Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Always Leave A Little Gas in The Tank When The Writing Day is Done

No one writes a book in a single session. Even the most prolific writers are looking at about a month at the very least to complete a project (I'm looking at you, Robert Louis Stevenson), but most of us will take longer. Like a year or more longer. That means you're going to be spending a lot of sessions plugged-in to your world, building it one brick at a time. And while it might be tempting to just go all-out every day, it's important to do a little forward planning on this mental road trip you're taking.

To that end, don't end the day when you run out of road. Stop when you know where you need to go tomorrow.

Shit... where do I go from here?

You Need A Little Road To Build Your Speed Back Up

When you come to the end of a day's writing, you need to know where you're going from that point. Not in some vague sense, either. You need a clear direction and destination so you can build at least a little your speed back up the next time you sit down.

For example, let's say you planned out this whole mid-book shootout in your gritty spy novel. Your protagonist runs down an enemy agent, and they have a huge knock-down, drag-out brawl in the rain. Your hero comes out on top, and holds the enemy agent over a steep drop, demanding to know who he works for. You end your session there. Then tomorrow you sit down, open the file, and stare at the screen for an hour and a half.

Why? Well, because you have no idea who hired this guy, or how it connects to your plot. You don't know what your protagonist does from here, or how far he's willing to go to get the answers. And because you're starting from the cliffhanger you left off on, your brain is stalling out.

Oh hey... what's over there?
If you know you're approaching the last of your rope, don't go until you've reached the bitter end. Leave a few handfuls so that when you sit down tomorrow you at least know how to get started. Because once you have the engine revved, and you've built up speed, it's easy to go off in new directions. Just like how you can jump further if you have a dozen yards to sprint, than if you stood at the edge of a cliff and tried to long-jump across the canyon.

Writing a book is hard enough as it is. Don't make it harder on yourself than you have to by going until you're running on fumes, and hoping someone fills your idea tank before you come back tomorrow.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Sorry for the brevity, but sometimes advice doesn't take 1,000 words to convey. If you'd like to help support me and my blog, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. If you pledge at least $1 a month, then there's a pile of swag waiting as a thank you. Lastly, if you want to keep up-to-date on all my work and projects, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Self-Publishing is Often a Proving Ground For Authors

People often see traditional publishing and self-publishing as natural enemies. Their systems are different, their philosophies are different, and supposedly their authors are different. People see the decision as an either/or sort of choice; as if authors are all out for the big draft, and they either need to tie on with a company, or remain true to themselves as a free agent.

That isn't really how things work, though. You see, there's actually a lot of interaction between these two spheres, and if someone makes a splash in one, then the ripples are going to get attention in the other. And if those ripples are big enough, you just might find that opportunity comes a'knocking at your door.

Hello there. Would you like work, and a big, fat check?

Reputation, Work History, and Ripples in The Water

So, I'd like to tell you a story. A story about how my own self-publishing efforts got me noticed by some bigger, more established folks who followed the waves I was making back to me.

To begin, most of us don't tend to think of blogs, YouTube channels, and other avenues as self-publishing. They totally are, though. So, as soon as I started writing this blog (and my gaming blog Improved Initiative) I staked out my little piece of turf as a self-published creator. And I haven't moved from that patch.

The charter is under construction, but we may have a flag soon.
Of the two blogs, Improved Initiative quickly pulled ahead in terms of readership and traffic. By the end of my first year I had a regular flow of traffic, I was well-known in tabletop gaming groups on Facebook, and I was starting to expand onto other social media platforms. One of my main attractions was a feature I ran called Character Conversions. Basically I would take a popular character, like Captain America, Tyrion Lannister, Iron Man, etc., and I would write a guide for how you could re-create that character in a particular roleplaying game. That page remains one of the most popular features on my blog to this day.

After I'd written 20 guides or so, I started noticing some changes. People I didn't know would message me, and ask if I was going to write a new guide for this or that character. They wanted to know my thoughts on whether it was possible to convert characters from Lord of The Rings or Dragon Ball Z into different game systems. My traffic on that page went up, and people started passing my guides around among their own groups. I was getting read, and the ad revenue on those articles was getting noticeable. Not, "Oh my god, I can buy a house!" noticeable, but I had a little extra padding for when deadlines ran long, and checks ran short.

Then something else happened. The publishers who wrote official content for games started reaching out to me, asking if I'd like to work on their lines. Because they'd heard about my blog, checked out the stuff I was making on my own, and they decided I looked like the kind of writer they wanted to take for a spin. Sometimes we clicked, and sometimes we didn't, but as time has gone on, being the author of Improved Initiative actually gains me credibility when I talk to RPG publishers.

Because it establishes that I can do the job, and that there are people out there who like what I make.

All Publishers Care About Is Results

I said this in You Don't Need A Degree To Be A Writer, but I feel like it bears repeating; publishers only care about your results. A publisher doesn't care if your books are good or bad, offensive or safe. They only care about the bottom line. If you have a following, and you are making money, then they would like to shake your hand, and work out a deal so you can both make more of it.

This is why celebrities get million-dollar book deals. It's not because they have great insights, or they're phenomenally talented (though some do, and are). It's because they have 10 million followers who are all going to go out and buy a copy of their book once it's released. It's also why if you've been self-publishing a series that's making you some serious bank, then a publisher is going to want to talk to you. Because you're a proven talent, with a definable audience, and that makes you a safe bet.

Just something to think about the next time you consider your publishing options, and what your efforts could lead to in the future.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. If you'd like to support me, and this blog in particular, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today. As little as $1 a month is a big help to me, and it gets you a pile of sweet swag just for signing up. Lastly, if you want to keep up-to-date on all my work, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

There Is No Wrong Way To Write

It was Edgar Degas who famously said, "Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do." The point, of course, is that when you first embrace a creative passion it's freeing to express yourself, even if your expression is sloppy and unrefined. The longer you practice, and the more skill you develop, the more you have the ability to judge your own work, as well as that of others.

However, there is something we tend to forget when we get wrapped up in our ideas of what we "know" how to do in regards to art; there's no wrong way to create. Whether you're finger-painting, or imitating the Renaissance masters, you're still painting. And whether you're just penning short stories in a private journal, writing fan fiction on the Internet, or authoring a blockbuster novel series, you're still writing. None of these methods are more "correct" than the others.

Whatever works for you, do that.

I'm Sensing a "But" Coming on...

While it's true there is no wrong way to write, it's important to remember that writing doesn't happen in a vacuum. You need to ask what you're trying to accomplish with it, and whether you succeeded in achieving that goal when all it said and done.

Perhaps if you could elaborate...
Sure thing, Winston.

To pull out one of my favorite metaphors, compare writing to exercise. If you're just doing it to enjoy the activity, and maybe to keep in shape, then a casual routine is good for you. Some long walks, a little light weight-lifting, and you're good to go. For writers, those are the folks who enjoy writing for themselves, or for a small community. They're still engaged, and still dedicated, but they're not trying to run marathons or break power-lifting records (metaphors for publishing a whole series of novels, or winning awards through traditional publishers).

However, suppose those are your goals. If that's the case, then you probably need a totally different kind of routine, and a different sort of mindset. You need to train, and you need to hit your goals come rain or shine, hell or high water. You need to perform when you get your chance, and you need to hit it hard every day. In this case you're not writing strictly for your own enjoyment, or because it's something you enjoy doing; it's your job. You're here to make money, and that means there are no days off for good behavior.

Neither writing method is wrong here; they're just moving in different directions toward different goals. Writers who enjoy the craft, who have a passion for words, but who don't want to go pro are still writers. Writers who just started taking their first tentative steps into the written world are also still writers. If you write comics or romances, radio plays or horror stories, you're still writing. Whether you write poetry, short stories, novellas, or novels, no one can tell you you're doing it wrong. They might disagree with the decisions you've made, or view your compositional choices as flawed, gaudy, boring, or sophomoric, but none of that makes it wrong.

With all of that said, though, you need to know what your goal is for your writing, and to move in that general direction if you want to succeed at that goal. And if you aren't making the progress you want? Well, it might be time to change-up your program, and try something different.

That's all for this weeks Craft of Writing post. Hopefully it helps folks out there who are grappling with the constant shouting from all corners of the profession about what "real" writers do or don't do. If you'd like to keep up with all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to support me and my work, why not head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, and make a small pledge? $1 a month does a lot of good, and you get some free ebooks as a thank you for your support!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Making A Living As A Writer is A Waiting Game

Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time has likely noticed I talk a lot about how authors need to get paid. I've mentioned sites like InfoBarrel that pay authors based on their traffic, I've talked about what a lifesaver Patreon is, and I've even put out a list of 5 questions you should ask every freelance client before you agree to take on a project.

Today, though, I'd like to talk about time. Because time is the reason almost every freelance writer I know is broke as shit.

The check's in the mail. What do you mean PayPal only takes a few minutes?
Let me put something into perspective for you, just to clear the air a bit. If every client who owes me money paid up right now, I would have nearly $2,000 in my hand. Some of those projects have been done for a few days. Some of them have been done for months. But the point is, I have a lot of clients who owe me money.

And you know what? Most of them are going to keep owing me money for the foreseeable future. That's not a flaw of the system as it stands... that's how it's supposed to work.

Just Because You're Done, Doesn't Mean You Get Paid

Under normal circumstances, being a freelancer is pretty simple. You show up, do the job, and the client pays you. Whether you're cutting their grass, repairing a roof, building a website, or drawing up a piece of art, once you turn in the project the client hands you a check.

Sometimes that's how it works when you're a writer. If you're really lucky, you can even get a portion of your fee up-front as a kind of deposit. But most of the time you don't get paid until your work is actually published by the client. Sometimes you don't get paid until a month or more after your work is finally printed.

Does that mean what it sounds like it means?
Yep. It means that sometimes when I complete a piece of work for a client, and it goes onto the pile, I get paid right away. More often than not it takes a 1-3 months for a client to cut me the check they owe me. Sometimes it can take 6-8 months before the work I did transforms into money in my pocket.

Problem is, I need to eat, and I've got a landlord that expects a check by the 5th.

Why Don't You Just Negotiate A Better Contract?

This is probably the most common question I get asked, and the query always comes from people who don't work as freelancers, and who have never worked as writers. So, let me turn the question around on you. Why don't you walk into your boss's office and say, "Hey Greg, got a spot of bad news. This job you want me to do? Yeah, I'm going to need you to up my wages if you want it done faster. Also, I expect to be paid at the end of this week, not two weeks from now."

Now, if you're really good at your job, and your boss values you, he might be willing to play ball. If you've worked for him a long time, and he knows you would be hard to replace, he might be willing to meet you in the middle on some things. But if there are thousands of people waiting outside who'd be happy to do the job you've got problems with, then Greg will tell you to clean out your desk so someone who doesn't complain as much can take over.

The button on the boss's desk is black, with flaming red letters.
If you're a freelancer, you have pretty much no power. So yes, if you want to be paid on acceptance, rather than publication, you can ask that your clients do that. If the client says, "no, we're not doing that," then you either have to take the job anyway, or wait for a unicorn to come walking by.

I don't know a single writer out there who wouldn't love to have a unicorn of their very own. But most of us have never found one, so we take the work we get, and hope that the due date on our bills happens to match up with when our checks finally clear.

You Can Take It Into Your Own Hands... If You Have Time

A lot of people also ask why I spend all this time and effort working for clients when I could just write for myself. Cut out the middle man, and release my work directly to the masses. After all, self-publishing is a huge thing now, and it can make mad returns.

It can. However, you know what self-publishing also takes? Time.

Me Again!
I have a novel manuscript sitting on my computer right now. I could format it, put together a cover, and release it by the beginning of next week. I could launch a promotional campaign for it over the next few months, complete with free samples and giveaways. But you know what that would likely gain me, if I went by both previous experience and numbers for the genre? Maybe $50 or so by the end of the year. $100 if I manage to intrigue more folks than usual. That's not much for a season worth of work, and that's not even including the year and a half it took to write and edit the novel in the first place.

The same is true for blogs, or for stand-alone articles; you need time to build a following, and an archive. You can't just sit down one day to self-publish a new blog, or a YouTube channel, or an article, and expect to make bank by the end of the month. Building those endeavors up can take a year, or longer, depending on your audience, niche, release schedule, etc.

And if you're some nobody who doesn't even show up in a Google search? Then you're running a race against time while wearing lead boots.

Are You Damned If You Do, And Damned If You Don't?

Yes and no. One of the supreme ironies of this trade is that the longer you work at it, and the more contacts you make, the less often you have to deal with long waiting periods, and uncertain pay dates. If you develop a close relationship with your stable of clients, then they will make sure you have the funds you need, and that you have them promptly, because they value your work. They've come to know you, and your reputation, and they don't want to take the energy or the risk of getting someone else to do your job.

Again, though, that takes time. Years of time, barring some extremely good fortune.

I say all this not to try and make you feel sorry for me, dear readers, or to feel sorry for my fellow freelancers that we are poor, mistreated souls. I'm just trying to relay the reality of the industry we work in, and how frustrating it is when you have to pay for Ramen with the change from your piggy bank, even though you have thousands of dollars worth of work that will be hitting your account any day now.

Any day now...

If you'd like to help contribute to my financial stability, and ensure I keep this blog going, why not head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page? If you become a patron, and contribute at least $1 a month, I've got a whole pile of swag to send you as a thank you. That's all for my Business of Writing post this week, though, and if you want to keep up to date on my future posts you should follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Stop Talking About How Your Writing Sucks!

As writers, we all have moments of doubt. Those times where we look at our work, and just shake our heads at what we've done. Those times when we think about wiping the screen, and starting over from scratch. For a lot of us, though, these are private struggles. Moments we have when we're home alone, or that we'll sometimes share with a friend who understands our creative process, and who can sympathize with our frustration. Generally speaking, though, we keep these moments of doubt to ourselves.

There are some of us, though, who don't. There are some writers who proclaim loudly, and almost proudly, that their work flat-out sucks.

Yes, we're just as sick of them as you are.
If you are one of those writers, I am here to tell you on behalf of the rest of the community that it's time to shut up. Because if you really felt your work was that bad, you would have quit by now.

Honey, Tell Me I'm Not Fat

Proclaiming your work to be awful, and yourself to be a no-talent fake, is the literary equivalent of the sort of compliment fishing we often see in romantic relationships. If you've never been in a relationship, here's how it works. It starts with one partner will say something loud and derogatory about themselves. Maybe a wife says she's fat, or a husband says he's stupid. Most of the time they don't really believe these things. What they want is for their significant other to pat their hand, kiss their forehead, and say no, that's not true. Your waistline is just fine. You're smarter than people give you credit for.

Really, your story is very good.

Seriously, no one has time for your bullshit, guys.
If you really believed your work was bad, would you go on social media to tell all your friends and family about it? Would you spend hours on writing forums telling people that you just didn't have it? And if you really believed these things, would you provide samples of your work to prove to people how bad your writing was?

Or doth the writer protest too much?

Get Back To Work

The only time it's acceptable for you to go out in a public forum and say, "hey, my work is terrible!" is when you're actually trying to find help to get better. Typically cries for help are phrased with what's wrong, followed by a request for other writers to help you improve your habits, or your work.

If you're not asking for help getting better, the only other option is that you're fishing for praise you don't deserve. If your ego is too fragile to get to work without constant reassurances that no, really, your book will be very good and lots of people will love it, then stop writing and step aside. There are folks ready to knuckle-down to do the job, and you're blocking the aisle.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Hopefully you found it useful, or at least you know someone you can throw it at because you're tired of their long-winded sessions on Facebook. Speaking of which, if you want to stay up-to-date on my latest content and releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help fund my work, and this blog in particular, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. All it takes is $1 a month to buy my everlasting gratitude, and to get some sweet swag of your own.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

5 Questions You Should Ask Every Freelance Client

Being a freelancer isn't easy. You've got to get the word out about yourself, you need to build a client base, and you have to make sure you've got enough work to stay busy while keeping the lights on. And even if you manage to do all that, you still have to slog through endless waves of frustrating bullshit from the people who hold your purse strings.

Because while you might be the artist, a lot of clients appear to forget you're not also psychic.

This looks great, Jim. But can you change the font, the location, the color scheme, and get it to me yesterday?
If you've worked with a client before, and you can navigate their tics, then sail on you mad bastards. But if you want to make sure your future clients are not a strain on your patience and sanity, try asking them these questions before you agree to their job.

Question #1: What Is The Project?

This is probably the most basic question, but too often we let clients make vague, hand-wavey gestures about something they want us to work on. So, before you get roped into an ever-blossoming bloodstain, make sure your client gives you a specific description of what you're expected to do. Is it a short story, is it a re-write, is it a chapter in a textbook, etc.? Get every detail you can, from the genre and tone to the word count. The more specifics you nail down, the easier it will be on you in the future.

Question #2: When Do You Need It?

Due dates are important, and if your client tries to hedge by saying, "well, whenever it's convenient for you to get to it," don't let them weasel out of picking a date. Set a time for when the project is due. Also, it's a good idea to set times for reviews and check-ins to be sure the project is turning out to be what your client wants. Having a due date makes sure you know when it needs to be done, but it also ensures your client can have your money in hand when you turn in the piece.

Question #3: What Am I Being Paid?

Perhaps the most important question in the whole negotiation is what your client is offering you to do the job in question. Are you getting a by-word rate, are you getting a single payment for the whole project, or are you going to get a cut of the royalties? Or is it some combination of all these things? Also, will you be paid on acceptance, or on publication? Make sure you know what you're getting out of this project, and when you should expect it before you put a single word on the page.

Question #4: Where is My Contract?

Not every project requires getting a legal team to draft a huge agreement. With that said, you should get something on paper that draws out the broad strokes of the project. Especially if you want to make sure the client is going to uphold their part of the agreement, and you want something more than a hearty handshake, and their word that they're good for it.

Question #5: What Rights Am I Signing Away?

This is one a lot of us don't think about, but it's worth considering. If you're doing a work-for-hire project, you often give up all rights to the work you produced once you've cashed the check. Is that what your client wants, or do they want your name on the piece to draw an audience? Can you republish the piece later, or do they have exclusive rights? Can you tell other people you wrote it, or are you sworn to secrecy? These are things you need to know before you get started.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing. Hopefully it's helped some of my fellow freelancers out there, or that it prevents pitfalls from those who are just thinking about getting into the life. If you like what you see, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to stay up-to-date on my posts. Lastly, if you want to throw some support my way, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. As little as $1 a month helps a lot, and it gets you some sweet swag in the process.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

No One Is Going To "Steal" Your Book Idea

We are all protective of our books. We've spent a lot of time cultivating our ideas, fleshing out our characters, and nailing down the finer points of our worlds, and we don't want all of that going to waste. We think our stories are special, and even if we're riffing on a tale as old as time we still think that we have something unique to offer. A cover of an original song in a style you've never heard before, and which you might like even more than the original.

Seriously, though, we all need to get over ourselves. No one is out here to steal your book.

Back... back damn you! This is MY book!

Original Characters DO NOT STEAL!

I don't read a lot of fan fiction, but the above quote seems to be legion on a lot of the arenas where it's enjoyed. These writers feel the need, while playing in someone else's sandbox, to put up big, bright signs declaring who their original characters are, and demanding that no one else steal them. While that's really presumptuous for someone writing stories with characters and a world typically created by someone else, it also shows an extreme arrogance. It is a big neon sign that says you think so highly of the thing you made that you are convinced people will take it, and claim it as their own if given half a chance.

You would have to pay me real money to fix the mistakes in your character, and grammar.
While most of us are not a stereotypical teen who is just discovering the joy and freedom of the creative process, this suspicion still thrives in a shocking number of places. Go to any Facebook group, any subreddit, or any forum dedicated to writing, and I guarantee you'll find authors on there who are looking for help straightening out a story conflict, or fixing a character flaw, but who are terrified of vultures just waiting to swoop down to steal their ideas.

Let me be perfectly clear on this point. We're talking absolute crystal, here. Repeat after me; no one is going to steal your ideas.

It's Not Stealing if They Write Their Own Book

Before you get yourself all in a twist about someone else stealing your firstborn fiction like some no-talent Rumpelstiltskin, answer this question. If you're discussing your idea with someone, or with a community, and your idea inspires them to write their own book, does that stop you from going forward on your own project?

I'll answer for you; it doesn't.

Besides, books being "too similar" never seems to stop them from selling.
You're not doing yourself any favors by treating your book like some kind of secret recipe. Because the people out there who would be capable of seeing a protagonist and a plot line they could turn into a book are already pretty busy doing that with their own books. And the people who would steal someone else's book, claiming it as their own to cash-in? Well, you're not giving them a book. You've presented a general scene, a main character, and a plot complication. Maybe a few hundred words at most, if you're generous.

Ain't no one out there going to try to spin that straw into gold. Because it's too much damn work.

Thieves Steal Books, Not Ideas

There are book thieves out there, don't get me wrong. But more often than not these are the vanity publishers, the shady "agents", and people who are looking for a quick score. If someone writes their own book, even a book that is similar to yours in some way, it won't be the same book you write. Two authors, even working from the same writing prompt, will create two different finished products.

Actual book thieves are only interested in a complete manuscript. Something they can take, then turn around to sell.

So, you're not wrong to be afraid of thieves. But know that no one is interested in the basic structure of your plot, or in your kickass protagonist. It's also not very likely that someone is going to think your story "changing up" the formula for magic, or space travel, is so unique that they have to copy it. Your book is pretty safe, until it's complete. When it is complete, make sure you keep a tight hold on it. Send it to publishers and agents, by all means, but do your research, and see who you're comfortable with. Because your book is a lot more likely to be stolen and abused by some fly-by-night "publisher" than it will ever be by a fellow author.

Also, if any of this was a revelation, you might also want to check out Questions Beginning Writers Ask (That Experienced Writers Are Tired of Hearing).

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Hopefully it helps some folks out there who've been dealing with this issue. If you'd like to keep up-to-date on all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to support me and my work, head on over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. For $1 a month you can easily buy my eternal gratitude, and get some free books while you're at it.