Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Want To Be A Successful Author? Then Stop Quitting To Start A New Project!

Authors have a unique freedom when it comes to our work, in that we can write about any damn thing we choose. If we want to write about handsome billionaires seducing their secretaries, we can do that. If we want to write about a group of college kids being hunted by a pack of werewolves across the Scottish moors, we can do that, too. Hell, I wrote a story about a small team of mercenaries raiding a cult town to save the group's acolytes before they were sacrificed to monsters from the deep.

You can read that story, titled "Blackwater," in the free sample right here!
The process of refining that initial idea is intoxicating. You've been given a fresh canvas, and you can paint anything you damn well please on it. The problem is that, sooner or later, you need to start making brush strokes. Then, once you've started, you need to keep going until you've finished. Sometimes you're going to have trouble bringing your vision to life. Your descriptions will feel flat, or you'll find a big hole in the middle of your plot, or the twist you wanted to totally thrill your readers comes across as blase and predictable.

When that happens you will feel tempted to put down your brush, set your current canvas aside, and start fresh on a new project. You'll get back to the old one as soon as you've cleansed your palate, and found that old enthusiasm you had when you started.

I've got bad news for you; you're never going to find it again.

Writing is Just Another Job

To paraphrase the great sage and eminent junkie Stephen King, being a writer is just another job. It's a fun job, and you should enjoy it, but it's still a job. If you were driving a truck, and you were really excited for the first day and a half, you wouldn't stop in the middle of the country to suddenly drive off in another direction looking for something more inspiring because you got sick of your last route. If you were building a house, and you were halfway to completion, you wouldn't suddenly decide to build a different house instead, abandoning your previous project to the ravages of time and the elements.

I'll get back to it. One of these days...
No. If this is what you do, you buckle down and you finish the goddamn job. That's what makes you a professional.

But I'm Not In Love With This Project Anymore

Do you hear that? Know what that sound is? It's whining, and it's coming from inside the house!

Le Gasp!
When you first came up with your idea, you fell in love with it immediately. You saw every beautiful curve, and it invaded your thoughts every hour of every day. You dreamed about it, you wrote little notes about it, and you told your friends about it over afternoon coffee. Then, after you started spending more time with your idea, you realized that your lead character was a little rough around the edges. You realized that your idea was full of flash, but that deep down it was pretty shallow. You stuck it out for a couple of chapters, and tried to really work with it, but after your first big fight you threw up your hands and walked away.

You were not in love with your idea. You were suffering from a nasty case of literary lust.

The secret, the real secret, to finishing a book is simple; you need to make that book your partner. Your book isn't some weekend fling; it's an idea you are married to. You need to be dutiful to your book, and learn everything about it. You need to be willing to work with it, even when the going gets tough. Even when it won't talk to you for days on end, and you feel stupid for ever starting it. If you want to finish it, then you need to treat that book the same way you would treat a spouse; through thick or thin, in sickness and in health, you are here until it's done.

In short, you don't write books with catchy one-liners or brilliant insights. You write them with sweat, strain, and dedication. Most of all, though, you write them with professionalism. You sit down every day, and you put words on the page. Even if you don't feel very good that day. Even if you don't like what you're writing, or you end up deleting the past two days' work because it's not right, and you know it's not right. Authors are rivers, and it's time that allows them to create beautiful valleys.

At The End of The Day

No one is saying you can't put your current project down to work on something different. Maybe you're genuinely stymied, or something's come up and you need to crank out a different piece to make rent that month. Maybe you just want to take a short breather, because you think it will help. You know yourself better than me, since I'm just some yutz on the Internet.

However, if you find yourself putting down your books time and time again, always claiming you'll come back to it when you feel the magic again, stop. There is no magic, and the work is never going to get easier. So roll up your sleeves, crack your knuckles, and get some ink under your nails.

If you want to keep up to date on all of The Literary Mercenary's posts, along with my book releases and other projects, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support me, then stop by my Patreon page to toss a little bread in my jar.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Questions Beginning Writers Ask (That Experienced Writers Are Tired of Hearing)

Life isn't easy for writers who are just starting out. You're full of questions, ranging from "do you think I could get this published?" to "do I need an agent?" You're frustrated, and it doesn't help that most of the "established" writers you turn to roll their eyes at you like you're asking the dumbest thing in the world. You just want a little guidance, and you'd prefer it come from someone who's walked down this particular path before, so they can point out all the sand traps and pitfalls you might otherwise walk right into.

Watch out for them vanity presses... they sting like a sonofabitch!
The truth is that we want to help... we really do. We're just exhausted because every time a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed hopeful walks up to us and asks the same questions it's like we're living through the literary equivalent of Groundhog Day. So, while some of my colleagues are no doubt rubbing their eyes and contemplating dropping a toaster in the tub, here are some accurate (though not terribly polite) answers to some of the most common questions beginning writers have.

Note: If your question isn't on the list, leave it in the comments, and I'll try to find an appropriate answer for you.

Questions You Need Answers To (That We're Sick of Hearing)

No you will not get rich doing this. You get that one for free.
How Much Does it Cost to Get Published?

Nothing. Ever.

For those who are looking for a more comprehensive answer, here's the low down on how the publishing industry works. You, the author, write a story. You send that story (or novel, or whatever) to the publisher. The publisher then chooses the books it thinks will succeed. It publishes those books (taking care of cover art, putting the book up for sale online, all those details). A good publisher will also try to get your book reviewed, and hopefully set you up with interviews. When you get published traditionally, the publisher keeps most of the profits, cutting the author around 10 percent (though the exact amount varies by contract). The percentage you earn from sales is called your royalties.

If a publisher is charging you for the privilege of being published, then it is in all likelihood a vanity press. A vanity press will tell you how great and brilliant your writing is, and offer to publish your book, and then to let you buy copies of it. The cost of these copies will be greatly outside what a book should cost, because the vanity press is making money off of you, and everyone else they "publish".

But What About Self-Publishing?

You don't pay to be self-published either. If you are self-published you simply use a service like Amazon's Createspace to take your manuscript and put it in ebook and print-on-demand format. You don't pay to do those things, just like you don't pay Random House to publish your novel. You simply format your manuscript according to the program's requirements, create a cover, edit all the internal stuff, and then slap it on the net for anyone to buy.

Now, you can buy copies of your own book to hand sell. Hand selling is when you have an event, or you're going to a convention, and you want to sell copies of your book directly to fans. You have to pay for those books, but typically you will get them at cost, which means you still make a profit when you hand sell. And if you choose not to hand sell? That's fine, you can still sell online and make money doing that, too.

I Can't Tell You My Idea, You Might Steal It!

All right, princess, let us get one thing straight, here; no one is going to steal your idea. And even if they were, you can't copyright an idea. Unless you lay out every, single plot twist, character name, and deus ex machina, no one is going to write your book, then claim they were the genius behind it. And even if they do, you can still write your version, because chances are it's going to be different anyway.

Besides, it isn't stealing if someone writes 100k words to bring their idea to life, even if what you said inspired them to do it. Why? Because I guarantee you that if you and another writer are both told the same idea, the end products are going to be very different.

Do I Put Two Spaces After A Period?

No. Furthermore, don't use the tab button for your indents. Instead, create an automatic indent. Constantly hitting the tab key creates a massive headache for editors, who may reject you on that basis alone.

Also, don't put two spaces between paragraphs. That's just weird, and I don't know who told you to do it.

Do You Want To Read This Totally Unedited Thing I'm Probably Going To Change?

No, I don't. Neither does anyone else. Do you know why? It's because we are busy writing our own books, and you didn't even have the good grace to clean up this sloppy paragraph and a half you just slapped onto the screen.

If you're looking for a pat on the head and affirmation that you're a genius, stuff it in your gob and find a different profession. If you genuinely need assistance with something, or you're looking for real feedback, edit it first. Then, once it's edited, turn it over to your beta readers. Beta readers, if you're not familiar with the term, are your pre-editing team. They're the researchers, geeks, genre buffs, and writer friends who can point out all your remaining mistakes. If you don't have any, check out The Five Types of Beta Readers Every Writer Should Have in order to get a sense of what you're looking for.

How Do I Sell Books?

There comes a time in every author's life where he or she realizes that the lightning hasn't struck, and their books aren't flying off the shelves. Most of us have been so focused on the work of writing the book that, once we've finished it, we're totally lost regarding what we should do.

Here's the answer; market the shit out of your book.

Earlier I mentioned that a good publisher will do some of the marketing for you, but more often than not the publisher won't do a whole hell of a lot of anything. If you want reviews then you have to contact the reviewers. If you want to be interviewed for the paper, then you have to get in touch with a reporter. You are the one who needs to create a social media presence, interact with your fans, and make sure the word gets out.

Because if you don't, no one else is going to either.

While we're on this topic, why not check out my book's free sample?

Do I Need An Agent?

No, you don't. An agent is like flying first class instead of coach; nice, but you're all on the same damn plane.

Here's a brief explanation, for those who know that agents exists, but who have no idea what they do. An agent is someone who has contacts in the publishing industry. They're sort of like ex-cops or former soldiers; they're not in the game anymore, but they still know people. The agent represents your work, and talks to these people on your behalf. If you sell your book, the agent gets a cut of everything you make. The agent handles contract costs, communications with the publisher, and all that jazz, but you are, in essence, paying for the agent's contacts and his or her representation.

Again, you don't pay up front. The agent gets a cut of what you earn, which means agents are very selective about which authors they choose to represent.

Now, if you want to get in with a big publisher like Random House or Penguin, you either need contacts of your own, or you need an agent. Big publishers use agents as a way to screen out authors they don't want to waste time with. If you're going to a medium, or a small publisher, though, then you won't need an agent.

How Do I Know What A Publisher Wants?

Go to their website. Look for the page that says Author's Guidelines. This will lay out all the things your book, or short story, or whatever has to have for them to consider it. If you don't meet all of those qualifications, then do not send it in. Better to be unknown than to have editors refer to you as, "that one dipshit who can't follow instructions."

So, that covers the basics. If you've got other questions, feel free to ask them in the comments. If you want to make sure you don't miss my updates, the follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to toss some bread in my jar, then go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What Does The Weapon Say About The Warrior? Tips For Writing Fighters in Your Fiction

We love fighters. From knights in shining armor, to scoundrels in space, to special forces soldiers coming out of retirement for one, last mission, we cannot get enough of them. Even if they're in a supporting role, like Bruce Lee's Kato or Anthony Simcoe's Dargo, we can't help but fall in love with our warrior characters. Whether you're writing epic high fantasy, gritty modern realism, operatic sci-fi, or any of a dozen other genres, though, I've got a tip for you.

Let your weapons do the talking.

It's worked pretty well for me, so far.

What Do Your Weapons Say About Your Warriors?

Weapons can say a lot about the people who wield them, and you should use that as a way to show your audience things about these characters. For example, the handsome young lord who comes to court may have the curling locks and easy smile of a dilettante, but the straightforward sword he carries shows long, hard use. Does your hardened mercenary carry an army-issue weapon, insinuating a history and comfort with the weapon, or does he pack a custom pistol made and weighted for his hand alone? Does your character carry a big stick, or a small knife?

Or something you never see coming?
By describing your character's weapons, you are subtly telling your readers things about them. Hard-hitting weapons like the greatsword, an M-60 machine gun, or a warhammer, suggest that this person is about power over finesse. A well-used weapon, like a knife that's been honed over and over again to a razor edge, suggests that your character is comfortable with the weapon, as well as the inherent violence of it. Someone who carries a pompous weapon, like a gilded court sword, or an over-sized Desert Eagle handgun, may value flash over function.

You aren't directly saying these things, but readers will pick up on the clues if you throw them down.

Let's use some more direct examples. Lord Aaron Vox is a noted duelist. He goes nowhere without his blade, and he's never shy about tossing down a gauntlet when he feels slighted or challenged. His sword is a light, short-bladed rapier made for a quick draw, and a fast thrust. The hand guard is intricate and gilded, but provides complete protection for his grip. The weapon, like the man wielding it, seems pretentious at a glance, but is deadly just beneath the surface.

What about Smiling Jill Jones? A pretty little thing, she keeps a five-inch flick knife up her sleeve in case she needs it, and she's been said to leave her mark freely. At a glance what you have is an attractive girl, perhaps with a bit too much party in her. A hidden weapon implies there's more to her than meets the eye, and a switchblade says that she's dangerous, not shy about illegalities, and that she can go from flirty to deadly at the touch of a button.

The Marks Weapons Leave on Their Wielders

Even if your fighters aren't packing the tools of their trade in every scene, their weapons will leave a mark on them. Other warriors will recognize it in them, and even people who haven't lived a dangerous life will feel something unusual about these characters.

Take that, and run with it.

There was just something a little odd about him...
It doesn't have to be something as blatant as dueling scars along the cheek, either. For example, if someone has put in hours upon hours of swordplay, that's going to cause blisters. Those blisters will turn into callouses, and anyone who shakes that character's hand will recognize those marks. Someone who's used to carrying a gun on his or her hip will have a certain walk, and a certain twitch toward the weapon's location whether or not the character is actively carrying it. Heavy weapons, like maces and axes, are going to lead to increased muscular development in the wrist, arms, and shoulders as users develop more and more power. A lifetime spent around firearms could result in hearing loss, and someone who's spent a long time on the other end of a scope may have a particular thousand-yard stare that puts a shiver through you.

All of these tics developed over time are ways to subtly hint at a character's nature and skills, without making the reader sit through an unnecessary fight scene for your warrior to show off. These kinds of descriptions work as build-up, hinting that when the gloves finally do come off, the fight is going to be well-worth watching.

Also, if you're looking for what to do when it's time to flick the safety off, check out Author's Fight Club: Rules For Writing Better Fight Scenes.

Thanks for stopping in! If you'd like to support me and my blog, then toss some coins in my coffers by going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! If you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates, then simply follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

You Need Quality AND Quantity to Make a Living as an Author

There's this bizarre argument that crops up in practically every writers' group I've ever sauntered into. On one side, you have writers who believe that money and sales will follow those with a true mastery of the story-telling art. On the other side, you have writers who argue that one book isn't going to be enough to get the job done, and that you need to produce on a regular schedule in order to actually make a living putting words on a page.

So who's right? Both sides are, in their own ways, but unfortunately any attempt to step between the opposing crusaders is met with vitriol and suspicion that you are secretly working for them, and you are not to be trusted.

Are you legitimately suggesting that I have to produce stellar work AND produce it fast?
The unfortunate reality of being an author is that every time you create something new you're spinning the wheel of fortune. For example, say that this blog post went viral for some reason. Maybe it's my charming wit that leads readers to share it all across their social media feeds. Maybe what I have to say causes some kind of controversy, and people angrily spit my link at each other so they can all be equally outraged about what I've created. Whatever the driving force, we'll say that I spend a week with hundreds of thousands of hits a day driving up my views. My ad clicks go through the roof, and at the end of the month there's a big, fat check waiting for me.

That's great... but what do I do next month? Or the month after that?

Insights From Erotica Authors

Don't take my word for it, though. Instead, listen to the wise words of Pandora Box (alias Peter Hayward). According to Hayward, it's important to know your audience, to give them what they want, and to make sure you're choosing the right niche for your work (I'm assuming that being an entertaining writer, if not precisely a "master of the craft" fits in there somewhere as well). The real key to Hayward's success, though, is that he's written over 180 erotica stories which are currently available on Amazon.

"The Necromancer's Mistress" just might be my next project...
The numbers don't lie, either. In July of 2012 (when he first started up the engine on his erotica writing) Hayward brought in $93 and some odd change from his works. Rather than dedicate a lot of time to big novels, he chose to keep pushing smaller, more regular projects with tighter arcs (among other things) so his readers got a constant fix. The result is that, one year later, his monthly take was over $5,000. That isn't a typo; it's a 5, with three zeroes after it.

That isn't because "sex sells," nor is it because he's cranking out assembly-line smut (or at least neither of those things is entirely responsible for his success). The reason that Hayward, and many other erotica authors are so successful is that they've found people who want what they write, and they give it to them. By creating a big backlog of available projects, and by charging a small cost for them, these authors achieve what I call The Cascade Effect. The short version is that you have a dedicated group of readers who buy your work, and tell their friends. Every time you get a new reader who likes you, those readers buy up your previous work as well, resulting in a waterfall of sales as all your old work experiences a rejuvenated interest.

Publish or Perish

When it comes to stacking cash, you can't depend on any one title to write your meal check. Whether you're a novelist, a short story writer, a blogger, or you just maintain an article archive at a place like InfoBarrel (a paying website I covered in this past post), one of the keys to a steady stream of income is going to be a body of work.

Those looking for an intro to my work should check out this free sample.
That doesn't mean you can get away with not editing your work, that you can just slap terrible cover art on the front, or that you can supplant good research and engaging prose with titillating titles and click-bait in order to churn out products faster, either. It means that you need to be able to find what people want, and to give them a quality product that satisfies their needs in a reasonable amount of time.

If you can do that, then you have a much better shot at big sales, fat checks, and not needing the security of a 9-5 while you're trying to keep the stories coming.

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