Thursday, July 27, 2017

Speak Sweetly, Because You Never Know Who You're Talking To

Perhaps the most common saying when it comes to getting ahead in the world is, "it's not what you know, it's who you know." We see this in big ways with presidents and billionaires, but we also see it in small ways. Like how your mom got you an interview at her company, or how your favorite coach wrote that glowing recommendation for your college application.

This is just as important if you're a writer. In fact, it may be even more important.

Hey there, stranger, how are you?

Always Put Your Best Foot Forward

If you're a writer, chances are good you put yourself out there somehow. Maybe you go to conventions, post updates in Facebook groups, hang out in a few subreddits, or attend local shows. Whatever you do, though, you tend to interact with a lot of strangers. People you've never seen before, you don't know, and you have no reason to know. However, sometimes all it takes is one good impression to open a door you didn't even know was there.

The hell did that thing come from...?
I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about. About four years ago I was attending Gen Con in Indianapolis. It wasn't my first time there, but it was both my first time there with game publishing credits under my belt, and as someone's staff member rather than a random attendee. I'd been making the rounds, and I met Wolfgang Bauer of Kobold Press, who I'd done some work for that year. While we were talking, he asked if I was going to the Ennies that night. I'd never heard of them before, and was informed they were the RPG awards given out every year at the convention. That sounded like a big deal, and since I was now at least tacitly a part of the RPG creating community I figured I should head down, shake hands, and pass out business cards.

Because I had several hours to kill between my staff duties and the show, I turned up a little early. There was going to be an auction, as well as other social activities, so I walked over, introduced myself, and asked how I could help. I set out forms and pens, helped get items squared away, and when other staff showed up I was introduced to them. Hands were shaken, and one introduction led to another. Before I knew it, I was meeting the heads of RPG companies, discussing my experiences, and sharing ideas I'd had for fresh takes on their games, or other proposals I never would have otherwise talked about. Most of the time I didn't even recognize their names, but as soon as they handed me their cards, or mentioned the games they headed up, I realized I'd gone right to the people who had the authority to offer me work.

Now, this wasn't a career-making night. With that said, I walked out of there with some solid contacts made, and more people who knew my name than didn't the night before. While some of the seeds I planted were duds, others blossomed into future projects. All because I followed-up with a client I'd worked for when I had the chance to meet him in-person, and I put my best foot forward when he gave me a tip on where to meet the people who needed a pen-for-hire to get the job done.

That Could Be Anyone

Every person you see has the potential to help your career. That middle-aged woman giving your signing table a casual perusal? She might be the head of a local book club who will help you spread the word about your work. That older fellow at the end of the table on the panel you're speaking on? He might know the editorial staff for a major publishing house. That mysterious someone you're contemplating lashing out at online? Well, they might be a potential employer, or co-worker, in your industry.

Take a moment to remember that. You can always be rude or unpleasant later... but if you lead off with that, it's hard to overcome that impression. And that might be a way of slamming the door in your own face.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing. This lesson took me some time to learn, so I thought I'd share it. If you'd like to help support my blog and my work, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today. $1 earns you both my everlasting gratitude, and you get a free book (or two). Lastly, if you want to keep up on all my work, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Always Leave A Little Gas in The Tank When The Writing Day is Done

No one writes a book in a single session. Even the most prolific writers are looking at about a month at the very least to complete a project (I'm looking at you, Robert Louis Stevenson), but most of us will take longer. Like a year or more longer. That means you're going to be spending a lot of sessions plugged-in to your world, building it one brick at a time. And while it might be tempting to just go all-out every day, it's important to do a little forward planning on this mental road trip you're taking.

To that end, don't end the day when you run out of road. Stop when you know where you need to go tomorrow.

Shit... where do I go from here?

You Need A Little Road To Build Your Speed Back Up

When you come to the end of a day's writing, you need to know where you're going from that point. Not in some vague sense, either. You need a clear direction and destination so you can build at least a little your speed back up the next time you sit down.

For example, let's say you planned out this whole mid-book shootout in your gritty spy novel. Your protagonist runs down an enemy agent, and they have a huge knock-down, drag-out brawl in the rain. Your hero comes out on top, and holds the enemy agent over a steep drop, demanding to know who he works for. You end your session there. Then tomorrow you sit down, open the file, and stare at the screen for an hour and a half.

Why? Well, because you have no idea who hired this guy, or how it connects to your plot. You don't know what your protagonist does from here, or how far he's willing to go to get the answers. And because you're starting from the cliffhanger you left off on, your brain is stalling out.

Oh hey... what's over there?
If you know you're approaching the last of your rope, don't go until you've reached the bitter end. Leave a few handfuls so that when you sit down tomorrow you at least know how to get started. Because once you have the engine revved, and you've built up speed, it's easy to go off in new directions. Just like how you can jump further if you have a dozen yards to sprint, than if you stood at the edge of a cliff and tried to long-jump across the canyon.

Writing a book is hard enough as it is. Don't make it harder on yourself than you have to by going until you're running on fumes, and hoping someone fills your idea tank before you come back tomorrow.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Sorry for the brevity, but sometimes advice doesn't take 1,000 words to convey. If you'd like to help support me and my blog, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. If you pledge at least $1 a month, then there's a pile of swag waiting as a thank you. Lastly, if you want to keep up-to-date on all my work and projects, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Self-Publishing is Often a Proving Ground For Authors

People often see traditional publishing and self-publishing as natural enemies. Their systems are different, their philosophies are different, and supposedly their authors are different. People see the decision as an either/or sort of choice; as if authors are all out for the big draft, and they either need to tie on with a company, or remain true to themselves as a free agent.

That isn't really how things work, though. You see, there's actually a lot of interaction between these two spheres, and if someone makes a splash in one, then the ripples are going to get attention in the other. And if those ripples are big enough, you just might find that opportunity comes a'knocking at your door.

Hello there. Would you like work, and a big, fat check?

Reputation, Work History, and Ripples in The Water

So, I'd like to tell you a story. A story about how my own self-publishing efforts got me noticed by some bigger, more established folks who followed the waves I was making back to me.

To begin, most of us don't tend to think of blogs, YouTube channels, and other avenues as self-publishing. They totally are, though. So, as soon as I started writing this blog (and my gaming blog Improved Initiative) I staked out my little piece of turf as a self-published creator. And I haven't moved from that patch.

The charter is under construction, but we may have a flag soon.
Of the two blogs, Improved Initiative quickly pulled ahead in terms of readership and traffic. By the end of my first year I had a regular flow of traffic, I was well-known in tabletop gaming groups on Facebook, and I was starting to expand onto other social media platforms. One of my main attractions was a feature I ran called Character Conversions. Basically I would take a popular character, like Captain America, Tyrion Lannister, Iron Man, etc., and I would write a guide for how you could re-create that character in a particular roleplaying game. That page remains one of the most popular features on my blog to this day.

After I'd written 20 guides or so, I started noticing some changes. People I didn't know would message me, and ask if I was going to write a new guide for this or that character. They wanted to know my thoughts on whether it was possible to convert characters from Lord of The Rings or Dragon Ball Z into different game systems. My traffic on that page went up, and people started passing my guides around among their own groups. I was getting read, and the ad revenue on those articles was getting noticeable. Not, "Oh my god, I can buy a house!" noticeable, but I had a little extra padding for when deadlines ran long, and checks ran short.

Then something else happened. The publishers who wrote official content for games started reaching out to me, asking if I'd like to work on their lines. Because they'd heard about my blog, checked out the stuff I was making on my own, and they decided I looked like the kind of writer they wanted to take for a spin. Sometimes we clicked, and sometimes we didn't, but as time has gone on, being the author of Improved Initiative actually gains me credibility when I talk to RPG publishers.

Because it establishes that I can do the job, and that there are people out there who like what I make.

All Publishers Care About Is Results

I said this in You Don't Need A Degree To Be A Writer, but I feel like it bears repeating; publishers only care about your results. A publisher doesn't care if your books are good or bad, offensive or safe. They only care about the bottom line. If you have a following, and you are making money, then they would like to shake your hand, and work out a deal so you can both make more of it.

This is why celebrities get million-dollar book deals. It's not because they have great insights, or they're phenomenally talented (though some do, and are). It's because they have 10 million followers who are all going to go out and buy a copy of their book once it's released. It's also why if you've been self-publishing a series that's making you some serious bank, then a publisher is going to want to talk to you. Because you're a proven talent, with a definable audience, and that makes you a safe bet.

Just something to think about the next time you consider your publishing options, and what your efforts could lead to in the future.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. If you'd like to support me, and this blog in particular, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today. As little as $1 a month is a big help to me, and it gets you a pile of sweet swag just for signing up. Lastly, if you want to keep up-to-date on all my work, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

There Is No Wrong Way To Write

It was Edgar Degas who famously said, "Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do." The point, of course, is that when you first embrace a creative passion it's freeing to express yourself, even if your expression is sloppy and unrefined. The longer you practice, and the more skill you develop, the more you have the ability to judge your own work, as well as that of others.

However, there is something we tend to forget when we get wrapped up in our ideas of what we "know" how to do in regards to art; there's no wrong way to create. Whether you're finger-painting, or imitating the Renaissance masters, you're still painting. And whether you're just penning short stories in a private journal, writing fan fiction on the Internet, or authoring a blockbuster novel series, you're still writing. None of these methods are more "correct" than the others.

Whatever works for you, do that.

I'm Sensing a "But" Coming on...

While it's true there is no wrong way to write, it's important to remember that writing doesn't happen in a vacuum. You need to ask what you're trying to accomplish with it, and whether you succeeded in achieving that goal when all it said and done.

Perhaps if you could elaborate...
Sure thing, Winston.

To pull out one of my favorite metaphors, compare writing to exercise. If you're just doing it to enjoy the activity, and maybe to keep in shape, then a casual routine is good for you. Some long walks, a little light weight-lifting, and you're good to go. For writers, those are the folks who enjoy writing for themselves, or for a small community. They're still engaged, and still dedicated, but they're not trying to run marathons or break power-lifting records (metaphors for publishing a whole series of novels, or winning awards through traditional publishers).

However, suppose those are your goals. If that's the case, then you probably need a totally different kind of routine, and a different sort of mindset. You need to train, and you need to hit your goals come rain or shine, hell or high water. You need to perform when you get your chance, and you need to hit it hard every day. In this case you're not writing strictly for your own enjoyment, or because it's something you enjoy doing; it's your job. You're here to make money, and that means there are no days off for good behavior.

Neither writing method is wrong here; they're just moving in different directions toward different goals. Writers who enjoy the craft, who have a passion for words, but who don't want to go pro are still writers. Writers who just started taking their first tentative steps into the written world are also still writers. If you write comics or romances, radio plays or horror stories, you're still writing. Whether you write poetry, short stories, novellas, or novels, no one can tell you you're doing it wrong. They might disagree with the decisions you've made, or view your compositional choices as flawed, gaudy, boring, or sophomoric, but none of that makes it wrong.

With all of that said, though, you need to know what your goal is for your writing, and to move in that general direction if you want to succeed at that goal. And if you aren't making the progress you want? Well, it might be time to change-up your program, and try something different.

That's all for this weeks Craft of Writing post. Hopefully it helps folks out there who are grappling with the constant shouting from all corners of the profession about what "real" writers do or don't do. If you'd like to keep up with all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to support me and my work, why not head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, and make a small pledge? $1 a month does a lot of good, and you get some free ebooks as a thank you for your support!