Friday, August 30, 2013

How to Make Money Blogging: The Literary Mercenary's Guide

As an author there is no feeling that can compare with knowing I've really affected a reader. Knowing someone out there went to bed with gooseflesh crawling down his back, or had to choke back tears at the end of one of my tales gives me the rare satisfaction of a job well-done. There's a tricky thing about job satisfaction though.

You can't eat it.

You can't pay rent with compliments, you can't get your car fixed with admiration, and you sure as hell can't barter professional pride for medical services. For that you need cold, hard cash; something writers are notoriously short on. Fortunately if you have the ability to put words on a page in an order that people find interesting and thought-provoking, then you have the ability to run a blog. If you can run a blog, then you can start getting paid.

Click, Click, Boom!

Have you ever wondered why there's advertising everywhere on the Internet? Because if a website has ads on it then someone is paying when those ads get clicked. It could be your favorite dating website, an online TV streaming site, or even your favorite webcomic; nothing is free. As long as the site has Google AdSense though, and a decent amount of website traffic, it's going to make enough to pay its bills at the end of the month.

What's Google AdSense?

Google AdSense is one of the most popular advertising machines on the net today. It's also the one that's operating right here as you read. It also might be giving birth to Skynet, it's hard to tell. The way it works is that you sign up for an account, and based on your website you either get approved or told to go work on your numbers. Mostly if Google believes your site has enough content and enough regular views to make you a viable advertiser it will approve your account and give you a number. Once you have a number you can let Google read over your posts and pick out keywords to choose the right ads for your page. For instance, in this post right here, chances are good there are a lot of ads about getting a degree in a creative field, getting your book published or finding other writing jobs. I'm not psychic; Google saw what I was talking about, and then matched the ads accordingly.

So How Do I Get Paid?

That's up to you, kimosabe. Once you have an account you could go to any website that supports AdSense (,, and are just a few I can mention off the top of my head) and start creating content. For every ad click you get you'll be given a fee, from a few cents to a dollar and change. So if someone comes to my page and clicks an ad for getting a graduate degree in creative writing I'll have .50 in my account. If that happens 1,000 times in a given pay period (30 days or so), then that's most of a rent check Google will be sending me a few weeks after the end of the month. Every click gets the creator one step closer to making more tasty, tasty content for you.

Is That The Only Way?

Of course it isn't the only way. In fact no writer should ever put all of his or her chips on one method of getting paid. That's how you go from somebody to nobody in the space of a torn page. While Google AdSense is great, blogs have a couple other tricks up their sleeves.

The first is merchandise. If you have a webcomic, or if you've written a book (Goodreads has a comprehensive list of my titles right here for those who are interested) then a blog lets your audience know what you have for sale. Exposure can translate directly to fans, and fans will purchase things you have for sale to support you and keep your career going.

Additionally, if you don't like requiring people to click ads then you can seek out a website that offers PPM (per-per-thousand, even though it looks like it should be millions). Yahoo! Voices does this (and I can vouch for them, with an archive of over 300 articles on various topics at this link), for instance. The way this works is that you write an article on some topic, and for every 1,000 hits you receive cumulatively, you earn a fee. That fee ranges from $1.00 to $2.00, so it's important that you have a lot of content, popular content, or better yet both.

Any Other Tips of the Trade?

Well, the only thing I can testify for certain is that bloggers need readers just like any other kind of writer. Sure you might have a catchy title, or become a short-term sensation, but if you don't have a core readership then you don't have a long-term solution for earning income. That's why your content has to be actionable, entertaining, informative, and preferably evergreen. Making fun of Twilight's been popular for years now, but the series is done to death, its fan base is moving on, and with it goes the high search volume, and all of that lovely traffic you might have had.

For more updates and handy solutions, as well as to stalk what I'm doing and where I'm going, follow my author page on Facebook or join my train over on Tumblr. Lastly, don't forget that the Literary Mercenary runs on Google AdSense.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

My Time in The Red Trenches: An Un-Romantic Romance

Many writers have had to do things they aren't proud of. Some of us edited college papers for stale pizza while working on the great American novel. Others took gigs as ghost writers, letting people put a different name on our hard work. A select few of us go a little bit further, into the bad part of Book Town. We take a deep breath, think of the money, and pen sweaty stories no one reads unless they're home alone. I was, and it shames me to admit I still am, a romance author.

Why The Shame?

A lot of people over the last few years have asked me why I'm so down on romance as a genre. They ask if I feel emasculated writing for a genre that people generally think of as feminine. They ask if I'm just doing it for the money and reputation until I can write something I want to write, and I'm tired of waiting. They ask if I blush when it's time to make my characters fuck. No, no, no, and for the last time, no. None of these things are why when I speak about romance I use the same tone I would use for being paid to clean up prophylactics from a drive-in parking lot. The reason is, simply put, that romance has a disease. That disease is bad writing.

Them's Fighting Words!

Then consider the gauntlet thrown. I've been on the writing and editing side of this genre, and I've seen things that would make a 4Chan administrator puke. Plot holes you could fit a grown man's arm through, deus ex machina that didn't even have a sheet over them, and saccharine dialogue that gave me thousand dollar dental bills. I don't want to say these things, and it pains me to think of them, but they exist and people are paying hard-earned entertainment dollars for them. Somewhere. Or so I'm assured.

Romance publishers, particularly small publishers, are so ubiquitous they are some of the first (sometimes only) places writers with no publishing credits and no agent can go to for work. These houses are hungry for new talent, and it's not hard to get through the filters. With the death of so many literary magazines and e-zines I had the choice of working for free on the magazine circuit and hoping for crumbs, or shooting for publication and royalty checks with a story that had romantic elements to it. It was no contest, and I dove in head first hoping for the best.

What I Saw

I'd heard all the rumors and all the stereotypes associated with the genre. It's all just mindless porn, one group said. There's no plot, character development, or believable relationships another group railed. Everything's in pink, said a heckler somewhere in the back of my head. I steadfastly ignored these prejudices when I decided to pen romance stories. I told myself all genres have bad writers and crappy books in them. All genres have their own stereotypes. None of that matters now. Write the story, get the commission, keep quality control happy by writing solid, believable stories that people will like, and you'll have a publication list the length of your arm in no time.

On the one hand, I was right. I penned one short story after another, even put out a novella in the form of a short story trilogy, all of them with romance blends as the overarching genre. I created believable characters who had to work for the relationships they were involved in, and I threw them into the gnashing gears of plots ranging from capricious fae princes, to invading alien hordes, to steampunk science gone wrong. I was riding high... until I saw who I was riding alongside.

When I was asked to look at new submissions and edit stories that had been accepted I seemed to be the only person trying to change the stereotypes about the genre. Without breaking contracts and naming names, I read stories where villains monologued, where magically transported time travelers from ancient Persia spoke modern colloquial English and were unfazed by Western culture and trends without explanation, where more than half of a story was dedicated to the lead's routine tasks at a veterinary clinic, and where the entire plot of a story appeared to be a man's juvenile fascination with a young woman's body when he woke up as her instead of himself.

In these stories there was no courtship between the characters, and that was bad enough. Romance is a part of everyday life, and if one can write believable people then a believable relationship (a good one or a bad one) isn't far behind. There was also no attention to historical details, no attempt to write engaging dialogue or fight scenes when they occurred, no motivation assigned to characters beyond a stock role ("he did that because he's the bad guy" doesn't fly when I'm holding the red pen), and there was not a single action taken by a character that anyone who hadn't been lobotomized with a sharp stick would have taken.

What I Tried To Do About It

I did what any self-respecting creative professional would do. I suggested we reject every story which was poorly written (passive voice, shifting tenses, an un-engaging plot were the most common reasons cited). When I was informed I could not reject certain stories because they'd been accepted I uncapped my editorial tool and tried to make helpful suggestions. Most of my suggestions were outright refused (the very logical "why does the immortal villain care whether or not the couple is happy together? They pose no threat to him, and will die off in a few measly decades" was pretty much ignored, much to my disappointment), and the manuscripts went to press. I decided to keep writing character-driven fiction that, while it fit the theme of the collection or publisher, integrated all sex and romantic attachments into the plot in logical ways while still telling an engaging story with visceral text that got under my reader's skin.

At The End of The Day...

I did the best I could. I felt then and I still feel now that I wrote interesting, solid stories any reader would be pleased with. Do you know what the most common compliment I've received from readers is? Those who've actually read some of my work? "I really liked it. It didn't feel like I was reading romance at all."

This is the literary equivalent of "I like fish as long as it doesn't taste like fish," and while it makes me proud, it also makes me a little sad. For a genre so expansive and with so much potential to have such negative regard tells me that we are doing something wrong. What is it? I don't know. My suggestions are that we collectively raise our reading expectations, refuse to spend good money on books that just try to titillate the audience for a quick buck, and for the love of all things holy use some classy cover art.

If you've read this far and aren't fuming too badly to concentrate, I am not saying that romance as a genre is bad. It's sick. There are healthy, virile authors in it trying to fight off the hackneyed infection. They can only do so much on their own though. It's up to readers, and if readers keep buying tripe then soon tripe is all that will be available.

"What do you expect?" I've been asked. "It's a romance book, after all."

I expect a book worth what I paid for it. I expect a book with attention to detail, whose characters make me care, and whose plot feels as real as the weave of my jeans. I expect real people to love each other, and to do so in such a way that doesn't make me reflexively draw a crimson Bic. I expect romance to stop being given an eye roll and a "boys will be boys" style excuse when it eats out of the garbage then tries to kiss you. That, in a nutshell, is what I expect.

About The Author

For those who are curious what sort of romance an author with this much vitriol would pen, feel free to check out some of my stories, listed with links to free samples below. If you want to hear more of my ramblings and keep up with my doings, then please follow me on Facebook or mainline me on Tumblr.

Summer People: When Bethany takes a job to help save up money before school she just wanted a summer that would never end. If she's not careful, that's exactly what she'll get. YA paranormal romance (the monster reveal makes it all worthwhile).

Heart of the Myrmidon: After the Hyperion War the earth's surface became a wasteland, and those victors who remained were forced to live below. Mankind created weapons the like of which had never been seen before or since. Weapons like Pollux. One of the Myrmidon, titans engineered as elite soldiers, Pollux has been looking for purpose ever since the guns went silent. He finds it in the most unexpected of places. A sci-fi/romance crossover, this story has a bit of heat to it.

Skin Deep: The City of Angels is going to hell. Malachi has seen it all before, and he's prepared to wait it out. Miracles do happen though, and when someone tries to take his away things escalate quickly. Angels, daemons, devils, and an Old Testament enforcer, this modern fantasy story doesn't pull punches and isn't afraid to start out smoldering.

The Unusual Transformation of Abraham Carver: Iris Carver's husband is dying of a rare blood disease. When an experimental treatment cures him, it seems too good to be true. He starts vanishing out into the night, and when Iris looks into his eyes she sees another man looking back at her. How much of Abraham is left, and will she discover his secret before it's too late? An unapologetic dark steampunk/erotica trilogy, don't judge this book by its cover.

Friday, August 16, 2013

How Much Money Do Writers Really Make?

One of the primary questions people often ask when I tell them I'm an author is, "How much money do you make?" Before you ever choose to ask a writer this question again, I would like you to please watch this video.

For those of you still with me who haven't lost your faith in humanity, or an eye to a nearby pen, this video sums up a great deal of the preconceived notions and the focus of the public at large in my experience. For some the very idea of writing a book is so alien (particularly to those who don't understand reading for pleasure in a world where DVDs exist) the only yardstick they have to measure the quality of a book by is what financial return it gave the author. These are the same people who, by and large, assume that only writers who are rolling in piles of money reeking in fan sweat are "real" writers. Unfortunately there is a lot that goes into how much money a given writer makes. Things like...


Becoming a successful writer is kind of like storming the beaches at Normandy. You're hungry, tired, damp, you've pissed yourself, and you're running straight into the teeth of oncoming criticism. With hundreds of explosive obstacles in your way and machine gun nests full of battle-hardened editors, it's a race to see who gets up the swell and comes through that mess without getting shredded to pieces and sent back to the sea.

Unless, of course, you're dropped behind enemy lines because you know a guy, who knows a guy.

Some of the biggest names in the game, from Christopher Paolini to Joe Hill are where they are at least partially because they had a head start. If someone has the ability to walk into a pitch meeting, or to put a manuscript right into an editor's hands after stepping over the slush pile, that is a powerful thing. Problem is that most writers don't have the ability to punch a number and talk to a family friend/uncle/mother/father and just set a time. We get to run up the beach.

Market Appeal

Sometimes there is no explaining the trends in entertainment. No one really knows why "Twilight" became a smash success, or why "50 Shades of Grey" is a monstrous blockbuster. At the same point, most people would never have predicted that a book as unpopular as the "Lord of the Rings" series would bounce back from obscurity and become a standard-setter of an entire genre. If a book was guaranteed to make these kinds of sales, then publishers would perform sexual acts for which there are no names to get the author's name on a contract.

There is no such thing as a guaranteed bestseller, unfortunately. What publishers have are past sales reports and estimates from market research. If they see a book that looks like it could be a celebrity look-alike for a big hit, then they'll often be willing to gamble on it and back it up. If a book is projected to do poorly, or if there are no readers for it (an unfortunate truth for the many talented writers who want to explore the romance between single-celled organisms fighting to create a new species in the bowels of an elder beast between the stars), then getting the word out will be nearly impossible.

Fan Base

Speaking of getting the word out, perhaps the most important a writer needs to make money is a fan base. Ever wonder why it is celebrities, even boring, stupid, D-list celebrities that only a few people have ever heard of, seem to be able to get book deals with a snap of their fingers? It's because people know who they are, and there's a slice of the population that will pay good money to see what's between those pages. The bigger the name, the more grease is on the skids from keyboard to release date. Kanye West, we're looking at you. Disapprovingly.

Speaking of names, a writer's past performance also weighs into this category. Publishers are not in the business because they want to sponsor new and experimental artists, and they aren't in it to give the struggling guy a hand up. Publishers exist to make money; they are a business. If a writer is an unproven talent then that makes him or her a risk. If they have a strong fan base and they've made money in the past, then regardless of how poorly-written or juvenile the books those writers put out are a publisher would be stupid not to keep raking in profits.


It is not an accident that this category is last on the list. I'm not cynical enough to make the case that the whole publishing industry has gone to shit and that the inmates are running the asylum. Not yet, anyway. But unproven talent it a lot like an unproven soldier. All the training, polish, test scores, and simulations in the world cannot predict exactly how someone will do once they get out in the field and the safety comes off. Even if a writer can create a great narrative that sucks in the reader and dodges every single pitfall of bad storytelling there is, it's still no guarantee that book will make any money.

So How Much Money Do Writers Make?

For the last time, it depends. If a writer goes to a major publisher then he or she might get a $5,000 advance, or a $70,000 advance on a book. Depending on how that book sells that writer might be set for life. Or if the book doesn't sell then that writer will never see another penny after the advance check. If a writer goes to a small press then there might not even be an advance; just a promise of 10% of the physical sales (if they have them) and 40-60% of the electronic sales.

A writer could become a self-publishing sensation (they do happen from time to time) and sell 100,000 copies in a year, netting $80,000 or more in sales. Or a writer could invest a huge amount of time in getting a book to that tipping point, just to watch it sink like a stone and return no more than a few bucks because friends and family gave it a pity purchase.

If a writer works for a newspaper or a magazine then there might be an annual salary, or a flat fee per piece that gets published. Short story writers might get between nothing and $30 for a story (though bigger publishers will often pay $200 or more for a single story), or if the story is featured in an anthology then they'll get a cut of the royalties.

Just like the books they put out, every writer is different. Generally speaking, though, the bigger a writer's company, the more famous that writer is, and the more coverage the book(s) in question get, the bigger the numbers on the tax forms will be.

If you made it this far, thank you very much for reading. Check out what's new with my work by following me on Facebook, or if you're a fan of harder drugs, find me at The Literary Mercenary on Tumblr. If you're wondering about all the stories I've published, then type my name into your friendly neighborhood bookstore's website and see what comes up (psst!, check out the anthologies Sidekicks, Noir Carnival, and Big Damn Heroines). Lastly, if you'd like to help support me and my blog, go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to toss some bread in my jar. $1 a month goes further than you think.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Dumitru Theory of Hobbit Supremacy: A Mixed Message in Lord of the Rings

I am an avowed fan of science fiction and fantasy. I spent my youth as well as a lot of my adult life first reading, and then writing high fantasy along with sword and sorcery. That said, I did not grow up with Lord of the Rings. I have not, in fact, read the books to this day. I have seen the films, and that combined with conversations I've had with friends who have read Tolkien is where most of my knowledge comes from.

I'd like to clear the air a bit at this point. I don't like hobbits. I don't find their furry feet adorable, I am not charmed by their prodigious appetites, and at no point in time do I find myself rooting for one of the little country bumpkins to come out on top. I do not view them as lovable underdogs; rather I see them as a bunch of bumblers who don't want to be on a quest, and even worse who have no skills to contribute. They are children playing at adventuring when there are plenty of hardened, combat-tested warriors who have a job to do and who would be imminently more qualified to take on the mantle of main character.

With that said, I still see the tropes and archetypes at work in Lord of the Rings, and I can appreciate them for what they are. The hero's journey, the fight against the great evil, the idea that power corrupts, and even the comparisons between the great war of Tolkien's time and the themes in his stories. I also, like anyone with eyes, picked up on the streak of "industrialism is bad" running through a large portion of LOTR. Mordor is a cesspit filled with rock, smog and slag, and Sarumon's corruption is represented by his breaking a pact with nature and destroying the forest while strip mining the land so he can arm a horde of killing machines to run rampant over Middle Earth. Everything would just be easier, it seems, if people could be content being simple country folk. Just like hobbits.

There's just one problem with that. Hobbits are the most technologically advanced people on Middle Earth.

The Dumitru Theory of Hobbit Supremacy

This is where the Dumitru Theory of Hobbit Supremacy comes in. First proposed by Alex Dumitru, this theory essentially states that in a manuscript with heavy overtones of industry leading to acts of evil and the defilement of the land, the author somehow overlooked that his quaint, folksy, backwoods protagonists are in fact centuries ahead of the rest of Middle Earth when it comes to crafting complicated machines and harnessing some of the more basic elements of modern technology.

Think about the Shire for a moment, what do you see? Quaint lanes with hobbit holes on either side, waterwheels in the creaks, a little farming village at peace with the elements. Hobbits lounging on their stoops, while nearby green gardens sprout, perhaps. Now imagine the rest of Middle Earth. Does anyone in Gondor have suspenders? Or buttons for that matter? Is there a single doorknob in all of Rohan? Is there a windmill anywhere in the whole of the kingdoms of man? Why do farmers with merely human appetites spend entire days doing back-breaking labor to keep their fields when hobbits can be idle nearly all the time and still keep larders that will feed a horde of dwarves? Where does all that glass come from? Or the dozens of leather bound books? Goods only nobles would be able to afford are commonplace in the Shire, and everyone seems to accept that.

It's clear that hobbits don't achieve any of these feats through magic, as they stare around gob-smacked at the idea of elves and the things they've achieved. The wider world appears to be a mystery to them, and their separatist attitudes tends to keep them at home, but it's a home that is cleaner, greener, and which requires a minimum of effort to keep up.

What That All Means

There are a few important questions readers should ask. For instance, do hobbits represent the ideal of industrialization, where everyone can be idle and pursue books and education instead of working all day? Alternatively is what Mordor has become the end of the slippery slope, and what a technological utopia such as the Shire might become if it grows too smart for its own good? Or is this all so much smoke, and Tolkien never thought about how advanced the little towns he'd seen and grown up in would really be when placed in a thoroughly medieval setting?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My Name is Neal F. Litherland, and I'm Here to Help

I've been called many things during my professional career. Since I got started in 2008 I've been a writer, an author, a journalist and a freelancer. As of this post I'm officially adding blogger to that list as well. My name is Neal F. Litherland, and I am the Literary Mercenary.

What does that mean? Well, in a nutshell it means that I'm the guy in the editorial trenches. I'm the ghostwriter who gets it done. I'm the pinch-hitter when an anthology needs a closer, or when the regular guy had to duck out because of a family emergency. I put pen to paper for anyone that's willing to pay my price, and like most starving artists I'm willing to work dirt cheap.

This blog serves a two-fold purpose, which I'm hoping my readers will appreciate. On the one hand, I want to provide what insight and advice I can offer so that other writers out there can follow the trail I've blazed and avoid many of the pitfalls I've had to fall into and then climb back out of a time or three before I learned my lesson. I want to provide tips on which publishers are accepting manuscripts, and to review those I've personally worked with so that no author sells his or her baby to a vanity press in a three piece suit. On the other hand I want to add my voice to the ongoing debates that affect us as readers and as writers. I want to weigh in with my own experience, and to share it with those who haven't had the advantage of being on both sides of the editorial desk. Lastly, I want to bitch about some of the things out there that flat out piss me off. And since it's my blog, I think I'll do just that.

The goal at the moment is to manage one entry per week, and to make sure that each entry provides actionable information on something. My latest work will be featured of course (how else am I going to let people know when something is out?), but I'll also be talking up other writers whose work I admire, and if this experiment lasts I may even have a guest post from time to time. So with that my dearest readers have a seat, and take a load off. I have got some serious shit to lay on you.

Also, for those who want the latest updates on my work and on other things I find interesting, Like my Facebook author page at