Wednesday, December 26, 2018

When You're An Author, Being Busy Isn't The Same As Being Successful

I've noticed something over the past few years; anytime I talk to someone who isn't a writer about all the projects I'm currently working on, they immediately think that I'm exaggerating how broke I am. After all, how could I possibly be broke if I'm actively writing a new novel, working on one client's game world, writing a new DM supplement every month for another client, maintaining two blogs, building an archive on Vocal, and ghostwriting blogs for a bevy of other customers? Especially when you look at all the new stuff I'm taking on in 2019, which I mentioned in my last post My Authorial Aspirations For The New Year?

There is a universal truth that I would like everyone to remember, writers and non-writers alike; just because a writer is busy, that doesn't mean they're making bank.

This is not a joke. The busier you are, often the LESS money you have!
How can that be? Well, I'm glad you asked.

What You Make Doesn't Necessarily Tie To What You Earn

Class is in session folks, so let me start with this truth; just because a writer writes something, that doesn't mean they're getting paid much (if anything) for the effort. Even if you think that thing they made is pretty bitching, or even if they're coming out with stuff faster than a panicked machine gunner with an itchy trigger finger, that rate of production doesn't mean they're raking in the cash. Often the faster one works, the more they are in need of a steady cash flow.

Let's take this blog, as well as my gaming blog Improved Initiative, as examples. I update this blog once a week, and the other twice a week. Both blogs are completely free to anyone who views them, and I spend several hours a week writing and promoting them... so what do I get out of that?

This is the part where we talk about numbers.
If you look around this page, you might notice there are ads on this blog. But it's more likely that you don't notice, because you can't see them. Most people who show up on my sites have Ad Block up, which means that my monthly ad revenue is only a couple of bucks. Even on months where I top 50,000 unique views, or more. I also have a Patreon page, and that is where most of my earnings from my blogs come from.

How much do I make there? Well it varies depending on how many people have chosen to pledge to me, but it tends to be in the $100 to $180 range every month. At present, it's a lot closer to $100 a month, since a bunch of my patrons scooted around this time last year when Patreon said it was going to start charging patrons service fees (something they quickly backtracked on when people left their platform), but my supporters never came back after that corporate debacle, which left me limping as a creator.

About half of all my writing projects are like that; the more popular you are, the more you make. My Vocal archive, which I mentioned earlier? It pays roughly 1 cent for every 3 reads an article gets. That's pretty great when I write an article that gets an ass-ton of views, like my piece It's Okay To Admit There Are Problems In Your Hobby which got 8k reads (which translated to roughly $35) in its first few days up. However, most pieces don't get those kinds of views, and all of them slack off after a time, earning pennies instead of dollars. It still adds up, but it is a bullish load of work just for an extra Jackson or two a month. The same thing happens with book sales, too. My sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife earns me a few dollars on every sale, for example, but I'm not exactly Neil Gaiman when it comes to my readership. I make a few sales a month, but thus far none of the books I get royalties from are burning up the charts.

But what about the other half of my writing? You know, the kind where a client pays me to write a piece (or pays me a certain per-word rate), and then I turn the work in? Surely that makes up for all the time and effort spent sweating on feast-or-famine projects like novels, blogs, pay-per-view articles, etc.?

That would be nice, wouldn't it?
The problem with being paid for writing work is mostly that the majority of clients you'll have will pay you when the work you gave them gets published, rather than when you hand it in. Sometimes that means your check will be in by the Friday after your article goes live on a given website. Other times you might not get a check until the anthology your short story was accepted for comes out; which is a six month waiting period. I've had clients hold onto articles I've written for a year or more before they finally published the piece, and sent me my check.

Don't get me wrong, there are some clients will pay you as soon as you hand your work in. They are far too few for me to pay my rent by depending on them, though, so I have to play the waiting game and hope for the best.

You Have To Play The Odds

Writing is a patchwork profession, and if you want to make sure you have enough stretches of earnings to cover your necessities, then it pays to stack the deck in your favor. That is why authors like me tend to be so goddamn busy all the time; the more things we produce, the better the chances are that enough of our earnings come home to roost before our bills come due.

Rent's due by the fifth, sweetie! Oh, you won't have it? Well, well, let me just get this eviction notice written up...
That is the reality a lot of us are dealing with. Even if we have hundreds of articles out there, dozens of books on the market, and clients who owe us several thousand dollars for the work we've completed, the machinery grinds slowly. The easiest way to avoid getting caught with your pants down is to write like demons are on your tail, and hope that you hit the lottery.

Because if I wrote a post that generated millions of views, or three dozen people all signed up to support me at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or something over on My Amazon Author Page became an overnight bestseller for no reason that I could pinpoint, do you know the first thing I would do? I would slow down. I'd take my time to plot out my blog posts for the week, rather than hammering them out in a post-Christmas caffeine haze. I'd up my daily word count on my novel so that I could put more (and more diverse) books onto the market in a fraction of the time I currently take. I would say no to project offers that came with minuscule price tags, and no guaranteed date of delivery on the invoice.

I might even take a day off. Something I haven't done without almost giving myself an anxiety attack in nearly five years.

So think about that, and remember that all of the creators whose work you love are running a race against the threshing machine of capitalism. So take a moment to like their posts, leave a review on the books they've written, share an article of theirs you like, and just generally do your part to help lighten the load.

Who knows? You might be the pebble that starts that avalanche of earnings they've been waiting for!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. If you want more from me, remember to check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my novel Crier's Knife, or my short story collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to support me, then Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron! Every little bit helps.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

My Authorial Aspirations For The New Year

As the year draws to a close, so many of us are looking toward 2019 and making promises. New year, new me, and you know the usual suspects on that list. I want to finally sign up for those classes, I want to get a better job, I want to get in shape and lose some weight, and so on, and so forth. By the by, if you haven't seen my How I Lost 40 Pounds By Eating More Taco Bell, I'd recommend checking it out if that's one of your goals.

I'm not typically one for resolutions, but I thought I'd take some time while the new year is just getting ready to hatch, and lay out some of my particular aspirations as an author. And if you're one of my readers, here's some stuff you should keep an eye out for.

I'm excited, how about you?

Aspiration #1: Writing The New Book

For folks who've been to My Amazon Author Page, you've likely noticed that the majority of the books on that page are anthologies that only feature a single short story by yours truly. Even my first book, New Avalon: Love And Loss in The City of Steam was a short story collection. However, in case you missed it, this year I released my first novel; a sword and sorcery tale titled Crier's Knife.

First couple of chapters are free!
I like writing novels, and so I've decided I'm going to keep at that a little longer. Rather than start on another Crier book right away, though, I'm instead going to start a new series. This book, tentatively titled Marked Territory, will showcase the Maine Coon enforcer Leo who made his debut in my short story "Stray Cat Strut" featured in the recently released From A Cat's View anthology. If you like gangland noir, and books where the entire cast is made up of animals, then this should be a lot of fun for you.

My outline is drying as we speak, and I'll be gearing up on that January 1st.

Aspiration #2: Reviews

As any author knows, reviews are the lifeblood of your work. Especially in today's Internet age, where a signal boost from the right person at the right time can make or break your year. The target number for any author is typically 50, because that's around the time Amazon starts helping to spread the word about your book by featuring you in searches and on other people's pages.

Seriously, if you like a book, tell people.
That's why, by the end of 2019, I would like to have 50 reviews on either Crier's Knife, or on New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam. At time of writing, the former has 4 reviews, and the latter has 12. That's not a bad start, but I think I can do better with a little bit of extra elbow grease. However, I know my limitations, and while 50 would be great, I'll consider it a success if I get either of them moved to between 30 and 35 reviews by this time next year.

Why am I focusing on reviews instead of on sales? Well, part of that is because reviews act as a kind of long-term investment. The other part is that sales come from a lot of different places, while reviews only come from one; you all, reading this right now.

So, if you can spare the time, help me out on this one, will you?

Aspiration #3: The Game

As anyone who's been to Improved Initiative knows, I write a lot of RPG-related material. Sometimes it's just world-building and fiction, sometimes it's supplements like what I featured in my Random Tables Courtesy of Azukail Games post, and sometimes it's complete adventures like False Valor, the first Critical Hit one-shot that came out earlier this year for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.

However, while I like working on existing games, I'd like to make something new. Something different. Something that players haven't gotten to taste before.

And, because it's me, there will be buckets of blood.
At the moment this project is just a concept and a pitch. What I can tell you is the game straddles that line between dark fantasy and horror, mixing in elements of cosmic terror with more traditional urban legends. It is my hope that, this year, I will take some concrete steps toward making that game a reality. And, with a little luck, I might be able to drop more details the next time I write one of these entries.

That's all for my Craft of Writing piece this time around. While it's a bit off-topic, it's important to write down what you intend to do, and to make it real. So what about the rest of you... what are you planning on doing this coming year?

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and feel free to head over to My Amazon Author Page. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And, lastly, if you'd like to give me a tip you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or become a patron by visiting The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Does Your Book Have A Trailer? Here's 5 Reasons It Should

In this day and age, we're all familiar with trailers. However, a lot of us forget that they aren't just for movies. From short infomercials about unbreakable pans, to sneak previews of plays, concerts, and festivals, it's possible to make a trailer for damn near anything. All you need to do is put together a video appetizer, and throw it out there to get people interested in what you're trying to sell.

As an example, thanks to Dungeon Keeper Radio, my novel Crier's Knife now has its very own book trailer!

If you have a book on the market, but you don't have a trailer for it yet, let me list some of the reasons why you should.

#1: Something Different

Everyone has a buy link for their book, or a link to a free preview of the first few chapters... but how many of them have a book trailer? Whether you go full-out with video production, or you stick to audio like I did, the point is that by changing up the formula you can catch people off-guard. So folks who might ignore a buy link, or just a picture of the cover, might click-through to see what a trailer is all about.

Once they've done that, you've got 'em.

#2: It's Good For Your Algorithm

As we all know, where your book turns up in search results is directly dependent on a search algorithm. However, while there are hundreds of factors that go into these digital number crunchers, one of those factors is how many sites link to your book. If your book trailer does absolutely nothing else, it can boost your signal and get you better results as long as you have it available online somewhere, and you make sure that buy link is front-and-center.

Of course, it helps if people are watching your trailer.

#3: People Pay Attention To Video

As technology has increased, more businesses than ever before are making use of video content. The reason is that, psychologically, people respond more to video than to any other form of communication. While images might capture someone's attention for a moment, video grabs them in a way that is much harder to ignore. By making video content, you're grabbing viewers hard, and giving them a pitch that will stay with them a lot longer than all but the catchiest of tag lines.

#4: More People Can Watch Them Than Ever Before

Accessibility is the name of the game, and the bigger your potential reach, the better your chances of finding new readers become. Given that huge swaths of the population have mobile devices where they will watch videos all day, it's quite likely that a trailer will capture their attention in ways that other, static ads never would. And as we all know, all it takes is getting someone to open that door for them to start eyeing your entire body of work... even if that trailer was only for your latest book.

#5: It's One More Thing For You To Talk About

The law of diminishing returns is never clearer than when it comes to you trying to drum up interest in your latest release. The first time you post about it, you'll get a small ocean of likes, shares, and most of your initial purchases. But the second time you post, you'll only get a fraction of that initial response. The third time you post, you're pretty much just down to your diehard fans.

However, whenever there is something new about your book (you were reviewed by someone in an online magazine, your were interviewed on a TV or radio show, etc.), that puts fresh life into your posts. You get more attention when you share fresh news than when you remind folks of something that's already happened, and a book trailer is just one more example of a fresh spin that can get a lot of eyes focused on your work.

Best of All, Getting a Trailer Isn't That Hard

Whether you have a YouTube or Vimeo channel already, or your trailer is being crafted by someone else, they tend to be relatively low-cost additions to your marketing plan. Especially if you have some basic editing skills, and you know where you can find royalty-free sound effects. Best of all, a trailer has the potential to earn you back what you spend on it several times over if it catches on and gets some real power behind it.

There are no guarantees when it comes to selling books, but as far as risky investments go, a book trailer is a pretty safe bet.

That's all for this Business of Writing post! Hopefully it helps some folks out there, and you enjoyed giving my book trailer a listen. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and be sure to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to support me, then you can leave me a one-time tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or you can become a regular patron at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. And, of course, if you'd like to get your hands on Crier's Knife, or any of my other books, just head over to My Amazon Author Page!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Avoid Back-Handed Inclusion in Your Book

Inclusion is one of those things that is becoming something of a buzzword in today's author circles. Everyone seems to be falling over each other to add it into their work, and to use it as an additional point in their favor when it comes time to move copies. The idea is pretty sound. If you have a more diverse cast, and you include elements like underrepresented ethnicities, cultures, sexualities, then you are both going to stand out from your competitors, and make your book more appealing to people who want to see that sort of thing.

In addition to, you know, trying to provide visibility for groups, communities, etc. who have traditionally been ignored/underserved in the past. If that sort of thing matters to you.

However, there is a trap that a lot of authors fall into when it comes to attempts to be inclusive. It's something that, after giving it a bit of thought, I'm calling back-handed inclusion.

Yes, Sharon, you have non-white characters. But they all appear to be drug-dealers and spousal abusers.
Think of your inclusion like lemons. The goal is to present them in an appealing, well-thought-out way that enhances your dish's overall flavor while giving it a broader appeal. However, back-handed inclusion is when you take the lemons, carefully cut them, then squirt them into the eyes of your target audience before acting mystified that they aren't impressed with your presentation.

A More Concrete Example

A back-handed compliment is when you say something that sounds nice on the surface, but which is rotten once you get under the skin. The traditional, "That dress doesn't make you look nearly so fat!" being one of the more common, barbed examples.

For something that applies to writing, I'll give you an example that concretely illustrates what I'm talking about.

Several years back I met the very talented Lauren Jankowski (author of several books you can find on her Amazon Author Page, and the muscle behind Asexual Artists). I was on a panel with her, and several of the points she made regarding asexuality and how it's treated in fiction got the wheels in my brain turning. A bit of free advice for all the folks out there; when you first start learning about a community you aren't part of and aren't familiar with, take your time. I guarantee the first idea out of your mouth is going to be stupid.

Mine sure as shit was.

Story time!
For those of you who haven't read The Big Bad II, or my story Little Gods, it follows an adventure starring Richard Blackheart, warlock-for-hire. Richard is a bad man, hands-down. He's violent, vindictive, brutish, and fairly amoral. However, I enjoyed writing stories about him, and I wanted to  add something to his concept in the event I published more stories about him.

My thought was to make him an asexual character.

Now, that thought was not a problem in-and-of-itself. As a part of his makeup, it could be a neutral characteristic. One might even argue that, from a marketing perspective, it makes the character more unique in comparison to similar villainous protagonists where toxic and aggressive sexuality is more the norm. However, the issue was that his sexuality was being used as a way to make him more alien to the audience, and to show him as lacking something fundamental that "normal" people would be able to identify with.

If you've ever sat and listened to someone who identifies as asexual, you'd know this attitude of, "there's something wrong with you/you haven't met the right one yet/all people want to do this," is one of the most common (and insulting) refrains they hear.

That is what back-handed inclusion is. It's when your gay male characters become flamboyant jokes, but you still want credit for being more diverse in your casting. It's when your villain is a scheming, long-nosed, greedy parody of Jewish bankers, and you can't figure out why people are mad at you for trying to be more inclusive. Or it's when you tout your strong female lead, but it seems like the book is really about the guy constantly standing next to her that makes all the important decisions, and saves the day in the end.

It is not that you tried to include these characters. It is that you included them poorly, carelessly, or without putting a lot of thought into them that makes an example back-handed inclusion. Which is, in reality, not really inclusion at all.

Better To Be Embarrassed During Editing Than After Publishing

Don't let the potential of screwing up put you off trying to be more inclusive in your work. We all make mistakes, and that goes double for when we're trying to do something we don't have a lot of practice with, or knowledge about. So while your heart might be in the right place, it's still possible that your execution leaves a lot to be desired.

But if you catch those mistakes during your plotting/planning phase, then you can refine them into genuine inclusion and diversity. And if you catch them during editing, you'll save yourself a lot of frustration once your audience gets a look at what you've made.

Hot tip: Exotic is a word used for spices, foods, and fabric... not people.
Do your research. Reach out to people from the communities you're writing about. Do your best to get everything right, and to keep an eye out for when you're saying, "Wow, you don't look nearly so fat in that dress." Because that slap in the face you're going to get won't hurt any less just because you didn't mean to be insulting.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing installment. Hopefully it got some wheels turning! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page where you can check out my books... like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to support my work you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron.