Thursday, March 29, 2018

Want To Make Money Writing? Check Out Vocal!

Writing is hard. Getting paid for writing is even harder. Because in this age of instantaneous entertainment, where even the most obscure novel can be at your fingertips in seconds, it seems like more companies than ever before are trying to get writers to work purely for the exposure (as evidenced by companies like the Huffington Post asking to publish Wil Wheaton's work as a way to "take advantage of their unique platform").

Trust me, grocery stores don't take that shit in trade.
That's why I try to test the places I find that purport to pay writers for their work, and those who past the acid test get shared with you find folks. Like how, a while back, I wrote Make Money Writing (By Joining after I'd put together an archive, looked at the metrics, and gotten a sense for the return on investment for work you put on there.

That's also why, this week, I'd like to let you all know about Vocal.

What Is Vocal? How Well Does It Pay?

To paraphrase the search results, Vocal is a long form social publishing platform where contributors are paid based on their personal traffic streams. Or, translated into common English, Vocal is a place that pays you for the traffic all the articles you write earn. All you have to do is sign up, write something, submit it for publication, and soak up reads.

Yeah... but how many readers do I need to get paid?
I've been contributing to Vocal since last summer, and I've amassed a small archive of my own. As such, I can tell you with some authority that it takes about 300 reads to earn $1. Not that I said reads, not views. People who just glance at your content don't count; they have to go through what you wrote, and actually take it in.

Fortunately, that's easier than it sounds. Doubly fortunate is the fact that Vocal has so many different sites under a single umbrella. So whether you want to write about sex (and put your articles on Filthy), or you want to write about games (and put your articles on Gaming), there's a site on Vocal for that. From dating and music, to politics and life hacks, there are all kinds of options out there. And as soon as you hit $35 in your archive, you can request a payment through Stripe. A few days later, bam, cash in your account.

How Much Do You Want To Make?

Most people ask how much they can make, but that's the wrong question for the setup Vocal uses. Instead, you should ask how many reads you can get for your content. Because some pieces I've written, like It's Okay To Admit There Are Problems In Your Hobby or 10 Signs You're Actually A Dom got thousands of reads when they first went up, and they've had fairly steady traffic since then. On the other hand, articles like What Are Charity Arcades? have barely broken 100 reads, and haven't generated a lot of ongoing interest since I put them up.

So, long story short, it's a popularity contest.

Fortunately, the more you write, and the more you build up your audience, the bigger your views get. Even if you only write a few articles a month, it's perfectly possible to make at least the minimum $35 every month. Two if you're slow in your marketing. As to the maximum... like I said, how many reads will you be able to get?

That's all for this week's Business of Writing update. Hopefully it helped some folks out there. If you want to see some of the different kinds of content the site accepts, check out my Vocal archive. For those who want to keep up-to-date on my latest releases, simply follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support my work, go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click here to Buy Me A Coffee.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Try 100 Years, Instead of 1,000

So, we've all had a chance to sit down and watch Netflix's Original Bright by now, right? A modern-fantasy cop drama that deals with the first orc being allowed on the force in L.A., the casual racism that orcs have to deal with, and the bizarre, Tolkien-esque world that everyone now inhabits.

If you didn't see it, relax. They give away pretty much everything in the trailer.

One thing Bright does is try to offer some token justification for all the orc racism we see all over the place. In short, about 2,000 years ago, orcs sided with some mysterious Dark Lord, and had to be defeated by an alliance of all the other races (humans, elves, centaurs, fey, etc., etc.). And, according to the world's lore, orcs have done literally nothing else to earn that awful rep since those dark days.

Do you remember how long it took Germany to stop being thought of as the place that bred jackbooted genocide soldiers? Well, if you looked around recently, it's been less than a century before they left that reputation behind. Now Germany is thought of as respected leaders of a union of nations, and a strong, guiding force.

Roll that around in your head for a moment. There are still people alive today who remember the atrocities of the S.S., and who survived the Holocaust. Yet only a few generations later, the identity of that nation has been remade into a different image.

Are you seeing the disconnect, here?

I Blame Tolkien, Really

As with so many other genre-setting trends, I lay this one at the feet of the famed author and professor. Because, since Middle Earth dealt with time by thousands of years, it seems that every other fantasy setting chose to do the same thing. Not because it was what felt right for their stories, or because it was inherently more interesting, but because it was what worked in The Lord of The Rings, and that was the mold they happened to be using.

Thanks, Tolkien...
The problem that you run into is that a lot of stuff changes over 1,000 years. Empires crumble, cultures shift, language changes, and governments are entirely rebuilt. Hell, depending on your world's doings, the very shape of the landscape might change entirely.

If we're talking about lost civilizations, ancient artifacts, and forgotten treasures, then it's perfectly reasonable to talk in millennia. However, if you're talking about the perceptions of a group of people, the lifespan of a nation, or even how long a certain fighting style or weapon has been in use, it might be worth asking yourself whether you should narrow your timeline. Especially if your protagonists lead relatively human lifespans, indicating that generational turnover happens fairly fast by the standards of elves, dwarves, and other long-lived races.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Hopefully it got some wheels turning, and gave some folks a little insight. If you like my work, you can find more of it in my Vocal archive. To stay on top of all my latest releases, simply follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and/or Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to support me, head to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, there's a free book in it for you.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

You Can Lead A Horse To Water (But You Can't Make It Write)

I am not the most successful author out there (a glance at my tax returns will tell you as much), but I try to do my part to help other writers whenever I can. That goes double for fledgling writers, who have all the spark and creative verve one could ask for, but who have no idea how to turn it into paying work. They, understandably, are looking for answers to basic questions. Questions like, "what do I do with a novel when it's done?" or, "how much can I get for a short story?" Most of the time the big question they ask is, "how do I get started?"

First things first. Choose your weapon.
The difficulty I've run into is that, for every writer who is completely serious about making that leap to the professional realm, I run into five who really aren't. This isn't to say they're bad writers, or that they can't produce great work. However, if someone doesn't have the bit between their teeth, there is nothing you can say or do to put it there.

You Can't Light Someone Else's Fire

To be clear, being a writer and being an author require two very different sets of skills. If you just want to be a writer, then you have total freedom. You can write what you want, when you want, and however much or little you want. And you don't have to please anyone but yourself. If you want to go pro, though, then suddenly you are no longer the one calling all the shots. Now you have to produce on a regular schedule, you have to keep the content coming, and you have to ask how well the work you're producing is going to play with the audience you're trying to find.

And if they don't like it, then you are the one who has to change what you're doing.

Deadlines don't care how much NyQuil you're on, either.
There are a lot of folks out there who really dig the writing part. The process is satisfying, they enjoy the flex of the creative muscles, and they like the idea of being able to get paid for doing something that brings them that kind of pleasure. However, they don't adjust to the change in skill set required to make money as a writer. Everything, from hitting a deadline, to producing every day, to self-promotion, marketing, and brand awareness just isn't something they want to be a part of. And, for some of them, they get so frustrated by that whole apparatus that they just don't work on any of their projects at all.

And you know what? That's fine.

Why is it fine? Because if someone else isn't willing to roll up their sleeves and put the pedal to the metal, that is not your problem. You can sit in the passenger seat and give them all the driving advice in the work, but they are the ones who have to start the car, and head out onto the road you're directing them to.

So the next time you lead someone to water, just leave it at that. Don't beg them to drink, don't get them a cup, and for the love of all things holy do not try to push them in if they don't want to go. Because sure, you can get invested in someone else's success if you're trying to help them out. But you are trying to offer a hand up, not carry them up the whole damn mountain. If they won't climb on their own, then shrug your shoulders, and get back to your own hike.

If they want it badly enough, they'll meet you at the top.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing. If there are any other frustrated attempted mentors out there, pop into the comments and share some of your experiences. If you like what I'm throwing down, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Or, if you'd like to help me keep doing what I'm doing, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron, or Buy Me A Coffee. Either way, there's a free book in it for you as thanks!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Don't Put The Whole World On The Chopping Block

Think about the last time you were reading a book, and just as the third act really got going it was revealed that the villain's actions are going to destroy the entire world if they aren't stopped. Maybe it will actually destroy the whole planet, or maybe it will just result in the total collapse of all things that make life worth living in that world (the "but what if Sauron wins?" scenario), but the point is that the protagonist, everyone they know, and everyone they care for will be dead (or worse) if they don't succeed in their chosen course of action.

Can you remember a time where you were more bored?

After all, who would smash up that pristine real estate?
It seems counter-intuitive, but stay with me on this one. The idea behind raising the stakes is to ratchet up the tension in your story. You want your audience to be unable to look away while they contemplate everything that's riding on the protagonist's shoulders. Which is why if there's a bank robbery, they take hostages. It's why our love interest always gets a new partner just as our lead is working up the guts to say how they feel. You get the idea.

The problem with ending the world is that it's too big to contemplate, and thus it loses its impact.

That probably doesn't make much sense, but think of it this way. If someone offered you $10,000 to do something shady, that would be a sum of money most of us could understand in concrete terms. You may not have had that much money all at once before, but you know what you could buy with it, and about how far it would get you. Now say someone was going to pay you $10 million. Unless you move in some very specific circles, you don't have any idea what that's actually like. The sum might as well be $100 million, or $100 billion, because the numbers would have the same meaning to you. Because they got too big for you to have a concrete sense of what it all really means.

That's the reason why people who are dirt poor that win the lottery are back to being dirt poor in a handful of years, and it's the reason why threatening to blow up the entire world has no impact. The stakes are big, but we cannot honestly get a sense of them because they're too big.

Make It Smaller, And More Intimate

The key to making your stakes feel bigger is to give the audience something concrete. Something our mammalian brain can comprehend, and actually be shocked by. It's not a coincidence that in James Bond-style stories the villain always captures Bond's most recent love interest. Because sure, we get that every agent in the secret list will be compromised if Bond fails, but by putting this other character in the villain's clutches we've made things personal. Our audience has seen the budding romance, and in the books (as opposed to the movies) we know that if she dies, then a part of what makes Bond a person will die with her.

That isn't to say you can't make the stakes bigger; you just have to stop before it gets to that too-big moment. For instance, you could take what was a hunt between a detective and a terrorist cell, and turn it into a gas attack that could kill an entire neighborhood. Maybe even wipe out a small city. You could also take a cult that had threatened a region, and make their victory something that would allow them to overthrow an entire government. Will this effect the rest of the world? Absolutely. Will our protagonist die? Most likely. But there will be events that happen after their failure, and the fact that someone else could pick up the ball that they dropped makes the stakes feel more concrete.

I'll let Trope Talk hammer the point home.

So, to wrap up, there's nothing wrong with raising your stakes. And, if there are multiple worlds in your story, you could even pick off one or two of them as a consequence of failure. However, it's important not to go over that line if you want to keep your audience from losing their firm understanding of what's at risk. Because when you threaten to end it all if your protagonist fails, that almost guarantees their success. Especially if  you're planning out a series. You can't blow up the world if there are six books after this one, and that's not a statement you can walk back once you've said it out loud.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing piece. Hopefully it was helpful, and it got the wheels turning in your heads. If you'd like to see more of my work, consider checking out my Vocal archive. To keep up on all my latest updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support me, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Or just Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, there's a free book in it for you as thanks for your help.