Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Looking To Make Some Money Writing? Check Out Vocal+!

I like to keep you guys up-to-date on writing opportunities that I find, so I figured I'd let you know about one that I've recently decided to participate in. It's a site called Vocal+, and if you'd like the potential to earn some real cash then I would take a few moments to actually check it out!

How many reads was that? Of course, I'll get your deposit sent right out.

What's The Difference Between Vocal and Vocal+?

For those regular readers who've been here for a while, you might remember that a little over a year ago I wrote a post titled Want To Make Money Writing? Check Out Vocal! Vocal is a website that allows you to create content for any of the dozens of websites it runs, and it pays you based on the number of reads your traffic generates. Readers can tip you, and you earn roughly $3.80 for every 1k reads your work generates.

That's total, not per every individual article.

Not a bad start... what else ya got?
Vocal+ is the same site, but with a bit of a twist. While you can still join Vocal for free and create content that you get paid for, there's a new membership program you can opt into now. Vocal+ is fairly cheap at the moment ($50 for the first year of membership for founders at time of writing), and that membership gets you several perks that can really pay off if you're a serious contributor.

First is that it nearly doubles the rate of pay you receive on your views. For my two cents, that can pay for itself in the first month if you write as little as one article per week (and if something gets popular, it can let you capitalize on the explosion). In addition to that handy perk, though, Vocal+ members receive a bigger amount of their tips, and they have a lower payout threshold than traditional, free members do ($20 versus the site's standard $35).

Not a bad start, and there are several more features in the pipeline that members will get access to before everyone else does.

A Sign of Growth

While the membership package is being used as a way to bring new features online, boost visibility, and increase the amount of regularly contributing writers, it's also a positive sign of growth from Vocal. This kind of plan (which is going to increase to roughly $10 per month for membership after that initial introductory period) shows that Vocal is making a push to recruit more (and more serious) creators, and to grow its profile even larger than it's been already.

Which is why I'd recommend the folks out there looking to make some money give it a try.

It's working out okay for me so far!
I've been on the site for a year or so now (you can check out my Vocal archive if you're curious), and I noticed the change immediately when I signed up. I wasn't exactly paying rent with my Vocal traffic, but in the first few weeks I more than made up for my investment in my membership. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes over the next year or so, and I thought I'd boost the signal for any other writers out there looking to start making a little bank.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Chance Can Always Make Things Worse, But Never Better

Boiled down to the finest possible description, a novel is nothing more than a series of actions characters take, which we follow. In this way, a book is really just watching cause and effect play out. However, like a set of dominoes that have been laid out in an intricate pattern, these simple physics can be breathtaking when we see the sheer scale it's operating on.

Whoa! I did not see that coming.
Some actions and reactions in books are much more complicated than dominoes, of course, and there are always going to be elements that are outside of the protagonist's knowledge or scope. For instance, Indiana Jones didn't know Elsa was a Nazi in The Last Crusade, so when she was held at gunpoint he thought she was really in danger.

That element was planned as part of the story, and it was always going to come up. However, there are some incidents in a plot that act as pure chance. In Star Wars Han and Chewie run down the wrong corridor, and find themselves in the barracks instead of locating an escape hatch. Our protagonist in Drag Me To Hell doesn't check the envelope she picked up after it got jumbled with a bunch of other junk, and thus tries to break a curse with a coin instead of with the actual item she needed. The protagonists in The Strangers just happened to be home on the night a roving gang of psychopaths were looking for a home to invade. And so on, and so forth.

Big or small, these things all happened due to random chance, and they all put the protagonists in more danger than they were already in. That's just dandy! If you try to do it the other way around, though, then you run into problems.

Good Luck, Deus Ex Machina, and Cheapening Stakes

When bad luck makes things worse for our protagonist (the car won't start, their phone rings while the killer is looking for them, etc.), that raises the stakes and increases the tension. However, if random chance can make problems go away, or it eases the protagonist's path to victory, then that becomes a serious problem.

Well we weren't going to promote you, but since Larry randomly moved to Singapore, the job's yours.
The issue you run the risk of hitting is the much-maligned Deus Ex Machina. If you're not a fan of ancient Greek theater, it was when the gods would come down from Olympus, wave their hands, and fix the situation that had developed. Translating roughly to, "Machine of the Gods," or, "The Gods in the Machine," this trope refers to any seemingly random bit of chance getting a character out of an otherwise impossible situation. As TV Tropes puts it, they fall off a cliff, and a flying robot catches them. Or they get shot, and an innocent bystander with no experience miraculously gets the bullet out and stitches them closed.

To steal a phrase from Emma Coates, "Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating." Why is that? Well, in short, it has to do with the threat we've been presented with, how truthful the stakes are, and a reasonable expectation of danger.

Think of your traditional James Bond death trap scene. The hero is strapped into a machine that's going to kill him very shortly if he doesn't do something to get out of it. And how is that scene played out, nine times out of ten? With Bond doing something to enact his escape. Maybe he manages to strain, and with a colossal effort he gets a hand free, and picks the lock just before the buzzsaw hits him. Maybe he manages to pull one of Q's gadgets out of his breast pocket with his teeth, aiming the laser and disabling the device. Maybe he just punches the shark, swims down to the grate, and escapes before the great white can eat him.

Now ask yourself how you'd feel if James was saved not by his own efforts, skills, or decisive action, but because of random happenstance. What if a cup of coffee fell on the control panel, shorting out the mechanism because a nameless tech bumped his latte? Or a squirrel bit through a cable, and tripped a breaker? Chances are you'd feel cheated. Because rather than having to do something, or overcome some obstacle, the threat was just hand-waved away by an outside force, allowing our protagonist to continue on his merry way. That can make it feel like the threat was never really valid in the first place, since our hero had to do nothing to circumvent or overcome it, which meant it may as well have never been there at all.

Make Your Characters Sweat For It

If you put obstacles in your character's way, people want to see them knock it down. So give the people what they want, and make your characters sweat to earn their goals. The struggle validates the threat, and it provides the appropriate catharsis for the audience as they watch the character's actions.

Having chance remove the obstacle, though, pretty much just creates literary blue balls; all the build-up and none of the release, if you will.

And nobody wants to pay you money for that kind of treatment.
So, because you declare your story done, go back and ask where fortune might have been a little too generous to your protagonists. Because if you take Lady Luck out of the equation, you'll likely have a much more satisfying tale to tell.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Conventions Are An Investment (Treat Them As Such)

If you're a long-time reader, then you already know I advocate attending as many conventions as you can in order to make all the right connections as an author. In case you haven't seen Can Authors Advance Their Careers By Going To Conventions?, or my much more recent post 5 Tips For Surviving Conventions as an Author, there is something that I have not yet addressed regarding these events.

Which is how damn much they cost when you try to sell books at them.

Trust me, those little expenses add up.

A Glance at Some Numbers

The first thing you need to take into consideration when it comes to the costs of a convention is how much you're paying to vend at them. If you're at a small convention, or you're splitting the cost of a table with someone, you might only have to pay a little over $100 or so. Bigger shows, like Gen Con, can run you a couple hundred for an artist's table, or well over a thousand for an actual exhibitor's booth. It's important to read the fine print here, because while most conventions will give you a free badge to go along with your booth costs, not all of them will. So you need to make sure you aren't getting double-charged.

But wait, there's more!
In addition to the costs of your vending space and badge, you also need to ask how much you'll need to spend on travel expenses, how much you'll have to spend on a hotel room, how much inventory you'll need to have up-front, and what sort of food budget you've got for the weekend. You should also ask what costs are going into your table decorations, if you don't already have a banner, a tablecloth, book stands, etc. for the event.

Now, if you're extremely fortunate, you'll live near the convention you're attending, or you'll know someone who does and is willing to host you for a few days. Maybe the convention provides food for attendees, too, or you're on just enough panels to get your access to the green room so you can keep your food expenses down. However, even if you're managing a convention on the smallest possible expense account, it can be tough to make back your investment right away.

So, let's say I managed to get a table at a convention, and it only ran me about $110. I make roughly $5 of profit any time I sell a copy of my novel Crier's Knife, or my steampunk short story collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam, so I would need to sell about 22 copies of those books just to break even with the table costs. Which would be an investment of roughly $80-$90 in addition to the table costs, just to get the inventory to sell. If I split a table with someone, I'd only have to sell about 11 books to make up my costs, and everything past that point is gravy for me. Not only that, but I'd have someone to watch my stuff while I went on a soda run, or took a bathroom break.

Could I do that? It's possible. Especially if I bring my A-game, and manage to get people who stop at my table to spread the word.

Say I have to stay at the hotel for the weekend, though. Even if I get a good deal, or split room cost with someone else, that's probably another $100-$200, depending on how pricey the digs are. Now we're looking at moving between 40 and nearly 70 copies of my books to break even for the weekend. Impossible? No, not impossible... but we have entered the realm of the unlikely. Especially since we're talking about a smaller convention where you'll be lucky to have more than a thousand people or so wandering through the dealer's hall during the weekend.

Even if You Don't Break Even, It's Often Worth The Investment

When you start looking at the numbers it would take to make a convention weekend turn a profit for you as an author, it's easy to start getting discouraged. Especially if you would need to travel a fairly significant distance, stay at a hotel, etc. for your weekend. However, there is another side of the coin that's worth looking at when it comes to these events.

Because, in a very real sense, they're an investment in yourself, and your brand.

Gotta spend money to make money, yo!
Way back when, I wrote a post titled Most Authors Aren't Really "Making It", where I pointed out that a lot of professional creators simply do not have the gas in the tank to pay their bills with their art. They have day jobs, they lean on a spouse's income, or they have some other support structure so that if their latest book or collection arrives to a chorus of crickets they don't scramble to avoid filing bankruptcy.

Something I find out more and more is that authors who hold down tables at conventions are often in the same boat. Meaning that while they do sell books while they're doing a show, a lot of the time they barely break even, or find themselves running a deficit when it comes time to pack up on Sunday.

So why do they do it?

Well, the first is that showing up at a convention allows you to tap an audience you might not normally interact with. It lets you shake hands, exchange words, make your pitch, and if nothing else put a business card into those con-goers hands. It allows you to expand your reach, and to network in a bigger community than you might otherwise be able to market in. That is not an insignificant thing.

Secondly, books take on a life of their own once they're out of your hands and into someone else's. So let's take that initial scenario, and say I did manage to move 20 copies of my novel in a weekend at a convention. That's 20 new readers who know my face, who have signed copies of my book, and who are more likely to talk about both our interactions and that book. If they have friends who like to hear their convention stories, if they're part of a book club, or if they just have siblings or parents who are always looking for recommendations, my hat has now been thrown into that ring.

In short, when you make a splash at a convention, you are more likely to see ripples over the ensuing weeks and months as word of mouth spreads around, and people check out your book. While that kind of signal boost is impossible to predict, it can sometimes help you make up the cost of attending the convention in the first place. Additionally, every time you make a new fan out of a regular convention goer, they're going to be lined up at your booth when you have a new release out. That can have a serious impact on your cost/profit numbers, if you keep your hustle going throughout the weekend.

No Risk, No Reward

There's no such thing as a guarantee when it comes to selling books. You might go to an event that you're sure will net you huge sales, and it's a ghost town that weekend. Alternatively, you might set out at the farmer's market for a laugh, and sell every book you brought with you that day. There's just no way to be sure, so all you can do is hedge your bets and hope for the best when you roll the dice. That's one reason I recommend authors Sell Your Book in Unexpected Places (You Might Be Surprised at The Results).

However, it's also important to remember that any of the expenses you incur when it comes to a convention, or a similar business outing, are often tax deductible. So keep your receipts, and make sure you claim all the deductions you're entitled to. Because even if your book doesn't sell gangbusters, there's still a little cushion for you at the end of the year when the IRS cuts you a bit of a break.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Stop Hoarding Notebooks (Either Use Them, or Lose Them!)

There is one obsession that 99 percent of writers all share... we can never have enough notebooks. Whether it's the traditional moleskine (on sale at Amazon Warehouse, by the by), spiral notebooks, composition books, or just those yellow legal pads, they sing a siren's song that we cannot ignore. Even if we have literal boxes of fresh pages at home waiting to be filled, we just can't resist the desire for one more to add to the collection.

I'm here to tell you my friends, for our collective sanity, to stop. We are not dragons, and thus we are not allowed to have a hoard, even for such great treasures. If you've got notebooks that you're not using, then it's time to start brainstorming!

Seriously, though, buy online if you're going to get these. Barnes and Noble is ridiculous

A Notebook Goes A Lot Further Than You Think

I'll be the first to admit that I've had my own growing stash of notebooks for years. Hell, I still have salvaged day planners from back when I was in high school because they conveniently fit in a jacket pocket, which makes them ideal as an on-the-go idea repository. However, even when I was a legitimate journalist writing for my local paper, a good reporter's notebook could last for months of steady use. The same was true of my work pen.

I won't even get started on how many cups full of pens I have at my desk as I write this.

The numbers just didn't work out in my favor. Even if I only got a new notebook once or twice a year, it would take me a year or two to actually fill that notebook. So the supply rapidly outpaced the demand. Even giving away a few of my notebooks to friends and fellow writers wasn't enough to legitimately put a dent in my hoard.

I found a solution to the habit, though, and it's one of the most obvious solutions you've ever heard. In short, I picked up a fresh pad of paper, grabbed one of my several hundred pens, and started working on a new project. And then I kept working on it a little more every day. Then when it was finished, I started a new one.

Rinse, lather, repeat.

It's all about forming steady, regular habits.
I didn't use the pad to map out a new novel, or to hand-write a short story, though. That's not really my jam. What I did do, though, was map out the rough draft for A Baker's Dozen Pieces of Lore. I'd been writing supplements for Azukail Games for a while, and they took a lot more effort when I sat down at the keyboard and tried to come up with a dozen fresh names, descriptions, legends, etc. all at once. So instead of trying to do all the heavy lifting in a single go, I wrote out the basic list first over a week or so, then took that list and typed up a second draft. It made the whole process go a lot smoother, and I've since used it for gaming projects like 100 Random Taverns, 100 Random Mercenary Companies, and even 100 Get of Fenris Kinfolk for the Werewolf the Apocalypse fans out there.

It's taken me about a year so far, but simply dedicating one, regular project to be hand-written has done a lot to keep my burgeoning hoard under control. It's by no means reduced it down to the point that I need to go out and buy new notebooks just yet, but the corner of my room has floor space in it again. And as long as I keep working on gaming supplements like these (something neither I nor the companies I write for have an intention of stopping in the near future), then I should be able to stop the notebooks from engulfing me while I sit at my desk.

That's all it takes, really. If you love the feeling of a pen scrawling across paper, then all you need to do to keep your collection from getting too big is to sit down once a day (or even just a few times a week), and work on a dedicated project. Maybe you write a few poems, maybe you sketch out the skeleton of the next chapter in your novel, or maybe you jot down the names and backstories of ten or so characters you're going to include in your next Dungeons and Dragons game. Maybe you write the next script for a YouTube show, which is what I do for episodes of Dungeon Keeper Radio, for those who want something new and nerdy to go listen to.

The key is that you need to stay consistent with it. And, in the end, be honest with yourself. If you just like collecting notebooks, but you're never going to use them, make a friend of yours happy by giving them a work present.

There is no faster way to a writer's heart. You can take that to the bank.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

If You're An Author, You Really Need An Affiliate Marketing Account

Making money as an author isn't easy. Whether you're a self-publishing pen monkey or someone who has a big publisher backing their release, it can sometimes feel like pure, blind, dumb luck is the only thing that decides how big your paycheck is in any given month. With that said, imagine if you got paid twice twice for every book you sold. How awesome would that be?

Well, you can... if you've got an affiliate account, that is.

Two for me, one for Amazon, two for me...
If you're a long-time reader then you might remember I talked about affiliate marketing forever and a day ago in my post How To Make Money On Your Blog With Affiliate Marketing. It's been a while since then, though, so I thought I'd update my advice with a few additional pointers I left out way back when.

What Is Affiliate Marketing, And How Does It Work?

The short version is that an affiliate marketer is kind of like a freelance salesperson. You go to a website like Amazon, Drive Thru RPG, Smashwords, etc., and then you apply for a position. If the company approves you, then you now have the ability to make special links that track which customers you brought to the site, and which make sure you earn a fee for your successful sales.

So, as a for instance, I might suggest that you go pick up a copy of my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife over on Amazon. If you clicked that link, and you bought a copy of my novel, then I'd get paid twice for that one transaction. Once for my royalties (which is a couple of bucks), and once for selling something through an affiliate link (about .20 or so for selling something that costs as much as my book does).

Help a brother out, will ya?
As an addition to your marketing strategy, this is a solid way to capitalize on your own new releases and to get a little more mileage out of your monthly earnings. I explained as much in my previous blog on the subject. However, there are a few other things that I didn't emphasize at the time that I feel I should hammer a bit more firmly on now.

You Just Have To Sell Something

When a customer clicks through one of your links to buy something, their traffic is digitally earmarked as being your doing. That means that any activity a customer has once they've got your mark on them still earns you credit... whether they bought the thing you were advertising, or something else entirely!

Wait a minute, how does THAT work?!
Let's use another example to illustrate this point. Say that a client wanted to get a copy of the short story collection From A Cat's View, because they're a fan of cats and thought the idea of a neo-noir story with a Maine Coon protagonist sounded like a hoot. Especially since that story was written by yours truly!

Now as long as that person clicked through my affiliate link, I get credit for anything they buy as long as my earmark lasts. So maybe they buy a copy of that book, or maybe they don't. But let's say that, after they clicked that link, they decide to make a few other purchases. That new video game that came out, for instance. Or that handy kitchen appliance they've had their eye on for a bit. Maybe they're just buying a bunch of books or ebooks today, and my link caught their attention. No matter how much or how little they get, I still get the credit for it.

As an example, when I put up the blog post Need Cheap Minis? SCS Has You Covered! my goal was to get people who play tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons to check out the low-cost miniature toys for use as map minis. Someone who clicked that link also bought a $600 wheelchair while they were on that trip, which meant I got a nice, fat credit for an item I wasn't even advertising!

You Get A Little Time To Make Your Sale, Too

The other thing to remember when you're an affiliate marketer is that you don't have to make your sale on that first click; companies let that earmark last on the account for a certain period of time. That way you still get credit for being the person who initially drove the traffic, even if the person who clicked had to wait until they had some spare money before they made their purchase.

How much time do you have?
The amount of time your traffic is good for varies by program. If you're an Amazon affiliate, for instance, you typically get 24 hours worth of credit; if your traffic hasn't made a purchase in that period of time, then you're out of luck and you'll need to get them to re-click your link somehow. The only exception to this is if they put something in their shopping cart for later, in which case you'll get several weeks of time while your customers decide whether or not to make that purchase. If you take One Bookshelf on the other hand (the company that owns Drive Thru RPG, Storyteller's Vault, DMs Guild, and many other sites) then your traffic marks are good for up to five days for people to make a purchase. That means you could post a link on Monday, and have someone make purchases on Friday and still get credit for them!

Planting Land Mines

The best way to make sure you nab as much affiliate credit as you can is, of course, to make sure you share your links in as many (appropriate) places as you can. You can easily fit them into your blogs, probably, and you can use them when you're doing social media coverage about your latest releases. But you should think bigger than that!

As an example, when you make posts boosting your fellow creator's signals (like I did with my post 5 Phenomenal Authors Whose Work You Should Check Out last year over on Improved Initiative), remember to include your affiliate links. This helps out other people, and gives you the chance for some earnings as well. If you have a game you like, or you come across something cool you want to share, tag it. Most importantly, if you've got a big backlog of articles and blog posts, go through and add in your affiliate links. Especially in the ones that get the most traffic.

Just bury these on the path, arm the firing pin, and book it!
I call this practice burying land mines, because that's the logic behind these affiliate links. When you create a mine field, you know that not every mine you put down there is going to get stepped on... but some of them will. The key is to identify the most likely places for traffic, and to put a big, fat link right in the middle of it so you can suck up as much traffic as possible. However, that doesn't mean you should ignore less-popular or niche content, either. They might not see as much traffic, but it takes maybe 45 seconds to create a link and put it in your text.

Toss it in there, and see what happens.

Most importantly, remember that affiliate links can be put anywhere. On a forum post, in a blog entry, on social media pages, tucked into the description pages of YouTube videos, and the list goes on and on. Spread your links around, and you'll notice your earnings increase. Maybe not enough to make up for not hitting bestseller status, but as the economists say, every little bit helps.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!