Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Use National Celebration Days (And Months) To Boost Your Book's Signal

As I've said time and time again, the thing you need in order to sell books isn't a perfect cover, a butt load of talent, or an amazing story no one has ever read before. Those things help, but what you need is buzz. Attention. An audience that is tuned-in, and interested in the product you're trying to sell them.

Managing that is by no means easy. However, one thing you can do is to tie your marketing efforts into a holiday, or observance. It makes for good synergy, and if you can perk someone's interest with a celebration they've never heard of before, then your book is going to be right next to it as a way for them to participate.

National Hot Springs Reading Day? Huh, I didn't even know that was a thing!

Promote The Day, Promote Your Book!

For a lot of us, this isn't exactly something new. After all, every October I always share around my  50 2-Sentence Horror Stories link around, along with reminding folks about collections like SNAFU: A Collection of Military Horror, as well as American Nightmare which have some of my work in them.

If you write romance, then you remind people about your releases around Valentine's Day. If your book is Christmas-themed (whether it's a steamy holiday love affair, or an end-of-year murder spree), then you make sure to crow about it when that time of year comes around. And so on, and so forth.

Is this the romance, or the murder? Get a copy to find out!
However, there are a lot of other celebrations going on throughout the year that you might want to check out. Not all of them will be for every author (though you can sometimes stretch and bend in order to fit your work under certain umbrellas), but some of the more interesting ones I've come across include:

- National Short Story Month: May is both National Short Story Month, and the month my birthday happens to fall in. It's why I always remind people that if they haven't grabbed a copy of New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam, and this year I'll mention The Rejects as well, it would be a great present for me, and for them.

- National Science Fiction Day: While unofficial, this day is on January 2, the birthday of famed writer Isaac Asimov. A solid day for anyone from cyberpunk to space opera to make a play for attention.

- National Poetry Month: April is National Poetry Month, and if you're having a tough time moving your books, this would be the time to get people to sit up and take notice!

- Romance Awareness Month: While not specifically book-themed, Romance Awareness Month is August. And if you feel you have a book that sets a good example for people to follow (or that provides a great escape) this is a solid time to let folks know. You might even go so far as to suggest a book exchange, and evenings spent together reading with your significant other for the month.

- Free Comic Book Day: May 2 every year, this one is usually only celebrated in comic book stores. Still, if you have superheroes in your book, or you actually put together a graphic novel, this would be a great time to boost your signal.

- Free RPG Day: Taking place in June every year, this one is great for folks who write roleplaying games, or whose books are Lit RPGs.

- International Fairy Day: June 24 every year is dedicated to celebrating these little creatures. And if you have fairies in your book, or just the fey in general, this would be a good time to let people know.

Don't Forget To Sweeten The Pot!

Whatever holiday or celebration you're using (and there are plenty I didn't list out), it's important to remember that just opens the door for you to make a pitch. It gets people's attention. However, it's a good idea to give them a little more. A reason to click-through, and to snatch a copy of your book right now.

Well, who could say no to that?
Perhaps the best thing to do is to pair a discount, or a giveaway, with an appropriate day/month. Because cheap/free books are always great, but if you're doing it to make an occasion, suddenly it feels like something a little extra special!

So keep an eye on your calendars, and ask what days would be ideal for a thematic offer. Because if you can hook them with one book, they'll come back for more. They always do.

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 as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

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, January 22, 2020

Sometimes Having Superpowers Sucks (And That Makes Characters More Relatable)

If you crack open a comic book, or switch on a superhero film, one of the first things you notice is that having superpowers looks awesome. Whether it's Superman's fight for truth and justice, Spider-Man desperately battling to save his city, or Captain America's ability to go all day and all night without so much as slowing down, the power fantasies on display are engaging, thrilling, and just downright fun.

Well, most of the time, anyway.
While there are some heroes whose powers create complications in their lives (the Hulk is the perfect example, but characters like the Thing, Dr. Manhattan, Deadpool, or the very obscure Mr. Bones are also on the list), those tend to be the exceptions rather than the rule. More often than not heroes (and even a lot of villains) tend to have powers that improve their lives... often in meaningful ways.

One thing you can do, though, is to introduce complications. A drawback or two to go with that power. So step back and ask how, exactly, your character's powers affect their personal lives? What potential issues and sensitivities do they create? How do they manage them? And how involved is that management?

And for those who are curious, I've been dwelling on this idea thanks to the short story "Hero's Wake" in my recently released book The Rejects. Also, if you'd like more examples of superheroes caught between a rock and a hard place with their powers, take a look at KM Herkes and her novel Rough Passages, where powers tend to manifest along with mid-life crises rather than puberty for once!

Wetting The Bed, and Power Drawbacks

The basic plot of "Hero's Wake" is that one of this world's best-known metahumans has passed away, and his friends and family are coming together at his funeral. No masks, no costumes, no code names, just people who knew him, and who are going to miss him. One of the younger members of the team he helped establish loses control of her emotions, and the grass all around her starts blooming as she cries, flowers and greenery rising up at an unnatural rate.

When our protagonist comforts her, she says not to worry about it. They've all had their share of bed-wetting incidents, especially at times like this.

Seriously, go get your copy already!
As we see the other guests, we start to notice they've all taken little precautions to help stay on the level throughout the evening. One speedster wears these high, chunky heels because it stops her from accidentally moving too fast. A pyrokinetic stays away from the alcohol table, because it interacts strangely with the mutations that give him his gift. A super soldier is constantly eating, because if he doesn't then his metabolism will have him starving in a few hours. And though our protagonist has lost her father, she's very careful about who she embraces. All it takes is a moment of lost control, and she could crush someone to death in her arms because she was seeking comfort.

On the one hand, that's a bit of a look behind the curtain when it comes to metahumans. It gives you a glimpse into their lives, and makes them seem more human, and less like an archetype in a set of spangly tights. On the other hand it can be a lot of work, and it establishes a very particular tone. Weighing those things is important, as this advice needs to be evaluated on a project-by-project basis.

This concept can extend out past comic books and their associated sci-fi settings into other genres, as well. For fantasy stories, do your elite warriors develop a dependence on their performance-enhancing mutagens, needing to keep a steady stream of them in their systems in order to fight at full strength? Does being a sorcerer mean you have to wear particular kinds of clothing to avoid setting your robes on fire because your body produces so much heat? Does too much use of your magic make you feverish, risking death? Are those with orc heritage prone to skin conditions, or scars that overcompensate, making them stronger but also unsightly?

Whenever you've got characters with unusual abilities, powers, or attributes, it's worth taking a moment and asking what the drawbacks of those things might be. Sometimes they'll be small, like how elves speak softly because their ears make them sensitive to noise. Other times they'll be large, such as how a psychic might get overwhelmed by the noise of too many thoughts in a crowd if they don't take careful precautions. But whatever the situation, you can learn a lot about your characters (as well as making both them and their setting that much more interesting) if power has a bit of a price to it.

Even if it just means the guy who shoots lasers out of his face is colorblind, and didn't realized his girlfriend was a redhead until their second anniversary.

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, or my short story collection The Rejects!

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, January 16, 2020

"The Rejects" is My New Release For 2020 (and You Should Totally Check It Out!)

2019 was an extremely busy year for me, as a creator. I started the Great Reshuffling, where I started moving and re-homing old articles of mine to my Vocal archive, which is a process that should be done in the next few months for those who've been following along. I had several RPG products released onto the market (at least 1-2 a month, if I'm being accurate), such as the Dungeons and Dragons module The Curse of Sapphire Lake, as well as working hard on 100 Kinfolk: A Werewolf The Apocalypse Project. I took on several short-term writing contracts, I judged a fiction competition for the first time in my career, attended a few conventions, and finished off a manuscript for a new novel.

However, it's been a hot minute since I released my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife last year, so I wanted to make sure my readers had something new from me to start the year off right. So this past summer I started putting together a unique collection of short stories that I like to call... The Rejects!

Come on... you know you're curious.

What is "The Rejects"?

Folks who've followed my career know that I've written a lot of short stories over the past dozen years or so of my life. For a while I was putting out 1-2 a month, on top of running blogs, handling freelance assignments, etc., and I had a fairly steady acceptance rate of around 80 percent or so for several years.

However, that still meant that roughly 20 percent of my stories came back to me.

Yeah, that math checks out.
Some of those stories eventually found homes with other publishers in fresh calls, but a lot of the ones I'd written kept getting cut for length, or being not quite right for the publishers I sent them to. One tale in particular, Dressing The Flesh (which you can read part of in the book's free sample) had a terminal case of, "Always a bridesmaid, but never a bride."

After a fresh consult with my beta readers, and deciding that I still loved these stories, I figured it was time to take matters into my own hands.

But what kinds of stories are actually in this book? Well, as someone whose tastes and writing projects have been all over the genre spectrum, I can say that the only really unifying themes are that these are stories I've written, and they were all rejected at least once before they wound up here. There's horror, science fiction, steampunk, thrillers, fantasy (traditional as well as modern), a weird Western, a ghost story, and many more.

In addition to genre, though, this collection boasts:

- A love-lorn ifrit
- A troll that eats child molesters
- The second story ever published in my Chicago Strange setting
- Several flavors of vengeance
- Two short stories inspired by gaming projects
- Two short stories about metahumans that are from opposite ends of the tonal spectrum

In short, it's a bag of trail mix! There might be some parts of it you like more than others, but if you've been a fan of my work thus far then I have a feeling you won't find too much to complain about if you dip a hand in, and scoop up some stories!

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, January 8, 2020

Age Needs To Be More Than Just a Number For Your Characters

Fiction is full of characters whose appearance belies their age. From vampires and aliens, to elves and mutants, there are a dozen tropes surrounding characters who are somewhere between long-lived and immortal. However, this is one of those areas where the urge to tell often overtakes the urge to show... and you really get way more out of these reveals if you show them to your audience rather than just tossing a number at them.

There's a reason this have been on my mind again, of late, for those who are wondering.

Doing It Poorly...

Giving examples is one of the best ways I've found to make solid points about techniques to use in writing, but I figured we'd get the most out of these examples by starting with the bad ones. And while there are plenty of potential examples out there, the one that bubbles to the surface in my mind is Twilight. I'm not even going to put an affiliate link for that book, that's how negatively I feel about the series, and the imprint it left behind on pop culture.

That's a whole separate blog post.
For this example, I'm going to use the film rather than the text. Simply put, the revelation of the vampire characters' ages tends to be done as matter-of-fact exposition rather than revealed through actions, speech, style, etc. We never have a moment where Edward has oddly dated speech or slang, or where he inadvertently reveals something telling (even if was a simple, "I learned to drive stick shift," cutting himself off before revealing he's older than automatic transitions, to say nothing of modern cars). In much the same way that the signs for him being a strange, inhuman creature are all blatantly just handed to the audience, we just get told his age instead of drawing out the suspense and letting us work for it. As such, it just slides right off of us without impact.

There are other vampire movies that do this (most whose names I can't remember, as they were only shown on Saturday afternoons by hosts with specific, spooky schticks), but we also see it in the original Dungeons and Dragons film. While a slapstick romp that's alternatively fun and cringe-worthy, there's a throwaway line in it where our comedy sidekick is trying to put the moves on an elven woman. Her curt response is to just toss her age at him (something absurd, I think it was in the 800s), and then to move on with her scene.

The issue is that in these examples, being told how old these characters are has no bearing on how we perceive them. It isn't reflected in meaningful ways, and there's no weight behind it. It's no different than being told someone is 26 or 40... we can mentally accept the age, but it doesn't affect the characters or the story in any way that re-contextualizes them.

Doing It Well...

From the other end of the spectrum, when a character's longevity is revealed over time, or in meaningful ways, it can be like a punch to the gut to the audience. It can make us feel for them, and at the same time add so much weight to the story, and their interactions in it, that the fact becomes impossible to ignore.

You probably know where this one is going.
If you've seen the extended edition of The Two Towers, then you already know the scene I'm talking about. However, in case you haven't seen it, for a swath of the film the young blonde Eowyn has been trying to catch our ranger's eye. One thing she does is make him some soup while they're on the trail; she's not much of a cook, but she tried. Then she brings up something funny her uncle said. He remembers Aragorn from when he was a boy, and said the ranger rode to war to war with Thengel, Eowyn's grandfather. Rather than laughing about how the king must be mistaken, Aragorn nods, and says he's surprised Theoden remembers, since he was only a small boy at the time.

We watch as Eowyn re-evaluates what she knows of Aragorn in that moment, going from playful, to surprised, to horrifically awestruck every time she guesses a higher number. Realizing in a way that is real for her, and thus real for the audience, that Aragorn's blood has made him long-lived, and that he has seen and done things far beyond the scope of a mortal's years.

It's not just the revelation that Aragorn is actually 87 when he looks like a rugged mid-30s, but Eowyn's reaction that drives it home. It casts all the skills he's displayed in a different light, and makes us look at him with a fresh perspective. It makes us realize that, for all his nobility, passion, and strength, that he is in a lot of ways an outsider to other people. That those who were afraid of the man called Strider might have had good reason to feel the way they did after all.

There are other instances of similar reveals really adding a lot to how characters are perceived. Wolverine, for example, played on this for years as we steadily realized he was far older than any living mutant on the heroes' side of things. Sometimes it was subtle, with mentions of certain bits of history that he was present for, or showing us skills he'd learned that he'd never showed off before. Other times it was blatant, with flashbacks in the 60s, World War II, and other eras where Logan looked the same as he always has. And in the Netflix adaptation of the Witcher, we see that Geralt is the stoic, grunting, easily annoyed curmudgeon many of us think our grandparents are... and that the mutations that make him so good at what he does might be responsible for his long life. Possibly feeding into the legends that Witchers have no feelings... because on a long enough timeline, everyone you knew or cared about will die, and you'll be left as their children, and even their grandchildren, grow old all around you.

Give Your Years Some Weight

If you're going to have characters whose age defies their appearance (or if it's something people just can't tell when they look at them in the case of strange or alien characters), don't just write a number on it. Writing a number tells us nothing, and gives us no value; it's just a fact.

Make us feel this character's age in big ways, and small ones. Show us the parts of them that never changed, and the little things that make them unique. Give us a glimpse into their inner lives, and show us a piece of their past that can put who they are and what they're doing into context. It's harder, yes, but you'll get a lot more oomph out of it, and it can make a character into an audience favorite if you do it just right.

Also, for more on this topic I'd suggest checking out the 4 Tips For Making Long-Lived Characters FEEL Old over on my sister blog Improved Initiative!

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, January 1, 2020

Authors, Thanks To Algorithms, You're Going To Have To Repeat Yourself To Be Heard

I've been comfortable calling myself an author for about ten years and change now. For most of that time I've had an Amazon author page where people can find my work, I've had The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page for those who want to help support what I do, and I've regularly posted all across my social media channels about my projects.

Despite that, every month or so I have a conversation with friends (and even followers) that feels like talking to an elderly relative who's hearing has started to go. Because no matter how clearly I've posted the links to my projects, or how often I talk about them in the forums and groups I'm in, there's always someone who pipes up with, "Wow, I didn't know you have a book/Patreon/archive of articles! That's great!"

Speak up, will ya son? I can't hear what you're saying.
On the one hand, this can feel exasperating when you've been bending your efforts to getting the word out so that people know what you've got on the market, and what you're working on. However, the way algorithms are designed actually stops a lot of people who would be interested from seeing your posts.

As a result, you're going to have to mention something multiple times if you want everyone to get the message.

Huge Potential Reach (With Problematic Connections)

Social media has a potentially infinite reach, which is kind of like saying that playing the lottery could make you a millionaire... it's technically true, but sort of overlooks the fact that you're really betting against the market if you expect that to be your meal ticket.

If lottery tickets were a good investment, rich people would buy them instead of stock.
For example, say you have a few hundred people who have decided to follow your Facebook page (my Facebook page has just over 700 folks on it right now, but you could boost that number a bit if you had a sec). Ideally you'd think that when you post something on your page that a majority of those folks would see it... after all, they liked you, and they're actively following you, so surely the site lets them see your content?

No. Not really.

If I put something on my page that generates a lot of activity from my followers, maybe 200 of them will see it. Of those who see it, maybe 70 and change will interact with it. The average interaction is significantly worse, with maybe a third to half of those numbers. And the stats are even worse when it comes to forums and groups. Because even if you post something that's really popular on a social media page or in a forum, it will only be seen by folks for a few days at most. That means anyone who wasn't on, who hadn't joined yet, or who wasn't particularly tuned-in during your brief moment in the sun missed what you had to say.

Think of it like a commercial. Most of the time the people you're trying to reach just walk into the other room and ignore you, even if you're selling something they want. But then the fifth time your post comes around, you manage to catch their attention, and without fail the first thing they say is, "Hey, that looks great, how come nobody told me about this?"

Well, I was trying. But the algorithm wouldn't put my call through until just now.

Repeat, But Don't Get Repetitive

The challenging part of marketing is trying to remind yourself that you still have a valid product that not everyone has seen yet. Because when you've been telling everyone who will listen about your book, your game, your YouTube channel, or whatever other endeavor you're working on for more than a year, it can feel like you must have reached everyone.

You haven't, trust me on that.

But there are going to be folks who heard you loud and clear the first seventeen times.
The thing to keep in mind here is balance. Because if you only talked up your book before its release, and then a brief weekend spot when it first came out, then a lot of people haven't heard about it through the social media grapevine. However, there are going to be people, groups, and forums who are going to get sick of seeing you post the same thing all the time if you keep harping on it.

So while you should endeavor to keep things fresh, and talk about new releases, new blog entries, and new projects, don't be afraid to toss out a throwback on the regular. Acknowledge it's been out for a while, and remind folks to leave a review if they liked it. Or to share the link with a friend who hasn't gotten their copy yet; a call to action never hurts!

This is sort of like how your book seems boring and stupid to you, because you've read it ten times before it went to the editors. Just remember, someone out there will be hearing about your work for the first time... so phrase your posts accordingly!

Speaking of which, check out my links below, and see which parts of my sprawling archive have escaped your notice thus far!

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!