, or brings them on as a short-term editor so they can get a fast paycheck to cover their bills. I'm talking expressly about when someone suggests you simply go out and get a standard, minimum wage, part-time gig that has nothing to do with your creative field, but which is meant to supplement and support your creative efforts. Because a different message is being sent in these two situations that people who think they're being helpful might not realize.

If someone offers you a job using your craft, what they're saying is, "I value your talent as a professional, and I trust you to get this job done for me."

If someone just suggests you go pick up a few shifts as a clerk, or find a part-time security officer gig, though? The message there (whether you intend it or not) is, "Well, clearly your art isn't worth anything on its own, so go get a real, grown-up job if you insist on following this dream."

As we all know, subtext is often present whether we want it there or not.

If you think the artist you're about to talk to creates good art, and that they should have the time and resources to create more of it, they don't need you telling them to spend their energy on other things. What they need is you to hold out your hand, and help them make those ends meet.

Because talent is meaningless when it comes to the success of art. We rise and fall, live and die, by whether we have an audience that supports us. Period, end of story.

Again, if you have money, you can support your creative friends directly. Buy their art, become patrons, and make sure your cash goes directly toward helping them. If you don't have money to give, though? Boost their signal using your voice. Share their art on your social media pages, leave good comments, and tell your friends and family members about them. Help them reach a larger audience so that they can get the eyeballs (and patrons) they need.

That might not feel like a lot, but I'll give you a concrete example of how this could snowball.

Seriously, go check this out!

About a week ago I released the short story Devil's Night over on my Vocal page; a fun little fantasy tale about devil-worshiping fascists getting punched right in the face in the low-town district. It took me plenty of time to put together, but at time of writing it's gotten maybe 50 reads or so... which amounts to about 30 cents in my pocket.

On average, roughly 100-500 people read my entries on this blog. If 100 people out there read this short story, it would probably put another 50 to 60 cents in my bank account. But what if 100 people all went and shared it on their social media pages? Sure a lot of those shares might go unremarked, but with that many shares chances are good it would catch on somewhere, and reach a far wider audience. It's possible that it could spread, reaching hundreds (if not thousands) more eyes than I could ever reach on my own. For every one thousand people who read said story, I'd earn $6... and there are millions of potential eyes on those platforms.

Will all the people who read this article click through to share that tale? Probably not. But that one, concrete action taken by even a moderately-sized group of readers could have rather dramatic consequences for me as a creator. And it would be far more helpful than any advice that I just pull myself up by my bootstraps until something eventually got popular enough to pay me what I'm worth.

Be the change you want to see in the careers of the creators you like. It makes a far bigger difference than you know.

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 noir thriller Marked Territory, its sequel Painted Cats, 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, October 6, 2021

Trust Me, Writers, You Should Really Google That Idea First

It's a running gag that if you're a writer you probably have a somewhat suspicious search history. From how long it takes for a buried body to decompose, to what the effects of certain hallucinogens are, to the murder laws in particular states or countries, we often find ourselves in pursuit of rather strange information... and that's just for stories that don't involve magic, super science, and other impossible weirdness!

However, a lot of us should really run a few Google searches whenever we think we've had some brilliant, insightful breakthrough. Because a lot of the time you're going to find out that someone has probably had the idea already, and their take on the idea might alter the course you want to take with your own work.

Seriously, just check. Measure twice, write once.

As always, before we get started, I want to remind folks that I have a Patreon, and that's what keeps the wheels greased and the content coming out. Additionally, if you don't want to miss anything I put out, make sure you subscribe to my weekly newsletter while you're at it!

"Hey! They Stole My Idea!"


As writers we all have those moments where we are so convinced we've come up with a new idea, or a new twist on something that it just excites our imaginations and sends us into fits of creativity. And most of us have felt the cold steel of the pin puncturing that balloon when we've realized that we were not, in fact, the first ones to have this idea. And in at least a few cases, the idea has been around in the genre not just before we became writers, but often before we were even born.

What the hell? Who's been reading my notes?

For a perfect example of this, a younger writer I know practically had a meltdown while they were watching Wandavision. Because to hear them tell it, they were convinced that they came up with the idea of chaos magic... not just that, but they were so sure that the name in particular was something they'd come up with first, and that Marvel had somehow beat them to the punch. In case you're not familiar, Wanda's powers have been described as chaos magic for decades. The actual practice, which I talked about in What is Chaos Magic? for those who want to do further reading, has been around even longer. Not only that, but the term has showed up in dozens of fantasy novels, roleplaying games, and other intellectual properties since practically the 1970s.

So why was he so convinced that he'd coined this term himself, and come up with the idea of a character whose powers are strange and unpredictable? Well, partially it was because he had a relatively bland and samey media diet, so he hadn't seen those movies, played those games, or read those comics. But mostly it was because he didn't do a quick search on the words "chaos magic" because he was so sure that no one else had this idea that he could just proceed with his story without checking.

To be clear, none of this meant the writer in question suddenly couldn't have chaos magic in his novel. The concept isn't copyrighted, and he could have continued on with his plan. The only thing that changed would be that if he tried to use the, "So, the magicians in my story tap into chaos magic," as a selling point he was suddenly going to have people with more genre savvy asking if his book was like X, Y, or Z property. Or, in some cases, accusing him of either homage (or just ripping off) an older property who had already fleshed out that idea.

And for some of us, standing in the shadow of previous books is enough to make us re-evaluate an entire project.

Measure Twice, Write Once


If you're going to check to be sure that someone can actually survive the particular type of stab wounds you're dishing out, or that gas tanks made after a particular year can actually explode, then it pays to do a bit of searching regarding what you think are the unique selling points of your story. Whether it's the type of magic system you're using, the particular genre blend you're trying out, or even the names of your secret societies you're titling your books after, just check. It saves you a world of headache later.

Because nine times out of ten the fact that someone else had this idea ten, twenty, or even a hundred years ago (the pulp era was strange, and full of bizarre creativity) doesn't actually stop you from putting your own spin on it. Whether you're trying to impress readers or an editor, though, it's important to go in with open eyes knowing what the market has already done with a particular kind of book. Because there's nothing worse than walking a well-trodden path absolutely convinced that you're the first one to ever discover it.

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 cat noir novel Marked Territory, its sequel Painted Cats, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my most recent short story collection The Rejects!
 
And to stay on top of all my latest news and releases, collected once a week, make sure you subscribe to The Literary Mercenary's mailing list

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!

Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Pros and Cons of Writing Tie-In Fiction

Tie-in fiction is, generally speaking, fiction that is based in an existing universe. Whether it's the Star Wars extended universe novels, the books concerning the adventures of Drizzt Do'urden in the Forgotten Realms, or even video game novels for those who read the series based on Doom in the 90s, all of these are tie-in fiction because even if the characters and plots are unique to the author, the world they take place in is still not their own intellectual property.

It's something I'm passingly familiar with.

While I'm no stranger to writing tie-in fiction with stories like The Irregulars and Devil's Night in Pathfinder's Golarion universe, or my tales Almost and Waking Dogs for Warhammer 40K, it is something I'm considering increasing my efforts on in the future. And for those who are thinking on doing the same, I thought I'd take this week to talk about some of the pros and cons these projects come with... especially for folks thinking about trying their hand at their own.

Before I get too deep into the details, though, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter if you want to get all my updates sent right to your inbox. And if you want to help me keep the wheels turning and the content fresh, consider becoming a Patreon patron... every little bit really does help!

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly


Because everything has pros and cons to it.

Let's start with the good things, shall we?

First and foremost, one of the biggest benefits of writing tie-in fiction is that a lot of the major aspects of the world and setting are already taken care of for you. Everything from how magic works (or doesn't), to what species exist, to what important world events have happened on the timeline are already part of the world structure. As a creator you don't have to wrack your brain doing all that heavy lifting and world building because it has, for the most part, already been handled for you. All you need to do is take this big bucket of ideas and setting, and tell a story using the tools provided.

As someone who has been doing so much professional world building this year that I wrote 5 Tips For Creating Fantasy Towns and Cities just to share some of my insights, I can appreciate projects that have the foundation laid for me.

The other major benefit of tie-in fiction is that it comes with a pre-selected audience of readers. Whether the story is set in a comic book universe, features a video game tie-in, or it's based in an RPG setting, fans of that universe/property are more likely to check it out. People love the familiar, and it is a lot easier to get people to read something in a familiar setting, or even with familiar characters, than it is to get them to invest time, energy, and cost into an untested universe.

But what about the downsides?

There are downsides to tie-in fiction, too.

Because large aspects of the world are already set in stone, it can limit your options as a storyteller. You often can't change too much in the way of a setting's magic or technology, for instance, and you have to respect the timeline and world events as they're established. This can make certain kinds of stories impossible to write in a given setting, and it may discourage you from certain tones and genre notes as well, which can be frustrating.

Perhaps an even bigger frustration, though, is when it comes to who is allowed to write tie-in fiction, who isn't, and under what circumstances.

For example, you can usually write fiction for established settings as long as you aren't directly making a profit off of it. I say usually because companies can still sweep in and hit you with a Cease & Desist any time you use their intellectual property without permission, though this often becomes a matter of optics and practicality rather than finances when creators are doing things just for fun, or when their work is increasing engagement with a property. This isn't an issue with properties in the public domain (things like Norse mythology, Arthurian legend, and characters like the Scarlet Pimpernel or the Phantom of The Opera), which is why you see so many different takes on those older works. Lastly, if a setting has a community content program then anyone who follows the established rules can write stories in that setting and get paid for them.

I wrote more about those in Community Content Programs For RPGs Are Another Avenue For Authors to Get Paid, for those who want a more in-depth look at how they work.

Will It Work For You?


The real question, at the end of the day, is whether writing tie-in fiction is going to be a net plus for you as a creator. And the answer unfortunately is... it depends on your goals?

Whether you want to use free tie-in fiction to draw attention to yourself as a creator in hopes that readers check out your original content, or you want to use the pre-built audience in order to sell copies of something made through a community content platform, the specifics are going to vary based on what you're trying to do, how active the community is, and just how big the desire for your particular type of tie-in is.

At the end of the day, it's a roll of the die. And while that die might come up a one, it could also come up a 20... you won't know if you don't try!

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 noir thriller Marked Territory, its sequel Painted Cats, 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, September 22, 2021

Horror Blends Well With Pretty Much Every Genre

Since we're coming up on the Halloween season, most people's minds are turning to spooky stories and terrifying tales. Even if you're not a proponent of the horror genre as a lifestyle like some of us are, this is the season where everyone gets in on the fun. However, I had a conversation earlier this week that bothered me because it's a sentiment I've come across several times both as an author, and as an RPG writer. That is, essentially, that horror simply can't be mixed with other genres.

So I wanted to take a moment to make a very simple statement, and then to get deeper into it. Because horror can be combined with practically any other genre you choose. And if you can't fathom how you could weave some of those dark threads into this or that genre, then I would suggest you need to dream a little bigger.

Oh my, my... how did THAT get in there?

As always, before we go any deeper, remember to sign up for my weekly newsletter! And if you want to help me keep the wheels turning consider becoming a Patreon patron. Because every little bit really does help.

Also, if you're in the mood for some short, snacky scares, don't forget to check out my 50 Two-Sentence Horror Stories. And if you like it make sure you spread the word, and leave a tip. I'm thinking about doing a follow-up, but I go where the reads lead me!

Horror Really is a Universal Spice


I know that not everyone out there is a lifelong horror fan the way I am. However, the more I've talked with people in the general populace, the more often I come across folks who have very specific ideas of what horror can be, and even more important ideas of what it cannot be. But before we get into debating this or that particular scenario, I would suggest folks take a moment to watch something from Scaredy Cats, as this channel has perhaps the most succinct definition of horror that I've ever come across.


It's those three, simple requirements that I think can solve a lot of issues when it comes to discussions of horror. While I don't necessarily agree entirely with the first (that the piece of media must be fictional, though inspiration and retellings are fictitious enough to pass the smell test), the second two standards (it must concern the macabre, and the characters in the story must be scared) are actually very useful indeed.

And if more people looked at horror from this perspective, I would get into a lot fewer fights on the Internet.

Because it is this broader definition that really showcases how flexible horror is as a genre mixer. You can take horror and mix it with comedy, and get something like The Addams Family or Krampus, for example. You can mix horror with science fiction to produce something like Alien, Event Horizon, or large swaths of the Warhammer 40K universe. You can mix it with melodrama in order to make something like Dark Shadows, you can swirl it into sword and sorcery to get adventures of characters like Conan, Kull, or Solomon Kane (or my own novel Crier's Knife). You can put it into high fantasy to create something like the Midnight RPG setting, and you can blend it into a coming of age story, a period drama, and nearly anything else you feel like.

The Thousand Faces of Horror


This might be a bit of a soapbox topic, but for fans of horror like myself, this is something that I feel folks need to stop and think about. Because so many people will either assume that horror A) has to be something that they would personally find frightening or uncomfortable, or B) that it can only concern certain topics, and that if those topics are absent or rendered moot by another element then horror cannot exist.

Rather that singling any one person out, though, I wanted to discuss some of the conversations I've run into, and why I find them so infuriating. And, hopefully, the responses I have to them will help show folks a broader perspective on my favorite genre.

I've got a lot to choose from, okay?

"Fantasy can't have horror in it because death isn't permanent."

This is a paraphrase of part of the most recent conversation that started me off on this topic, and it refers to how in traditional high fantasy RPGs players usually have the ability to be resurrected from the dead to continue the adventure should they meet an untimely end. The idea that if death isn't permanent then what do you have to be scared of exemplifies the kind of mindset that only thinks of horror in terms of a single facet. Because surely dying is something people are scared of, even if it can be undone? Especially since, in these settings, heaven and hell are very real places. If you know you weren't a good person, and you wound up in hell (even for a few moments) what would that do to your mind? Especially since (in most settings, at least) you're still going to die eventually... barring become a lich, a vampire, or some other eternal creature.

Which, in its way, makes those monsters even more frightening. Because for every power mad duke or arrogant wizard, there's going to be someone who would rather live a tortured, eternal half life than face what lies beyond the coil of their mortal flesh. And if that's not horror, I don't know what is!

"This isn't a horror game because it doesn't make me uncomfortable."

Vampire. Werewolf. Mage. Changeling. I've had this conversation about fully half of the World of Darkness RPG setting with my fellow players, and it never ceases to baffle me. Because make no mistake, these games as they're written are horror games through and through. Whether it's questions about whether you can cling to your humanity for eternity, about whether you can control the violence surging through you to keep those around you safe, about whether your hubris will be your downfall, or about not being able to fully trust your own mind and the world around you, these games all deal with a variety of different flavors of horror.

Something that I feel needs re-iterating is that horror doesn't have to scare you. Most of the time that's not what it's going to do. It doesn't have to leave an impression of lasting terror, either. It can, but that's not required for it to still be horror. And while a lot of horror will leave you asking hard questions (What does it really mean to be human? What will people do when driven to desperate measures? What makes someone a monster?), it's not required to be harrowing or to include elements you find distasteful.

"That's not a horror story, it's just dark X/Y/Z."

This might be something of a controversial opinion, but people will go to ridiculous lengths to avoid stories they like being associated with horror. Up to the point that I've seen it said several times that the film category of "psychological thriller" was invented by the Academy Awards to ensure that no movie labeled a horror film (like Silence of The Lambs would have been) won prestigious awards.

In my opinion this is where a lot of stories, books, and games will label themselves as a "dark" version of a particular genre instead of just admitting they're mixing in horror elements. Dark fantasy has questionable themes and monsters more familiar to the horror genre. Dark thrillers go further than normal thrillers do, punching up the stakes and usually including deeds that would be more common in an Argento film than a John Grisham novel. Dark romances touch on sensitive topics that can be as titillating as they are triggering, and so on, and so forth.

Horror gets around, and like a flexible wine you can pair it with practically any meal. It might go better with some than it does with others, but it's everywhere once you learn to recognize the flavor.

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 cat noir novel Marked Territory, its sequel Painted Cats, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my most recent short story collection The Rejects!
 
And to stay on top of all my latest news and releases, collected once a week, make sure you subscribe to The Literary Mercenary's mailing list

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, September 15, 2021

#WritersLift is The Secret To Making Twitter Work For You as an Author

Social media is a huge boon to authors. We've always had to figure out how to tell the reading public that we have manuscripts on the market, and these sites let us reach people we otherwise would never have crossed paths with so help us sell our stories.

In theory, at least.

While I've been active on Facebook, Reddit, and even MeWe and LinkedIn, it's only recently that I've taken a real stab at trying to figure out Twitter. However, thanks to some great guidance from Alice Liddell (whom you should definitely follow on Facebook and @LittleAlice06 on Twitter), I now have a strategy that works pretty well.

So if the little blue bird has been vexing you, consider implementing the following.

If I can make it work, anyone can make it work.

For folks who want to help me keep the content flowing, consider becoming a Patreon patron so I can keep the lights on and the wheels greased. And if you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates, then be sure to subscribe to my weekly newsletter as well!

What is a Writers Lift?


Writers can only do so much individually to reach an audience, and if you don't already have a huge following it can sometimes seem impossible for you to get one. The purpose of the #writerslift is to bring writers together as a community so that we can help lift each other up and combine our efforts.

Hey, thanks guy!

In short, here's how it works. Someone in the community starts a #writerslift or #writingcommunity post. Occasionally this will be combined with things like #shamelessselfpromo, #selfpromosaturday, or other, similar tags. The way it works is that you like and reshare the post, helping boost the signal and spread the word. You then leave a response with a link to your blog, your book, or some other example of your work that you want people to see. Then you go down the list leaving likes and comments on other people's posts, and more importantly following them. Your fellow authors then follow you back, and keep the conversations going.

So what does this do for you? Well, it increases your number of followers significantly in a short period of time. That is important because Twitter, like other social media platforms, has an algorithm that boosts your signal concurrent with the number of followers you have. I've been told that good bench marks are 500, 1k, 5k, and 10k as far as early account gains. Additionally, building this network gets you into the writing community, helps boost your signal, and gets your work in front of curious eyes. And since other folks are liking and sharing your posts, there's a good chance you snag some of their followers as well!

I've been doing a couple of these boost posts a day (nothing huge, but rather a steady, consistent effort) and I've gone from a little over 200 followers a month ago to just over 950 at time of writing. Incidentally, if you want to follow someone who shares good writer's lifts so you don't have to go searching for them, make sure you follow me @nlitherl. I'll make it easy on you, whether you're working on fiction, RPGs, or that gray space in between!

With all of that said, it's equally important to understand what this will not do for you. What this strategy will not do is guarantee you massive sales overnight. It probably won't make you into a viral sensation. Hell, it probably won't even sell all that many books (I think at time of writing I've sold maybe 2-3 books throughout this endeavor). Because that's not really the purpose. The goal is to make sure that you have a large number of folks following you, that the community knows your name and profile picture, and that when you share something you've got a bunch of other people willing to do you a solid by helping to spread the word. That will help you increase your sales by making you an account the site pays attention to and shares with other users, but it won't make you money all by itself.

Lastly, remember that writer's lifts are a tool, and they should just be one part of your promotional toolbox. To that end, keep in mind some of the other things I said back in 5 (Specific) Tips For Increasing Your Reads Using Social Media. Because sometimes you need a screwdriver, sometimes you need a scalpel, and sometimes you need a hammer... and it's best to use the right tool for the right job.

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 noir thriller Marked Territory, its sequel Painted Cats, 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, September 8, 2021

Suspense, Surprise, And The Bomb Under The Table

One of my earliest, formative memories as a horror fan was watching Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. On the one hand, there were some awful things that went on behind the scenes, and the film is one of the more egregious offenders in the category of creating dangerously skewed images of what people with mental disorders are like (Renegade Cut has a great video about this in Maniacs and Psychos- Mental Illness in Horror Movies). On the other hand, there is no denying that Hitchcock's game is strong in Psycho, and that it really shows the audience how to crank up the tension with nothing more than chocolate syrup, good performances, and some eerie sound effects.

This also got me thinking about something Hitchcock said regarding the difference between surprise and suspense, and how you create one over the other. Since I've been writing noir mysteries following the exploits of a back alley Maine coon cat in NYC for the past two years with Marked Territory and Painted Cats respectively, I figured this was something worth thinking about and sharing.

For those who haven't heard of it, we're talking about the infamous bomb under the table example.

Oh lawd, it's coming!

Before we go any further, I wanted to remind folks that becoming a Patreon patron helps me keep the lights on, and the content coming. And if you don't want to miss any of my updates, don't forget to subscribe to my weekly newsletter!

The Difference Between Surprise and Suspense is Knowledge


This classic example, as discussed by David Bordwell, started with Hitchcock in an interview. To paraphrase, he told the interviewer to imagine there was a bomb under the table they were sitting at. If it exploded with no preamble, then the audience would be surprised, surely, but to call such a scene tense (something required to be a thriller), would be inaccurate. In order to create the necessary suspense, the audience would need to know there was a bomb under the table, and to be aware that time was running out before it went off. If this were a film the audience might have seen someone plant the bomb, and set it for 1 o'clock. That way the clock on the wall in the background would be a source of tension as they watched the minute hand creep ever closer while Hitchcock and the interviewer merely talked about inane things.

Professor... what's that ticking sound?

In other words, in order for suspense to exist, the audience needs to have some idea of a deadline. A timeframe is necessary to create that sense of impending doom, and the tension that says the seconds are running out. And while they may not need to know precisely what the effect is going to be (one could just as easily have an occult ritual with an unspecified outcome that has a certain completion deadline instead of a bomb), the tension is created by the knowledge that they're rushing past the point of no return.

Additionally, while Hitchcock's example is one where the audience is in on the danger but the characters are clueless, you can have both the characters and the audience know. One might argue that loses some of the mystery, or creates a different flavor of suspense (it's different watching someone who has no idea of the danger they're in than it is watching someone who knows, and is acting in a way that fuels the desperation of a scene), but that's something that can be left up to the creator.

What I felt should be added to this is that creating suspense, and brewing tension, isn't just something you can plop down in the middle of nowhere and expect a big reaction. You can always surprise your audience; that's not hard to do. To create tension, if not outright dread, you need to lay the foundation and do the prep work. You have to explain what's at stake, make clear that there is some kind of danger, and show that time is running out in a meaningful way. You have to ratchet it up, and bring the audience along for the ride if they're going to worry about the outcome and keep turning the pages to see what happens.

So, before you get started, ask if you just want to shock your readers, or if you want them to be held in suspense. Because the latter means they have to know there's a bomb under the table, even if your cast of characters doesn't.

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 cat noir novel Marked Territory, its sequel Painted Cats, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my most recent short story collection The Rejects!
 
And to stay on top of all my latest news and releases, collected once a week, make sure you subscribe to The Literary Mercenary's mailing list

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, September 1, 2021

The Catch-22 Capitalism Has Me Caught in as an Author

If you've heard the term Catch-22, you likely know that it comes from a novel about WWII. In short, the military stated that pilots who were not sane would not be allowed to fly combat missions. However, being afraid of death was a perfectly rational feeling, so if you were sane enough to take the out, then the military would deem you sane enough to fly the mission. This put you between a rock and a hard place where there was no real way for you to win short of doing something drastic. In other words, a Catch-22 is a problem where the only solution is denied you because of the conditions of the problem itself.

I bring this up because this is a situation I find myself in as an author the further into 2021 we get. And since I know I'm not alone I wanted to shine some light on this so readers out there might be able to better appreciate why their favorite creators are doing what they're doing.

It will take how long? No, I've got rent to pay.

If you want to help alleviate some of this pressure from the rock and the hard place I'm caught in, please consider becoming a Patreon patron. And if you want to get all my regular updates, all you need to do is sign up for my weekly email!

Why You're Seeing a Lot of Smaller Pieces From Me


For folks who didn't hear, I had to move at the beginning of 2021. My old apartment building had been bought by new landlords, and they were squeezing everyone out in order to renovate the place. In the middle of a pandemic, before vaccines were available. Not a great look. I found a new place that still cost more for me to live in, but which allowed me to save some money by providing amenities my old place didn't. However, at the end of the day, I was still going to need to increase my income to stay one step ahead of the bills and to keep my new landlords happy.

I did this by talking to one of the main companies I work with, Azukail Games, and voluntarily increasing my workload with them. So rather than putting out one RPG supplement a month (stuff like my 100 Random Taverns or 100 Tieflings to Meet in Your Travels) I have been writing two of them a month since about March. I've also been taking occasional side projects from other companies looking for short-term, fast turnaround projects that I can plug into the gaps while I spin those other things out as quickly as I can.

And the spinning is getting pretty fast.

As a result, I'm quickly growing my archive of RPG supplements over on Drive Thru RPG. At time of writing, my name appears in 114 projects, and about 91 of them pay me royalties on sales. And while some of them sell a lot of copies, and some of them sell far less than I'd like, mostly I'm churning out so many of these projects because I need that per-word rate I get up-front in order to cover my bills. Don't get me wrong, royalties are lovely, but I would need to either write another 90 supplements (something that will take quite some time even at 2 per month) or for a piece to go seriously viral for those royalties to buy me some breathing room.

So what does that mean to you?

Well, if you were hoping I'd put out more novels anytime soon (perhaps a third case for my feline heavy Leo to follow up Marked Territory and Painted Cats), that's probably not going to happen for the foreseeable future. If you were interested in me putting together a campaign book, perhaps in my Sundara: Dawn of a New Age setting, that's just not going to be possible. If you wanted to see me assemble something like a freehold starter guide for Changeling: The Lost, or put together a supplement book for Hunter: The Vigil (and I really had something special planned for that), those things just aren't going to be feasible for a while.

Because writing things like this takes time, and my landlords, utility provider, etc. aren't going to let me slide for a few months to a year while I assemble those bigger projects and put them out on the market.

The Catch-22


Now, here's the rub. Because bigger, more involved projects usually come with bigger checks and larger royalties to make them worthwhile. So if I had the time to, say, put together an entire campaign where players had to save the dragon eggs stolen from one of the Founders of Hoardreach (an idea I have notes on, should I get to expand on it) there's a good chance that would actually make some serious money. It's a lot easier to sell novels than it is to sell short stories, and even a mildly successful novel could transform my income overnight as new readers dug into my archive to see what else I've written.

But again, that's the Catch-22.

I can't write bigger, longform projects right now because I need money to pay my bills immediately. But there's a good chance I could get the money I need, if only I could get some of those larger releases onto the market.

So What Can You Do?


If you've read this far, and you want to help me get out of this tight spot so I can breathe again and get back to working on longer-form pieces instead of killing myself trying to churn out as many short and snacky things as I can every month, there's a couple of things you can do. The following list isn't complete, but it's a good start for folks who want to make an immediate difference right now!

- Become a Patreon patron. Seriously, no joke, Patreon is the best way to help out me, and creators like me, because it adds up fast. I've had a tough time holding onto patrons for a while now, so every subscription helps. Of course, for those who want to offer a one-time tip, I also have a Ko-Fi page!

- Buy my books, and help spread the word! Whether you want a feline mystery with novels like Marked Territory and Painted Cats, a dystopian thriller starring decommissioned super soldiers in Old Soldiers, or even old-fashioned sword and sorcery in Crier's Knife, I need all the readers I can get. And if you've already gotten your copy, leave a rating and a review... once I make it over 50, that's when the algorithm kicks in and Amazon starts advertising my books to people outside my personal reach.

- Tell your friends and followers. This is a huge deal, and people really don't appreciate how important their voices are. Authors have a generally limited reach unless they're already hugely famous, which is why we depend on people like you to help boost our signal. The algorithm does everything it can to muzzle us to force us to pay for ads, so we need all the help we can in fighting it.

- Follow me on social media. Speaking of algorithms, social media sites give more credence to accounts with larger amounts of followers. Even if you're just taking up a slot and acting as a warm body, you still get counted (though interacting, liking, sharing, etc. is also greatly valued). So help me boost my numbers on Facebook and Twitter so I can reach more people, find more support, and hopefully be able to take my foot off the gas on these shorter projects before I turn 40.

It might seem small and insignificant... but when you're as close to ground level as I am as an author, little gestures make big differences. Thanks in advance to everyone who holds out a helping hand, and remember, creators need your help to be able to keep doing what they're doing.

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 noir thriller Marked Territory, its sequel Painted Cats, 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!