Wednesday, April 29, 2020

If You Want New Readers, You Need To Promote in New Places

There's an old saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results. This is particularly true when it comes to marketing your work. If you're one of those writers who is perfectly pleased with the amount of regular readers you have, and you're comfortable with all the readers and sales you have, then you can relax on your laurels and go back to what you're doing.

For those of us who need to grow our reader base, but can't quite figure out how to stimulate that growth, this strategy might be helpful for you.

Time to get out of those comfort zones, friends!
Because the truth is, a lot of us probably have our preferred social media platforms, and the groups we regularly post in on them. And you probably have an expected range of reactions from those groups... but if you want more, then it's time to broaden your horizons and widen your search.

Check For New Groups Every Few Weeks Or So

Finding new groups you can spread your signal to isn't easy. There's a lot of trial-and-error, and sometimes groups will be insular, or have clashes of personality with you. But that's the nature of the search! Just like your book isn't for everyone, not every group is going to be ideal for you.

Well, this one looks promising.
The thing to keep in mind here is that while several groups might share members, chances are good that you're going to be preaching to a mostly fresh choir when you show up and drop your book title, or share around other pieces of content. And even if a group is small, active discussion and involved members can make a big difference in just how high your signal gets boosted.

Also, Try Unexpected Groups (Results May Surprise)

For those who didn't catch my Vocal piece 5 (Specific) Tips For Increasing Your Vocal Reads Using Social Media, I would highly recommend giving it a quick perusal when you've got some time. However, the 5th tip on it is one that I've found has been quite useful for me, so I wanted to draw special attention to it.

Try some sideways thinking to find communities who might be interested in your work, but which you might not normally think to share your work in.

Hey, new guy, come on in!
The example I gave in the article was my movie fan theory found in What is The Monster in "The Ritual"? If you haven't seen the movie, it's a horror film about friends getting picked off in the woods in Scandinavia, and one of the cultists we meet tells us the thing is a jotun, a child of Loki. I had a head canon about which specific creature in Norse mythology it was, and when the article came out it was middlingly popular in the horror groups I shared it to on social media.

But it exploded when I shared it in on a few mythology pages.

The difference, in this case, is that the film was fairly well-known in the horror circuit by the time I put my thoughts onto the Internet. However, there was not a great deal of overlap between people browsing mythology pages, and people who hunkered down to watch horror movies about monsters in the woods. So there was interest, activity, and a lot of sharing because the piece was relevant to their interests, and told them about something no one else in their community was talking about.

It remains my most widely-read article in my Vocal archive, with several times the reads of the next most popular article.

This same logic, which I talked about in Sell Your Book in Unexpected Places (You May Be Surprised at The Results), has generally worked out to my advantage when I've expanded the areas I look at for promotional purposes. If you have a modern fantasy story where your protagonist is an einherjar, and they have to deal with giants and draughr, then you should definitely be sharing that book in mythology and Norse enthusiast groups, as well as in fantasy groups. If your main character is a cat, then you might find some interested readers in groups about cats, pets, and pet cats.

And so on, and so forth.

It's All One Big Gamble

Like I said in Luck Makes Your Career (But Persistence Makes Your Luck), there are no guarantees when you're trying to promote your work. You might spend hours carefully wording and crafting just the right post for no one to care, only for a throwaway comment of yours to immediately catapult you to overnight Internet celebrity. You can crunch all the numbers, but the best you can make is an educated guess.

With that said, you miss all of the shots you don't take. So roll the dice, and keep rolling them as often (and in as many places) as you can. Sooner or later the number you want is going to come up.

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, April 22, 2020

3 Tips To Make The Stakes Matter in Your Story

Charlene has been slaving away for years at her job, and if she didn't land this big promotion she was sure she'd never get another opportunity. Jackson's had a crush on Kira since the day he met her, and if he didn't say something to her this summer he's sure any chance he had will be gone. Captain Hraska has died of his wounds, and if Sergeant Steiner doesn't step up and hold the city of Karatoss against the Varasin horde until reinforcements arrive then she and every soldier under her command will be nothing but picked bones under the alien stars.

Every one of these scenarios presents something that's at risk. What's at stake in a story is often what keeps your reader's interest, but it's important to understand that the stakes also affect everything from the actions of your protagonists, to the reactions of your audience. Which is why you need to pick appropriate stakes, and to understand how to ramp them up effectively. Otherwise you end up jumping the shark, which for those who haven't heard the term, is when you take things too far and you've lost your audience's ability to suspend their disbelief.

And just like your characters, you want them locked in.

First Things First, We Need To Care About The Characters

You've probably seen a slasher movie at some point. If you have only heard of them by reputation, the concept is that a group of (usually) young adults finds themselves the target of a dangerous murderer. As the film progresses the slasher picks them off one by one, until only a few (or only one) of the victims manage to escape, typically wounding or supposedly slaying the slasher in the process.

Damn kids, get out of my woods!
You could argue that the stakes are the highest they could be in these kinds of films, as they're literally life or death. However, more often than not the audience is completely indifferent to the story, only watching it for the gruesome murders. There's no investment in the struggle of the characters, often because the only one the audience cares about is the hulking brute in the mask... and we know he's going to be fine because there's going to be another sequel.

If your audience doesn't care about the character in question, then it doesn't matter what the stakes you're setting out are. So keep in mind that the fate of the world could be on the line, but if we think the guy playing your lead is a smarmy jerk, a lot of us would rather watch the world burn if it means he dies, too.

Second, Your Actions Need To Underline The Stakes

You ever read a crime novel where the detective we're reading about has to take serious, decisive action in order to bring down the bad guys? What makes you accept that these kinds of actions are necessary? Usually, it's that a serious crime was committed (or is going to be committed) and there's no time to follow protocol, right?

That's because big actions need to be backed up by big stakes. Otherwise the story falls apart.

Jaywalker... I repeat, we've got a jaywalker!
If you want extreme actions to make sense, there has to be something major at risk. For example, a cop trying to beat information out of a suspect is doing something blatantly illegal, and it's a guaranteed way not just to get a case thrown out, but it will likely result in that cop losing their badge, and possibly going to jail. If the individual is a gang member who knows where the cop's kidnapped wife and daughter are, though, then the audience can sympathize with that situation. And, if you spin it right, it can be a moment that's extremely dramatic, and shows us a lot about the character.

But what happens when you start decreasing those stakes?

Let's say it's not the cop's wife and daughter, but just a random woman he's never met who's been kidnapped. Sure, we can understand a strong sense of justice, and perhaps the attachment one might feel trying to track down people who've been kidnapped or trafficked, but if we don't set those motivations up beforehand then your detective isn't going to look like someone delivering righteous wrath... he's going to look like a loose cannon. And the less serious the crime, the more their reaction is going to paint the detective as someone who doesn't deserve their badge.

This applies to basically every kind of story you could tell, and the characters involved in it. Someone getting divorced is painful and messy, but it may not have huge stakes attached to it. But what if your ex is a stalker who refuses to let you go? What if you'll lose your kids if you can't find an appropriately well-paying job? Those things create context for a character's actions, and they add extra tension to a situation.

Third, There Needs To Be Some Kind of Challenge

The city is in the grip of a madman! He has his finger on a button that will release a deadly toxin, and kill everyone unless his demands are met. Those demands? He... ugh... he wants five dollars, a kitten from an animal shelter, and an ice cream cone.

My time has come!
This should go without saying, but the third important thing when it comes to your stakes is that they require a genuine risk. Even if the stakes are high by themselves, all the drama is immediately sucked out of the situation if all your protagonist has to do is walk across the room and push a red button marked Resolve Plot.

If your protagonist loses their business and has to pay a huge bill for back taxes to the IRS, that's a pretty big deal. You know, unless they have some illicit nest egg they've hidden away for a rainy day that they can access without repercussions. Entering a fighting tournament where you could die by the end of a match sounds dramatic, but if your protagonist has mastered secret techniques that make them unbeatable in a match then there's no real risk of them losing. Even if your fiddler wagered his soul to the devil, we all know he's the best there ever was, and there's no chance he'll lose the bout.

Even if the stakes are high, there has to be a real chance the protagonist could lose. Think of every scene you've ever witnessed or read about a card game. From Casino Royale to Rounders, there was always a serious chance the protagonist was going to lose. Especially on the last hand, where they've usually gone all-in. If it was revealed to the reader that the lead had drawn a royal flush, or had all four aces, then there wouldn't be any tension. They have the highest possible hand, so it's all over but the crying.

Keep that in mind, too. Because there needs to be a real chance of losing in order for the stakes to have any real impact on the story, and on your readers.

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!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

"Integrity" Is Expensive When You're a Writer

I've lost track of the number of times I've seen someone turn up their nose at a project, or even at another writer, and said they would never do that. "I have integrity," they often say, as if that explains everything.

Ugh, you got paid to do a job? No thanks.
The longer I've seen this sort of behavior go on, the more it sounds like those people who look down on garbage men or sex workers. Their jobs are necessary, but for some reason the person looking in from the outside feels they're somehow above that kind of work.

As a writer, I can tell you that you are under no obligation to accept a job that comes across your desk. But I can tell you that if you're super picky about your jobs you either need to have a safety net you're already relying on, or you need to be a damn master of the things you are willing to write. Because it is unicorn-level rare for a writer to pick the one thing they're willing to write, and then achieve success in that one field without ever budging from the path they've set. And as I said in If You're An Author You Can't Afford To Put All Your Eggs in One Basket, there's always the chance the bottom drops out of that one thing you've set your sights on, leaving you in the lurch.

I've Done My Share of Dirty Jobs

For those who haven't read my archive, I've done my share of jobs I didn't particularly care for in the past as a writer. I've written ad copy, I've been a journalist, I've ghostwritten stories, and I've published novels. In that time, I've gotten some absolute stinkers on my desk.

Some examples include:

- Editing poorly written slash fiction where the author refused to make any meaningful alterations, or to hear any criticism before self-publishing the work.
- Writing ad copy for what I'm quite certain was a mail-order-bride website.
- Writing for a gaming client who was veering dangerously close to the intellectual property of an existing game whose lawyers ate raw meat like him for breakfast.
- Covering topics for a "men's magazine" that catered to the worst stereotypes of the alpha-male-frat segment.
- Ghostwriting fill-in-the-blank romance for a mass-production house.

And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

Find me at a con sometime, and I'll tell you a few horror stories.
In addition to those bad jobs, though, I've been a part of projects that were honestly a lot of fun, but which people have looked down on me for. I've written scripts for adult comics, for example, and I was a regular contributor to a romance company that specialized in "happy endings" in every sense of that term. I've reviewed schlock horror, and I've worked on all sorts of low-brow productions over the years.

When I set out to be a writer, I wanted to write books. That is still, to some extent, my goal. It's why I finally put out my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife not too long ago, and why I released my latest short story collection The Rejects this year. However, I've got bills to pay in the meantime, and that means I need to supplement my income with basically whatever I can get my hands on.

The Price of Saying "No"

With all of this said, it's important to understand your own limits, and to stay true to yourself as a creator. But at the same time, it's equally important to keep a realistic eye on the market, and on your own capabilities. Because it would be nice if every project you ever took on was creatively fulfilling, enjoyable to work on, and came with a living wage attached to it... but you're generally lucky if you can get one of those labels to apply to a project, much less all three.

Particularly in the straits a lot of us are working through these days, it's important to remember that at the end of the day, you need to make sure you're reaching your goals, and paying your bills. Because integrity is a lovely thing to have... but at the end of the day integrity buys you about as many groceries as exposure does.

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, April 8, 2020

Short and Snappy Often Wins The Writing Race

There are a lot of classic books out there that most of us know, but which a lot of us have never read. Some of them we've likely absorbed through cultural osmosis. However, if you've ever sat down to read one of these classics and felt it was just, well, dense then you're not alone. And I'd suggest there are two lessons we could learn from this.

First, that tastes of the reading public change over time, and no one can tell what will and won't be successful. Second, stories that go on and on like a never-ending forkfull of pasta that you're trying to eat discourage a lot more readers than you might think.

I'm sure you can think of a book that had that issue.
After a chat with Little Alice earlier this week, the two of us have mutually agreed this is a trap a lot of writers fall into. And since this is the case, I figured I'd take the time to talk about it this week.

If You Can't Tie A Knot, Just Tie A Lot

I remember when I was a kid, this was a phrase that my dad said a lot. For those who don't speak sailor, it's a reference to the fact that if you don't know how to tie the knot for the proper job, a lot of people will just keep wrapping and tightening the line in the hopes that a big, ensnaring mess will hold just as well.

As someone who went through a lot of trials and tribulations learning how to tie my shoes, I can attest this strategy never works.

I had to untangle a lot of lines as a child before I learned this.
What's that got to do with writing? Well, a lot of writers seem to think that the more words you pack onto the page, the better the work must be. Part of this comes from reading classic works (as with many other things in genre fiction, Tolkien is a touch stone here, but he's far from the only author who packs pages with yards upon yards of verbiage), but some writers do it out of reflex. Sometimes it's out of fear of looking stupid, or out of a mistaken belief that "common" language shouldn't be used to tell stories, but the result is the same; one gigantic knot of words that might look artistic to its creator, but is a damn mess to anyone trying to actually follow the through line.

You're not helping yourself by doing this. All you're doing is making your book harder to read, and turning off people who might otherwise have wanted to go on this journey with you.

This Can Happen At Every Level of a Book

For those who think I'm giving this advice only in terms of rivers of purple prose, or for page-and-a-half descriptions of a stroll through the hills, you may be missing the forest for the trees. Because this advice goes for all parts of your book. From your sentence structure, to how long your paragraphs go on, to how hard your chapters are to eat in a sitting... ask yourself how digestible your story is, and what it's going to feel like trying to eat it.

It's a lot easier to drink that much fruit than to chew it while it's frozen, is what I'm saying.
Books are things we consume; they're a meal for your mind. And it doesn't matter how much artistry you put into the presentation if, when your reader goes to put a bite in their mouth, they have to struggle to chew it. Especially if, after a few bites, they put it down and push back from the table. It doesn't matter if the second course is sumptuous, or the cliffhanger ending you have for dessert is amazing... if it feels like they're eating a brick with their brains, more readers are going to walk away than not.

Compare that with, say, the style of pot boiler mysteries. While it can be argued that a lot of examples of that genre lack imagination, are formulaic, have stylistic issues, or they aren't as rich and filling as one might want, they tend to be pretty easy to chew. In fact, if the fantasy novel that wanders over half a dozen nations and three separate timelines with fifty-page chapters is the flame-broiled three-course meal, then the pot boiler is the bag of potato chips. The former takes commitment, and it can be hard to get through and enjoy, while the latter is something you can just pop open and consume quickly and easily.

In fact, you might read an entire potato chip book before you know it, and then you're going to want another. And maybe one more after that.

Longer Isn't Inherently Better

While a book should meet a general word count to be considered a novel, remember that books are not (by and large) something you swallow down all at once. You read them over time, usually in chunks, and readers like to have regular rest stops so they aren't putting a book down in the middle of a chapter or conversation. So tighten up your sentences, break up your paragraphs, and don't be afraid to have chapters that are a little more bite-sized.

These things will make your book easier to read, which will allow your reader to take in the story you're telling them with less work. And if you feel that making your story more digestible ruins something, it might be time to back up and ask yourself why you think that. Because your first priority needs to be your readers' experience, since a book that no one reads is a book that may as well not have been written.

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!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

If You're An Author, You Can't Afford To Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

Over the past several weeks of staying home and trying to flatten the curve, I've been talking with a lot of my fellow authors. Just like any other group of people they've had to leave day jobs if they weren't considered essential, they've had events they were counting on to sell books at cancelled, and they've been scrambling to find solutions for their bills, food, and daily survival.

So in other words, writers are getting hit just as hard as everyone else by what's going on outside.

Which is why this week I'd like to talk about eggs, and baskets.
I currently find myself in a bizarrely unique situation. Because though I am still a mostly-broke, middle-of-the-road author who's had a modicum of success so far, basically all of my work was already done online. I only attend two conventions a year on the regular (neither of them as a merchant, as I don't have the cash for the books and the table fee), I don't have any local signings or events, and my fans (the few that I have) all know me from the Internet.

In other words, my career path hasn't led to a huge amount of financial success, but what I do have is uniquely insulated from this current situation as long as the Internet remains functional.

Now, to be clear, this is not a brag. I'm not suggesting that anyone follow the path I've taken, nor did I specifically lay my career out like this because I'm a Hunter S. Thompson-like recluse who doesn't trust the glue that holds society together. It's mostly a happy accident, but it's one that happened because I've had the rug yanked out from me several times before. The lessons I've learned from that are what I wanted to talk about this week.

Happy Accidents and Lessons Learned

As I've mentioned before on this blog, the first time I ever got steady pay for writing was when I was in college as a reporter for the newspaper. I really liked that gig, but it was very limited work, and it had an undeniable shelf life (paper didn't run during the summer, and I was eventually going to graduate). Rather than let the grass grow under my feet, I started looking for similar gigs in my town, and managed to land a semi-regular position with a smaller paper. It still wasn't rent money, but at the same time it wasn't nothing.

Pretty sure this is how addicts are made, now that I'm thinking about it.
While I was finishing up my schooling, I started getting tips from friends of mine that I should look online for work since that's where a lot of clients were reaching out. I eventually became a regular lurker at Online Writing Jobs (I swear that is not a made-up website, go check them out if you need work) where I found everything from catalog entries, to dating site profiles, to current news articles. From there I stretched out to other websites, until I finally found one (which I shall not name for professional reasons) that paid well, offered revenue shares on some articles, and generally let me step up into that adult income bracket.

For those of you who know the story, about ten years ago that employer didn't exactly fire me, but they made it clear that despite having written several thousand articles for them, I was no longer going to be allowed to work for them unless I earned a master's degree. This basically kicked my earnings square in the crotch, and left me scrambling. I moved to a smaller apartment, returned to several websites I hadn't worked for in a long time, and reached out to clients I hadn't had time for to see if they had anything new they needed help with.

This one incident taught me a very valuable lesson; never put all your eggs in one basket.

Over the past ten years, I've lost a lot of clients. I've had businesses shutter their doors, anthologies my stories had been accepted to close without giving me a check I was promised, and entire websites shut down with barely a few weeks notice that my work would no longer be earning me royalties. And while these things have never been good news, and I have had to recover from them, I've never received the twin of that knockout punch that sent me reeling before.

My Tips For My Fellow Writers

I will fully admit, a big part of it is luck. Another part of it is risk management, making sure that if one plate falls that my other plates wouldn't be affected by that. And a third part is just paranoia.

Burn me once, shame on me, and all that shit.
 As of time of writing, I definitely have one income stream that pays me more than others. However, rather than going all-in on that one stream, I'm trying to build up all the others to absorb a hit if a hit needs to be taken. It's why I sell books and RPG supplements, why I have affiliate accounts with Amazon and Drive Thru RPG both, why I have a Patreon, why I'm constantly increasing my Vocal archive, and why I still maintain a list of work-for-hire clients.

For folks who got rocked harder than I did by being kept at home, I highly recommend checking out the following options if you haven't already:

- Free Resources For Artists Affected by Covid-19: This should provide immediate relief and help.
- Online-Writing-Jobs: For those who need work with a fast turnaround, this site has listings.
- Patreon: If you have a blog, or you're willing to release regular fiction, you can mobilize your fans.
- Ko-Fi: Ko-Fi allows you to take one-time donations, and pairs beautifully with Patreon.

If you're looking for something to work on in a more long-term way (aside from just writing and selling books), then I would recommend checking out some of the following:

- Vocal+: If you have a lot of content looking for a home, and you want to make it pay, go here.
- If You're An Author, You Really Need an Affiliate Marketing Account: Affiliate earnings take time to grow, but they are more than worth the effort to build up your monthly streams.

Hopefully the resources and explanations are useful for folks out there! And if you or someone you know is an author who's looking to make ends meet, feel free to reach out via the Contact Me gadget on the page. One of the best things we can do right now is big-up each other's signals to make sure all our potential readers can get hold of our books while we're hunkering down and trying to flatten the curve.

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!