Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How to Make Money on Your Blog With Affiliate Marketing

The secret to making money as a writer is simple; you have to sell something. If you write fiction you need to publish books people will pay money for. If you run a website, magazine, or newspaper then you need to charge readers a subscription fee for the content you create. If you have a big following you might even create a Patreon page (more about those here) so that people can donate to you as an artist. You can even put ads on your blog, as I have here at The Literary Mercenary, so that when your viewers click an ad you get a small fee for being an effective advertiser.

Or you could just sell products directly by becoming an affiliate marketer.

What The Hell is an Affiliate Marketer?

If you've never heard of affiliate marketing let me break it down for you. Companies like Amazon or Smashwords want to sell products. Because these companies cannot do all of their own marketing they ask affiliate marketers to help out. These marketers try to sell products by going to forums, running blogs, and just generally spreading the good word about products they like. After a sales pitch or a good review an affiliate marketer leaves a link. People who click that link will be taken to a page where they can buy the product, and the affiliate marketer gets a small cut of every product he or she sells.

Simple, right?

Al right, let's try an example. Let's say I wanted to try and sell more copies of the anthology Shadows of a Fading World, which has my short story "Paths of Iron and Blood" in it. I would tell my readers the anthology is an astonishingly solid collection of post-apocalyptic sword and sorcery stories, and that the contributors channel the skill of the masters while still creating unique stories that will hold readers captivated. I would make sure readers knew Amazing Stories thought this collection was top-notch work, and link them to the review here.

After I'd given my pitch and told them all the great stuff about the book I'd show the reader the cover, and provide them a buy link like this one:

Buy your copy of Shadows of a Fading World today!
And Then Money?

That's the idea. If you make your pitch for whatever it is you're selling and people follow your link to buy it, then you're entitled to your cut. If you only sell a few copies then you'll probably only get about 4% of what you're selling (in the case of this anthology that's about $0.16 per copy you sell), but the more you sell the bigger the percentage you get paid.

And if you're selling your own books then you get paid twice; an affiliate marketing cut and a royalty check. That's what we call a win-win.

Isn't That Kind of Unethical?

Let me remind you that this is the main picture I use to represent my blog.

Does this scream "Paragon of Virtue" to you?
Kidding aside, marketing is kind of a cut-throat endeavor. It's your job to stand up on a platform, shout until you get people's attention, earn their trust, and then persuade them to buy something. Even if you have a quality product you really believe in, and everything you tell your readers is perfectly true the fact remains that your goal is to persuade them to buy something so you can earn a commission.

It should also be noted that even if you lie through your teeth and get people to buy a product that's total shit you still get paid.

It's All A Numbers Game

If you're an author with a blog chances are good you're always trying to sell books. You'll try to mention your books in every other entry, and sometimes you'll dedicate entire entries to your creative process to entice readers with your latest release. You might even put in a link taking them directly to a sales page in the hopes they'll buy a copy. If you're already putting in that much effort then why not get paid twice for it?

There's no rule that says you have to become an affiliate marketer. Just as there's no rule that says you have to accept donations, put ads on your blog, or set up a Patreon account. But if you're serious about making money from your blog and selling more books then you might want to give it some serious thought. If you want to become an Amazon affiliate then check out this link, and if you're more interested in Smashwords marketing then stop by this link.

Thank you as always for dropping by The Literary Mercenary. If you'd like to support me then please feel free to click the "Shakespeare Gotta Get Paid, Son!" button to make a donation, or drop by my Patreon page to become a patron today. An extra thank you for all those who purchase a copy of Shadows of a Fading World, and I hope you have as much fun in the reading as I had in the writing!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Golden Rule of Good Writing: Don't Be Boring

As an author you can do anything you want. If you want to write a horror story, write a horror story. You want to write a rape scene, go right ahead (I already covered this here). You want your characters to say fuck all the time, feel free (I covered that here too)! You can be profane or prudish, disgusting or droll, biting or brazen... what you cannot be is boring. Nothing, and I do mean nothing is worse than a boring book. That's why this week The Literary Mercenary is here to help you pick up your prose's pace with a few, simple rules.

Rule Number One: Open With The Monster

No one cares about the building of the mead hall; we care about Grendel.
There's a phrase every writer should be familiar with; in medias res. It's Latin for "into the middle of things," and it was first coined by the poet Horace. The phrase refers to stories that start the reader out in the meat of the action instead of at the "beginning" of the story. Whether the hero is in the middle of a shootout, the heroine is chasing bad guys down a dark alley, or someone who might be our lead is sitting in a classroom and taking a stressful exam, the point is that we come in while someone is doing something. Details of the world and context for what we see are filled in afterward.

As always, examples work best. Some time ago I was chatting with a writer who was having trouble with her plot. I asked her to give me her elevator pitch. Her book was about a girl who was a high school freshmen, getting used to her surroundings, new classes, adjusting to new friends, etc. After about twenty minutes of telling me about her perfectly normal trials and tribulations she drops the bombshell that the girl is being stalked by a nightmare creature from the ether, and that in chapter five it slinks out of her closet and tries to kill her.

My advice to her, and to you dear reader, is this; open with the monster.

Rule Number Two: Short and Sharp

Say hello to my little friend!
You know that one family member who drones on and on at events, insisting on telling you every story in the most languid, roundabout way? The sort of person who could be regaling you with a story of a behind-enemy-lines covert kill mission in Afghanistan and make it sound as exciting as getting a root canal? That's the sort of prose you want to avoid.

Let's use another example here. Say you're writing a hard-boiled detective story, and your hero went home and crashed after a long night on a big bust. You could eat up page after page of him preparing breakfast, showering, going through his closet, washing his dishes, and shaving. Or you could slam all of it together into a single paragraph of short, hard-hitting sentences. "I woke up with the afternoon bells, and stumbled into the shower. Once I was clean and shaved, with a few eggs in my gut and clean clothes on my back, I was ready to hit the streets."

That's an entire early afternoon in less than 50 words. What's more the reader internalizes it more easily because it's in handy, bite-size pieces. Your novel shouldn't be a meat loaf that someone has to slog through; rather it should be a bowl of M&Ms that, when someone has eaten the whole thing, they wonder how the hell that happened.

Rule Number Three: When in Doubt, Cut it Out

Editing, in its natural form.
What do Kathy Reichs, Michael Crichton, and Tom Clancy all have in common? Well aside from being bestsellers, all three of these authors have habits of including reams of information in their books that read like technical manuals, and which are not necessary for readers to understand the story. Reichs presents jargon-filled run downs of murder wounds, rather than just telling us the victim took an ax to the head. Crichton provides abstracts of scientific theory on everything from gene-splicing to time travel that have no impact on being chased by a T-Rex, or life-or-death sword fights in medieval France. Clancy often waxes on for pages about naval culture which seems completely unconnected to the book you're reading. This information may be fascinating to some readers, and tedious to others, but the point is that if you don't need it to clarify the story you should cut it out.

Put another way, we're all very impressed that you're an aficionado of 15th century Renaissance artwork. If we don't need to know the name of a particular artist, an official term for a certain brush stroke, or the value of a given painting, then don't waste page space on it. Don't break stride while we're running pell-mell after terrorists to remark on the architecture; focus instead on where characters are going and what they're doing.

Rule Number Four: Don't Waste Our Time

You have precisely 20 seconds before your reader self-destructs.
Most people have fairly scheduled lives. Students go to class, then come home. People with 9-5 jobs go to work, then come home. Maybe they take in an occasional concert or go see a movie, but their lives are routine. Characters are people, and many of them have equally boring, scheduled lives. That said, a novel is a series of points of interest strung together on a chain like a pearl necklace. We're interested in the pearls, so don't waste time telling us about the chain holding it all together.

Look at Harry Potter. The bulk of the story takes place during sessions at what amounts to a wizarding boarding school, but we don't slavishly start every day with Harry getting out of bed and end every day with him going to sleep. We don't mention anything he does or learns in class unless those incidents build the story. You cannot tell the reader every action a character takes, so focus only on the important parts.

As always, thanks for dropping in on The Literary Mercenary. If you'd like to make a donation to keep me going feel free to visit my Patreon page or click the "Shakespeare Gotta Get Paid, Son" button on the right hand side. If you'd like to get my updates then either give me your email, also on your top right, and just to be safe follow me on Facebook and Tumblr.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sell More Books By Marketing to Readers, Not Other Writers

Before we get started with this week's entry I'd like to make a request of my readers. If this is your first time, check out the archives on the right to see if there's anything else you find helpful. Seriously, sit down and stay a while. If you're a regular reader then please stop by my Patreon page by clicking here and becoming a donor. $1 a month goes a long, long way to keeping this endeavor running, and as mercenaries go I work quite cheap.

Now then, let's get into why you simply aren't selling as many books as you'd like to shall we?

This is why they pay me the big bucks.
Marketing a book is like solving a Rubix cube, blindfolded, underwater, in a sack, going over Niagra Falls. It looks effortless from the outside, but if you come through it with the result you want it's something of a miracle. Even if you have a sexy book cover (which I covered in this blog post), you chose an intriguing pen name (more on that in this entry), you're hand-selling like crazy (using the Literary Mercenary's handy-dandy tips posted right here), and hitting all of the other self-promotion mile markers (this is the last link, I promise) it's still possible for your carefully conceived plan to fail miserably.

One reason it fails is because you're preaching to the choir.

You Need To Reach Readers, Not Writers

This sounds really obvious, but it's something that a lot of writers miss. This is particularly true for authors who use a lot of social media to try and get the word out about their books. While it might seem like a great idea to post up information about your new novel in Facebook groups with titles like "Horror Authors" or "Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers," chances are good that's actually a pretty terrible idea. Whether you're on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other social media machine you should avoid putting up posts in places where you're surrounded by other authors just like you.

Why? Because writers aren't looking around online to buy books. They're looking to sell books, which means they're probably ignoring you.

But Reading is Part of Being a Good Writer

On the one hand this is very true. On the other hand being an author doesn't make someone any more likely to pick up a book by a writer he or she has never heard of. Look at your own behavior; when was the last time you saw a mass-post style ad for a book and thought to yourself, "yeah, I got to get my hands on that!" I feel it's a safe bet that almost no one reading this has ever had that reaction.

Except regarding this book, now available at Amazon!
Before you decide to utilize a particular marketing platform ask yourself who is going to see what you're putting out there. Are members in a particular group actually watching the posts other people put up and looking for books, or are they just waiting for their turn to talk about their books? It doesn't matter if you're talking on a forum, a wall, or placing an ad in a magazine; if no one is looking for books to read then you're going to get lost in the shuffle.

So How Do I Sell Books, Smart Guy?

Put yourself in places where readers gather, and get your books into their hands however you can. Once readers say nice things about your books, and recommend you to their friends you have the beginnings of an avalanche.

No I'm not just talking out of my ass here.
Yes that's a really hard thing to do, and no there's no guarantee it will work. As a strategy however, it's a better bet to try and recruit readers by going to places where they're looking for new books than it is to shout into a venue where a hundred (or a thousand) other authors are doing the exact same thing.

Rather than tell you what you shouldn't do, here are some things you should do to narrow your focus and recruit more readers. First and foremost, get a website. Get a blog, get an Amazon author page (if you don't have one, here's how to set it up), get a Goodreads page, and make sure that readers have no problem tracking you down. Make sure you put these websites on your business cards, your stickers, your giveaway bookmarks, and that you mention them in your blogs, guest blogs, and any time you manage to get an interview.

Speaking of interviews, you should be trying to get those as well. Get yourself featured by as many book reviewers and literary websites as possible because their audiences are made up of people looking for books to read. Contact local radio stations, newspapers, magazines, and anyone else who will give you some screen time, air time, or ink. People who catch segments about you might not be readers, but they're watching/listening/reading for a reason. That means they're less likely to tune you out or gloss you over, and that means you can get your foot in the door of their minds.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is get good reviews. Whether it's a 5-star rating on Amazon, a blurb on someone's blog, or just someone telling a friend about this great novel he or she just read, that's how you get noticed. If someone comes across a book with a cool cover, a killer elevator pitch, and a few hundred positive reviews then that person is going to wonder what makes this book so good. Additionally sites like Amazon promote books with lots of positive reviews, which makes it more likely you'll be discovered by other readers looking for a new author to follow.

From that point onward it's all about transmission, and sustaining your infection. That's why it's called going viral.

As always, thanks for dropping in and reading at The Literary Mercenary. If you're looking for a new book check out my Amazon Author Page on the right hand side, and if you'd like to keep up to date with all my updates follow me on Facebook or Tumblr.