This weekend my wife and I will run our first Write on the River in-house workshop. So right now there are like 40 guys outside doing all sorts of things, but I see pots, flowers, electrician, pool guy, and who knows what else is being done, because that’s the way my wife is. We just had shades put in about half the windows, because even though we’re pretty isolated, I guess a sniper with a good scope on the other side of the TN River could take one of us out. I just leave my wife to talk to everyone because she’s the people person.
What flowers have to do with a writers workshop, I know not.
I’ve been running weekend workshops for over 10 years, starting when we lived on Hilton Head Island. Then when we moved to Whidbey Island, I ran them at the beautiful Saratoga Inn. Now, though, people will be staying in the house we bought last November. We can sleep four people and that’s about the right size for this kind of intensive weekend. The goal is to get each writer to focus on a book and we develop it as a group. We start with the one sentence idea, do the conflict box, then discuss initiating event, story, character, etc.
Another thing, though, that we’ll discuss is PROCESS. This is something I’ve focused more and more on the last couple of years. Just as a writer must become conscious of craft to become an artist. I think we also have to understand our unique creative process.
Additionally, we’ll discuss the evolving business of publishing. With 20 years experience in traditional publishing and four years in indie publishing, I’ve watched a number of cycles. I believe we’ve passed through the first cycle of digital and are now entering a new one.
As I’ve mentioned before, the key element is rights. Who controls the publishing rights to a book, particularly an eBook? In a Catch-22, the more successful an author has been, the less likely they are to regain their rights. Another issue for these successful authors is they have agents who have been in the business a long time and make a very good living off said successful authors. Therefore, these agents don’t have much incentive to investigate the digital market and especially indie publishing since the money is pouring in from the major publishers for their clients. That’s not to say some aren’t getting up to speed, but after talking to a number of bestselling authors, I can tell both they and their agents are pretty much clueless about digital publishing. They are especially clueless about actually going direct to digital for backlist and frontlist. What’s particularly bad about this, is the author often relies almost exclusively on that agent for advice and it can be a case of the blind leading the blind, except the agent is working off the old model of wanting that big hunk of money up front, rather than accepting monthly checks (every month from here on out), at a very high royalty rate could work more to their client’s (and their own) advantage. Worse, an agent who investigates a bit, might find they really don’t have much of a role to play for a client who wants to go digital.
There are exceptions, such as Kristin Nelson and other agencies, many of whom have opened their own indie-publishing arms. By the way it is NOT “self” publishing when you work with a team. It’s indie publishing. I don’t self-publish. I indie publish via Cool Gus. You say tomato, I say tomato.
The role of the agent is evolving and is necessary. However, the fear of authors often leads them to not step back and view the larger playing field, parts of which the agent doesn’t really have to be on. And if the agent is using a sub-contract company for their “self” publishing arm, one wonders why the author can’t go to that company directly?
More importantly, a key to indie publishing is the author is in control. The author has final say on cover, cover copy, pricing, promotions, and a lot of other critical factors. They need good advice on this, but the person (and there needs to be one point of contact) who is doing the indie publishing for that author who ought to be able to give them that so they can make an informed decision.
Everyone’s role in publishing is changing and evolving and authors need to change and evolve also. Fear can’t rule the decision making. Trusting to old ways also can’t.
As we say at Cool Gus: Who Dares Wins!
My latest release, The Green Berets: Chasing the Lost, has been selling remarkably steady which is nice. The reviews have been great so far and one of the things we’ll discuss this weekend is how changing my process on that brought about the stunning ending that readers are emailing me about.
The weather can’t decide if it wants to storm or become sunny. Which is sort of like life. It can be stormy or sunny up ahead. I still haven’t taken the top of the Jeep so the bad weather isn’t my fault. Once I take it off, then you can blame me. It’s a rite of spring. We had this neat rainbow the other day and it stretched over to our side of the river touched down behind the trees.
It’s been a good month so far. The weather is warming, the flowers all around our house are blooming. We planted a garden this past week. Gus jumped in the pool the other night and swam to his heart’s content while Becca prowled the edge, wary. She will learn to swim, she just doesn’t know it yet. I fixed the pump for the pool with my father-in-law’s help using a turnbuckle, a piece of wood, a new gasket, and lots of cussing. We’re finally settling in to WOR and this next weekend will host our first, in-house, Write On The River Story Workshop with four writers spending the weekend. We hope to make that a staple about every two months and I’ll blog on it and we’ll also add info on the new web site Jen is developing.
I went to the Romantic Times Convention and met a lot of interesting people. My main takeaway: traditional publishing is in trouble; agents are becoming publishers with both the attendant good and bad aspects; and some agents are so locked into getting that advance money, they give their clients bad advice. Ah well, not my problem except for Cool Gus, because the minute we’re talking to an author who is interested in coming with us, and they mention “I’ll have my agent contact you” we know that conversation is over.
We released The Green Berets: Chasing the Lost and it’s been surprisingly steady in sales. It didn’t blow doors off, but it’s been hanging in the top 3 bestsellers in Men’s Adventure since publication. The only problem is, that ranking would make me like #400 in romance. But hey, my book is centered on a woman. She’s the plot pusher. And readers are emailing me, saying they were blown away by the ending. Well, so was I. Because I actually wrote the book with the ending done first. I thought what I had was really cool and a great twist. So I wrote a draft. Then it just didn’t feel right. There were some loose ends. So I went to my wife, the story-whisperer, who runs the WOR here with me, since she does live here, and briefly summarized the book and told her a couple of things that I’d put in that didn’t fit. Then she said: “Well, what if—“ and three sentences later I sat there stunned. She taken what I thought was a great ending and made it truly, truly wicked and set up the next book in the Green Beret series perfectly. So, of course, the reader is surprised. Because I wrote the book not knowing the real ending too; it’s a brilliant writing process. Pure genius, that woman.
She just yelled down for the scoops and salsa sauce, so I brought them up to her. Of course that means Cool Gus and Sassy Becca are with her now, because they hang with whoever has the food.
I’m working with my wife’s streams for the third Nightstalker book, and Scout is back, along with the Fireflies and Roland and Neeley and Moms and Nada and Hannah and the whole crazy, black ops gang. Lots of fun, lots of guns, lots of Nada Yadas.
Nothing but good times ahead.
This past week I got on a plane, which for me can be very nerve-wracking. Something I have in common with my heroine, Shauna Morgan from Jane Doe’s Return. At the bottom of this post, I’ll share with you a short excerpt I wrote from her point of view on an airplane. Exactly how I feel.
Anyway, I was heading to my very first Romantic Times Convention in Kansas City where I’ve never been. Interestingly enough, I had just seen the show Wicked. Even more interesting was that EL James made an appearance at RT and my hubby will be taking me to the 50 Shades of Gray show in a couple of weeks. I find all that kind of freaky. But I’m digressing already.
When Bob and I travel together we tend to try to make our flights match up at least at the final destination. This is the second time that Bob has had to say to me, “relax, the plane landed, you’re fine.” This was after me texting as I was sitting on the plane and it was making this noise like I was in an MRI machine and me and this other guy were totally freaking out. We both hit the flight attendant button and she told us both, with a smile and half laugh, that for this particular airbus, the noise was normal.
I think not.
Besides, I kept thinking about these stories that Bob tells when he’s teaching. About plane crashes, or plane mishaps, and the things that go into the causes of these disasters. I’m thinking, I’m on ‘that’ disaster.
The flight attendant assured us, but I was still freaking out. Poor guy next to me was like, um, really lady? Get over it. The flight attendant assured me that once we were up on the air, the noise would stop and would NOT start again on the way day. Should have seen my face when it started again on the way down. I was not happy.
And then, in Kansas, in MAY, it snowed! Okay, so I’m used to here, but really? It was like 60 and sunny at home and I’m in Kansas where it’s snowing. Bob didn’t even bring a jacket (except his suit coat), though we only actually left the hotel when we took the free shuttle to a restaurant with Brenda Novak and a friend of hers. That was fun. But the snow, rain, cold, not so much. If you have a chance, check out Brenda’s online auction. She does a great job and it’s for a great cause.
Then, Bob and I are sitting in the lobby after doing an interview with TJ Mackay of InD’Tale Magazine and Bob looks up and said, “This is the hotel where walkway collapsed during some tea dance and lots of people were killed.” I looked up and said, “Okay, I want to go home now.” Argh. Thankfully he waited until our last night to tell me this.
However, RT was an absolutely fabulous conference. Bob and I got to meet with our latest partnership, Jennifer Probst. We also took meetings with potential authors, other publishers and Amazon. We found a great place to set up camp and parked ourselves at a table and discussed business with each other, and anyone who stopped by. One thing we do at conferences is take a good look at our business plan. We specifically looked at Bob’s latest release (this week) of The Green Berets: Chasing the Lost. We crossed things we’d done off our list and added new things as we are always learning. Both our workshops were well attended and overall, Cool Gus was a big hit at RT. We’re looking at going back again. Very good conference.
But then I had to get on a plane again. Lucky for Bob, his flight took off an hour before mine, so he didn’t have to share in the: OMG, I’ve got to get on a plane! Moments. But he did enjoy teasing me on twitter after I emailed him in NYC that my plane (that I ran from gate to gate so I wouldn’t miss) was currently delayed for ‘maintenance’. Obviously, I made it home in one piece. And when I got home, we found that my romantic suspense novel: Jane Doe’s Return was burning up the Amazon charts. It hung out at #3 on the FREE bestseller list for 3 full days and then hug out in the top 100 in both Romance, Mystery& Suspense and Romantic Suspense Categories and it cracked the top 1000 on Amazon. That’s a pretty big deal. And as promised. Here is an excerpt of the heroine, Shauna Morgan and her flight experience.
Shauna Morgan gasped, then gripped the armrests, grateful no one sat in the seat next to her. The plane shook as the ground appeared to rise up from nowhere and greet the spinning wheels. The ones she prayed had been deployed, released, or whatever.
She hated flying, but had to look out the window. It seemed everyone who feared flying had to fixate their stare on the approaching ground. Like watching yourself plummet to your death would somehow make your trip better.
The plane bounced on the pavement, came to a roaring halt, and jerked forward toward the gate. She tried to swallow, but the lump in her throat wouldn’t allow her muscles to work properly. Her heart beat so fast she could no longer feel one pulse after the other. It had been years since she had been anywhere near her hometown. Although Saratoga Springs was about forty minutes north, Albany was close enough.
And Albany was where it all began.
My 50th book, The Green Berets: Chasing the Lost is being published today. So far, it’s gotten more positive feedback from reviewers than any of my previous books. I’ve been getting emails, yes even from people I don’t know, some just saying “Wow!”. It’s gotten nine reviews on Amazon so far and every one is five stars and technically today is pub day (although it was available earlier and we sent some ARCs out).
I knew this book would make a bit of a stir. It’s a book I actually started backwards. I wrote the last scene first, years ago, when I was living on Hilton Head Island (the book is set in the low country of South Carolina). But it sat in a file for years, percolating. Finally, accepting the reality that series are key in today’s (and yesterday’s) publishing world, I decided to resurrect Dave Riley from retirement. And since I’d already written about the house on Hilton Head which Horace Chase inherited from his mother in Chasing the Ghost, it seemed a perfect time to bring old Special Ops and new Special Ops together.
BTW—I’ve released five stand alone books over the last two years, and even though they did well, particularly The Jefferson Allegiance, readers like continuity in characters. So, the second book in the Presidential series, The Kennedy Endeavor will be out this fall.
But here’s the real kicker. The ending in the version of Chasing the Lost I was writing toward was good. I pretty much had the entire book done, but something didn’t feel right. I went to my wife, the story whisperer, and talked about the book, summarizing it, and the characters. And she then gave me a single suggestion, using what I’d told her. I just sat there stunned, because she took what I considered a really good ending and turned it into not only a very wicked good ending, but also set up for the next book, which I can’t even tell you the title of without being a spoiler alert. We’ve talked about and she thinks M. Night Shyamalan wrote Sixth Sense with the Bruce Willis character being a real person. Then someone read it and said: Hey, is this guy dead? And it blew his mind and made his career. Sometimes, when the author doesn’t even know what they’ve written until it’s pointed out to them, the result is a mind-blowing experience.
Five years ago I wouldn’t have taken my wife’s advice. In fact, when I wrote Eternity Base many years ago, the 5th book in The Green Beret series, my wife gave me some advice and I looked at her and shook my head and said “That’s too much. Readers won’t buy into it.” Well, I was wrong. I should have taken her advice. A #1 NY Times Bestselling author my wife story whispered for asked her, after working together a little while: “Why haven’t you made Bob a big bestselling author?”
Because Bob was dumb. He didn’t listen. He thought there were rules and structure and a form to a novel. He over-thought things and didn’t feel them enough. That’s been changing gradually, but it took seeing what my wife could do with an author who was just nominated for the two top awards in her genre for the first book my wife worked with her on, for me to wake up. We started truly working together (although my wife had given me Hannah and Neeley in Bodyguard of Lies, and Emily in Lost Girls, along with a lot of other ideas) on Area 51: Nightstalkers. Scout was her invention, and readers love the wild 16 year old advising the Special Operations team bumbling around in a gated community. BTW, Scout will be back in Nightstalkers 3. We’re writing it right now. The horseshoe in Nightstalkers: I came up to my wife and said: “We can’t kill the horse, but we have to kill the horse.” I felt as bad as Scout, and my wife came up with the solution in 10 seconds. Brilliant. Spoiler: the horse does not die. Nor do any dogs die in Chasing the Lost, as one reader thankfully emailed me.
For a long time now I’ve been saying the best promotion is a good book, better promotion is more good books. And that the only thing that really makes a book sell is reader to reader communication. This morning I woke up to several emails from readers about the book, several tweets about it, new positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and, frankly, it feels good. I, like most writers, can be enough of a downer on my own. Left to their own devices most writers would wallow in a pit of depression and despair. But to know I made some readers happy, makes me happy, and makes my day. Now I’m sure someone or something will crap on my parade (writer thinking), but it’s a good start.
So. Simply: Thanks readers.