Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Don't Compare Yourself to Other Writers (Seriously, Don't Do It)

Do you know Julius Caesar? That fellow who rose through the ranks of the Roman army, fought wars against the Celts in Gaul, brought back a fortune in tribute, along with an army of personal guards and foreign legionnaires, and practically crowned himself Emperor of Rome? The guy who began the line of Caesars, and whose title was the model for the Czars and Kaisers of the modern-day? The man who swept down to Egypt, and with a wave of his hand (or other body parts, if you believe the rumors) decided who the new ruler was going to be?

You know, THIS fucking guy!
So, what does the man who strong-armed one of the greatest empires in history do in his free time? Celebrate his awesomeness with impromptu parades? Pose for badass statues to be carved? Host a wild rumpus with his staff and supporters? Well, if you were Julius Caesar, you wept at how unsuccessful you were compared to your idol.

You see, the whole reason Julius was in Egypt in the first place was because he was making a pilgrimage to view the body of his idol; Alexander the Great. Alexander, for those who don't know, conquered most of the known world by his late 20s, established cities bearing his name like he was opening up a restaurant chain, and remains one of the most legendary figures recorded history has ever boasted. Julius was no slouch, but his empire was so much smaller, and he'd come to rule it so many years later, that all he could think about was how he didn't measure up.

Don't Do This With Your Writing

We all have our idols when it comes to writing. Those authors whose work thrilled us, and who made us decide that "author" was the answer we were going to give when career day rolled around. In many instances our idols are responsible for the genres we work in (or start off working in), and the styles we adopt before we discover our own voices. All those things are fine... but seriously, don't compare yourself to your heroes. In fact, don't compare yourself to anyone, if you can avoid doing it.

Or you might find yourself making this face. A lot.
Now, I don't mean you shouldn't compare your work to other authors in order to make a sale, or to explain your style. For example, if someone told me their novel was a hard-boiled medieval fantasy about a spy trying to prevent an assassination that read like the love child of Dashiell Hammett and George R. R. Martin, I wouldn't be able to get my wallet out fast enough. However, if I were the author of that awesome-sounding book, I wouldn't focus on trying to meet the achievements of either of those two authors.

The reason why is simple; I'd be comparing apples to oranges.

Books, despite all being rectangular bits of portable magic recorded on dead trees, are not things you can compare objectively. While there are numbers you can compare, such as copies sold and awards won, those numbers are made up of so many different factors that they're meaningless in any practical sense. If you were trying to match a weightlifting record, or run a race in a faster time, then those are instances where you're trying to do the same activity as someone else, but better. However, your idols already wrote their books. You can't do the same thing, because you're writing a different book.

So embrace that. Write your book, and step out into the sunlight. Drink it in, water your roots, and someday it's likely that you'll be the one inspiring someone to put words on the page.

Hopefully this week's rant didn't jolt anyone, and no one tripped on my soap box on the way out. If you'd like to help support me and my blogging efforts, then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to keep the tap turned on. As little as $1 a month can make a big difference! Lastly, if you'd like to keep up-to-date on all my releases, make sure you follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Square Credit Card Readers Are A Necessity For Hand Selling Books

I remember the first time I was ever invited to go to a convention. It was Gen Con, the year after Gary Gygax died. I was full of questions, and the folks who invited me to attend with them were full of helpful advice. One of the most often repeated bits of wisdom, though, was to bring a sizable chunk of cash with me in case I found something I really wanted to buy. Since the merchants were going to be in a booth in a gigantic concrete bunker, few of them would have the ability to accept credit cards, and even those who did might not be able to make the charge.

Very few merchants at this event dealt in lead.
It turns out that this was common wisdom among most convention goers. Whether you preferred gaming or comics, Renaissance Faires or historical re-enactments, you needed to have coin of the realm with you to make any purchases. Since the merchants were on the road, most of them simply didn't have the ability to charge a card from their booths.

As technology has advanced, though, this common wisdom has become less and less accurate. Thanks to better wireless Internet networks, the smartphone revolution, and credit card payments becoming easier to accept than ever before, there are few convention merchants who can't take a credit card. Cash might be cheaper, but if all you brought is plastic, then you should still be able to get that shiny thing your heart desires.

What Does This Have To Do With Being An Author?

Conventions are one of the prime places for authors to find an audience. If you're on a panel, folks in the audience might decide they want to check out your book(s). If you do a reading, then some attendees might decide they want more. Also, most conventions have signing tables where fans can come to request your signature. If they don't own a copy of your work, you can often sell them a book then sign it on the spot.

If you're limited to taking cash, though, your hand sales might not be as impressive as you're hoping. Especially if someone is interested enough to get your book, but not interested enough to go to an ATM, pay a fee, and then track you down again in order to get a copy.

And hand-selling a book is hard enough as it is.
That's why, if you're an author who goes to a lot of events, you should invest in a portable credit card reader. There are a lot of options on the market at present, but one of the most common (and most reliable, from what fellow authors I interviewed told me) is the Square Magstrip Reader.

The way this little gadget works is pretty simple. You click the link above, sign up, and the company sends you a free reader. You set it up with your account information, and then you're ready to start selling books and taking credit cards straight from your smartphone. You simply need to adjust your price to account for the 2.75 percent charge that comes with every swipe, or the 3.5 percent charge that comes with a manual entry of the card number.

Also, just to prove that we're living in the future, you can take payments with a Square while you're offline. The Square stores the record, and then once your phone gets reception, it sends out the notification that your readers need to be charged. Then the charge happens, and in a few days there's money in your bank account.

So, if you're intending on doing any events where you're selling books, and you aren't in a traditional bookstore, it can only help to have a Square on hand. Whether you're doing a library event, hosting a talk at a local college, or nailing down a spot in the dealer's hall, there's no reason to limit yourself to paper when you could just as easily take plastic as well.

As always, thanks for stopping in to get the latest advice on how to get ahead in a competitive profession. If you're curious about how well the Square works in the field, I'll add an update to this as soon as I've gotten one of my own and put it to work at a convention. If you'd like to help support me and my work, then drop by the Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! As little as $1 per month can make a big difference when it comes to delivering content straight to your screen. Also, if you want to make sure you get the latest on all my updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

There's Nothing Wrong With "Said"

I have written a lot of prose over my career as an author. Some of it has appeared on my Amazon author page, but a lot of it hasn't. I've also been an avid reader for most of my life. In that time, I've thought about a lot of issues. The nature of fear, and what makes effective horror is one that I've probably killed brain cells over. Another question I've pondered is why school settings are so hugely popular for so many stories, and why books geared toward a younger reading audience are consistently picked up by older readers. And, as you could guess by the title, I've clocked a lot of hours on the issue of the word "said," particularly as it relates to identification in dialogue.

Say what now?
Said is one of those words that's going to appear a lot in your work, unless you're Cormac McCarthy, and you possess the ability to write an entire novel about a lone man with no name being alone with his own thoughts. Said is a perfectly functional word, it gets the point across, and it is (dare I say it?) a traditional part of novel writing. However, one of the first things practically any writer does when trying to spice up a manuscript is to replace said with a bunch of other words.

The great sage and eminent junkie Stephen King and I agree... don't do this.

Grated, Growled, Muttered, and Mumbled

A pattern I've noted in a lot of books is that authors will replace said with other words that are more indicative of how a character is talking. Grizzled police detectives will growl questions at suspects, and uncertain students will stammer or mumble when they talk. And there's nothing inherently wrong with this, just as there's nothing inherently wrong with using an adverb every now and again. Like I said in Blithely Digging Your Grave With Adverbs, though, when the numbers pile up it becomes a problem.

Much like zombies, now that I'm thinking about it.
When you're writing dialogue, it should be clear in the words you're choosing, and how the sentences are constructed, how a person sounds. For example, you shouldn't need to tell us that the lug who just took a kick to the nuts is groaning his dialogue; the reader should be able to infer that. If you've mentioned that the hitman with a scar across his throat from where someone tried to kill him has a rough, gravelly voice, you don't need to say that he "grated" out every word of his dialogue.

As with adverbs, you should save these for special occasions. When you first introduce a character, use something other than "said" to give us a sense of their voice, if you really want to. Or if something has happened that changes a character's voice (like how someone weak with hunger and thirst might only be able to whisper), mention it once to give the audience a clear image of what they should be hearing.

But don't use your substitute every time a character speaks. Seriously, it's habit forming, and the last thing we need is another novel out there with a manly ex-soldier who grumbles and snarls everything, or a teenage lead who spends the entire book muttering and mumbling instead of actually speaking to the other members of the cast.

That's it for this week's writing tips. I hope you enjoyed it, and if you'd like to help keep The Literary Mercenary up and running, consider stopping by my Patreon page. All I ask is $1 a month to keep content coming right to your screen. Also, if you want to make sure you stay on top of all my posts, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter too.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Thank You Notes Are An Author's Greatest Tool

You know how, when you were a kid, your parents always made you write thank you notes? If a family member sent you birthday money, or a friend gave you a gift, or someone said something nice to you, then you had to spend fifteen minutes or so at the kitchen table writing a little note to that person expressing your gratitude. I used to wonder why I had to do this. After all, no one has ever received money they weren't expecting in the mail and thought, "ugh, what am I going to do with this?" And surely the in-person thanks, likely coupled with a hug and a beaming smile, were proof enough of my gratitude... why do I have to reinforce it?

The answer is that I needed to build a habit. A habit which, as an adult, is an important thing for an author to possess.

You get more reader loyalty with heartfelt thanks than you do with a .45.

The Dance of Gratitude, and How it Helps You

So, why does an author need this tool in his or her troubleshooting locker? It won't help you resolve that dangling plot thread, create a more compelling narrative, or allow you to mystically predict the exact word count of every project, so what good is it?

Well, as any experienced author can tell you, writing is only part of your job. It's a big part of your job, but it's not the whole of your job. You still need to publish your stories, work with editors, go to conventions, interact with fans, get reviews, and attempt to generate an audience around your books. No one can do all of that on their own, which is why it's important to be able to use a well-placed thank you the way a champion fencer slips in around an opponent's guard.

I greatly appreciated that 5-star review.
I'll give you some examples of how a simple "thank you" can make your life easier, and help your career go further. Say you submitted a piece of work to a publisher. The editor who reviewed it sent you a rejection letter, but in that rejection letter said that he really enjoyed your manuscript, it just wasn't right for them. So, in response, you thank the editor for his time, and for his praise. Then, once you've shown that you can gracefully accept a "no," ask if that editor has any suggestions for places that would be more appropriate. Not only is the editor more likely to send you back a response, but if he has a colleague at one of those other locations, he might shoot an email over and ask for them to take a special look at your submission.

This kind of deft social maneuver can open all sorts of doors. If a fan gives you a positive review, shoot that fan an email thanking them for their kind words. They already liked your book, but now you've also shown that your readers matter by reaching out and being humble. You can even send out a mass thank you on social media, and while it might have less impact, it will generally mean your followers are better disposed to you. A thank you email is always appropriate when a blog or magazine reviews your book, even if they didn't enjoy it, or had some criticism for you. By showing that you appreciate their time and effort, you're more likely to be positively regarded by the reviewer, and it will keep doors open for future requests.

There's No Guarantee

There's no such thing as a guarantee when it comes to being an author. Your book might fly off the shelves, or it might get ignored. It could suddenly catch fire five years from now, and become a hot ticket. You could be a perfect professional, but there will always be reviewers, editors, or publishers who treat you like garbage. All you can do is keep your head up, and do your best.

Haters gonna hate.
If you remember nothing else, remember this; you lose nothing by saying thank you. Not saying it, though, could cost you serious social currency in the wrong situation. Also, if you're looking to make friends, here is The One Phrase Every Author Needs To Know For Networking Success. Seriously, it works.

Thanks for stopping in to check out this week's business-related post. If you have questions, concerns, or requests, feel free to drop me a line, or leave a comment below. If you'd like to help support The Literary Mercenary, then stop by my Patreon page! As little as $1 a month can make a big difference, and keep the content flowing. Also, if you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter as well.