Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Recycling is Key When it Comes to Being a Successful Author

The worst thing in the world to an author is a rejection letter. While they typically come digitally these days, there's nothing worse than feeling excitement curdle on your tongue when you recognize the opening lines. However, as the old saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens. If you find yourself with a lot of stories just sitting around, remember that just because your first option said no, that doesn't mean someone else won't say yes.

So, while you're doing the hard work of producing new stuff, don't forget that it's perfectly all right to recycle the old stuff while you're at it.

There's some good stuff in here... somewhere.

Rising From The Ashes

The most obvious form of fiction recycling is when you take a rejected story of yours, and submit it to a new publisher. For example, I originally wrote my short story "The Slog" for an anthology that wanted unique stories of people's personal journey through their own, unconscious minds as they died. It didn't get picked up there, but when I took the exact same story, text unchanged, and sent it to Cohesion Press, it would up in SNAFU: Survival of The Fittest.

Seriously, you should check it out. My story is in great company.
That's what most people think of when they think of recycling. One publisher turns down your book or story, so you submit it to another who's looking for the same genre, length, themes, etc. It might take half-a-dozen tries, but sooner or later you'll find someone who is picking up what you're laying down. You might have to wiggle your word count a little, or change a few scenes, but minor editorial tweaks are a lot easier than writing a whole new story from scratch.

Of course, this isn't the only way to recycle your stories, if you're looking to fatten your publications page, and your wallet.

Re-Printing and Self-Publishing

When you sign a contract, most of the time you're signing away first worldwide rights, and often times first digital rights. If you read your contract thoroughly, though, you may find that many publication rights revert to you after a certain period of time goes by. For example, say you wrote a short story for an anthology a few years ago. You may be able to sell it again, provided you let the new publisher know up-front that this is a re-print.

You get spit on by surprisingly few editors, actually.
Selling a re-print is no easy task, since it's already been exposed to an audience. However, if you have a solid story, you can pick up some extra mileage and visibility. Even better, you can collect some more cash for your efforts.

It's also important to remember that, just because you can't find an established publisher, that doesn't stop you from self-publishing your work once you have the rights back. Simply read your contract carefully, and contact the former publisher to make sure you're all on the same page. Then all you have to do is choose which service you're going to use, and produce your own, finished version of the project.

This is particularly useful for those who work primarily in short fiction, since ebooks give you access to an audience you never had before. A low price and an interesting cover can get you a long way, and might be what you need to jump-start your sales.

You Can Recycle Almost Anything

It's important to remember that you can recycle more than just fiction. Do you have a blog entry you wrote for another website that was insightful, funny, and popular? Well, with their permission, you can republish it on your own blog. Often all you have to do is provide a link to the original. Did you write an article for a periodical or a newspaper? Well, if you want to double your money, you could publish it again on a site like Infobarrel. As long as there is no version of it currently in circulation (like, say, archived on a newspaper's server), then you can put all your old sweat back to work.

Is it a guaranteed way to increase your earnings? No, there are no guarantees in the life of the author. With that said, why get paid once when you can get paid again and again?

Hopefully everyone enjoyed this week's Business of Writing post. If you'd like to help keep this blog going, then why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron? As little as $1 a month gets you some free swag, and helps me keep making the content you love. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, well, now is as good a time as any.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Can Authors Advance Their Careers By Going to Conventions?

Yes. Wow, that was easy. See you all next week!

You really gonna stick your patrons with that?
All right, all right.

So, conventions! Explaining a convention to someone who's never been is a lot like explaining your trip to a foreign country to your friends who stayed home. The language, the culture, the way people dress; you can read about that on the news, or in an encyclopedia. What you won't get from those sources is the sense of togetherness that happens when fans congregate. The way you can walk down a hallway, and make new friends with a single movie reference, or how you can turn a corner and find yourself face-to-face with someone you've only ever seen on TV, or read about in interviews.

If you're an author, this is where you want to be, because conventions are probably the best place to go to meet people, and add them to your network.

Shaking Hands, And Dropping Cards

There are all kinds of cons out there. There are cons for comic books and roleplaying games, for sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and everything in between. There are even conventions specifically for authors and publishers. Some are big, and some are small, but there is a nearly-infinite variety of them out there.

So, how do you walk in the front door of a convention, and immediately start making connections?

This is what you want your social media to look like, when you're done.
Preparation is key. If you're going to (or just considering going to) a convention, do some research on it beforehand. Find out what that year's theme is, what the average attendance is, and get a list of the events going on. See what hotel costs are, and figure out a budget to see if you can even make the scene, financially speaking. Check out that year's list of special guests, too. Then, once you've taken a look at the field, decide where you're going to go, and who you're going to try and meet. Make sure you have a pocket full of business cards, and know what you're going to say in case people start asking you what you're there for. If you've got a book and need a publisher, if you're looking for clients, or if you are looking for publicity help, decide that before you get there.

In short, have a plan before you walk in the doors. Wandering around is for the rubes; you're here to work.

Whenever Possible, Get Involved in Programming

The best way to get around behind the table, and to meet people as equals, is to work a convention. For example, if you go to a convention's homepage, there will be a section titled Programming. All you have to do is contact them, tell them you're an author who will be attending, and volunteer to help. You'll want to do this a half-dozen months before the con gets going, because that's when programming hasn't been nailed down yet. If you get into programming, then you might wind up on a panel, holding down a signing table, or doing a reading.

Readings are rarely attended if you're not famous. Don't take it personally.
Being part of programming is kind of like getting let into the VIP lounge. You have access to the green room, you get to meet fellow programmers (many of whom will be the folks you came there to talk to), and if you complete a certain number of programs then you may even get the cost of your badge reimbursed.

Even better, though, is that when you're involved in programming, the other attendees take you seriously. If you meet someone in the hall, or in the dealer's room, you're going to have a hard time getting them to take you seriously as an author. If you are sitting behind a signing table, or you were speaking on a panel about your genre, people will elevate your status in their minds. You're more likely to have people come up to you after your program, and when you hand them a business card, they're more likely to keep it.

There's no guarantee they'll look you up, but you've got a much better chance if they see you as a professional, instead of just another attendee.

Relationships Take Time To Grow

Unless you're already a famous author, it's unlikely that anyone you meet at a con will know who you are the first time you show up. It's possible, but don't stand around waiting to be recognized. With that said, the more cons you go to, and the more years you go, the more likely you are to build an audience. As you become part of the scene, and people start to recognize you, you're more likely to form friendships. Even if you only see the readers, attendees, and fellow programmers a few times a year, sometimes that's all it takes. Connect online, keep the connections strong, and that will lead to benefits for you, and them.

In the meantime, while you're sowing your author garden, just enjoy the con. The expenses can be written off on your taxes, and there is nowhere else in the world you can talk to someone dressed as a Klingon about the their feelings on Martin Vs. Tolkien when it comes to the classic hero's journey, and variations thereof.

As always, thanks for stopping by this week's Business of Writing post. If you'd like to help support me, stop on by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. As long as you pledge at least $1 a month, there's some sweet swag in it for you! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, then why not start now?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Write Your World Like a Travel Brochure (Not an Encyclopedia)

When you're telling a story, the setting has to be a character in that story. Whether it's the cracked pavement of L.A.'s back alleys, or the frozen peaks of the Cimmerian wastes, your location is a constant member of the cast. While that location might change over the course of the story, you still need to make sure you convey it to your audience in a meaningful way.

This is one of your leads. Embrace it.
The difficulty when it comes to writing a setting is that you have to strike just the right balance. If you give too little information, then it can feel like your story is happening in an empty room. If you give too much, though, then you're likely to overload the reader, turning what should be a fast-paced action story, or a pulse-pounding thriller, into an encyclopedia entry.

Being Organic is The Key

This task is more of a chore for some genres than it is for others. Sci-fi and fantasy in particular have to figure out a way to convey the soul of a setting, without getting bogged down in delivering huge lectures on the history and politics of the worlds they're creating. And, while that sounds like a Herculean task, it's not as hard as it sounds. You simply need to get into the habit of introducing world flavor and information in such a way that it feels organic.

Some things will require more explanation than others.
Remember when you were in elementary school, and you first learned how to pick up context clues to figure out words you didn't know? Now that you're an author, you need to use that strategy to get your audience's juices flowing. Don't tell them every, little detail. That's going to bore them. Instead, learn how to insinuate, and provide context. This will build your world in the background, so it doesn't get in the way of the story as you're telling it.

For example, say that your story takes place in a fantasy metropolis. You want to bring across to your reader that this city is not only huge, but that it is a center of commerce, culture, and a place where people of all races and ethnicities come together. The easiest way to do that, is to incorporate the information into a scene. If your main character is a resident of this city, show that speaking multiple languages is fairly common there. Show that, in addition to humans, there are fantasy races all over the place, and that no one remarks on their presence as odd or unexpected. When your protagonist buys something, show that the coins come from lands both near and far.

You can give smaller hints, as well. For example, if someone swipes their fingerprints to make a purchase in your sci-fi setting, and it's referred to as a credit exchange, then it's safe to assume that physical money isn't that big a thing in this world. It also implies there's a central database with everyone's biometric information in it, making it nearly impossible to drop off the grid without extreme measures being taken. If vehicles all run on electricity, then it implies a level of technology well beyond the internal-combustion engine without having to give specifics. If magic is commonplace, then it will be reflected in everything from how working-class people do their jobs, to how people fight wars. The same is true if magic is rare. Every stone you throw into the pond of your world casts ripples.

Don't Make Accidental Decisions

When it comes to the stories you tell, you're the director. You frame every shot, and you make all the decisions about what appears in the foreground, and what gets ignored. You are the lens through which people will see this story. Which is why you need to examine everything, and make sure it's just right. Phrases and colloquialisms, fashion, weather, religion, and other cultural touchstones are present in every story. In some stories, you could write a whole separate book just detailing those things. But you need to use them as spice, making your story more enticing, without overpowering the taste of your plot.

Sounds easy, right?

If you enjoyed this week's Craft of Writing post, then why not head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to toss a little bread in my jar? And, if you want to keep up to date on all my latest work, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Why Patreon is a Lifesaver For Authors (Like Me)

People who look at my resume may wonder why it is I urge people to support me on Patreon so often. After all, I run two blogs, I have an entire archive of work at Vocal, I have a respectable body of fiction on the market, and I'm constantly producing content for game companies. Why do I need you to donate $1 a month to me?

It's pretty simple, actually. None of that other stuff comes anywhere close to paying my bills.

Pennies in the jar add up, but you don't cover your rent that way.
If you'd like to understand why, I'll start at the top, and work my way down.

Ad Revenue (And Why It's A Drop in The Bucket)

First, my two blogs. Both The Literary Mercenary and Improved Initiative have ads on them. You'll see them, if you don't have an ad-block program on. While this blog only nets between a dozen and a few dozen hits a day, my gaming blog tends to fluctuate between 300 and a few thousand hits. Depending on what I've said lately, and whether the Internet has taken offense to it, or not. And that sounds impressive, but when all is said and done, an average day nets me about $0.08. From both my blogs. On days where the social media community has fixated on my latest post, and the flame wars are burning hot, that might get as high as $0.50. One time, I pulled in a whole $1.00!

What I'm saying is that ads earn me next to no revenue. Worse, I need to get that revenue up to at least $50 before it shows up in my bank. So, unless I manage to divert a four-lane highway of traffic onto my blogs (which happens from time to time, but pretty damn rarely), it takes me between a year to a year and a half to get an ad payment.

Isn't there a better investment out there?
But what about Infobarrel? After all, I have a respectable archive, and it's growing every month. Surely with thousands of hits, there's a viable check coming from them?

Yes and no. Infobarrel does pay me more than I make with my blogs' ads, but it's a matter of degree. You see, on an average month, the traffic I net there earns me between $10 and $17. Some months it's been as high as $20, due to total flukes in viewership. Again, though, it has a $50 payout, so I'm getting an average of 4 checks a year from them. While it's true that more content will generate more traffic, the total amount of ad revenue I make between this site, and my blogs, is enough to buy about half a tank of gas.

Would that change if I had more traffic? Absolutely! But if getting more traffic, and more followers, was something I could pull out of a hat I would have gone through my closet and wrecked my haberdashery some time ago.


There's just something nice about the word royalties. A sort of ring that you don't get from any other source of income. Despite the size of my Amazon author page, however, it's more like one of those royal families where the name is impressive, but the fortunes are all but nonexistent. Part of that is because most of the books that pay me royalties are anthologies, so an already small percentage of the earnings gets diced into an even smaller amount before it gets handed my way. The other part of it, though, is that I'm really not all that famous.

Most conventions I attend, I'm affectionately referred to as, "who?"
That is not to say that I don't sell books. However, most of my sales are made in-person, where I can talk to readers, and intrigue them with my pitch. While I pick up the occasional random sale online, and get a positive review from the ether every now and again, my personal royalties are so small that if I wanted to pay a bill with them, I'd have to save all year to do so.

Of course, if you'd like to read a free sample of New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam, you might find it's just the thing for the steampunk noir lover in your life. But if traditional fantasy is more your thing, check out my novel Crier's Knife instead!

What About Freelance Work?

This is the bulk of where I make my income. I write a great deal of content for RPGs, and you'll find my name attached to projects like Feats Reforged IV, The Demonologist, and others. In addition to working for half a dozen RPG publishers at a time, I also ghostwrite and freelance blogs for a lot of clients. On average I write at least 3 freelance blog entries every day, and I tend to put out RPG content at least once every two months. Sometimes faster, unless I find myself up to my elbows in a project with a particularly large word count.

Those of you skilled in pattern recognition likely sense a "but" coming.
The problem with freelance work is that you get paid on acceptance, or in many cases upon publication. So, while I can easily complete a $250 assignment in a weekend (with the proper supply of caffeine and someone to occasionally wipe sweat from my brow), I might not see that check for six months. So, while I do make the bulk of my income from jobs like this, it requires me to have so much content going out that there is always a check from something coming to me. Even if that check is for something I wrote so long ago I completely forgot about the project.

Sometimes that works. Every now and again it works beautifully, and I get a string of projects all clearing at once. There's a lot more famine than there is feast, sad to say.

And That is Why Patreon is So Important

One of the common themes of all the sources of income I've mentioned is that they fluctuate based on my audience. So, while it's possible I could write a blog entry that goes viral, post an article that gets a huge amount of traffic, or become an overnight bestseller, that's the same as saying it's possible to pick the right slot on a roulette wheel. It can be done, and if it makes me a small fortune, so much the better. It hasn't happened yet, though I keep spinning.

Patreon is different, in that it is more reliable. My Patreon payment comes in on the same time every month, and I can easily calculate how much I earn based on the current support level of my patrons. While it can and does fluctuate (new patrons come, and sometimes old ones decide they can no longer afford me), I always get a warning when changes are made.

And then I know when I need to gear up to rob another bank.

This Isn't All About Me, Either

I've been talking a lot about myself in this entry, but that isn't because my situation is special. If anything, it's because my situation is fairly typical. Most creative professionals have to take a similar, patchwork approach if they want to make ends meet. So, if you see someone who makes something you like, and they have a Patreon page, it's because they need your support. Trust me, if we didn't need money, we wouldn't have a tip jar out on the counter.

For all those who liked today's post, let me know in the comments below. Like, share, and if you've got the spare scratch, why not drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page? $1 a month makes a huge different, and it gets you a free book! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, why not start now?