Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A Cautionary Tale About Book Covers and Audience Reactions

Regular readers know that in addition to writing novels like my noir cat mystery Marked Territory, and short stories for collections like The Rejects, I also write a lot of supplements for tabletop roleplaying games. By the end of this month my name will officially be on a triple-digit number of these projects in one capacity or another, and these days I tend to have a good enough working relationship with most publishers I pen for that I can offer input and direction on projects I propose, or agree to work on.

Recently I've been developing my own fantasy RPG setting, and doing my best to get people to check it out through a series of smaller, bite-sized releases. And it has been through this that I have a piece of wisdom all authors should keep in mind. Namely that most people do not double-check a source for cover art, and if the art you have is more famous somewhere else (a common issue for those of us who use stock art for our book covers) then the conversation surrounding the cover is quickly going to eclipse the product itself... and in the worst possible way.

Before we get too deep into this issue, remember to subscribe to my weekly newsletter to stay up-to-date on all my latest releases! And for those who are interested in some of the lessons I've learned while making my own cities from the ground up, don't forget to check out 5 Tips For Creating Fantasy Towns and Cities!

The Conversation You Don't Want To Have About Your Cover


The idea behind Sundara: Dawn of a New Age is that the setting, as a whole, is about embracing progress in a world that's moving forward. Rather than a lot of fantasy that latches onto a Tolkien-esque longing for a lost, mythic time, Sundara is about finding new methods, new resources, and new solutions to the problems people are facing.

As an example, Moüd was a ruined, dead city that had been abandoned due to an unspecified cataclysm that has left the city shunned, and actively dangerous to the living. It was only through the efforts of an entire guild of necromancers that the remnants of this damage were pushed back, and contained. Despite being abandoned for so long, the City of Bones was in an advantageous location for trade, if people could cross the dead wastes of the desert. Normal beasts of burden often couldn't, but the undead beasts raised by the Silver Wraiths could. As such the necropolis has become a metropolis once more, and is a center of trade, arcane learning, and delves into the history that lies beneath, waiting to be discovered.

The guide is available in Pathfinder 1st Edition format, as well as a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition format, and it has a pretty baller cover if I do say so.

Seriously... look at how pretty that is!

If you're not a big fan of RPGs, then you've probably never seen that gorgeous painting before. However, if you are part of that scene then you might be scratching your head and wondering, "Hey, why does your game have the cover art from Godbound on it?"

The answer to this question is because the creators of the game, Sine Nomine Publishing, put out the Godbound art pack for free, usable for anyone who needs bitching artwork for their games, books and other projects. And because my publisher is on something of a shoestring budget (and I don't have a massive fan base of thousands eager to eat up everything I release to justify paying an artist for individually-commissioned work), using these resources seemed like something of a godsend (pun very much intended).

And it worked like a charm for the first installment, Ironfire: The City of Steel (also available for Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition).

It still makes me smile looking at this.

While the first cover sailed by mostly unremarked on (it's from the same art pack, but didn't feature anywhere nearly as prominently in the original game), the second one generated a constant string of throat clearing, less-than-helpful comments, subtle accusations of plagiarism and art theft, and not-so-subtle accusations of the same in a lot of groups and forums.

On the one hand, you could argue there's no such thing as bad publicity, and every comment made or accusation flung still boosted the signal. While there is some truth to that, the bigger issue I ran into was that the conversation quickly moved from, "Why is this product a good one to add to my gaming shelf?" to "Are you a thief, or an idiot?" And even when I did correct people on their misconceptions (some of whom apologized once I shared the link and showed my receipts), there was no getting the conversation back on track after that. Once I explained where the art assets had come from, and that I was using them with permission rather than stealing another, more successful game's art, the conversation just died.

A Lesson Learned


I can't say at this point whether or not the negative aspects of this decision outweighed the positive ones. Because while there was a lot of outrage from people who didn't check to make sure the art was free to use, the Godbound pack did allow my publisher to create a smooth, universal look to the series in order to make them feel connected. And while the number of comments and arguments did boost the signal, that doesn't seem to have done anything for the bottom line when it comes to sales.

However, there is something I didn't mention in Looking For Cover Art For Your Book? Try Drive Thru RPG! that I feel applies to all of us who use stock art for our projects. In short, even if you think you have the perfect image for your project, take a moment to do a reverse-image search. Consider how many other folks have used that art, and what the reaction to your use is likely to be (as well as what sort of overlap you can realistically expect from your target audience, and the audience who may be more familiar with it).

You might decide to use it anyway... but it's something to consider. Especially if you want to avoid the headache of explaining something two dozen times a day while you're just trying to do a bit of promotion.

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, 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, April 7, 2021

If You Want To Be a Better Author, Broaden Your Reading Horizons

One of the most common pieces of advice that gets flung at writers from an early age is that we need to be good readers. It seems obvious on the surface. If you want to learn how to create a finished product, then you need to understand the process behind it, and to get an idea of how all the different parts fit together to make it function. If you want to be a mechanic, you learn how cars work. If you want to be a carpenter, you study woodworking. If you want to be an author, you eat stories until you can identify the themes and metaphors with your eyes closed.

Seriously, folks, keep your diet varied.

This next statement is something that a lot of folks aren't going to want to hear, and there's probably some people who are going to want to argue with it. However, if you want to really grow as a creator, you need to read books in as many other genres and styles as you can; particularly well-known stories that have left an imprint on the world of writing and whose DNA shows up in a variety of other works that took inspiration from them.

You don't have to like these stories, and a lot of the time you can get away with reading the cliff notes version rather than the full text, but you need to at least be aware of the influential stories that are floating around out there. Especially because there's nothing new under the sun, and your book is going to have people placing it in literary family trees... whether you knew your idea was related to what came before, or not.

As always, before we go any further, consider signing up for my weekly newsletter! And if you want to help me keep the wheels turning, consider becoming a Patreon patron today, too.

Become a Better Story Chef


If you've ever watched a popular cooking show, then you've likely seen that whoever the master chef is tends to have a wide variety of skills and recipes to draw on. They understand not just how to make a specific dish, but what makes the flavors work together, what techniques need to be used to bring it out, and what you can do to transform a failure into a success. They can break a meal down to its component parts, change around elements, and combine different traditions and spices to create entrees and appetizers with a twist.

Being an author is like that, but with words and ideas instead of rib tips, sauces, and spices.

Different tools, same idea.

Whether you're writing romance or fantasy, sci-fi or horror, you need to understand all the tools you have at your disposal. The best way to do that is to look at how others did it (especially those who are considered to have written lasting/popular works), and to study the methods they used to achieve their results. What was it about Mary Shelley's Frankenstein that makes the monster so horrifying, yet relatable? What makes the comedy really work in The Ransom of Red Chief, and how could it be used to tell a darker, more serious story if that was what you wanted? What are the differences between Robert E. Howard, Tolkien, and Moorcock, and how do their unique styles and flourishes create their particular tones and worlds?

You don't need to be able to break things down into academic terms, either. No one is going to challenge you to attach an appendix to your novel explaining the styles, influences, and techniques you were drawing on (though if you can, it gives you something to talk about in interviews, and on panels at conventions). However, there is nothing worse than thinking you have a new, unique idea, stewing on it for weeks, months, or even years, only to find that when you talk to a writing group (or worse, and editor) that your story is actually really similar to a piece that's been around for decades, and is considered a staple in its genre.

As I said in There Are No New Stories To Tell (But That Shouldn't Stop You From Writing), there are always going to be tales your work shares DNA with. Hell, if someone were to sit down and crack the cover on my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife they'd probably feel like they were getting something composed by Louis L'amour by way of Robert Howard. However, there's a difference between creating an accidental homage because you didn't know any better, and making a deliberate choice to invoke a certain feeling and style in your story.

Because it's entirely possible that just chucking a bunch of spices into a dish, setting the heat at what sort of sounds like a good temperature, and letting it simmer will produce an amazing end product. However, if you've read about the recipes used in different genres, experienced the dishes created by other authors, and you understand what makes the process work, you're a lot less likely to reach that positive end via luck and accident.

You're also a lot more likely to be able to do it at will, rather than hoping good fortune guides your hands.

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, 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, March 31, 2021

If You Don't Have an Author Newsletter Yet, You Really Should

There are a lot of tools out there for authors to try to reach readers, and it can sometimes feel overwhelming. Most of us are on a handful of different social media platforms, we're usually running our own websites, and trying to maintain networks of reviewers and contacts, so adding even one more thing to juggle can feel like it's overwhelming.

With that said, I'd highly recommend all authors start a newsletter of some variety. Because while it does take time, effort, and energy, it can generate some pretty positive results when you're on a shoestring budget.

Don't spend money if it won't make you money, after all.

This is a piece of advice that I resisted for a long time, because it just felt like so much work for a minimal amount of return. Now, of course, you can sign up for my weekly newsletter to make sure you don't miss any of my fresh releases!

Why the change? Well...

It's a Free Way To Avoid The Algorithm


At its core, a newsletter gives your readers a way to earmark your content, and to get it sent straight to their inboxes. This helps you form a supply line from your keyboard to their eyeballs, ensuring that they don't forget about you, or miss anything that's going on with your new releases, your convention schedule, etc. Because whether I've released a new book like my short story collection The Rejects or a novel like my cat noir mystery Marked Territory, or I've written a new article like 5 Tips For Creating Better Fantasy Towns and Cities, everyone on my newsletter finds out about this shiny new content in my weekly wrap-ups.

At least 4 releases a week, every week.

While my newsletter isn't the only place I talk about these things, it is the only place that's a direct line from me, to the audience. Social media and search engines are good tools to use to get discovered, but when you're at the mercy of the algorithm and random page refreshing you might find that only a small percentage of people actually see the posts you make. Which means either the posts fall through the cracks, or you need to repeat yourself pretty often. Whereas those who opt-in to your email list get a clear message right in their inbox to be certain they didn't miss anything.

I use Mail Chimp for my newsletter, and I'd recommend it as a good starting spot. It's free up to the point where you have several thousand people on your list, and at that point your newsletter should be generating enough revenue to more than pay for itself.

The Key is Growing Your List


As with anything else meant to boost your signal, the key is to get people to actually sign up. Sounds easy, but as we all know it can be anything but.

So how do you do it?

I don't have ALL the answers... but here are some of them.

First things first, promote that list on your existing platforms. If you scroll down the page, you'll see I have a static sign-up box below. I also linked the subscribe feature above in this very post, and it tends to show up in most blogs I write. If you have a blog, a YouTube channel, or anywhere else you share content, put this front and center so people can easily sign up. You can offer them an incentive as well, like a coupon or short-term perk, if you really want to drive your numbers.

Something else you can do from the comfort of your own home is that when you send out an existing newsletter, you'll get a link to display it. Share that link far and wide on your social media channels, and remind people who see it they can just hit the Subscribe button to sign up from that page. This is basically treating your newsletter as a piece of fresh content, and you'd be surprised at how often it works to bring new readers into the fold.

With the end of the pandemic in sight, you can also take your sign-up list to conventions and similar events once more. So if someone comes to your table and buys a book, or gushes about your setup, get them to leave you their name and email address. After a few days of networking, it's pretty common to have half a page to a page of new subscribers just waiting to be entered into your list.

Why You Need a Big List


You're going to need a big list. First and foremost because the more people you can reach out to, the further your signal travels, and the more attention your work gets. However, another reason is because while some folks are going to be active readers who devour everything you put out, others won't be. Some folks will honestly forget why they signed up, finding it easier to just delete your messages unopened instead of unsubscribing. Some will get caught in the spam filter, and go unseen. My personal experience is that 25-30 percent of folks on your list will be active readers, with a few folks getting caught by various shots as time goes on.

There doesn't seem to be a way to target only the rabid fans with this method, either. So cast that net, catch as many fish as possible, and understand that there's going to be occasional tires, license plates, and plastic bottles in there along with all the fish you were aiming for.

It might be frustrating, but the fish you did catch are still good. Throw that net enough times, and you'll soon have a hold full of readers ready and eager for more!

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, 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, March 24, 2021

You're Not Beholden To Other People's Magic Systems in Your Book

Making up worlds is hard. Creating fantasy worlds with a bevy of made-up creatures, magics, legends, and more can be a challenge that will leave your mental muscles shaking from the effort of putting so many bricks in place for it. That's why a lot of us lean on existing tropes; they help us take care of some of the heavy lifting, and they let us put real focus on the areas that are going to be right in front of the audience.

However, there are times that we forget these established elements of storytelling are meant to serve us. Nowhere is this more common than when it comes to magic systems. As such, I'd like to take a moment to remind everyone out there of something very important. It's your story... make the magic do whatever the hell you want it to do!

Abra Cadabra! Now do whatever the hell you want.

As always, if you haven't signed up for my weekly newsletter yet, consider doing that. And if you want to help grease the wheels so I can keep this operation going, consider becoming a Patreon patron today!

Magic Must Serve The Story (Not The Other Way Around)


To get the obvious disclaimer out of the way, this advice is only applicable if you are creating your own story, and you are not beholden to an existing setting and its canon. Whether it's a book series you're contributing to as a ghostwriter, or an RPG setting your stories are set in, if you want your story to fit the existing rules of that world then you need to make sure you don't defy the already-established physics.

Now, with that out of the way, too many of us will act like our magic has to follow the same rules as other worlds, other books, or even other games, because we never stop to question it. However, if magic is going to be a big part of your story, then it's a good idea to examine the blueprint of the system you're using, and asking if it's the best fit for the story you're trying to tell.

Have we considered just doing away with ritual magic entirely?

For example, if you're used to thinking of magic in tabletop gaming terms, it might not occur to you that a fantasy story is not required to use Vancian Magic. And honestly, unless I were writing a fantasy story set in a place like my fantasy cities of Ironfire: The City of Steel or Moüd: The City of Bones (both of which are part of a gaming setting that runs on Vancian Magic), I would never use that fire-and-forget style of spell.

Because the idea of pre-packaged spells of a certain number, and of a certain power level, that achieve a specific purpose is a great mechanic for maintaining challenge and fairness in a game... but it is awful for smooth and interesting storytelling.

So whether your setting uses ritual magic, in-born magic inherited from supernatural sources, some variant of willpower-made-manifest, an unexplained awakening of the mind more akin to psychic phenomena, or just an ultra-soft, fairy tale style magic system where there's little rhyme or reason about how it works, you can use any (or even all) of these different methods in your story. But you need to actively choose how magic works in your story, and you need to make sure you're doing it as a conscious choice.

And if the magic system you initially went with becomes more of a hindrance than a help? Toss it out, and do something different. It's your story, and everything in it answers to your will. Remember that, and make no assumptions about how things need to be, or should be. Especially when it comes to your hocus pocus.

While we're here, you might also want to check out the following:


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, 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, March 17, 2021

"Write What You Want" is Often Terrible Advice

There are a lot of misconceptions about what it's like being an author. From how much money we really make, to the hours we work, to just how much of the job is promotion to how much is actually writing, those are all things that can be corrected (if people listen to those of us who actually do this for a living). However, there is a piece of advice I keep seeing that I'd like to address today. Because it is both unhelpful, and it can actually be harmful to both your career and your mindset if you embrace it too hard.

The idea is, in short, that when you sit down at your desk to start up a new project that you should just do whatever your little heart desires! No matter the genre, no matter the length, no matter the style, you are the master of this ship, and it will sail wherever you want it to go!

Just grab an idea! I'm sure they're all good ones.

Before we get too far into this week's topic, remember that if you sign up for my weekly newsletter you'll get all my updates, releases, and news sent right to your email! And if you want to help me keep the wheels turning, consider becoming a Patreon patron... even a small donation makes a big difference.

Why This Advice is Misguided


To be clear, there are two circumstances where this advice is relatively harmless. The first is if you are here primarily for the experience of writing, and if your only real goals are to finish a project and enjoy the ride. The folks who just want a book out there who wouldn't say no to a juicy royalty check, but for whom that is a bonus, not the goal. The second is if you are an author who already has a dedicated fan base that will read anything you put out, so you can basically guarantee there's going to be a certain amount of support for your book no matter what it is, or where it goes.

For the rest of us, though, this phrase plants an idea that I've found can be toxic; it's the idea that you are always right, and it's your readers who need to get on your level.

The crowd decides... not you.

The advice Maximus was given in Gladiator is perhaps the best advice you can take to heart as an author. It isn't your skill with a blade that matters. It's not how fast you can complete the task. It's the show you put on, and whether you can win the crowd to your side.

Now apply that to your books.

Because you might be a proficient author with a flair for drama... but if you don't turn that skill toward telling a story people actually want to read, then nobody's going to buy your book. And to add insult to injury, someone who may lack your technical skill as a writer will probably have more success than you have if they are better at pandering to the mob.

Because at the end of the day, once you cut through all the faff and chaff, that's what your job is. Entertaining the masses, plain and simple.

So I'm Supposed To Hate What I'm Writing?


To get out ahead of the bold, italic text here, there's a big difference between working on projects you don't enjoy, and tempering your enthusiasm with an understanding of where the market is going, what drives reader interest, and how much energy it's going to take to turn what you're working on into a reliable seller.

As an example.

To be clear, I had a lot of fun working on Marked Territory... but it was not my first pick for my next project when I sat down to sketch it out. At the time I was considering working on a sequel for my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or perhaps writing a modern-fantasy story where a recently-reanimated Chicago detective has to solve the mystery of his own murder (while simultaneously allowing the readers to explore the bizarre underbelly of the world of the undead).

But then I brought copies of From A Cat's View to Windy Con, and that basically decided me.

For those not familiar with the novel, Leo is my heavy with a heart of gold who ends up getting his whiskers involved in other people's problems in New York City. But I debuted him in a short story titled Stray Cat Strut in the anthology of cat stories. I brought 10 copies or so to the con just because it was the newest book that I had, and within a day they'd all been sold. I didn't even have a table at the con, but they were out of my hands faster than I could say, "Film noir cats."

That's what I'm talking about in this case. My sample size was pretty small, but I asked around in writing groups, various social media groups I was in, and tried to read the room. The amount of interest people showed not just in the short story, but also in hearing more about Leo, his adventures, and the weird world he inhabited, meant that the smart money for me was to focus my energy on writing stories about him. Lo and behold it was that rather unique genre mash-up that got me noticed by a publisher, and at time of writing I've completed a second tale (pun very much intended) following our bruiser through the mean streets of NYC.

So while I still have other ideas and projects trying to catch my eye, it's important to hold your ideas at arm's length, and examine them critically. Don't just ask what would be fun to work on; ask which of them is going to get you the results you want. Because it's a lot easier to work on passion projects once you have an audience listening, and enough earnings rolling in that the next book doesn't have to make a massive splash in order to help you keep your lights on.

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, 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, March 10, 2021

Why is Your Villain Needlessly Exposing Themselves To Danger?

A long time ago I edited a manuscript whose author I won't name, and whose title I won't give. However, the plot summary was that a young noblewoman and a merchant prince were planning to run away together, until her uncle intervened. A sorcerer who was bartering her hand in marriage for an item of power key to a ritual, her uncle used a spell to transform her lover into a ring. Then, for some reason, explained to our protagonist that should this curse ever be broken, and she and her lover stand against him, it would be the only way to defeat his power.

This is literally the description given for the transformation, as well. Seriously.

Fast forward a few hundred years while our female lead has lived a dozen different reincarnations, her lover has been imprisoned in a gaudy piece of jewelry, and her "uncle" has made himself the next best thing to immortal with the powers at his command. Then (because there would be no plot otherwise) the current incarnation of our protagonist awakens her ancient lover from his prison, and breaks the curse. The lovers are confused, but reunited.

For a bit of context, the lovers are in Australia when the curse is broken. Our villain is in Thailand.

Despite having absolutely nothing to gain from confronting the two lovers, and everything to lose (as was previously mentioned, the two of them are now empowered in some unspecific way to stand against him now that they're reunited), our villain hops a jet, and flies for hours to a nation halfway around the world to find these two people who don't remember he even exists. He then confronts them, repeatedly taunting them with who they actually are, only to get himself killed due to hubris, and lack of imagination.

This sounds stupid (because it is) but this is something I've seen writers do time and time again.

The Villain Needs Goals, Too


In the scenario presented the villain has precisely zero reason to get involved in this situation. Even if we acknowledge that putting this dire curse on the man centuries ago was better than, say, just cutting his throat for some reason, confronting our heroes now is all risk and no reward. The villain could have paid a hitman to off them, keeping himself completely out of danger. He could have worked a dire ritual (or at least tried to) to slay them from afar. Or he could have just moved on with his life and let time kill them, because he was still immortal, and neither of them were now that the man was no longer a metal finger decoration.

Time, my friends, is one thing I have that you lack.

Breaking the curse did not, for example, cause the villain to age at a rapid rate, requiring him to kill or re-curse the original victim in order to maintain his immortality. The villain didn't have some great slight on his pride that still burned hundreds of years later that he needed to humiliate these two over. Hell, he'd completely lost track of the ring not an hour after the original curse was laid down, and he hadn't bothered in the slightest about the condition of his niece's soul moving from one life to the next.

He was there for one reason only; because the protagonist and her lover-out-of-time needed some threat to face together to add drama to the story.

The problem is, of course, that if a villain's presence seems pointless, then it causes the reader to start questioning why they're doing anything. And once they've stepped back to start questioning the narrative like that, it makes it easier to notice other flaws they might have been overlooking before. Which is why it really pays dividends to make sure the ballistics of your plot (the direction shots are fired from, and the purpose those shots were meant to accomplish) make sense.

Try To See Things From Their Perspective


Villains need to be just as organic and believable as any other character in your story. Perhaps more so, as people need a concrete reason why they're opposing the villain's actions and goals. And when you just sort of leave them on the back burner (or worse, make them arbitrarily evil just because that's easier to do) you end up with a bad guy who's carrying an idiot ball.

Which is to say, you have them taking certain actions or making certain mistakes that only an idiot would make, because if they didn't there would be no book to read, movie to watch, game to play, etc.

Seriously... just step back and question things for a moment.

This is not to say your bad guys should huddle in bunkers or remain entirely hidden in the shadows all the time. However, they should have a compelling reason to step out into harm's way, and that reason should do something to fulfill their needs, or achieve their goals. Maybe it's a thirst for vengeance, and wanting the protagonist to know who it was that killed them in their final moments. Maybe it's a special skill set that only the villain possesses, so they need to be present at a certain place at a specific time in order to do their thing. Whether it's purely practical, or something to feed their ego, make sure your villain actually has skin in the game before you put them in front of the protagonist's fist.

Because if they stand to gain nothing whatsoever, it makes no sense for them to risk everything.

Lastly, if you haven't signed up for my weekly newsletter, do so to get all my shiny new updates sent right to your inbox! Also, if you're having trouble dealing with villains in your story, consider checking out 5 Tips For Playing Better Evil Characters. It's meant for tabletop gamers, but it's also useful for writers to think about.

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, 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, March 3, 2021

Self-Promotion, Capitalism, and The Unreasonable Demand of "Community Spirit"

If you are an author (or really any kind of creative professional) you have to hustle 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to stay one step ahead of the bill collectors. While there are some of us who've managed to build a big enough audience that we don't have to stand on the equivalent of an Internet street corner like a carnival barker, the exception very much proves the rule in this case. As folks say, even Dickens had to host public readings and hand-sell his books in order to keep his belly full.

Which brings me to today's topic... the double-edged sword of the Internet, and how so many people on it treat creators who are just trying to pay their rent.

Flame war? Oh, that's gonna make this an easy month...

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ABC... Always Be Closing


I mentioned this back in How Do You Sell Books? Alec Baldwin Has The Answer, but I thought I'd repeat it for folks who missed it. His famous scene in the film Glengarry Glen Ross, where Baldwin plays a hotshot salesman violently berating a team of underperformers who aren't making their quota, lays it out one of the central tenets of successful salesmanship; Always Be Closing. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, no matter who you're talking to, keep your eyes on that prize and do what you need to do to make that sale. Soft sell, hard sell, whatever you have to do you get them to sign on the dotted line, and close the deal.

It's a powerful scene, and even though it's Baldwin's only appearance in the film it got him nominated for an Oscar. It also illustrates the point quite neatly for anyone who is not an author who's wondering why it seems like every post we make is trying to get someone to buy our books... it's because we have to do that. Most of us do not have publicists, legions of adoring fans, or publishers with massive marketing budgets... we have ourselves, and however far we can project our voices.

And because we are struggling under capitalism, we usually don't have a safety net we can rely on. No regular monthly check, no health insurance, no housing vouchers... and that means we sink or swim based on our work, and how many people we can get to read it.


Conflict arises, though, because the very places we go to get traction (subreddits, forums, Facebook groups, or MeWe for the truly desperate among us) usually don't understand the nature of this hustle. So while we're trying to offer them the products of our imaginations, they're shouting about how we need to, "do it the right way," if we're going to promote our work in their space.

I will say this right here. Nine times out of ten when someone says, "I don't mind if you do it, but you have to do it the right way," what they're really saying is they don't want you to do it at all. Because as soon as you start discussing what the "right way" is they start getting angry and defensive, saying that if someone needs to explain it to you then you don't belong here anyway.

"Community Spirit" is Basically Just Demanding Free Labor


The most common requirement you see from these groups is that you need to be an "active participant" in the community. What they mean, of course, is that you have to make posts that are completely separate from your actual work in order to balance the scales.

To put it another way, they expect you to take time, effort, and energy to create free content for their community in exchange for allowing you to share a link to your book, your article, your blog, or your game. That's time you often don't have, and word count that would normally be worth money, just so that you can maybe, potentially find a follower, sell a book, etc.

Authors die of exposure every year, friends.

As a quick example, say that I went to a FB gaming page, and shared my post The 5 Awful Paladins You Meet in Your Gaming Career. It's a pretty long article that I spent a lot of time writing, finding the right photos for, etc., etc. Not only that, but it's free to anyone who wants to read it... all you have to do is click the link and bam, the content is right there in your hand.

Even in this situation, where the content is on-topic to the group, and where it's free of charge, people complain. They complain that they have to go to another site to see it, they complain that you didn't copy-and-paste all the content onto the post itself, or they complain that you're just there to make money... as if somehow you could devote your entire career to creating in a certain genre and not also be a fan of that genre.

And that's the point where my bullshit detector starts going off.

Because that's what the complaints boil down to more often than not if you learn to read between the lines. It's not that what you're sharing is off-topic, or that it doesn't apply here. In fact, if someone not you was sharing it, that would be fine and dandy with them! The problem only arises because you're the author, and you will make money from the activity surrounding this post. Which to their minds means you are feeding off the life force of their community... because they're here for the "pure" enjoyment of genre fiction, tabletop gaming, fun history facts, etc., but you've been tainted by your need to make money off of what (for them) is something they do for enjoyment.

So until you "prove" yourself to them (usually by making a lot of posts to show that you are totally willing to make content for free) you will never be truly part of the community in their eyes.

If You Don't Want Promotion, You Won't Have Creators


To be clear, here, I am not saying that all self-promotion should be allowed from all creators at all times. That is how you open the floodgates. However, it is far more reasonable to set limits on type and number of promotional posts (post no more than once a week, don't post about the same project twice in a month, etc., etc.) than it is to have some vague, amorphous, "Well, when we have deemed you are an 'active participant' in the community, then we will allow you to occasionally stand on your soap box and share your work with us," standard.

If you don't want creators talking about their projects and posting links to their work, bite the bullet and say so. Just understand that we are busy people, and we don't have blocks of time set aside every day to make unrelated social media posts to prove to strangers that we're genuine fans of the things we make for a living. You can't have your cake and eat it, in this case, because no matter how welcoming, how friendly, or how engaged a community is, you cannot pay rent, buy food, or keep your heat on with the positive regard and admiration of others if it is not, in some way, translated into enough earnings to pay your bills at the end of the month.

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, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

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