Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Know Who You're Selling Your Book To (Before You Start Writing It)

Most people think they have a pretty good grasp of the writing process. You come up with an idea for a book, and you go through whatever pre-planning you need for your plot. Once you're ready, you pump out a first draft. You let it cool, then go back over it for a second, third, and maybe even a fourth draft depending on your preferences and style. Then you hand it over to your beta readers, and you have them read it over for mistakes you missed, plot holes, spelling a character's name differently halfway through chapter six, what have you.

Then, when you finally have a complete manuscript, you engage phase two... finding somewhere to sell the damn thing!

Got a minute to listen to my pitch?
If you're one of those writers who puts off the marketing aspect entirely so you can focus on your writing, then you might want to pick your head out of the sand for a moment. Because you should already know where you're selling your book before you so much as put the first word on the first page of your first draft.

But You Can't Sell A Book Until It's Written!

Right you are bold, italicized text! However, I am not saying that authors should be pitching their books to publishers when they don't have the manuscript ready to go. That sort of behavior is utter folly. However, it's a mistake to think of the writing process as two separate halves; creating the book and selling the book are just two sides of the same coin.

Which is why you can, and indeed should, be working on both of them simultaneously.

Sacagawea would approve.
As an example, while I was putting together the stories for New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam, I was also in talks with the few publishers I knew at the time to gauge who might be interested in the project once it was complete. And, in the event no one on my list was interested, I was combing through that year's copy of Writer's Market and compiling a list of alternative publishers to query. I already knew I was putting together an inter-connected collection of noir steampunk short stories, and I knew that I didn't want to publish it myself, so I made sure I had a list of potential homes that I could query as soon as it was ready.

That preparation paid off, though there was a hiccough or two in the road. One of the publishers I'd worked with before expressed interest almost as soon as I reached out to them, and even gave me a contract, but the project eventually fell through. Fortunately, because I'd already done the legwork, I had a list of other publishers to query with the project once that ship sank. It eventually wound up with JWK Publishing, who polished it up, and took care of the rest of the publishing process for me.

Could I have written the book, and then done all that work to get it placed with a publisher? Absolutely. However, much like writing, doing market research and submissions prep isn't something you should try to hammer out all in one go. Instead, it's more like going to the gym; if you do a little bit every day, and ease into it, then pretty soon you find you're really proficient. You know all the different options you've got, and all the different angles to work in order to get the results you want, and it's not likely to strain you.

This Goes Double For Self-Publishers!

I see you in the back of the room trying to sneak out. You're thinking that, because you're self-publishing, then you can work on your own schedule without bothering with the rest of this. After all, there's no reason to send emails, make calls, etc., until your book is done because you can't actually start the rest of the publishing process until your manuscript is ready.

Ah, but that's where you're wrong!
When you're your own publisher, it only makes sense to start the plates spinning as soon as possible so you have as little work left to do once the manuscript has reached completion. For instance, before you start writing you should make sure all your formatting is going to work for your platform of choice (because there's nothing worse than fixing 300 pages of using a Tab for an indent when you should have just set your preference in your Paragraph menu and let the technology handle the rest), and if possible you should have cover art picked out and ready to rock long before you reach the final chapter.

If you haven't checked out Looking For Cover Art For Your Book? Try Drive-Thru RPG!, then you will certainly thank me once you have.

Additionally, if you're confident in your ability to deliver your book on time, you can start the marketing machine early. If you run a blog, a YouTube channel, or a similar platform, give your audience updates on how the new book is coming to get them excited for the release. Reach out to reviewers, and get them lined up so they're ready to look over your advanced reviewer copies once they're ready to rock. Schedule interviews, guest blogs, etc. and stay on top of that schedule so that you can seamlessly transition from, "writing the new book," to, "selling the new book."

You Don't HAVE To Start Both At Once

Everyone's different, don't get me wrong. Some authors know by the end of chapter one how many words this book is going to be, and how long it's going to take them to hit that number. Other authors may meander a bit, needing some spare months to do re-writes and to backtrack from false starts and unnecessary plot points.

Writing books is tough, and it's not always a straight line to get from A to B.

We're working with a lot of variables, after all.
However, once you're sure that your project is going to be carried to term, it's a good idea to start preparing for its completion. Because just like having a baby, you want to have a sitter, a crib, some formula, etc. already waiting in the wings for the day it's finally here. Because arranging all of that while your newest creation squalls in your ear is a lot harder (not to mention more time consuming) to do from square one.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

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, August 14, 2019

Paintings on The Ceiling (Why Your World Building Needs Immediacy)

Picture your story as a grand cathedral. There are gleaming tiles, niches filled with statues, and candles that shed light and provide ambiance. Subtle signs are left out, and ushers direct your readers to their proper places, ensuring they can follow along with the ritual of your tale. The acoustics lets your narration reach everyone, drawing them along in the wake of your story.

Your world building, in this case, is all around your audience. It's the smell of the wood polish, the quality of the light, the murals on the walls. However, most people who show up are there for the sermon, the grand tour, and the story you're telling. They don't show up to admire the walls, because they're just there to set the scene.

Sure, this is fun... but is this what matters right now?
That is not to say that all those details are not important to your story. But the question you need to ask is whether those are the things you should be focusing on?

Because if the elements you're pointing your readers' attention at don't matter to the story, then they have no immediacy. There is almost no faster way to lose someone's attention than that.

Paintings on The Ceiling

Give you an example of what I'm talking about with a conversation I had with a fellow creator a while back. Names shan't be mentioned, nor details given, as they aren't necessary to understand the point being made.

This person had their world all figured out. They'd laid out the ages of history, which parts were known and which parts were unknown, and what sorts of relics had been left behind. They understood the world's magic system, as well as what level of technological development was in which part of the setting. It made for a fun mixed bag of sci-fantasy, which was fun and engaging, giving the reader a lovely world to romp around in.

And if they'd just stopped there, they would have been fine. But the ball wanted to keep rolling.

No, really... you can stop building now...
Because, you see, there was not just a world but an entire cosmos at play here! There was space travel, and alien empires, and extraterrestrial organizations of cybernetic peace keepers, and all sorts of other cosmic craziness. And there was nothing wrong with any of that. It was fun, it was engaging, and it was interesting.

But it did not enhance the story that was being told. All it did was drag the focus off the primary setting (this fun little rock with it's odd nations that were one part post-apocalyptic badlands and one part nouveau medieval kingdoms with wizards and shotguns in them), and add a bunch of additional stuff that was just going to be a distraction.

All that other stuff was the fresco on the ceiling of the church. Sure it might be beautiful, eye-catching, fun, and filled with all sorts of amazing details, but if it isn't actually a part of the sermon you're there to listen to, all it's doing is making you tune out, lose focus, and miss big swaths of what's being said.

The Need To Know Basis

When you're writing a story, you only give out information on a need-to-know basis. You, as the creator, need to know all the little nooks and crannies of your world. If it's pertinent to you to know that the sword your protagonist found in a tomb was forged in fires heated with the bones of dead warriors, and the carbon that introduced into the process is where the steel developed such unusual properties for an iron age style setting, then by all means put that in your notes. But don't take time out of your book to have someone explain the intricacies of chemical changes during the forging of a blade if it is in no way relevant to your story, and it does not move your plot forward in any way.

I love this documentary, too, but don't waste the reader's attention.
This applies to basically all your world building; it needs immediacy in order for it to be relevant, rather than a distraction.

Now, that doesn't mean you should just ignore things that aren't on the straight path of your plot. If a major city is the headquarters of the Wyvern Knights, mention that. Have them flying around, or put one of two of them in the background. But don't step away from the story you're actually telling to give us a history lesson on that order, and on wyverns in the region if it's not germane to the story you're telling. If your setting has two moons, you should probably mention that during a night time scene, but don't go on for an entire paragraph about what those moons' affects on the planet are, or the mythology surrounding them if it doesn't affect your main cast and what they're doing. If there's a wizard in your scene, and they're doing wizard shit, describe what we see rather than giving us a big damn aside about how magic works in this world, unless you have a novice character receiving a lecture about it, and that lecture somehow fits into the journey that character is taking.

Everything, and I do mean everything should be in the service of immersing your reader into the story you're telling. Let them drink in the details, but remember that those details are not your story. They're stage dressing. They're atmosphere. Let them be that, instead of putting them in center stage so you can talk about them. Because unless these facts are important for the readers to know to understand what's happening, all you're doing is distracting them.

And if you do need to explain to your readers what's happening, don't just have your narrator do it. Work it into dialogue, build scenes around the learning process, or provide enough clues to pick up context. We don't need to know the intricate process of becoming the Sanctum Dominatus of the library, but we can probably figure out by the way other people react to the title that this person is serious business, and that if they are displeased with you then you're in a lot of trouble.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!

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, August 8, 2019

Writing a Bestseller is Like Winning The Lottery (How Facing Facts Can Help You Beat The Odds)

Have you ever stopped to consider what the odds of writing a New York Times bestseller actually are? Well, in case you haven't looked it up yourself, both Forbes and Free Money Finance say that your odds are about 1 in 200. On the one hand, those odds are significantly better than winning the Powerball (about 1 in 238,000,000 in case you're thinking about buying a ticket), but those odds still aren't great. Especially if you've got to put in sweat, blood, creative juices, and years of hellish effort just to get that one ticket ready.

Come on, baby, papa needs a new laptop!
It's pretty easy to find that discouraging. However, if you can face the facts, and accept that you probably won't beat the odds, you'll actually find the game is a lot easier to play.

Ancient Greece, Acceptance, and Spinning The Wheel

In case you're not an etymology geek, the word happen comes from the Greek hap, which referred to chance and fortune. While today we think of happiness as something we have, as a commodity generated from inside ourselves, in the ancient Western world happiness was something that literally happened to you. It came and it went much like luck, ebbing and flowing with fate and favor. And while people still had bad times, the philosophy of the language was basically that you accepted what the gods and chance gave you, because there was nothing you could do about it one way or the other.

And you would be amazed at how freeing that can be in a professional sense.

Let me give you an example.
As a quick for instance, not long after I released my pulp fantasy novel Crier's Knife, I held an ebook giveaway for it. As promotional devices go, these giveaways are a smart bet. People like free stuff, it increases the traffic to your page, and you see a lot more action than you otherwise might. I moved 700 copies over a weekend, which at the level I work at was a pretty decent success. My previous giveaway, which was for my steampunk noir collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam barely hit 500 copies, so I was making clear progress.

Was I involved in that process? Absolutely. I was the one who decided when to host the giveaway, I was the one who made the social media posts, and I was the one who made sure the book was ready for prime time, so to speak. I kept the comments going on the forums, and I was the one who drew as much attention to it as I possibly could. At the end of the day, though, the downloads were only partially determined by my efforts; mostly, they were determined by raw chance.

Every part of this process was affected by so many factors that were outside of my control. Facebook and Reddit's group algorithms decided who saw my posts, and more importantly who didn't see them. I also had no control over the reaction people had to my post. If they were in a good mood, or a bad one. If they decided to download my book since they liked free stuff, or if they down-voted my post because they didn't like something about my description. I had no control over who shared the link with other people, who actually read the book once they downloaded it, and of the people that did read it who left a review.

I was tossing a message in a bottle out into the ocean, and hoping against hope that a YouTube influencer with millions of fans found it, then told all their followers to go buy a copy. That didn't happen, but at the same time there was no guarantee that it would. No magic assurance that my book would become a success if I just tweaked these words in the description, or posted it on this platform as opposed to another one. There is no magic formula to bring a stampede of people with their dollars held out for more of your story.

And the sooner you accept that, the easier it will be to keep trying to make that very thing happen.

You've Got Enough of The Burden as It Is

Don't misunderstand me, here; this is your job, and you are a big part of what goes into it. You're the one who writes the book, helps with the promotion, and who is the face of your brand. You're the one turning up at shows, making your pitch, and getting people interesting. You are, in other words, the one who is buying the ticket.

You simply have no guarantee that the ticket you buy is going to be a winner.

You can, however, stack the odds in your favor.
I said this back in If You Write One Story It May Be Bad. Write A Hundred, And The Odds Are In Your Favor, but it bears repeating. The more you create, the more your put out, and the louder your signal gets, the better the odds you have of people actually discovering you. Much like how buying one ticket might only have a small chance of winning big, but if you buy a few hundred, or a few thousand, well, the odds are looking better all the time.

Because if you put out one book, one article, one YouTube video, etc., your odds of going viral overnight are pretty slim unless you already have a massive fan base of people interested in your work, or you have a gigantic budget to pay for the advertising machine it would take to acquire all those eyes. However, little successes add up over time, and every person you win over as a fan is one more snowflake to stack on your mountain. You pile them up slowly, and eventually there are enough of them to cause an honest-to-goodness avalanche.

Sure, there are some people who buy one lottery ticket as a goof, and win millions of dollars by sheer happenstance. Just like there are people whose books just happened to be in the right genre, or who told just the right story at the right time to get everyone's attention. There's no rhyme or reason to it, because it happens to good books and bad, to books that are heavily promoted, and indie darlings no one has ever heard of.

But don't you worry about that. Because whether the odds are with you, or against you, doesn't matter. Because sometimes your luck will be good, and sometimes it will be bad. But if you focus on telling good stories, on spreading the word, and on cultivating your little crop of readers, you'll get there eventually. Even better, you'll get there without "what-iffing" yourself inside out, wondering why other books got more attention, sold more copies, or got more likes than yours did.

Are there factors you can quantify? Sure there are. But they're only a tiny slice of the pie, and the sooner you learn to accept that luck is a huge part of whether you succeed or fail, the sooner you can get back to work without that huge weight of worry on your shoulders. Do your best, and let the rest take care of itself, because you cannot force fortune to turn your way.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

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!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

An Examination of The Chivalric Hero

I've been on something of a character archetype bender of late round these parts. I started with an examination of classic anti-heroes, and then moved onto the barbarian hero, but there's one more archetype that I think is worth examining. One that I think we're all familiar with, even if we know them by other names.

The Chivalric Hero.

My strength is as the strength of ten, for my heart is pure.
While we often ignore or ridicule Chivalric Heroes in the modern-day, there's a lot we could learn from them by reading between the lines. Both in terms of understanding what makes their stories work, and what makes these heroes appealing in their own, unique ways.

Classic Heroes, and The Age of Chivalry

I've talked about this in the previous installments of my explorations into heroes, but just so no one has to backtrack and we're all on the same page, a Classic Hero is not just the story's protagonist. The term refers to certain traits that were shared by characters who fulfilled the role of hero within the story in antiquity.

These traits include, but are not limited to:

- Unique Birth: The children of kings and gods, Classic Heroes are special from day one.
- Surety of Action: Classic Heroes did not doubt themselves, and they acted quickly.
- Lack of Flaws: Classic Heroes often lacked flaws, or simply had a single, Tragic flaw.
- Were Attractive: Whether charmers or not, Classic Heroes exterior beauty reflected their power.

And so on, and so forth.

So where does chivalry come into this?
As time went on, and we entered the Romantic period (that is to say, stories written in common language, which also happened to feature knights, ladies, courtly love, and other hallmarks that grew into today's idea of the romance genre), we developed the Chivalric Hero. Characters like Lancelot and Arthur, Gawain and Galahad, as well as historical figures like Charlemagne and Alexander the Great were fitted into this mold when their stories were written around the heyday of John Milton.

While there is a lot of overlap between the Chivalric Hero and the Classic Hero, there is one notable difference right off the bat. The Classic Hero (characters like Achilles or Cu Chulainn, for example) fought almost exclusively for themselves. While they could be claimed by their nation or their people after death, in life their deeds and struggles belonged only to them. Chivalric Heroes, by contrast, fought for something higher than themselves. They fought for a lord, they fought for a code, and in many cases they fought for the idea of a nation, or for a god.

That difference in cause is, in some ways, one of the most significant things about the Chivalric Hero. It also explains where they draw their power from, and why the challenges in their stories are often of a baser, and more inner-directed variety.

You Need To Build Up Your Power (And You Can Lose It)

One of the most obvious aspects of many Classic Heroes, as well as the Barbarian Hero archetype, is their raw physicality. From Conan, to Tarzan, to Enkidu, these characters draw their strength from within. Their bodies and their skills are the wellspring of their ability to affect the story, and it is through them that they triumph over those who stand in their way.

For Chivalric Heroes, though, that often isn't the case.

A vow, inside a steel shell, is strength eternal.
Chivalric Heroes are often powered by external forces that are dependent on them performing certain tasks, or avoiding certain temptations. Dedication to a code, subservience to a king, or a willingness to keep oneself pure even through great hardship, are all common themes of these characters. And it is their actions that builds layers of strength around them that helps turn them into heroes.

Heroism is not something that most Chivalric Heroes have simply by virtue of existing; it has to be prompted by something. The character has to dedicate themselves to the service of god, to their lord, or to the code. They draw symbols and protections to themselves as well, layering them on in order to gain strength from those things. And when those symbols break, it is as if a part of the Chivalric Hero has also broken.

As an example, a Chivalric Hero's sword snapping in a duel would be devastating to them, if that sword was part of the layers that built up their strength. In many cases it isn't just a tool, but rather an extension of the character. Whereas someone like Kull or Conan, infamous barbarian heroes that they are, would simply toss the broken weapon aside, and snatch up another from a fallen foe. For a Chivalric Hero, that moment of their steel breaking is often symbolic of failing a test of some sort, and of being rocked to their core.

The threat of losing their power if they make a false move is a central theme for many Chivalric Heroes. Even Marvel's Thor (at least in his early comic incarnations, and his first film), had to prove that he was worthy to wield his powers. If he became cruel, or ruthless, or gave into vanity, then his strength would desert him, and his hammer would refuse to be wielded. This is not dissimilar to how characters like Lancelot or Galahad were considered titans in battle as long as their hearts remained pure, and they upheld their vows and oaths. It's also why temptation tends to be a central theme to their stories, and how resisting it is the true act of a hero.

From Tristan and Isolde, to Lancelot and Guinevere, to one could argue Samson and Delilah, to Gawain and the Green Knight, the true test of a Chivalric Hero is rarely in how many foes they can fight, or how mighty their blows are. It's whether they can resist temptation to do what it is easy, what is pleasurable, or what is beneficial to themselves over what is right. And the point that those stories make is that it is your ability to endure these things without giving into them that underscores you as a hero.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!

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!