Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Understanding Cascade Sales/Views, and Why More Products Means Steadier Earnings

One of the most common pieces of advice I see from writers is that you should always work on a series, because it's a guaranteed income. While I don't agree with that wording (nothing is guaranteed in the world of entertainment), the nugget of truth they're trying to get at is sound. In short, if you write a series of books then you are getting your readers invested in a bigger project, and making them feel like they're obligated to buy the next one in order to see what happens to their favorite characters. However, you don't have to write a series in order to net yourself more readers; just by virtue of writing a book that a reader liked, they're going to want more from you.

When they go looking for it, that is what I call a cascade.

Once the rapids get them, they're all yours.

In short, whenever you release a new piece of content (whether it's a book, a blog, a video, etc.), you're tossing a rock into a pool. Whether the initial splash is big or small, it causes ripples. Those ripples represent the way the impact flows outwards, and how even a modest initial splash can still have meaningful repercussions down the line.

I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about.

So, for those who don't know, I write a gaming blog called Improved Initiative. Not all that long ago I put up a post titled The Non-Problem of Making Monks Fit Your Setting. Short version is that there were some people out there who had cognitive dissonance about mixing "Eastern" martial artists with "Western" fantasy, and thus they just banned these kinds of characters. I wrote the piece pointing out how it's really not all that much of a stretch to include multiple kinds of fantasy in a single, collaborative project, and gave some examples of how you could make it work. As long as everyone follows the rules, you should be fine. I'd also written an older article, 5 Tips For Playing Better Monks, which I linked in that post, since I was talking about monks and such.

Apparently this was a sore spot in the gaming community, with a lot of people agreeing with my points, and an equal number of people vehemently disagreeing that you could ever have more than one strain of fantasy active in a given game. That led to some rather spirited debate in the comments, but it also led to a lot of people sharing the article around. While it snarfed up about 10,000 views in its original release run (not bad for one of my gaming articles), the advice article about playing better monks also got a thousand reads and change out of the deal. Which meant that, in addition to how well the actual post did, I got another couple of bucks to put in my pocket as a related but separate post of mine also caught some of those ripples.

That is, essentially, how a cascade works.

Keep The Cascade in Mind

Whether we're talking about book sales, article views, blog reads, you can get a cascade out of nearly anything. And often times it's the things you don't expect that yield some of the biggest results.

Which is why you need to always look at the impact something could have, and make sure you set up your marketing in such a way that you get the biggest possible splash onto your already existing content.

Or that the new fire re-ignites old ashes, if you like that metaphor better?
For example, when I wrote an article about Bartitsu, which is basically Victorian-era MMA, I made sure that I linked an article about Glima, which is Viking-style wrestling, just in case it got popular with the fight crowd. I always make sure to link back to my archives when I write new articles, making sure I can direct the flow of interested eyeballs to go read older pieces in a particular category. And when I come out with a new book, I make sure to mention My Amazon Author Page so that interested readers can see the whole spectrum, instead of just the latest installment.

Any given cascade might be a one-time runoff... but it might not be. There's always going to be a few readers out there who don't just read one article, watch one video, or buy one book. They're the ones who bookmark your site, who favorite your channel, and who add your work to their wish list. Those people were just curious readers when they clicked your initial link, but now they're budding fans.

Once you get those readers going deep down the rabbit hole, they're yours. But you need to make sure you gave them more than just one thing to look at. Because some readers will just walk away after satisfying their initial curiosity... but those who want more are going to happily dig through your archives, pick up older works, and just have a merry time spiking your views and sale counts.

As long as you left them a signpost for where to go next, that is.

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, July 17, 2019

What Makes A Barbarian Hero?

A few weeks back I talked about what makes an anti-hero in Getting Back to Basics When it Comes to Anti-Heroes. So I thought I'd continue examining the archetypes and styles of our stories this week, and delve into one of my personal favorites... the Barbarian Hero!

Things are about the get ripped in here.

Classic Heroes (Through The Lens of The Barbarian)

As I said when we were talking about anti-heroes, the first thing you need to do is to establish the traits and qualities of your Classic Hero. Not to beat a dead horse, but some of the traits you run into included:

- Prowess: Classical heroes were good at things (typically fighting, but other stuff, too).

- Surety: Classical heroes knew what to do, and usually wasted no time doing it.

- Looks: Classical heroes were usually handsome, and were prone to being admired.

- Cause: Heroes of antiquity fought for themselves, while heroes in the middle ages tended to fight for king, god, and other rulers. The difference between Hector and Lancelot, in this one.

- Flawless: Classical heroes had either no flaws, or their single, Tragic Flaw. Sometimes physical, sometimes more metaphorical.

- Special Bloodline: Whether it was from gods or kings, heroes were born special more often than not.

While there was some variation from story to story and culture to culture, this was the typical mold for where heroic characters fit. And from Achilles to Aragorn, this mold is very much a part of our modern storytelling toolbox.

So where do the barbarians come in?
The Barbarian Hero has always been a part of our stories, our legends, and our tales; he didn't just show up a century or so ago under the pen of Robert E. Howard. From ancient myths that described characters like Enkidu the beast man, to Cu Chulainn and his legendary riastrad, and into the modern day with characters like Kull the Conqueror, Tarzan, and the Forgotten Realms' own Wulfgar, the barbarian hero has always been with us.

But what makes the Barbarian Hero different from classical heroes?

The first thing a Barbarian Hero requires is an uncivilized aspect. Whether it's someone from civilization being raised in the wilds like the Earl of Greystoke, or a character who was born and bred in the wilds of the world like Conan, that lack of a civilization is essential to these characters. It should be noted, also, that some characters are merely treated as throwbacks; uncivilized people born into civilized times. Often it's this inherent lack of civilization that acts as the source of the character's power in some way, shape, or form (the savage furies of the north, the rippling thews of the southern jungles, etc.).

Beyond that uncivilized aspect, though, the Barbarian Hero is a creature of both raw physicality, and unstoppable willpower. Many of them are great in stature, as it represents they are different than most men, and even those who are of an average size have a strength far greater than those around them (you see this in The Jungle Book 2, when Mowgli is far stronger than average men because he was raised by wild beasts). Barbarian Heroes also tend to be stronger-willed than average characters, and despite being seen as uncivilized brutes by many, they usually possess a wide variety of skills and experiences, as well as a firm grasp of logic and reason.

One of the final aspects of the Barbarian Hero is that they are often (but not always) positioned opposite their nemesis of the Sorcerer. For while a Barbarian Hero is a rampantly physical character, their greatest opponents are those who use trickery and magic to confound or challenge that strength. In many of these matches it is the Barbarian Hero's sheer force of will, as well as their cat-like reflexes, that allow them to win the day.

This mixing of the heroic with the savage, and keeping many aspects we recognize while mixing them with ones we do not, tends to create interesting characters. And while it is a mold that has waxed and waned over the years, it is not one that has ever really gone away.

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction?

One of the odder things about the barbarian hero, as an idea, is that there's some truth to it. According to TV Tropes, older societies often dealt with a slew of problems that could be directly attributed to the problems of civilization. From disease running rampant, to difficulties with inbreeding, to the issue of feeding a large number of people in one location, you often saw weakness that wasn't present in more nomadic, less-developed societies.

That was probably part of where this archetype came from in the first place... because sometimes our actual history influences the stories we tell in some truly bizarre ways.

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, July 10, 2019

Use Storytelling in Your Marketing (Not Just in Your Product)

If you've ever been to a showing at an art gallery, then you probably know it isn't the art that people buy. Or not just the art, at any rate. It's the story behind the painting, the sculpture, the carvings that they take home with them. The tale of how the artist was inspired by an insane fever dream of a demon trying to devour them, or how the sculptor wanted to honor all of the men who set good examples for how he should comport himself. Those are the things that get people's attention, and which set fire to their imaginations. These stories lend importance to the art, and they act as a bridge between someone admiring it from afar, and becoming a part of its story.

And that is marketing at its finest.

A good story can put an extra zero or two on your price tag.
If you've been wondering how to get people to invest in your art, then you should remember that people don't just buy a product; they buy the story of that product.

What Story Are You Telling?

Every piece of art has a story behind it, and that includes your book. What inspired you to write it? What were some of the bizarre insights you gained while writing it? What is something that drove you to put this particular tale out there, and to add your voice to the world? Those are the things that can help you stand out, and which will get people's attention.

And since we're looking for examples, I'll start.
So, if you've seen my novel Crier's Knife, you probably know it's a fantasy novel based more in the pre-Tolkien era of Weird Tales, and similar fiction. When a member of the witch-bred Crier clan goes missing, the family matriarch summons Dirk Crier up the mountain and tasks him with bringing back his wayward cousin. Alive if he can, but with plenty of company on the dead man's cart if that isn't possible. Though a simple man with a simple, brutal skill, Dirk quickly finds himself surrounded by enemies on all sides, with a hinterlands cult led by a bizarre sorceress calling upon the forgotten magics of an ancient people.

And that's solid enough, as books go. But that's not the story of my book, if you see what I mean?

My book's story goes back to my grandfather. He was an avid reader himself, but his genres of choice were Westerns and detective stories. And because I would unfailingly read all the books I brought with on any family outing, he always had one or two laying around. So I developed a healthy appreciation for these stories, recognizing how they set the mold for other pieces that came later, and how many of the archetypes of the fiction still persist throughout other genres one would never associate with cowboys and outlaws.

When I got older, and told my grandfather I was going to be an author, he didn't laugh at the notion. And unlike a lot of other adults he didn't tell me to focus on college, a degree, and a career, because that sort of thing just isn't going to pay my bills. Instead, he took a sip of his coffee, nodded his head, and told me that I should write Westerns. There were a lot of older folks around who loved them, it was okay if the books were short, and the stories were never going to change with the times the way sci-fi or fantasy books tended to.

That always stuck with me, and when it came time to write a fantasy novel of my own I wanted to make it something he would recognize, and that he'd appreciate. So I drew on the setup of classic stories like The Sacketts, and made an unusual mountain clan to act as the backbone of the story. They had their Talents, and their strange ways, but at the end of the day I like to think my grandfather would have recognized Dirk Crier, and seen that in a little way he helped shape this story I'd made.

Even Being Story Adjacent is Sometimes Good Enough

I can hear a few folks out there right now protesting that they don't have a story like that backing their book. They just wrote it because they thought it was a cool story, and they wanted to make some money to pay their bills.

Nothing wrong with that. But if that's the case, then you need to at least put your work in a story adjacent position to get it some notice.

You're boring. Stand next to someone interesting, and catch the run-off.
Being story adjacent is, essentially, telling a related story in a way that draws attention to your work, but isn't directly promoting your work.

For example, I wrote a series of posts on gaming subreddits a while ago asking my fellow players who the worst paladins they'd ever played with were. I told a story about a terrible game of my own, and got the conversation started. While I was there, though, I worked in a mention that I had recently edited and re-homed my article 5 Tips For Playing Better Paladins, and that it got me thinking about some of the horrible examples out there in the gaming community.

Those posts led to a lot of upvotes, a lot of comments, and a lot of attention. And even though the link to my work was just sort of there in the text, unnecessary for those who were telling their own stories and leaving comments, it still received run-off attention because it was in proximity to the story I was telling. Not everyone clicked that link and read through it, but a lot of people did. Some people may have bookmarked the page, keeping it ready for when they need it. Others probably forwarded it to their friends, and shared it on social media. Point is, by telling a story that had only a tertiary connection to my artistic work, I drew attention to that work, and increased my earnings.

That is the power of storytelling.

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, July 3, 2019

Getting Back To Basics When It Comes To Anti-Heroes

When you hear the word anti-hero, what comes to your mind? Unshaven men with dirty knives stinking of cordite and blood? The hard-eyed look of a private eye as she pulls the trigger on someone, and walks away as their blood runs down the gutter? Maybe it's the vigilante, out on the streets, just waiting for somebody, anybody, to try him?

Ringing any bells?
However, what would you say if I told you the original characters who fell under this definition were more like Falstaff or Bilbo Baggins than they were Frank Castle? Because language is a funny thing, and sometimes getting back to the roots of a term or idea can give you some fresh perspective on it.

What Makes A Hero?

When you look at Classical heroes, you get a very particular set of attributes that you may not think of in terms of modern heroes. Classical heroes had to be of noble birth (or at least auspicious birth, since many were the children of gods), for example, and their struggles were always for themselves. Their deaths were always unusual or notable, and they typically had no flaws with the exception of their single, tragic flaw. This was the mold that we cast characters like Achilles, Odysseus, and other such O.G. heroes from, and it was the original standard.

Heard you were talking shit. Mind repeating that?
This mold changed over the years, and it was updated during the Medieval period. Heroes in these epics could be of common birth, though they were typically nobles in disguise, or without their knowledge as Reference points out. Their end goals, though, had to be noble ones. They often fought for their lord, or for a cause, rather than for themselves. Also, heroes during this period needed to suffer. The suffering was important, and it had to be physical in order to really fit the mold.

Tortured heroes were very much a literal thing during this period.

In both of these versions, heroes shared certain qualities. They were characters of purpose and action, they were capable, and they were typically dashing, clever, or both. They rarely had any real weaknesses to speak of, and they would typically boast the one, classic flaw that could lead to a tragic downfall (though even that wasn't present all the time). In many of the later cases, the heroes were possessed of powerful ideals, and they always did the right thing.

For modern touchstones, Superman is probably the best example of a character with capital-h Heroic qualities that most of us know.

So What's An Anti-Hero?

An anti-hero is, in essence, someone who is not a hero. That's literally it; someone who lacks the qualities of the hero, but who is still an important character in the narrative (and possibly the protagonist).

Kind of like that guy on the left, there.
Frodo is, in many ways, a Classical Anti-Hero. He's physically small, often doubts himself, has little to no capability in a fight, and struggles with himself at least as often as he does with the challenges of his journey. Which makes sense, after all, as his whole arc is an average guy in a big scary world that he can barely understand as an allegory for a WWI soldier's experience.

By contrast, though, Aragorn is a classical Hero, capital H. He's a noble in hiding, he's capable, he's handsome, he's sure of himself, and he takes decisive action when we follow him. He doesn't struggle with his decisions, by and large, and he inspires others to follow him.

To be clear, here, that doesn't make Aragorn a better character. It makes him a classical Hero. The two are not the same thing.

Changing Times and Language

While Classical Anti-Heroes have always been with us, it was shifts in literature that told the stories of more common (and more mortal) people that led to a strange shift in styles and tropes. Because when most people think of anti-heroes, they tend to think of their methods rather than their qualities as characters.

The idea that characters should be genuinely flawed, and that they should have to struggle, is commonplace in our fiction these days. In fact, if a Classical Hero shows up being effortlessly charming and sure of their actions, people often roll their eyes at them. Where's the struggle, we ask? Where is the grappling with who they are, and what they're doing?

Where is their lack of genuine, heroic quality that makes them more like the rest of us?

Look at them, all leaping tall buildings at a single bound, and shit...
It's interesting that the idea of something that is essentially antithetical to the nature of the hero has become a requirement of heroes in a lot of our modern fiction. That we have changed so much from our old stories that we are more interested in those who are weak, who are scared, or who are unsure than in those who are strong, brave, and certain.

More interested in those who are like regular people, than in the idealized figures who stand above them in many ways.

It's for this reason that I personally recommend referring to characters using specific terms like protagonist, rather than your hero, or getting bogged down in what kind of anti-hero your story is or isn't featuring. Because clarity of language (particularly in the design phase) can make for a much cleaner, clearer project.

Trust me on that one. After all, the character of my last novel is in many ways a classic Hero, though most would consider him an anti-hero by modern standards.

Seriously, go give it a read!
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!