Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Getting Paid While Giving Away Free Books (It Can Be Done!)

Most authors I've met have done some kind of discount or giveaway on their work. People love a bargain, and there's no better way to get your book into someone's hands than just letting them go download one for a price anyone can afford. However, having done a few giveaways myself, there is no escaping the feeling of mild depression that settles in as you watch your numbers climb, and start mentally doing the math for all the royalties you could have earned if those free downloads had been paying customers instead.

700 downloads over two days... yeah, I was doing the math...
While I can't hand you a magic wand that gives you instant success, there is a bit of a trick you can tuck up your sleeve to make some money the next time you have a giveaway on one of your titles. What's even better is that you can do this for your own giveaways, your friends' giveaways, or just books by authors you like that you think more people should know about.

All You Need is an Affiliate Account

I talked about this back in If You're An Author, You Really Need An Affiliate Marketing Account, but I'll summarize it for all the folks who are just joining us. When you have an affiliate marketing account for a website like Amazon, it lets you create special links that tag traffic that comes through your shares. Then when people make a purchase, you get a portion of that sale because you're the one who drove that individual to the website. In short, if you sold something, the website you have your account with gives you a finder's fee for helping close the sale.

How does that help if they downloaded something for free?
What makes affiliate marketing so "sneaky" is that once you've tagged someone, it doesn't matter what they buy once they get on the site. So I could put out a link to buy my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, for example, and anyone who goes through that link to Amazon gets tagged with my information. But say they don't buy a copy of my book... instead, they decide to finally get that sweet pair of Doc Marten's boots they've been looking at. As long as they're earmarked as coming through one of my links, I still get the credit for that purchase.

No matter how big or how small the item someone buys is, as long as they got to the site through one of your links, you're the one who gets the credit for it. The difficult part is, of course, getting someone to click-through and start shopping.

That's where the free stuff comes in.

As an example of what I'm talking about, I recently wrote a review on my gaming blog titled Consent in Gaming (If You Haven't Downloaded This Book Yet, You Really Should). The post was a review of the recently released gaming supplement titled Consent in Gaming, which was free to download off of Drive Thru RPG. Even though the supplement itself was free, the link was still tagged with my affiliate ID. So if any of the thousands of people who read my review clicked-through to take a look at the supplement, or maybe to download a copy for themselves, I had myself locked in as the person who got them to walk in the door (so to speak). All they had to do was buy something else while they were on the site, and I'd get credit for that purchase.

10 Percent of The Time, It Works Every Time

The advantage of this strategy is that people love free stuff, and the bigger your giveaway gets, the more chances you have to nab some runoff earnings... even if you're giving away free stuff. Of course, the flip side of this is that there are going to be a lot of people who just show up for the free book, download it, then go about their day.

The thing to remember here is that if you just gave away a book the old-fashioned way, there was no chance you could turn a profit off that transaction unless someone read it, liked it, and came back for more. This way there's at least a chance that if you caught someone in the middle of a shopping spree that you could get yourself a new fan in addition to earning some credit for the gaming PC, video card, and motorized wheelchair they were also buying on that particular day.

And, as a closing note, I should state that affiliate earnings come from the website, not from the customers. You're not raising the price and skimming off of the customer; this is a finder's fee being paid to you by the business for increasing their sales. Just in case that wasn't crystal clear.

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, September 18, 2019

Character Appearance and Personality: Tips For Showing Instead of Telling

I try to talk a lot about inclusion here on my blog, firstly because I want to help people avoid making writing mistakes, and secondly because it's a smart move on your part to make sure you keep your potential audience as wide as possible. And though this is a topic I've touched on before in posts like How To Write A Strong Female Character, there are just certain mistakes that a lot of writers keep making when they try to bring characters onto the page when they don't share a lived experience with them.

But... what is she WEARING?
If you haven't read the guest post 5 Mistakes Male Authors Make When Writing Female Characters, I highly recommend you do so. It has invaluable information in it for a lot of us out there. Today, though, I want to focus on one of the mistakes this article mentioned that crops up a lot when it comes to female characters written by men in general, but it's a mistake that shows up a lot when the author has no experience to rely on when bringing a character across that I see a lot.

Using someone's appearance to imply their personality.

Books and Covers

As Savannah Cordova points out in the above article, this is an age-old trick used by men who have trouble writing women; they simply describe the character looking a certain way, and use that description to imply who she is as a person so save time and effort. Whether it's her wild mane of raven hair, or the glint of mischief in her eyes, or the defiant way she folds her arms; all of this is meant to convey who she is in an instant. This trick goes back at least as far as the pulps and short story magazines, where authors didn't have the page space to waste on big exposition or establishing shots, because they had plot to get to.

A specter in black, with a grim expression and a devil's fire in his eyes.
But if you stop and think about it, this trick is both really lazy, and sort of creepy. Most of us have literally been taught our entire lives not to judge people based on the way they look, and manipulating your audience to do that can come across as creepy. Especially when they catch you doing it, and get annoyed that your manipulation is so obvious.

Showing Is Facts In Action

A lot of writers who rely on this lazy trick defend it by saying they're showing the audience who someone is instead of telling them... but really, you're not. You're just pointing at an object at rest, and using description to lead the audience to a certain conclusion. That's just telling disguised as showing, and you're not doing yourself any favors. In fact, it's actually a lot easier to just dispense with the complicated subterfuge, and focus on really showing your audience who a character is.

All right, boys, show 'em we mean business!
You need your audience to judge your characters by their actions, instead of by their appearance. To that end, if you want to establish a character is a certain way, you need to show them acting that way to confirm that it's actually who they are. That way it's not just hearsay; we have evidence to back up our knowledge.

As an example, don't describe a woman's business attire and end it there; show how she conducts herself. Does she have a firm handshake and eye contact? Does she walk with confidence, overriding objections smoothly during negotiations? Is she aggressive, or stoic? If we see her later does she conduct herself the same way she does when she's at the office, or is the persona we've witnessed part of the face she wears for business? Or is the only thing that changes her choice of more sensible shoes and a leather jacket instead of a blazer?

The same is true for almost any aspect of a character. If you want to establish they're strong, show them lifting something heavy with ease. If you want to let us know they're a capable fighter, show them get into a scrape with someone. If you need the audience to know this character is smart, showing them doing something that requires them using their intelligence (playing chess is a favorite, as is hacking into computers, or talking about quantum physics before realizing no one else in the room can understand them).

What you should not do is just use inflammatory adjectives to get your point across; show your characters doing things, and present them as objectively as you can. A little flavor here and there is good for your prose, but make sure you're not using it in place of presenting your audience with facts to draw their conclusions from.

The Deductive Approach

There is an alternative approach to always showing your characters in action, but it's something that needs to be handled very carefully. Because you can sprinkle hints into a character's description to give your audience clues about who they are, and what they're like, but the key is that these hints need to be facts about the character, and the deductive implications of those facts.

It's elementary, really...
If you've ever read a Sherlock Holmes story, then you've seen how Conan Doyle laid this all out for the reader. Holmes takes the facts of a situation, and then deduces meaning from them. You don't have to get as intricate as the great detective, but you do need to follow the same kind of logic.

As an example, say you're meeting a character for the first time. He's dressed in an expensive suit and seems friendly, but what do the details about him in this scene say? Well, the college ring on his hand says West Point, so we can deduce where he went to school. His palm is calloused despite his expensive clothes, the pattern implying that he practices regularly with handguns. A Texan drawl tells us where he grew up, or at least where he's lived long enough to acquire an accent. The scent of cigars tells us he's a smoker, the particular odor saying they're mid-range in price, and the faintness implying it's not a regular indulgence.

Now, we haven't seen this character actually do anything, but each of these little clues has given us a bit of insight about who he might be behind the tie, and it fleshes him out. I talked about this over on my gaming blog in the entry Do Clothes Make The Adventurer, as well, if you're looking for more examples for how to imply a character's history through these little details. Generally speaking, though, you're looking for things like tattoos, cultural markings, voice tics, scars, and even tan lines, and providing context for the reader to help them draw the right conclusions. It takes work, and it's a tough habit to get used to, but it's a great deal less problematic than just using leading descriptions and hoping your audience goes along with the railroading.

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!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

In The Age of Audio, Why Don't You Have an Audio Book?

I'd like to start this post with a moment of real talk; I didn't listen to music until I was a teenager.

Now that is not to say I didn't know what music was, or that I'd never heard it before. I was raised with Disney classics the same way any kid was, and my parents listened to tunes on the radio while we were out driving. I had a few cassettes from a handful of singers that I would sometimes listen to while I did chores. However, I didn't actually know what the radio function on my tape deck was for until my age was measured in double digits, and although the massive cassette box I kept under my bed was full of tapes, about 90 percent of them were just audio books.

Read to your kids, people.
The story told around my family gatherings was that, from the time I was born, my dad would read me stories. Even while I was in the hospital, and I was there a long time since I was a preemie. Grimm stories, literary classics, penny dreadfuls, it was all the same to me. As I got older, I always wanted my family and my teachers to read to me. Even when I could read myself (something I apparently did pretty early), I never lost my love of listening to people tell me stories.

Then, when I started making friends in middle school and high school, I learned how absolutely weird that was. Nobody I knew purposefully listened to audio books. Most people knew what they were, and a few people had heard them on family trips or in English class, but no one had preferred readers for certain texts. And radio plays... well, that was something nobody else I knew growing up had ever heard of.

And it makes sense, when you think about it. Books on tape were sort of a niche thing, listened to primarily by old folks who missed the days of radio, traveling salesmen, and those who couldn't see to read a traditional book. Worse, these things were expensive. Even when you used volunteers, including people like Edmund Kemper, the Coed Killer (seriously), these things took a lot to produce. Time, energy, tape, distribution, and so on, and so forth. That meant that it was something you usually needed a big publisher backing you for if you wanted to get it done.

However, these days, you can get an Audible free trial and two audio books just for the asking over at Amazon. What a time to be alive, eh?

What The Hell Happened?

The Internet has changed everything, and that includes the way we create and consume content. You don't need to have an entire recording studio, a sound engineering degree, and access to dozens of special effect archives to make an engaging audio book anymore. Now all you need is a halfway decent mic (the Samson Go Mic Portable USB microphone is one I can personally recommend for a tool that gets the job done for under $40), a computer with some free recording software on it (Audacity can work wonders), an Internet connection, and a nice, quiet place to record in.

Mixing boards are fun, but definitely not required.
But once you've put in all the effort to finish the book, how do you get paid for it? Well, you could theoretically put it on a platform like YouTube, but as I said in Writers On YouTube? Prepare For An Uphill Battle, that is a lot easier said than done. And, of course, if someone can just listen to you read your book for free, then why would they bother buying a copy of it? While a free sample on a platform like YouTube can be a great way to whet your listeners' appetites, you need more than that.

That's where ACX comes in.

Your Destination For Audio Sales

While far from the only platform out there, ACX is one of the go-to places for people who want to get an audio version of their book out there to be listened to. Once you have an account you can either upload audio that you've recorded and cleaned up yourself, or you can put out a call for someone to record your book and enter into an agreement with a reader. This second one is more involved, as you have to listen to auditions, and you'll end up splitting your royalties with whoever you pick, but a good reader goes a long way in making sure you have a quality product when all is said and done.

You get what you pay for in this racket.
Once your audio book is recorded, you can put it up on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon, attaching it to your existing book and getting as many sales as you can manage.

It Really Is That Easy (If That's The Right Word)

Getting an audio book on the market is worlds easier than it once was. In fact, anyone with access to a computer and a mic can get it done, if they're willing to put in the time, energy, and to get over the learning curve to edit the audio and smooth it out. That doesn't make it easy, anymore than writing a good book is easier just because you can publish your novel online in this day and age. But it is one more roll of the dice you can take, and one more thing you can do to stay competitive.

After all, someone who loves to listen to audio books on their commute might be more than happy to give you a try because they like your reader. Then once you've got them hooked, they'll start working the way through the rest of your catalog. Happens every time.

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, September 4, 2019

Don't Worry About People Missing The Point (Because They Will)

The world of fiction is filled with great satires, as well as stories that make poignant arguments on social issues, morality (or the lack thereof), and the state of the world at the time. Books that act as take-downs (as well as send-ups) of political ideologies are a dime a dozen, and you've probably read at least that many in your lifetime so far.

And you know something? Good or bad, poignant or sloppy, subtle or obvious, there are people who missed the point when they read them. And even when you explain that point to them, they still just... don't get it.

Wait... what do you mean he's the bad guy? I don't get it!
That's going to happen. No matter how clever you are, or how clear you think you're being with your book, some people are going to misinterpret the subtext, the meaning, and the motivations of it. There is nothing you can do to stop it, so just accept that it's going to happen even if you spell it out in plain black and white.

Not Everyone Is Going To See Your Perspective

Communication is a difficult thing when text is the only tool you have to work with. Especially when you consider that, try as you might, you have a very specific set of experiences and frame of reference that goes into your work. Someone who doesn't share those aspects with you, or who has been conditioned to see certain aspects of a character, story, or situation as white when you're painting them as black, and vice versa, isn't going to walk away with the same message you laid down.

One of the more famous misreadings of a text comes from Alan Moore's comic (and the subsequent film) Watchmen. The graphic novel is a deconstruction that shows just how awful it would be to live in a world with real superheroes, and the sort of damage that life of unbalanced violence can do to a person as well as a culture. Atomic Junk Shop talked about this recently, and in it they mention how horrified Moore was to the American reaction to his cast.

Because, you see, the character we're supposed to empathize with is Dr. Manhattan. He has the power of a god, but rather than bringing him happiness, it's disconnecting him from the world around him. He's having a harder time seeing things from the simple, moral sidelines so many mortals occupy, and he can only view the world on a grander scale, or on such a microscopic one that it's beyond anyone else's comprehension. By contrast, Rorschach is the character who is meant to embody everything that is awful about what a real-life costumed vigilante would be like. He's a product of a horrifying upbringing, was regularly abused, has a skewed black-or-white vision of reality, lacks empathy, is a sexist, a fascist, and a serial killer. He can barely communicate, he has no hygiene, and he's left behind his actual life and identity entirely to become this thing. He exists as a brutal, awful ideal comprised of splintered bones and broken teeth in a world where might makes right is the whole of the law.

And that's the guy American readers could NOT get enough of!

Some of you don't seem to understand...
It didn't matter how awful Moore made Rorschach, just like it didn't matter how terrible Tyler Durden was, or how absolutely insane the actions of characters like the Punisher or Judge Dredd are. No matter how clearly they're coded as villains (or as characters who are broken, hurting, and violently dangerous as opposed to the sort of people you'd want to model your life choices after), there are readers who are going to see them not just as heroes, but as examples. Maybe that's a cultural difference, maybe it comes from a misreading of the subtext, or maybe it's because these readers just have a bizarrely different frame of reference from the writer, but they not only missed the intended point, but they picked up an entirely different point than the one being made.

The important thing to know is that, in the end, it's out of your control. Additionally, it may not even matter!

For The Last Time, It's NOT About Censorship!

In 6 Books Everyone (Including Your English Teacher) Got Wrong, it's pointed out that Fahrenheit 451 is not actually about censorship, according to the author himself. While it's easy to get that impression, given that it's literally about state-sponsored fire teams going building by building and blow torching books, Bradbury has gone on the record by stating clearly and explicitly that his book is about television, the dumbing down of the audience, and the shortening of people's attention spans.

Which, sure, you can see that. If you squint really hard, and tilt your head a bit.

The point, though, is that in the end it didn't matter what Bradbury's intended message was. The book became a condemnation of state-sponsored censorship, whether that was what he meant it to be about or not. Some people might argue that his vision should be respected as the creator, but communication is a two way street. If you make a statement, and there are alternative interpretations of that statement (good or bad), then the fact that you didn't intend them is irrelevant.

In other words, you can control what you said all you want. But what you cannot control is what the audience actually heard. And sometimes that's frustrating. Sometimes it leads to your book becoming a champion of a cause you hadn't intended, or getting latched onto by a group you'd really rather not have as fans. But that is, as they say, out of your hands.

And look at it this way... people still have to buy a copy and read it before they can misinterpret what you wrote.

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!