Thursday, June 23, 2022

Look For The Helpers (And Do Your Best To Be One)

If you were stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire and no way to change it, you might be in need of any kind of help you could get. Whether it was someone who had the right tools to stop and help you change it, somebody who offered you a ride to a garage, or just someone who handed you a bottle of water and let you use their cell phone to make a call, when you find yourself struggling what you need most is a hand up so you can get back on track and start moving forward again.

There will be some people who drive by and ignore you. There will be others who roll their eyes, and blame you for not being prepared (where's their jack, where's their spare tire, where's their lug wrench, why can't they handle this themselves, etc.). There will be some who outright mock you because they aren't broken down on the side of the road, and it provides them a moment of mean-spirited joy to kick you while you're down.

As Mr. Rogers said, look for the helpers when times get tough. And if you can, do your best to be one of said helpers.

That review really helped. Thanks, man.

Before we get into the nitty gritty this week, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to get all my updates right in your inbox. Lastly, to be sure you're following all of my followables, check out my LinkTree!

Authors Aren't Self-Made (No Matter What You've Heard)


Without fail, whenever an author (or any creator, really) asks for help from their audience there's always one asshat in the back who sniggeringly replies that if they're asking for help maybe they shouldn't be doing this for a living. Which, honestly, has very big, "If you want a living wage, go get a better job!" vibes to it.

And just like everyone who's worked in food service, retail, and every other genuinely necessary job during this pandemic, I would like to raise a point here. Because if you are consuming the content someone makes, then you are directly benefiting from their efforts and energies. Whether you're reading their stories, checking out their guides, watching their videos, listening to their audio tracks... you are benefiting from them. The same way that you benefit from a server taking your order at a diner, or the cashier ringing you up at the grocery store. And a lot of the time creators are making stuff for free (this blog, for instance, has no paywall. Neither do the videos I've contributed to the Azukail Games YouTube channel over the past few months), or just asking for a couple of bucks to enjoy something that took between a few months and a few years for them to create.

And for a majority of creators, that doesn't pay the bills. Not because we aren't putting in the effort, and not because of quality (which is completely subject to audience taste), but because we don't have people giving us the hand up we need.

Because finding helpers is hard.

Seriously, take a drink friend. It's rough pitching on the con floor all day.

Creators are doing our best to create a good product, and to put it out in front of people. And with startlingly few exceptions (and those of which are usually based on accidents in the algorithm), we cannot force our vehicles to go under our own power. We need our audience to reach out, and help however they can.

I've been talking about this for a while, and those who would like to help but aren't sure what would make an impact should take a look at Why Your Likes, Shares, Reviews, and Follows Matter To Creators. It's not all-inclusive, but I tried to give people some insight as to how their actions can make a difference to those of us who make content for a living.

Doom Posting (My Way of Being a Helper)


I generally try to help my fellow creators as much as I can. If someone has an idea for a project, and I know a publisher who would be interested, I try to set them up together. If someone has a new release, I share it on my channels and try to drive some traffic their way (incidentally, if you haven't read the brilliant Team Murderhobo: Assemble from Clinton Boomer, you owe it to yourself to check it out). I host reviews on my blogs to try to give people shout-outs, and I mention folks wherever I can.

There is something else I've been doing recently that anyone out there can do as well, and which I would actively recommend if you really want to help out the creators whose work you care about.

I call it doom posting.

Clock's ticking. Time to help some sorry sons a' bitches!

What I do is I pick a platform (usually Reddit, but Facebook sometimes gets this treatment as well). I then pick a creator whose work I like, and who needs to reach a larger audience. I will then find as many groups and communities as I can (ones I'm a part of and new ones) just to share the content they've made and try to boost their signal. This can lead to me making two or three dozen posts at a time when a work appeals to a lot of groups I'm already part of, or only making half a dozen posts if it's a little more niche.

I call it doom posting because I know that no matter how many posts I personally make, I'm just one individual. So it feels sort of hopeless, kind of like doom scrolling. There's always the chance, though, that these posts reach fresh eyes, get new people interested, and that even making a post that seemed like an outside chance of being noticed could lead to a much-needed landslide of attention. And since I know that admins and moderators get on creators' asses for posting their own work (often banning us from groups if we attempt to do so), I'm happy to act as the cat's paw to share other people's work so they don't have to face that kind of backlash.

And since we're on the subject, in addition to Mr. Boomer's book, I'd also suggest some of the following places for you to check out if you want fresh, free content from talented creators!

- A Vox in The Void: A YouTube channel that does spine-chilling reads and performances of classic horror and sci-fi stories, as well as Warhammer 40K fiction (official and non), going through the archive will take you a while. Trust me, it's worth it... so go like and subscribe!


- Alice The Author: Alice Liddell is a talented author who works in romance, fantasy, RPGs, and more! Her channel is great for authors, aspiring authors, and even for Game Masters looking for occasional bits of inspiration. Could definitely use a boost in followers.


- Azukail Games: All right, I'm cheating with the third one. As folks know I've been contributing a lot of content to the Azukail Games YouTube channel, but I'm not the only name and face putting stuff up there. So come on by, find some stuff you think is cool, and subscribe to help us hit our goals! It takes 1k subs and 4k hours of watched content in the last year (or 11.5 hours a day), so we need all the help we can get.



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!

Thursday, June 16, 2022

There Are Motivations Other Than Vengeance and Tragedy, You Know

Motivation is why characters do the things that they do. Sometimes that motivation is immediate, like they need to pull one last heist because their kid is sick and needs an operation they can't afford. Sometimes that motivation is long-term, like holding to an oath they swore when they were young that they refuse to give up on even in the face of certain doom.

There is a mistake that a lot of writers make, though, and it's assuming that for a character's motivation to be interesting that it has to come from a place of pain. That rage, a thirst for vengeance, or some great tragedy are the only motivations worth bringing to the page... and I tell you from experience this can often negatively affect your writing.

So take a moment, and reflect on the motivations you use. Then ask yourself if you reach for the same ones over and over again, and why that is?

Really sit with it for a bit, and contemplate.

Before we get into it this week, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to get all my updates right in your inbox. Also, if you've got a bit of spare cash that you'd like to use to help keep the wheels turning, consider becoming a Patreon patron!

Lastly, to be sure you're following all of my followables, check out my LinkTree!

How Does Your Garden Grow?


I want you to take a moment and think of everything you know about Batman. What came to mind first? Probably that he's the world's greatest detective, a deadly martial artist, and the CEO of a billion-dollar corporation. However, chances are good that you also remembered the fact that his parents were gunned down in front of him when he was a child, and that this traumatic event has become key to his one-man crusade against street crime.

That sort of fact about a character's background and motivation seems like it would be super important, right? As if that's where you'd plant the seed of a character and grow outward from there? Well, according to most reports of comic book history, the dead parents backstory was tacked on later. When Batman first landed on the comic book scene he was just a grim avenger in a cool costume fighting cultists, mad scientists, and weird mutants. He was compelling enough through his looks and actions, and didn't actually require this motivation of sheer tragedy to get the audience interested in him. It was just sort of tacked on, like some sprinkles on an already tasty cupcake. And even once it was established, it was really a huge focus of the character until his gritting up in the 1980s... it rarely, if ever, came up in depictions before that (particularly in the TV series that vaulted the character to heights of fame).

Batman could have had dozens of other motivations. From taking a vow like a literal Dark Knight (one of service and not vengeance), to civic pride, to simply obeying Rule .303 (those with the ability and the means have a duty to assist), he was a blank slate at the time. The audience was already buying the comics, proving the tragic backstory was not a necessary component of who the character was.

It worked, but it wasn't required.

Now, this is not to say that tragedy and revenge are never integral to who a character is, what they represent, or the story you're trying to tell with them. From Darth Vader, to the Punisher, to the Phantom of The Opera, these grim, tragic aspects are often central to what characters represent. However, this becomes one of those all rectangles are squares, but not all squares are rectangles sort of scenarios. Because while these motivations are central to some stories and characters, they are by no means central to all of them as some kind of necessary ingredient.

Just because you can doesn't mean you must.

Content, Happy People, and Dragon Hunting


I've talked about this subject a bit on my gaming blog Improved Initiative, specifically in the posts Do Content, Happy People Hunt Dragons? and Why So Many Sad Backstories? but I think it's worth repeating. A dragon doesn't have to have murdered someone's grandparents, or be actively threatening their family, for them to be motivated to go stop it. The character might have a strong sense of duty, demanding they protect others from harm even if they themselves are now in danger. They might be employed as a dragon slayer, meaning that this is the entire reason they're kept on the payroll. They might seek the thrill of the hunt, or even need a part of that dragon's body in order to make a medicine to stave off sickness, push back old age, or merely to become stronger.

Once you've eaten a dragon's heart, you can skip leg day.

All of this is not to say that you immediately need to alter your protagonist's motivation in your story. If you have a character who's obsessed with catching a serial killer because they murdered that protagonist's son, and that works for building drama in your story, stick with it. If your villain is motivated by a sense of aggrieved entitlement because they were never recognized for their genius, and no other motivation works as well for them, don't fix what isn't broken!

The point of this exercise isn't to tell writers to rely less on dark, tragic motivations for their characters and stories. It's to ensure that, before we reach for those backstories, that we examine all the options we have available to make our story work. Sometimes it's an old vow taken by an aging, cynical knight that hits us even harder than someone trying to settle an old score.

And for those who could use a bit of a jumpstart on thinking outside this particular box, I'd recommend giving 100 Character Goals and Motivations a look! While written for RPGs, it's just as useful for writers trying to find some fresh inspiration.



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, June 9, 2022

Why Your Likes, Shares, Reviews, and Follows Matter to Creators

All of us watch YouTube, and for a lot of us it's because there are creators on there whose channels we particularly enjoy. Video game streamers, DIY crafters, guerilla news shows, there's all kinds of creators on that platform. While it seems like every, single video has creators asking us to like and share, as well as subscribe to their channels, most of us don't even hear that request anymore. It's the neo-commercial of the Internet age; we just tune it out until we get back to our regularly scheduled program.

However, creators make that request because they need their audience to do those things in order to help them actually get paid for the stuff they make. That's the reason they put it in every, single video. Because there's no knowing which video is going to be seen by which people, and even if someone is a regular viewer getting your audience to do something can be like trying to get a toddler's attention; you have to say it seven or eight times before they actually hear and process what you're asking for.

And we don't do this just for kicks, or because it's part of the formula. We do it because we literally need your help to overcome algorithm inertia so we can actually get our work seen by the Internet at large.

Trust me... we don't like doing this anymore than you like hearing it.

Before we get into the nitty gritty this week, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to get all my updates right in your inbox. Lastly, to be sure you're following all of my followables, check out my LinkTree!

Seriously, We Cannot Do This Without You


I've given this statistic before, but I feel like it bears repeating. YouTube requires a channel to have a minimum of 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watched hours of content before it will actually allow the creators to be monetized. That's 11.5 hours of content watched per day for an entire year, for those of you who don't want to do the math. On that platform it doesn't matter how much time and effort you put in, how many scripts you have, or how much content you produce... if you can't get at least 1k people to click that subscribe button, YouTube is keeping all the earnings your content generates for itself... because it's still putting ads on your videos, but it's just putting the proceeds into its own pockets instead of splitting them with you.

Worse than that is that even once you are monetized, you basically only earn $3-$5 per 1k views on your videos... and if you don't have a large audience that's helping boost your signal, even getting your channel monetized might mean you're now making a couple bucks a month, and that's it.

One for me, none for you. Two for me, none for you...

So what, you might be thinking. After all, maybe the creators you like aren't on YouTube, so this isn't a concern of theirs because they're bloggers, podcasters, novelists, and so on. Well, the unfortunate facts of life are that while the platforms might change, the problems of overcoming algorithm inertia remain the same.

For example, consider my Twitter account. I've got 1,700 people following me there, which is enough to blow my mind a little bit (especially since I just crossed that threshold this past weekend). However, if you start looking behind the scenes at how many followers you need to have before the site actually starts promoting your tweets (showing them to people who don't already follow you, but who might be interested in your content), you don't really get any attention at all until you hit 5,000 people. Not only that, but you won't receive any kind of meaningful notice from the algorithm until you've got 10,000 followers or so.

Just in case you needed perspective about what counts for "good" numbers in this particular game.

You find this on basically any social media site, and on marketplace sites as well. For example, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife is the most-reviewed book I've written on Amazon. With that said, it's only got 28 reviews, and not the magical 50 it takes to get the site's wheels to start turning, putting your book in promotional banners that other shoppers will see. Facebook is happy to promote you if you have thousands of followers, but much like Twitter's system you won't even show up in the newsfeeds of people who have liked your page until you hit a few thousand (my Facebook is at just over 800, for folks who are curious).

This list goes on, but you get the idea. There are literally millions of people online looking for books, RPGs, videos, and so on, but without an audience to magnify a creator's signal (and to get them a megaphone) they can't reach a very big crowd.

Clicking Those Buttons Makes a Difference


Creators, whether they're writing novels, creating RPGs, making videos, or putting together some other kind of content, do the best we can to get it seen. Most of us spend a majority of our days posting on social media, leaving links in forums, giving interviews, and doing absolutely anything we can to keep our heads above water and get people to notice us. Because sure, it's possible we could just buy ads, and that those ads could help us find the audience we need... but most of us don't have a budget to buy ads. And if we spend money we can't spare rolling the dice on that, and it turns out we get nothing out of it, we've just cut off our foot before we have to run a race.

It's not a great gamble to take if you can't afford the loss.

That is where you come in.

Now, I said back in Direct Donations Really Are The Best Way To Help Creators You Love that you will have the biggest impact just dropping a tip into someone's jar, buying some of their merch, or becoming a Patreon patron. Hands down, no question. However, if you want to do more to help a creator that you want to encourage (or you need something you can do for free that will help), then giving their content on social media a react, and making sure they have one more follower, does make a difference.

Even if all you are is a warm body who subscribes to a social media page, that vote of confidence is one more hash mark that lets the algorithm know this creator is more popular, and they should be promoted. And the more you interact with that creator's content (likes, shares, retweets, comments over 5 words, etc.) the more of a splash that makes. At the end of the day, it's sort of like recycling; individually it might not look like much, but if you can get your friends, family, and community to help out, it's going to make a bigger impact than you think.

So if you want to do something nice for the creators whose work you enjoy, give them some online love. Leave reviews on the books you've bought, and help get them noticed by other readers. Leave a thumbs up on a video of theirs that you like, and toss a comment on it so it gets a little extra notice. Like their Facebook creator page, follow them on Twitter, and maybe leave a heart on a post of theirs that you want to boost. When you make these kinds of behaviors a habit, you start helping creators without really having to think about it... and trust me, we need all the help we can get!

If You'd Like To Start With Me...


For folks who've stumbled across this post, and would like to help me haul myself up a rung or two, here's a handy list of the places you can go where your efforts would be much appreciated!

- The Azukail Games YouTube Channel (where I contribute video content)

And if you happen to have some spare dosh lying around, consider become a Patreon patron, or leaving a tip by Buying Me a Ko-Fi!

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, June 1, 2022

You Always Have Room For Improvement

Every writer has that wincing experience of opening an old notebook, and seeing what a past iteration of them put down on the page. And if you stick with things long enough, you may even get to have that experience by picking up an old book you wrote, or an older collection you contributed to.

It's important to remember that no matter how good you think you are, there's always room for you to perfect your craft. The flip side of that is that no matter how bad you think your writing is, you can always use that last attempt as a ladder to climb a little higher.

Trust me, nobody's perfect.

Before we get started, remember to sign up for my weekly newsletter if you want to stay on top of all my latest releases. If you want to help me keep the wheels turning and the lights on, consider becoming a Patreon patron. And lastly, to follow all my followables check out my Linktree!

Now then, let's get to it!

Get Those Gains!


One of my favorite metaphors to describe writing, as my regular readers know, is to compare it to weightlifting. Because while your natural strength (talent) matters, it's only one component. There's also your discipline, the particular routine you do, your form, advice from more experienced lifters (mentors and other writers), your diet (what you read), and a hundred other factors!

Bro, do you even know Dostoyevsky?

Another similarity between writing and weightlifting, though, is that it can feel like you make a lot of progress when you start, but after a while you slow down. Even if you're still adding plates to the bar, it may not be as significant as the difference between your first month and your first quarter check in.

Because of that it's easy to get complacent. To go in and do the same routine, getting similar results every time. And even if what you're doing is good, you can still actively choose to make yourself better!

This doesn't mean you have to utterly change up your writing and do something completely different, though; as with the weight room, you can alter any number of factors as you see fit. Maybe you want to take a break from longer projects, and work on short stories for a bit to tighten up your plots and word choices. Perhaps you want to swap genres, switching out your blood and scares for some heartfelt romance. Or maybe you just change the media you consume and study, examining how other creators do things so you can take apart their tales and add useful tools to your box.

Sometimes these changes are going to go poorly. After all, just because you're a strong power lifter doesn't mean you're going to be good at endurance exercises. But no one is good at everything on their first try. Learning from your failures and mistakes is key, and all the lessons those previous attempts teach you will come in handy down the line.

Because if you never challenge yourself, and you never try anything different, then just like in the weight room you're going to plateau... and nobody wants that.

A Project That Put This On My Mind


The subject of learning and growing as a creator trying to do different things is on my mind because I've been working on making short audio dramas based on some of the fiction inside my various RPG supplements that have come out over the past few years. While my fledgling efforts could be called fine under the most generous of measures, I'm genuinely impressed by how much improvement has gone into the project in a relatively short period of time. They're still not perfect, of course, and I have a lot of improving still to do, but I find it encouraging to see things get a little better every time.

More on that process in Making Improvements Over Time (Progress on My RPG-Inspired Audio Stories) if that's something you'd like to take a closer look at!


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!

Friday, May 27, 2022

It's Hard To Market Older Stories (Even If They're Still Good)

Because of the way algorithms control social media, it is very possible for you to make the same post a dozen different times, and every time you share it that post will be seen by different people. Unless you get a lot of outside support (likes, shares, retweets, big comment screeds, and so on) chances are good that any individual post is going to quickly fall by the wayside. That's why a lot of authors have to adopt the carnival barker style, regularly repeating their sales pitch every time enough of the crowd has shifted so that fresh ears are hearing their pitch for the first time.

There's a strange thing that happens when you are constantly releasing new work, though... you feel almost like you can't talk about your older stuff anymore. It came out, you talked it up, you shot your shot, and now the buzz has died. Why bring it up again if people weren't interested?

Because the people who might actually be interested in it likely didn't see it when it dropped, that's why.

Case in point.

Before we get into the nitty gritty this week, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to get all my updates right in your inbox. Lastly, to be sure you're following all of my followables, check out my LinkTree!

Always Trying To Push What's New


I create a lot of content. I update my blogs several times a week, I put out new articles on Vocal, I have between 1 and 3 fresh RPG supplements dropping every month, and for the last little while I've had new videos coming out every Friday. You add in occasional novels and bigger projects on top of all that, and it's easy for stuff to get lost in the shuffle.

Most folks missed this novel entirely, for example.

The urge is always to push whatever just came out, because fresh content always seems to get more interest. It's new, it's shiny, and it still has that hot-off-the-press smell. But the thing about stories (and to a lesser extent a lot of RPG-related content) is that they have a really good shelf life. If someone hasn't read them before, then they'll have the same experience picking the book up now that they would have had back when it was new. And in more than one case it may take seeing the same book a dozen different times before someone finally overcomes inertia and decides to get a copy for themselves.

Still, it's hard to feel like there isn't a time limit on when you can talk about a project. Especially if said project wasn't particularly popular when it dropped, and now it feels like you're just trying to make fetch happen, so to speak.

Something I try to remember, though, is the tale of Tolkien's most famous trilogy. Because we tend to think of his books as colossal smash hits (which they are), but they didn't start off that way. They grew slowly, influence reaching into cracks and crevices to take hold of the imagination. The same is true for the works of Lovecraft, which were largely forgettable during his time, but which made their way into the public consciousness through re-writes, re-imaginings, and expansions.

Just because something doesn't kick open the door to the bestseller list the second day of its release doesn't mean you should give up on it. Let it breathe, take a few, and then remind people it exists. Because a second, third, or fourth round in the ring might be what it takes for your book to get the knockout it deserves!

Speaking of Forgotten Volumes...


Like I said above, I write a lot of stuff. And even if you're a dedicated fan of my work, it's easy to miss stuff. So I wanted to take a second to remind folks of the stories and books that are out where which you might have missed... and if your pocket book is a little slim, don't worry, a lot of them are free!

First, The Free Stuff



If you're in the market for stories that will stick with you, and keep you turning the digital pages, then the following are completely free to read! Not only that, but a number of the vignettes from my RPG supplements have gotten the dramatic reading treatment over on the Azukail Games YouTube channel, so make sure you head over there, take a listen, and subscribe to the channel so I can keep that wheel turning!

- Waking Dogs: A World Eaters Tale: The first of my Warhammer 40K stories, this one details one of the original World Eaters awakening briefly from the haze of violence and wrath he's been lost in. And all it takes is a single moment of clarity to change his destiny forever. This tale has an audio version done by A Vox in The Void as well!

- Field Test: My second tale of the grim darkness of the far future, it deals with an inquisitor, an ork rock, and a secret weapon. When deployed, however, it is more devastating than anyone could have imagined. This story also has an audio version, for those who want to check it out!

You should also check out the Silver Raven Chronicles, a series all about punching fantasy fascists in the back alleys of Kintargo. A chronicle of the Hell's Rebels adventure path, the current installments include:

Part One: Devil's Night: A mysterious vigilante prowls the streets of Kintargo.

Part Two: From The Ashes: A protest becomes a riot as the new "mayor" attempts to establish control.

Part Three: The Raven's Nest: The burgeoning rebellion establishes a secret base.

Part Four: Circles in Salt: The Ghost joins the Silver Ravens, striking a blow against Thrune.

More Forgotten Volumes


If you're in the market for longer books (or you just want to check out some stuff you may have missed), then you should definitely check out the following!

- Tales From The Moot: A collection of short stories from the Wereolf: The Apocalypse RPG setting, this volume contains work by yours truly, as well as several other writers. Intended to be the first in a series of similar products, it hasn't found its audience just yet.

- Old Soldiers: For folks who can't get enough decommissioned super soldiers, this sci-fi thriller will be right up your alley. It's been ten years since the end of the war, and Pollux is still trying to come to grips with everything that happened... when an assassination plot goes wrong, though, he gets what's left of his old squad together to get to the heart of the matter. Whoever pulled the trigger on this thing is going to learn they should have just let these old soldiers fade away.

- Marked Territory and Painted Cats: The first two installments in my Hard-Boiled Cat series, these novels feature the adventures of a hard-nosed alley cat by the name of Leo. The Maine coon mostly tries to keep himself out of other people's business, but trouble keeps coming down his alley to find him. Curiosity's gonna get this cat killed one of these days, but it's gonna have one hell of a fight on its hands when it tries.

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!

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Unlikable Characters Can Sink Your Story

As writers we often struggle with walking the fine line when it comes to characters who aren't likable. Not characters who aren't nice, who aren't kind, or who aren't friendly, but characters who the audience simply will not be able to bring themselves to like. It's why we focus so much on trying to make relatable, complex characters that have something to offer even if they're clearly in the wrong... but we don't always manage that.

And it's bad enough when these characters are in supporting roles, or they're the villains. But sometimes we plug them in as the main protagonist, and that can be a kiss of death to your readers' interest.

If this character isn't dead in 2 chapters, I walk.

Before we get started, remember to sign up for my weekly newsletter if you want to stay on top of all my latest releases. If you want to help me keep the wheels turning and the lights on, consider becoming a Patreon patron. And lastly, to follow all my followables check out my Linktree!

Now then, let's get to it!

What, Precisely, is "Unlikable"?


As I said in the opening, an unlikable character is a very specific type of character. Namely they are someone that we, as the audience, cannot really get any purchase on when it comes to feeling any kind of empathy for their motives, or who we cannot identify with in some way. The Phantom of The Opera is a serial killer, a blackmailer, and a child groomer, but despite these monstrous qualities we can still empathize with him. We can feel for someone who was so outcast from society that he eventually fell to using such methods because he felt they were the only ways he could get what he needed.

You see similar results with nearly any popular anti-hero, villain, or sarcastic support character in our stories. Magneto is a super-powered terrorist who views himself and other mutants as superior to baseline humans, in addition to being a killer and an egomaniac. He's also a Holocaust survivor with a deep and abiding empathy for those he feels have been outcast, used, and abused, and so from a certain perspective his actions aren't unreasonable. The Punisher is, at his core, a serial killer whose victims number in the hundreds (if not thousands). However, as I mention in The Punisher is Evil, he's also a deeply compelling character whose traumas and burdens can leave the audience fascinated and horrified in equal measure.

I could keep naming names from pop culture, but you get the idea. From the Joker to Hannibal Lecter, a character being evil, deranged, or wrong in almost every way doesn't necessarily make them unlikable.

I'm sure you get the idea.

Unlikable characters are characters who don't offer us these intriguing insights. They aren't a mixed bag, combining awful or atrocious actions, beliefs, and histories with redeeming qualities or sympathetic traits. They don't have different facets or secret internal lives. They aren't struggling against something far worse than they are. They're just... unlikable. And characters who are negative experiences all the way around suck out your enjoyment as a reader if there is nothing to balance them out in the narrative.

For example, say you have a character who is absolutely caustic to interact with. They never have a single pleasant thing to say, and they're utterly draining to try to work with. This is a trait of both the modern take on Sherlock Holmes we saw from Benedict Cumberbatch, but also the character of Dr. House portrayed by Hugh Laurie. And if that was all there was to those characters, we could put up with them for a little while... but not that long. Certainly not long enough for them to be the main characters, much less the faces of their respective shows. We need more dimensions to these characters to put that behavior into perspective; we need something likable about them, whatever form that takes.

With Holmes we get glimpses into his life and see what it's like living as the kind of person he is. We see his excitement over new problems, and we occasionally see him realize when he's gone too far before he attempts to make amends. With House we see the physical pain he's in, and we get enough glimpses of the character that we see he does genuinely want to help a lot of the people who come to him. That despite the flippant attitude, unpleasant demeanor, and occasional reprehensible behavior, he does believe in what he's doing.

That's the balance in action, which allows characters to have unlikable or abrasive traits, but which can still make them good characters.

So Everyone Has To Be Likable Now?


The answer is obviously no. Just like how ships carry ballast, so too a story can find a practical use for unlikable characters. The key, however, is that you need to use them properly so they don't sink the ship.

Even tools have their use.

The main use for unlikable characters is as antagonists. If your book has white supremacists, big corporate union busters, crooked cops, and so on, you generally don't need to make those characters feel relatable to your audience. Ditto if you have space tyrants like Darkseid. Unlikable characters make great foils if you need a protagonist to look like they are unquestionably in the right in a given storyline, even if they're using extreme or questionable methods.

However, if a character is going to be unlikable you should consider how much time they're on screen, and how much counter is provided to them.

For example, say you're writing a legal thriller and our protagonist's boss is just unlikable. A slave driver who always offers empty promises of reward for extra work, slacks off, takes credit for other people's work, and is just a condescending prick. He doesn't have a tragic story about early onset dementia, he isn't overcompensating because he's trying to be a good mentor and failing... he's just an abusive boss trying to get more work out of one of his employees. Maybe throw in some sexual harassment for good measure if we want him to be an absolute scum bag.

If your audience only has to see him a couple of times in the book, he can fill his role pretty well. He quickly establishes that he's an obstacle that we're meant to hate, but without taking a toll on the reader's energy. Maybe he's in two scenes briefly, and a phone call or email as the story goes on. So he's a presence that we know about, but we aren't saddled with the burden of actively interacting with him in the story. The more of that you have to do, the more energy it takes from your reader.

Unless, that is, that interaction comes with a counter of some kind.

Say that the boss comes into a scene, and is just scumming it up. We have to deal with that, and it can be draining. However, if you introduce a counter to the scene, it mitigates that unlikable character's impact and mixes things up. Say, for example, there's another manager present. Or an investigator who works for the firm, but not for this guy. Someone who can actively call out, or take actions to counter, the unlikable character's bad behavior. This can balance out the scene, allowing you to keep the unlikable character's contributions to the story, but without your audience sighing and asking, "When is this guy getting hit by a bus? I'm so goddamn sick of him!"

Just don't make your protagonist unlikable. They don't have to be a good person, they don't have to be morally righteous, and they don't have to be kind, friendly, or upbeat... but unlikable protagonists will kill readers' interest faster than almost anything else.

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!

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Can Fan Fiction Help You Sell Your Own Books? (Yes... With Some Luck)

Most of us are at least passingly familiar with fan fiction. A lot of people read it, and for a lot of writers it can be a comfort zone, or a project that comes with training wheels before they go out and carve their own worlds from scratch. However, one of the best-known things regarding fan fiction is that you are not allowed to sell it, since we aren't talking about public domain properties, here.

That doesn't mean you can't still use it as a tool to increase your earnings as an author, though.

It's not a guarantee (nothing in this world is), but if you are someone who has been looking for a professional reason to play around in an already-established sandbox, this might be what you've been waiting for.

After all, there's a lot of readers out there waiting to meet you!

Before we get into the nitty gritty this week, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to get all my updates right in your inbox. Lastly, to be sure you're following all of my followables, check out my LinkTree!

Finding Readers in Your Fandom


Fan fiction has a long (and occasionally contentious) history, but these days fan fiction communities tend to be left alone as long as they aren't directly selling/profiting off of the intellectual property in question. While there have been notable exceptions, such as Disney siccing its lawyers on fan artists, or the big blowup with Games Workshop coming after fan animators for projects in their Warhammer 40K setting, incidents like these have become less and less common over time.

So, let's say you wrote a fan fiction piece that got pretty well noticed within the community. Even if your story gets thousands of reads, that doesn't directly put money in your pockets... however, it can act as a billboard for you to try to get those readers interested in some of your other work.

Let me give you an example.

One of the better examples that comes to mind are my short stories Waking Dogs: A World Eaters' Tale and Field Test. Both of these are fan stories set in the grim darkness of the far future that is Warhammer 40k, and both of them have been mildly successful in terms of being circulated among the fandom. They even reached the point where someone on Reddit who had no idea I was the author recommended that I read them if I were looking for more good content... which is sort of a surreal situation to be in.

However, if you scroll all the way to the bottom of those stories you'll notice that I have a section that directly links to more of my work. Not only that, but I specifically draw attention to my sci-fi noir thriller Old Soldiers, which is also about gigantic, genetically-engineered super soldiers created to fight a war for survival against unknowable alien entities. So the logic goes that if readers enjoyed my take on Warhammer 40k stories, maybe they'd like to take a side step into a novel that's in the same ballpark, but most definitely in a universe all its own.

I used a similar strategy with my fantasy series The Silver Raven Chronicles, which has been cataloging my RPG group's run through the Hell's Rebels adventure path. Following the events of a pre-written campaign, the series is meant to capture the attention of those who would enjoy stories about leading a rebellion, and punching devil-worshiping fascists in the face... but it also acts as an attention-grabber so that folks will check out my other stories like The Irregulars, or my daggers and witchcraft novel Crier's Knife.

It is worth noting that for this strategy to work, you need to actually get the attention of the fans in the community. Sometimes you can do that with one story, but sometimes it will take more than that. You'll still need to create the best possible piece of fiction you can, and to spread it as far and wide as possible so that it doesn't go under anyone's radars. And even if people see it and react positively to your tale, that's no guarantee that they'll actually read any of your other work, or buy your other books... but they might.

And that is more or less what marketing is about; weighing the odds, and rolling the dice on what your audience might do.

Incidentally, for those who are curious, the Silver Raven Chronicles has 4 installments at time of writing:

- Part One: Devil's Night: A mysterious vigilante prowls the streets of Kintargo.
- Part Two: From The Ashes: A protest becomes a riot as the new "mayor" attempts to establish control.
- Part Three: The Raven's Nest: The burgeoning rebellion establishes a secret base.
- Part Four: Circles in Salt: The Ghost joins the Silver Ravens, striking a blow against Thrune.

Option Two: You Can File Off The Serial Numbers


There is another option you have available, as well. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of energy, but you can make it work for you if you so desire. In short, if you have a popular fan fiction that has a noted number of fans, you can re-work it to remove the intellectual property that isn't yours (while keeping the same core structure of the narrative) and re-release it as a novel that your built-in audience can then support.

As another example...

The books Freya's Baby, Tearing Down The Wall, and Freya's Baby Shattered are all by Alice Liddell, whose work you should definitely check out. While she's published literal dozens of books that cover all sorts of genres and topics, these particular books have their roots in one of her fandoms... namely the Nickelodeon cartoon Hey Arnold!

Alice has been a part of that fandom for years, and back in 2011 she wrote what turned out to be a pretty popular fan fiction. It was available online for years, and as such things go had a pretty decent fan following. However, reading back over it, she realized it could be improved... and if she was going to improve it, then it was also possible to remove the scaffolding of the cartoon's intellectual property at the same time. So she took it down, retooled it, brought it up to standards, and turned it into an original work.

According to the author herself, this garnered some mixed responses. Some readers were excited, eager to pick up copies of their own to see how the story had changed. Others threw a hissy fit that it wasn't free anymore. However, if we're talking about how the sausage is made when it comes to fiction, recycling a project and turning it into something fresh, while also keeping at least a portion of its existing fan base (who are now brought even more deeply into your orbit as a creator) is nothing to turn your nose up at.

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!