Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The One Phrase Every Author Needs to Know For Networking Success

"It's not what you know, it's who you know."

This phrase has been in use for over a century, and the sentiment has probably been around ever since society grew to the point it became impossible to know every person in your village by name and face. Some authors get to the top of the pile because they worked hard, wrote really great books, and they had enough zeitgeist magic to get and keep a loyal following. Authors who stay on top, the ones who never lack for buzz and who seem to always have the support of other people in the industry, do something over and above all that; they network.

Pictured: A Successful Career, In Abstract
It makes sense, after all. People want to help their friends, and if you have a network that can get you into closed-door meetings with publishers, get visible reviews of your work in front of the reading public, or help you get onto a TV or radio show then of course you're going to have a better shot at being a successful author. The real question is how do you get those kind of networking connections? Is there a certain convention you have to go to, a particular social media platform or page you need to be active on, or a certain publisher you need to get in with?

Yes, but over and above those things there is a single phrase you need to use (and live by) in order to build your network. What is that phrase?

Would You Like Some Free Promo?

That's it. Like I said in How To Get Your "Big Break" As An Author one of the most important things you can do is reach out a helping hand to other people. If you meet another author, ask them if they're looking for reviews for their book, or if they'd like to be interviewed on your blog, Youtube channel, podcast, (seriously, you should have at least one of these options on hand) etc. If you find a cool business you like and you want to get on the owner's good side then post a review of their products. Even a little shout out (like telling you to check out Obscure Belts, a really unique belt maker that I met at C2E2 this year. Seriously, check them out and Like them on Facebook) can mean you've just made a friend.

You know you want to know how to open The Enigma.
You don't need to command the attention of a huge cult of followers for this strategy to work either; you just need to be willing to extend a hand. In fact if you add on the caveat of, "I don't have much of an audience, but what I do have I'll gladly use," you're even more likely to engender goodwill. What you're really saying is I'm putting myself out there for you, because I think more people should know about what you're doing.

That's a powerful statement, and it's one that will turn you from some guy at a convention to my new best friend in a big hurry.

Keep It Calm, Chill, and Professional

While this strategy is a great way to expand your network in a big hurry, you have to be aware of when it won't work. For example, people who are already famous (Your Jim Butchers, George R. R. Martins, and Margaret Weises, to name a few) already have plenty of fame and promotion. It can't hurt to offer a little more, but it might seem like they're doing you the favor rather than the other way around.

Also, tune-in to social queues. If someone is hedging, or you feel like they're trying to decline your offer without being rude, give them an out. Not everyone is going to give you the big smile and hearty handshake combo that usually accompanies a genuine offer of aid. Generally speaking if you're holding out a hand to someone, and that person doesn't immediately put a business card in it, it's best to tip your hat and walk away.

Making this kind of offer still leaves people with a positive impression of you. Even if the initial response is a, "no, thank you," that same person might contact you later to see if your offer still stands. And, most importantly, when you help enough people they'll be willing to return the favor. That means when your next book comes out you might have a bevy of bloggers, authors, podcasters, and general people in the industry who are willing to hold up your book and yell, "hey, you should all check this out!"

You can't buy help like that.

As always thanks for stopping in for this week's Business of Writing piece, and if you'd like to help support me and my blog just go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and become a patron today! If you want to make sure you're getting all of my updates you can follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and yes, even on Twitter.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why Do Women Read So Much M/M Erotica?

For those who haven't been following my publishing history too closely, I started publishing romance and erotica as a way to build up my resume and to make more contacts in the industry. While I was stroking the Red Press I worked with companies like Storm Moon Press, which specializes in non-maistream erotica. That can mean everything from homosexual couples and bi-sexual love triangles to aliens and orgies (seriously, if you want something they probably have it. Also check out Big Damn Heroines for my story "Terror on Saturn VI"). It's a weird world for someone who hadn't written for those niches before, but the longer I was part of that community the more I noticed something.

Male on male erotica wasn't being written for men. It was being written for women.

What kind of sense does that even make?
Thanks for the easy assist stock-photo guy whose sexuality I am not speculating on. It didn't make sense to me, but I figured as an author I should attempt to understand this odd quirk of audience. What I found is interesting, and it shines a light on topics most of us don't think about when we sit down to put a little extra steam in our books.

It Really Is All Men's Fault

The first person I asked about this was someone who was gay, male, and enjoyed books. His response was simple, and more than a little obvious once I thought about it. "It's because lesbians are the straightest porn there is."

It sounds un-intuitive at first, but it isn't an inaccurate statement. As Slate has pointed out in the past, most video pornography that claims to have "lesbians" in it is actually directed at men. The actresses are groomed to appeal to the male gaze (lesbian watchers typically roll their eyes as they point out the long nails actresses sport in these scenes that are a big no-no for most genuinely gay women), and that if you're not hyped up on the chemically-driven needs of a raging hard-on it's easy to notice a lot of the actresses are just moaning for a paycheck.

Porn has told us bigger lies in the past, though.
The result is that when you introduce "lesbians," they're more often keyed to titillate men than they are women. So, since men decided to steal that away from female readers (which still confuses me, since there's no place for men in lesbian sex, but I digress) those same female readers latched onto male on male erotica.

Women Like Gay Men For The Same Reasons Men Like Lesbians

As I hinted at earlier, this statement confuses me. So I did a little additional research, and there seems to be a correlation between the things female readers like about erotica featuring two men and the things male consumers like about erotica involving two women.

According to the blog on Heroes and Heartbreakers some of the answers are that the different perspective (seeing sex through the eyes of a man) is unique enough to be erotic all on its own. There's the taboo factor, which is particularly vital with M/M erotica because gay men are still not really portrayed often and positively in the mainstream media. There's the attraction of two fantasy men without a woman getting in the way (similar to how men might point out that lesbian pornography doesn't have any extraneous penises for viewers to deal with).

Art being what it is, after all.
There was another thing that lots of readers pointed out though; M/M erotica often focuses on the emotions of the participants and the passion of the act. Whether it's two men coming to terms with their feelings, or just a bout of hard, rough sex, these stories focus more on perceptions and emotions, about what's going on inside the players instead of just a pure, raunchy description of whose body parts are interacting with whose.

Is It The New Romance?

Once I got to the discussion being had at on the subject I was back on familiar ground again. Whether it's slash fic (a form of fan fiction wherein male characters who are not portrayed as gay in the source material are placed in situations or relationships where they are gay), or homespun erotica all of the selling points made sense; characters with genuine story and passion, good writing, and erotica that contributes to the story instead of just being one big body fluid puddle.

In short what draws women to M/M erotica seems to be all of the qualities that people largely accuse mainstream romance novels of lacking. You combine that with the absence of chauvinistic problems found in typical romance fiction (such as the man needing to fix a woman because of her dark past, which usually involves a history of abuse of some kind), and it makes a lot more sense why women are drawn to this particular sub-genre.

There's no one talking down to them, there's more focus on the characters and their stories, and generally speaking the stories simply have more appeal. These are all points to take note of if you're thinking about trying to get into this market, especially given how damnably crowded it is for one that a lot of readers don't even think about.

Seriously, go to Amazon and do a search. Don't say I didn't warn you, though.

Thanks for dropping in on The Literary Mercenary! If you'd like to support me, my blog, and all the work I do then go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and become a patron today! Also if you want to make sure you don't miss any more updates like this one be sure you follow me on Facebook and Tumblr too!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Want To Be A Successful Writer? Then Stop "Chasing Your Dreams"

There's a strange thing that's happened to me over the years, and I'm willing to bet it's happened to other authors as well. When I first announced I was going to be an author people clapped me on the back and said, "You follow that dream, kid. You can do it!" So I did, and when I started getting stories published and my name in the paper or my voice on the radio people who knew me said, "I really admire the way you chase your dream."

But when I complain that being an author is rough on the pocket book these same people roll their eyes and say, "Look, you can't have your cake and eat it too. Either chase your dreams, or get a regular job."

Well. Seems we're going there today.

What's The Problem?

Ignoring the idea that authors are supposed to be broke (which is similar to how people freak out about those on public assistance having a nice car or a good phone, not knowing that those things are relics from the time before that person lost his or her job) the big problem I've found is that 5-letter D word people keep using over and over again.

Being an author is not a dream. Being an author is a job.

This might sound like a little thing; an unimportant semantic argument. It's important to remember that the words we use to describe things change the way we look at those things. No one knows this better than authors, since that emotionally and psychologically manipulative smoke-and-mirrors with language is our stock in trade. As a quick for instance, think of a man whom you would describe as assertive. Got that image in your head? Now picture someone described as aggressive. Different guy, isn't it?

That's kind of the point.

Careers Have Goals, Dreams Just Happen

Here's another reason that D word is such a problem. When you're kicking up your heels and fantasizing about something you don't question how you got from A to B. You don't ask where your audience came from, how many hours you had to put in, or how many books you had to write. You just focus on being famous, and on being able to pay all your bills and do whatever you want with all that sweet, sweet royalty money. Book signings and interviews, lounging in your pajamas, drinking coffee, and just letting that story flow, baby!

If your goal is to become an author then those are questions you need to answer. You need to know how many words per day you can manage, you need to figure out what makes your stories different, and you need to know which publishing route you're going to take. You need to make contacts with publishers and reviewers, and you need to get your name and your work in front of as many people as possible. You also need to polish up your prose, and make sure that your voice is a unique one among the hundreds of thousands of other authors who are trying to do the same damn thing you're doing.

You also need to do field research. For authenticity.

The Facts, and The Legend

In The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance we have a newsman who gets the real story behind a genuine bit of famous Old West gun play. Unsurprisingly the real story is quite different from the myth it's been blown up into, and the film sums up what's going to happen with the famous line, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Part of the problem is that authors (and really all artists) have to compete with this sort of thing.

I'll explain. You see, we all know there are professional authors (and painters, and actors, and every other creative profession) out there. We hear about them on the news, we read their books, and we see their numbers. We hear about that couple who self-published steamy romance novels, and overnight they made enough money to get out of debt and pay off their house. We know Stephen King is a multi-millionaire who received a $70,000 advance on his first novel Carrie. Kathy Reichs has written dozens of books, and her work is the basis for the popular TV series Bones. George R. R. Martin has money and fans rolling in hand over fist, even though he takes years to complete every novel in A Song of Ice and Fire.

The problem is that we hear about things like this so often that the public doesn't realize (or just forgets) these authors are the outliers. They're the lucky few who through great talent, a perfect storm of exposure, or the fickle finger of the zeitgeist have the kind of rock star fame we think of when we hear the word author.

And this guy isn't helping.
To make matters worse when we fictionalize authors they tend to get even larger than life. Richard Castle (the character played by Nathan Fillion in the TV show Castle) is an eccentric millionaire who tags along on murder cases for research. If a problem can't be solved by attempting to apply book-writing logic to the real world (a hit-or-miss endeavor at the best of times), then he can often overcome difficulties with a handshake, a signed first-edition, and a big, fat check. We always see him playing with expensive toys, talking about antique alcohol, and getting laid... but you know something we never see him doing?

Working. We see all of the fruits, but none of the labor.

Why? Well because a TV show about a guy who spent his days looking up weird stuff on the Internet to fact-check his thrillers isn't terribly interesting. It's the same way that news stories about authors focus on their followings, the number of books they've published, the number of copies they've sold... but we rarely hear about the number of hours they put in. We don't see the long hours on the road traveling to conventions, or the piles of notes taken as authors try to work through bumps in the plot road or capture ideas for future projects before they can get away. We don't see authors calling up newspapers for interviews, responding to queries from potential readers and reviewers, and the thousand other daily tasks that are all part of the job.

Why? Because while that would present a more honest view of the profession, and maybe even help those who feel being an author is their calling, it isn't sexy. So it doesn't get screen time.

Waking Up From "The Dream"

I just want to re-iterate; being an author is not a dream. It's a job, a career, a calling, a skill, and a craft, but it is not a dream. Authors are creative professionals who manufacture a product, and who then have to market and deliver that product. What we do is no different from any other entrepreneur, except that what we are delivering is ephemeral.

We deliver dreams, but we are awake while we're doing it.

As always, thank you for stopping by The Literary Mercenary, and if you'd like to help support me then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and become a patron today! If you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates then you should also follow me on Facebook and Tumblr.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

What is The Difference Between Tragedy and Grimdark?

Labels are important, both for readers as well as for writers. How you classify a story helps libraries and bookstores sort which shelf it goes onto, and it can act as a big, red sign for readers who have a taste for particular fiction. Sometimes those labels can be helpful, like when a sub-genre emerges and grows into its own distinct category. Sometimes these labels can be used to pour shame onto books though, labeling them as surely as a big, scarlet A.

One of those labels is Grimdark, and it is still a battleground for readers and writers alike.

In the gutters of the genre ghettos there can be only one heir to the fantasy throne.

What Is Grimdark?

Before we get too far into the conversation we should all be on the same page. The phrase Grimdark, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, began with the quote, "In the grim darkness of the future, there is only war," which comes from the Warhammer 40,000 game. For those not familiar with the game it features a bleak, dystopian future where all races and species are locked in bloody, eternal conflict across the stars, and the millions of bodies and oceans of blood are justified by nothing so much as a need to feed the war machine.

The label has expanded beyond the war game and its brethren though; today it refers mostly to speculative fiction (a broad term encompassing sci-fi and fantasy alike) where there is A) a grim and dark tone (natch), B) a sense of realism, and C) the agency of the characters involved in the story.

For example, say you were writing a fantasy story. Let's say that this story depicted a world where deaths are visceral, and the politics behind wars are realistic. Kings are not noble, divine rulers but rather spoiled children or iron-fisted tyrants who took the throne by the sword and keep it the same way. The heroes of your story have flaws, and there is no guarantee that their actions are noble or good. There is, in fact, no guarantee that the protagonists will succeed (or even survive), or that in succeeding they will enact any real change.

Does this sound familiar?

Brace yourself... Martin is coming.
George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire has become the standard-bearer for grimdark fantasy. It is, in its way, an anti-Tolkien where the world is full of human complexities, evil is present in the hearts of men rather than in some outside force that must be defeated, and where vicious killers and tortured souls can exist in the same character.

Grimdark has its detractors though. People who claim that this kind of fiction glorifies brutality, and that in its pursuit of "realism" it's simply creating soulless pornography. Where is the hero's journey? Where are the morality tales where knights in gleaming armor fight against the evils that plague humanity in the form of dragons, demons, and evil wizards? Lastly, and the most often asked question, who the hell gets catharsis out of this?

I have an answer to that last one, actually. Humans, and they have since the dawn of Western civilization.

Tragedy's Rockstar Child

The Grimdark sub-genre is seen by many as an unnecessary attempt at edginess. It's fantasy in a black leather jacket with bad boy shades, out to make you think he's going to change before he fucks your girlfriend, blows smoke in your face, and roars out onto that highway to hell with flames shooting from his tail pipe.

The catharsis in watching terrible things happen, and in seeing characters try to fight against overwhelming forces, goes back a long, long way though. According to the Wiki gods it goes back to about the 6th century BCE.

A couple thousand years before this fellow, if you're counting.
Greek tragedy is, in its basest form, watching fundamentally flawed characters struggle against things too big for them to beat. Oedipus fights against fate, and his quest for truth opens his eyes before he shuts them forever. Antigone doesn't fare much better, struggling against generations of tragedy before smashing against the rocks of her own. Watching a world where one wrong decision, or one perilous action can wreck bloody ruin on everything you held dear has been the preferred entertainment of people for more than a millennium.

Grimdark is just the latest child of this human desire to watch everything fall apart.

When Everything Ends in Blood and Tears

There will always be people who prefer happy endings and black-and-white stories, just as there were people in Ancient Greece who preferred comedy to tragedy. Some people like to pick up whichever mask most suits them that day, satisfying the need they have at the time. Some people, readers and writers alike, just can't get enough of that sensation of meeting a character just as flawed and lost as they themselves are, reading through that character's choices and adventures, and riding that roller-coaster all the way down until their Icarus smashes to paste on the rocks below.

Speaking of which...
To answer the question I posed in the title of this blog post, Grimdark and tragedy are related. Dark overtones and dystopian horrors are certainly right at home under tragedy's big tent, but not all tragedy is Grimdark. Some tragedy sneaks up on you, getting its fingers under your skin and gently caressing your heartstrings before it uses them as an instrument to play you a sad song. Sometimes it looks like everything's going to be all right, and you let yourself hope, before the sad mask brings down the curtain on another broken ending.

If you're a fan of tragedy, but you can only take Grimdark in small doses, check out my latest book New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam. Take a tour of a place where the brilliant light of science casts shadows dark enough to get lost in, and where down every alley there's a new story itching to be told. The first two tales, along with the introduction are free to all, so step up and take the $2 tour.

You've got nothing to lose but a few tears... and that's a small price to pay, don't you think?

As always thanks for stopping in, and if you'd like to help support me then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! If you want to be sure you catch all of my updates then be sure to follow me on Facebook and Tumblr while you're at it!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Sell More Books By Choosing The Right Anthology or Collection Theme

My long-time readers know two things about me; I've got a healthy amount of experience with anthologies, and I like to sell books. Getting into anthologies is a lot easier than selling them though, mostly because you need something unique to get them out of your inventory and into the hands of your readers. Maybe it's a bundle deal with a more popular book, an awesome book cover designed by a famous artist, a Big Name who contributed a short story, or another gimmick entirely.

Holding readers at gunpoint is certainly different, but not in the way you're looking for.
One unique selling point that a lot of writers overlook when it comes to anthologies as well as single-author short story collections is the theme. If you can hook readers with a theme they haven't heard before you'll get them to read your sample. Once they've dipped a toe in you're that much closer to snapping up another sale.

Dare to be Different

Since folks like examples here's one that's hot off the presses.

Seriously, go take a look inside!
What you're looking at is my latest release, and the first book I've never had to share with other contributors. New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam contains 10 steampunk noir stories, each of which is connected by a single theme. Is it romance? Tragedy? The corrupt heart of the clockwork city that drinks the blood and souls of those who dig too deep?

It's all of those things, but specifically the book acts as a guided tour of New Avalon.

From the steam-shrouded souk of the Grates to the concrete bunkers of Cranktown, from the soupy, rotting alleys of the Gutters to the misty quays of Headsman's Wharf every story takes the reader by the hand and leads them on a district-by-district journey. Readers see the possible and the impossible, meet residents of the city, but more than that they see New Avalon's many faces. From the miraculous to the monstrous there's something for every reader in this book.

Assuming of course you aren't a fan of happy endings?

Know What You're Selling (Preferably Before You Write It)

Anthologies and collections are similar to other books in one way; it's easier to sell them if you know your market before you start. If you're writing a horror story for example, who are you appealing to? Will the latest hordes of zombie fans want to devour it? Will it be the latest fad among the vampire sect? Are you appealing to old-style fans of shows like The Twilight Zone and Tales From The Crypt?

While there's no need to pigeonhole your project before you even open up a blank word document, you need to think about what selling points it has. Returning to our above example, New Avalon has several fulcrums I can lever to get it into the hands of fans. Those include:

- Noir Steampunk: While the genre is no stranger to mysteries and detectives something that's more Sam Spade and less Sherlock Holmes is something that turns readers' heads.

- No Happy Endings: It's right there in black and white in the introduction, which I think of as the user-agreement for this book. New Avalon is a place happy endings go to die, so for those who find catharsis in tragedy this is definitely a book for them.

- Guided Tour: As mentioned the book's stories are all separate, but they are used to paint a picture of a single place. This can give it a serialized feel not unlike Frank Miller's graphic novel Sin City. While stories may intersect like gears in a watch, none of them know what the others are doing.

- Single Author Collection: One of the big hurdles when you're trying to sell a multi-author collection is that even if someone likes your work they're only getting one of your stories. This book offers multiple tales, but they were all penned by the same hand. If you're putting together an anthology though you'd want to get several well-known authors to make the book feel like a safer bet.

Do I Need To Do All That?

That depends, are you selling as many books as you want to?

If you're reading my blog then we both know the answer to that question.
Some authors will get lucky their first time out. If you look at the news it seems like all some authors had to do was get one influential person to see their book and bam! overnight bestseller! Whether it was a viral send off on social media, or just the spirit of the zeitgeist taking hold they happened to write a winning ticket.

For most of us (and even most of the authors who look like they hit it big overnight) that isn't how it works. We write blogs, participate in community forums, guest post, get reviews, find guest slots on podcasts, try to catch the attention of local media, set up signings, and go to tons and tons of events. And because every yutz with a computer and Internet access can become an author that means there are hundreds of thousands more books out there for you to compete with. If you're peddling short stories you're already at something of a disadvantage, which is why you need to try and turn that weakness into a strength by finding a way to sell it.

Also, May is National Short Story Month! Use that as a crowbar if you can, and see how many doors you pry open with it.

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