Back in 2004 my wife and I owned a house on Hilton Head Island. Real estate was booming and it seemed everyone was a mortgage broker offering great terms. A guy who did some painting on our house also offered to broker a mortgage for us. Back in those days, being self-employed, I could get a no-income-verified loan. I know—shocking in the current environment, eh? I had to sign over my liver and kidneys and heart to get my current mortgage. And pay well above the going rate.
My wife reads the NY Times every day. The paper version. All of it. I mean everything in it. And she remembers what she reads. I keep track of numbers. And we both started to notice some disturbing things in 2003 into 2004:
- Mortgages were way too easy to get.
- The Fed was at 0%. It couldn’t go lower. It could only go up.
- Variable rates were as low as they were going to go. They could only go up.
- Like tulip mania (look that one up—Jen did), house prices just couldn’t keep going up. Yet everyone acted like they would.
So we talked about it, and even though we liked our house, we put it on the market. Even the realtor told us we were crazy (along with a lot of other people). We showed it 72 times. We sold it. We then moved to the other side of the island and rented on the intracoastal (a great place to live and where I set my latest Green Beret book, Chasing the Lost). We rented for eight years after that, because we felt things hadn’t yet bottomed out. (BTW the way, the puppy shot is just for fun)
Not long after selling our home, the housing bubble burst.
We watched a special on HBO about a neighborhood where everyone’s prices nose-dived and they interviewed the owners. And the one thing we heard again and again: “We never though it could happen to us.”
My wife and I were quite shocked because we always think anything can happen to us. Mine comes from my paranoid Special Ops background and my wife’s, well, let’s keep that to ourselves.
The ability of people to fool themselves into inventing their own fantasy world is phenomenal. Because reality sucks.
But it is reality.
I prefer to live in reality, even though it is difficult at times. At Cool Gus, we run our business on a reality base, not a wishful thinking base. What brings this to mind is something I’ve been watching that, for me, is a harbinger of where the publishing world is headed. Since 2009, Harlequin’s sales have steadily declined.
2009: $493 million
2010: $468 million
2011: $459 million
2012: $426.5 million
2013: $362 million.
Doing math, which is part of reality, we see an accelerating decrease. Those years coincide with the rise of indie/hybrid/Martian authors. As a member of the Romance Writers of America and a lot of other writers’ groups, I can tell you that RWA, by far, is the most advanced and savvy group of authors around. Surprisingly, SFWA (Science fiction, fantasy writers) is one of the least tech-savvy, business savvy groups. Romance writers have been leading the way in embracing indie publishing. Thus authors who might once have fought for a HQ contract are now doing it themselves. And some very successful romance writers have jumped ship and gone indie. Their defection has not been offset by successful indies going trad.
Add in a second factor: the decline of print sales. Spare me the numbers touted by publishing. Take out your top 5% of authors whose books get brought in to COSTCO on pallets, and print sales are dropping fast. Especially for mass market paperbacks, which is HQ’s bread and butter, much like garbage was the Sopranos bread and butter. We still make a lot of garbage but there is less and less shelf space for print books and more and more readers are going digital.
Jeremy Greenfield of Digital Book World had a recent article in Forbes where he interviewed the CEO of HQ. I found it a bit weird. Which harkens back to reality. At the end of 2013, people in trad publishing were breathing a huge sigh of relief, feeling they’d weathered the digital storm. An exec at one trad house even said, “Anyone who is going to buy an eReader has already bought one” just before Xmas. I get a sense of “things are going to be okay” from trad publishing.
That isn’t reality.
The CEO of HQ first blamed the revenue on pricing. He complained about eBook pricing. Which is odd since HQ gives the lowest royalty rates around to its authors, so they keep most of that income for very little overhead. I do agree that the .99 eBook is kind of low. But we use it for the first Atlantis book as a leader into the series and it works. We also use free on Section 8 Shadow Warriors as a loss leader into my thrillers. It’s been ranked #1 in Men’s Adventure and War on Kindle Free since we did that.
But, the point is HQ and trads can’t control how indies, who are their competition (which they don’t seem to take too seriously, yet complain about) price their books.
I thought years ago that HQ would be on the cutting edge of digital. After all, they have their niches locked down. Readers love their series, and are not particularly attached to specific authors. HQ did start Carina, but that looked like a step in the wrong direction. It was as if they were relegating digital to red-headed stepson status. I watched Carina bounce around, without much focus or direction. Pretty much working under the “let’s publish a lot of stuff and make a little bit of money off it” instead of using the HQ brand to branch off established lines into digital.
Here’s what really strikes me about the article. First, the CEO says that quality will allow them to demand a higher price. Which insinuates that someone like indie author Bella Andre isn’t putting out quality, except her quality is good enough for HQ to give her a print only deal. Hmm.
The closer was the most interesting part: HQ is optimistic in its earnings report, predicting a stabilization in 2014.
Why? What’s changed? The wishful thinking that things are going to get stable kept people in houses that went further and further under water as the housing bubble imploded.
“We’re just in transition.”
How? The numbers say income is decreasing at an accelerating rate. How will that change? Of course, transition doesn’t always mean transitioning to something good. We can also transition to something bad.
The reality we see at Cool Gus is things are going to get much harder. The market is saturated and will get even more saturated. While there are great benefits to digital, a downside is that every book is out there forever. There’s no rotating on the shelves, so to speak. Actually not the shelves, but the store.
We believe it’s going to get harder for all authors: trad, indie, hybrid and Martian. The solutions are varied and somewhat different depending on each author’s platform and product (thus our focus on a handful of authors and tailoring our partnership to fit their needs). But I do believe trad authors really need to take a long hard look at their digital royalty rates and question how much their publisher contributes in that arena to take most of the income. I firmly believe an author must earn at least 50% of the price of the eBook. And get paid at least every three months, if not every month.
Also, once an author is no longer frontlist at their publisher, but it still controls their rights, the lack of marketing and low digital royalty rates will destroy careers and livelihoods. I can personally attest to how trad publishers deep six their backlist.
Yes. Reality sucks but it can be dealt with. The first step is to get past the denial.
*****Admin Note From Jen*****
Blog Contest for this Week: Sign up for Bob’s Newsletter and get your name put in for a drawing to win an AUDIO edition of The Kennedy Endeavor. Bob sends out a newsletter no more than 4-6 times per year. Besides interesting information about Cool Gus, Sassy Becca and Big Orange (Bob’s new Jeep), Bob also gives his newsletter subscribers exclusive content. You can sign up here.
Also, Bob is doing a Goodreads Giveaway. Here are the details.
Survival Friday: Excerpt from The Green Beret Survival Guide
Most people spend a considerable amount of time in their car. Whether it’s a road trip or a daily commute. Yet, I’ve rarely seen information about the car included in survival books.
Here are some sobering numbers:
In 2005 there were 6,420,000 auto accidents. When you consider most are multi-car and multi-people, that means there is a very good chance of it happening. To you. Remember, you might be the greatest driver in the world, but that guy over there, yeah, him, might be drunk. Or high. Or texting.
2.9 million people were injured in those accidents.
42,636 people were killed. In essence over a hundred people die every day in car accidents. About one every fifteen minutes.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 3 and 34.
So what do you need to do and what do you need to know?
The first thing is preparation and that starts with getting the right car. A safe car. While we might fret over gas mileage or looks or sound system, the priority, given the odds of accidents, is to buy a car that has an excellent crash rating. The government has a web site where you can find car safety ratings at http://www.safercar.gov/Safety+Ratings
Every year, cars gain more and more safety features. We started with seatbelts. By the way, seat belts don’t work if you don’t use them.
There are also blind spot warning systems, lane departure warnings, collision warning/avoidance, etc. Research a car before buying it and see what its safety rating is.
If your car doesn’t have automatic running lights, turn on parking lights and leave them on while driving. Do it automatically. I turn on my Jeep fog and parking lights as soon as I turn on the ignition.
Top rules for safe driving:
- · Don’t speed.
- · Don’t drive drunk or high or on medication that says not to operate heavy machinery.
- · Avoid distractions. That means no texting. No talking on the cell phone. And by the way, just because you have a headset or speaker, you’re still distracted because you’re engaging your brain in two active tasks at the same time. And even consider not having that in depth conversation with the person in the passenger seat. I’ve seen drivers gesturing with both hands at the passenger. Hmm.
- · Wear your seatbelt. It keeps you in the car. The car is your best protection in an accident.
- · Don’t drive sleepy. Our body operates in rhythms. When taking long trips, there are going to be times of day when you are less alert than others. Pull off in a safe place and close your eyes for 30 minutes. It can save your life.
- · Weather rules.
- · Drive within your vision. If fog or darkness or rain reduces visibility don’t go faster than your cone of stopping. If you are in bad visibility and pull off to the side of the road to wait it out, either turn on your flashers or turn off your lights. But if you sit there with your lights on, other drivers will think you are in a lane and will smash into you from behind.
- · Keep a safe distance. Can’t you just feel it when someone in a rush pulls up right behind, anxious to gain those extra seconds, even it means killing you and them? You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, a few seconds aren’t going to change that. Follow the three second rule. That means when the car in front of you passes something, count to three, and you should not pass the same object before you get to three.
- · Assume everyone else is a bad driver. And if they’re going to do something stupid, they will. Just because he has his right turn signal on, don’t assume that car is turning and pull out. Check your rear view mirrors. I always want to know who is behind and alongside me. I always want to know if I can swerve if I have to switch lanes in a hurry. I watch other drivers to see what they’re watching. It amazes me the number of people who never look in the rearview mirrors.
- · Avoid road rage. Yes, they are idiots. Yes, they can kill you. But you can get so caught up in your reaction, you end up being more dangerous to yourself and others.
- · Buy good tires. Replace them before they reach safety limits. Replace all of them at the same time. Don’t rotate in tires as needed. Make sure your tire pressure is correct. Tires keep you on the road.
- · Don’t let your gas level fall below half a tank. Yes, I know some of you are daredevils. You want to see how far you can go with the needle at empty, like Kramer in Seinfeld. Don’t. In the Army, when I was in mechanized Infantry, it was a court martial offense if one of your armored vehicles ran out of fuel. Just get in the habit of every time your gauge hits half, to top off. Do it for a month and it will be instinctual. And your significant other will never yell at you again for running out of gas. And you’ll be damn happy to have that fuel as others wait in line after the hurricane. Because after Sandy, even though some people didn’t really need the gas, there was a rush to get some, because in civilization we have these strange fears. Don’t get caught up in that.
- · I was thinking about where to get gas during an extreme emergency. It occurred to me there would be a large amount for the siphoning at the long term parking lot at the nearby airport. This is the way you’re going to have to think in an extreme emergency.
- · Keep your brakes maintained and check your brake and power steering fluid. If you don’t know how to do this, take your car in to a mechanic every so often.
- · If there is water on the road ahead and you don’t know how deep it is, don’t attempt to drive through. At Fort Hood, Texas, the road would dip down into a dry gulch and there would be markers on the side of the culvert indicating the high point during flash flooding. It was often well over the roof of the car.
- · Hydroplaning: Did it, done it, won’t ever drive fast on wet roads again. Roads are most dangerous just as it starts to rain as oil and other liquids already deposited on it rise. But in heavy rain, the road could be covered by more water than can be drained away. Hydroplaning occurs when there is more water on the road than your tires can push away. The tires are then literally lifted on a sheet of water, losing your traction. Ways to avoid it:
- o slow down
- o avoid standing water as much as possible
- o slow down
- o turn off cruise control
- o slow down
- o avoid hard and sudden braking
- o slow down
- o avoid sharp turns
- o did I mention SLOW DOWN?
- · Tornados. Should you stay in the car? Stop the car and get under a bridge? What’s your answer? Probably wrong. The best is to not be driving in bad weather. If you can see it, drive away from it as quickly and safely as possible. Move at right angles to the tornado. If you can, seek shelter in a building or underground, such as a culvert. If you get caught, do NOT get out of the car. It’s not entirely safe, but it’s better than the options. Pull off the road, out of traffic, because that other idiot is still going to be barreling down the road at 70 miles an hour even though he can’t see. Make sure you have your set belt on. Put your head down to avoid broken glass and hurled objects. Cover your head with a blanket or jacket. Do NOT seek shelter under overpasses. Tornados can move at sixty miles an hour, so think hard before trying to out-run one. To get an idea of the path of the storm, pick a stationery object near you and watch how the tornado moves in relation to that object. If it is moving to your left, drive to the right and vice versa. If it doesn’t seem to be moving left or right, then it’s either coming right at you or away from you. If it’s getting bigger, guess which of the two? Get out of the car and seek safety in a building or culvert if you have the time.
- · If your car catches on fire: 33 cars catch on fire every hour and 18% of all fires occur on roads. So it’s not as rare as you think. On average, one person a day dies in a car fire. Here are some keys:
- o keep your car maintained. Many fires occur because of leaking seals where oil or gas come in contact with hot metal.
- o if you smell burning rubber or plastic or any smoke, immediately pull over to a safe place and check it out.
- o if a fuse continues to go out, that’s a sign of a short. Don’t ignore it. Get the car checked out.
- o while I highly recommend carrying a fire extinguisher in your vehicle, if the fire is fueled by your gas line, forget about it and get a safe distance away. At least 150 feet. Warn others in the area and keep them away while calling 911.
- · if you are locked in your trunk, either through a car jacking or your friends played a really mean joke on you, do you know how to get out? And get new friends?
- o if the trunk has a release lever, use it. Do you know if yours has one? All cars since 2002 should have one.
- o be calm. Trunks are not airtight. Don’t hyper-ventilate. The greater danger is heat or cold, depending on your environment.
- o see what tools you have handy. Trunks are, well, trunks. People put a lot of stuff in them. If the spare is in there, it’s likely the tire iron is too. That’s an excellent tool and weapon.
- o escape through the back seat. Some are fold down, which makes it easy. Others don’t, but it’s easier to tear through material than metal. Use the tire iron to punch through.
- o if none of that works, and you’ve been car-napped, disconnect the brake and tail lights. You might even be able to reach through and break out the lights. The lack of these lights might lead to someone calling the car in and/or the police pulling you over.
- o use the tire iron to pry open the trunk itself or at least make an opening to signal for help.
- o if the car is speeding down the highway at 70 miles an hour, that is not the moment to jump from the trunk. Every vehicle must eventually stop for re-fueling.
- · Keep at least a half-gallon of water and power bars within reach of the drivers seat. Most cars have storage behind the passenger seat. That’s a good place to put that.
- · Even though you have four-wheel drive, that doesn’t mean the vehicle stops any faster. Physics rules. Mass times velocity. In Colorado, I was always amazed to see people flying by in their four-wheel drive vehicles, apparently thinking the traction would remain the same if they had to swerve or suddenly brake.
- · When you start seeing cars that have slid off the road, that’s a sign. Black ice is a great danger. You can’t see it. The largest warning sign you will get of it is other cars off the road. Slow down.
- · If you skid, turn into the skid to straighten out.
Equipment That You Should Carry
You should have a G&G bag always in your car, which takes care of most of the basic survival equipment. Some gear is specific to a vehicle though.
Here is a generic road safety kit, which will take of most of these items:
http://goo.gl/Dbvok Bridgestone and Travel Road Safety Kit with Carry Case
- · two water bottles within arm’s reach
- · road safety reflective triangle
- · jumper cables. Make sure you and everyone who will be in the vehicle learn how to use them correctly.
- · tire gauge
- · a blanket
- · flares
- · flat tire fixer. These are cans you can buy to use as a temporary fix for minor leaks, but for a blow out, they won’t work.
- · heavy gloves. These come in handy when changing tires or working near hot parts.
- · duct tape. We called it hundred mile an hour tape in the Army because that’s how fast it got used up.
- · a first aid kit.
- · a basic toolkit.
- · A tow rope or strap. I have a winch on the front of my jeep. I still need a tow strap to attach to the end of the cable.
- · A jack. I know, you assume you have one. Have you looked? I carry a Hi-Lift jack on the rear bumper of my Jeep. The key to a high lift jack is that it supplements my winch. Using a long tow cable, a Hi-Lift jack can be used to pull out stuck vehicles, and move trees and other obstacles.
- · If your spare is locked onto your car, do you know where the unlock device is?
- · Does everyone know how to change a tire? You’d be surprised.
- · When we lived on Whidbey Island, WA, we took the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry whenever we wanted to leave the island. We immediately outfitted all our vehicles with a little hammer/cutter device that allowed you to smash open a window and cut loose from your seat belt in case the car went into the water. Place this device within easy arms reach of your seat. There are also spring loaded car window breakers. I carried one on my key chain. Here is the LifeHammer:
http://goo.gl/O5hSr LifeHammer The Original Emergency Hammer
In my Jeep, I have a Smittybilt GEAR seat cover on the passenger seat. On the back of it I have all the various packs attached. I carry a lot of gear in that.
http://goo.gl/7IAtF Smittybilt 5661001 GEAR Black Front Seat Cover
So says Kahlil Gibran Kahlil. I made the error during Beast Barracks of buying off on the pitch from the brand new Arabic instructor at West Point—it was the first year they were offering the language and they needed enough bodies to fill a section. So I signed up.
I had not yet learned the military maxim: never volunteer for nothing.
Lots of numbers being bandied about in publishing now. Lines are drawn. Bayonets are being sharpened along with pencils and you know what? Readers don’t give a crap.
Indie authors apparently make. Whatever. In all these surveys, I doubt my numbers are getting counted. 60 titles spread over a bunch of genres, most indie, some with 47North, some with the Martians. I also have a nice revenue stream from Audible ACX. Why does everyone suddenly care what I make? They never did in traditional publishing.
One truth is that all the numbers are completely skewed in traditional publishing by a handful of mega-bestselling authors. Take them out and the whole thing changes drastically.
Maybe that’s the key to all of this. We need to clean up our own house. Because that’s what we control.
Hugh Howey tweeted something interesting, something I’ve been harping on for a couple of years. It’s not about who makes more money or how or whether they’re hybrid, inbred, or have two heads. It’s about RIGHTS.
When music imploded digitally, the musicians who not only survived, but prospered, did it one of two ways. On tour. (Which aint likely for authors). And/or controlling the rights to their music.
In case no one has noticed, author rights are being sold. E-reads was just sold. Along with all those contracts. I was with E-reads so long I got my rights back after seven years. This selling of rights is going to happen more and more. Sort of like your mortgage during the bubble. Remember that? Authors could end up with the Russian mob owning their rights. I watched a special where David Geffen talked about trading Poco’s contract to another agent for Neil Young’s. Really.
And if I see one more indie author taking a trad deal and bubbling about how much is being offered them, how wonderful it’s going to be, I would make a gentle suggestion. Let’s hear from them in a couple of years. If you haven’t been trad published, you are likely in for a very rude awakening. I cringe sometimes when I see someone who has been successful self-publishing, who signs away their rights for not just the up front money but what they think is going to be all the great distribution, marketing, yada yada yada. I recommend any author who is thinking of going indie to trad, research back a couple of years and study the first authors to do that. Where are they now? How glad are they now they sold away those rights? I might be wrong, but I haven’t heard much about some of them. I can, however, check their rankings on Amazon. I’m reminded of when a Roman consul/emperor returned to the city and they held a Triumph and there was a slave in the chariot whispering “Respice post te, hominem memento te.”
The flip side is that indie publishing is getting tougher and tougher. Take out the top 5% of indie authors and the numbers are also skewed. The market is saturated. Bestseller lists have very few consistent titles, even day to day. What many indies aren’t saying is that the increasing competition is making it tough. I know Hugh Howey thinks the pie can grow bigger, but Joe Konrath speculated that a couple of years ago, and it’s simply not reality.
For trad authors thinking of going indie, here is some food for thought.
- Where will you be in five years when print is mostly via POD? I’m seeing Createspace (Amazon) Kiosks in airports printing books soon.
- Where will you be in five years if you don’t own any of your rights and you are no longer frontlist with the publisher that does own those rights? Think they’ll be pushing you? Hahahahahaha. Sorry. Had to do that after looking at royalties for my three co-written NY Times bestsellers that are backlist with St. Martins. I made more yesterday indie than I do in six months on those books.
- Percentage wise, the revenue you would receive from indie publishing will likely more than make up for the loss of what your traditional publisher is doing for you. Seriously. I can do the math of your royalty statement.
- Control. How much do you have? Date of release? Cover? Editing? Pricing? Library distribution? Cover copy? Marketing? Running specials? Most importantly creatively? Can you write what you want to write? What your fans want?
- You can’t really self-publish. Not if you have multiple titles. It’s so much more than just cover, formatting, etc. The digital dance (trademarking that now, like I should have done hybrid author) is complex. But I don’t think you need to give up 50% of the royalties for those services. You need a partner who will do that for you, giving you more than they get. A concierge service for authors where the creator of the content is valued more than the mode of delivery.
There’s another saying which is considered also a curse: May you live in interesting times.
Ah yes– FREE for the next 2 days: West Point to Mexico, the first part of my Duty, Honor, Country trilogy. From West Point in 1842 into the Mexican War. My West Point-Civl War version of HBO’s Rome. Did you know the Mexican War was the bloodiest in our history percentage wise?
*****Admin Note From Jen*****
Blog Contest for this Week: Sign up for Bob’s Newsletter and get your name put in for a drawing to win all three Duty, Honor, Country books in AUDIO. The complete trilogy! Bob sends out a newsletter no more than 4-6 times per year. Besides interesting information about Cool Gus, Sassy Becca and The Big Orange (Bob’s new Jeep), Bob also gives his newsletter subscribers exclusive content. You can sign up here.
Survival Friday: Excerpt from The Green Beret Survival Guide
This is where you have to start making some tough decisions.
First, do you even want a team? There are advantages and disadvantages to a team, which also change depending on whether you have a mild, moderate or extreme emergency. Here are some for you to consider:
- The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You can’t be an expert on everything. Having an array of people who bring different, needed skills, is important.
- Some people just can’t handle being alone. Can you?
- A sense of purpose. In combat, soldiers fight for each other, not for a cause. Being a member of a team can increase your motivation to get out of yourself and fight for the survival of those who you care about and are with you.
- In an extreme emergency, long term survival will eventually depend on team building. In this scenario you often won’t have much of a choice who you will ally with. Groups will form with different agendas. You have to evaluate your goals, and also whether you will be an asset to the team and whether the team will view you as an asset. What do you bring to the table?
- You make a larger target. It is indeed better to run away rather than fight. Your running away is limited by your slowest member. The only soldier I had to remove my A-Team couldn’t keep up with us in the field, carrying our typically extremely heavy combat load. You are also more likely to be discovered in an extreme survival situation as part of a team.
- You are letting others in on your survival plan. Remember when I mentioned earlier that the lazy survivalist simply lets others prepare, then comes in and plunders?
- Will the members of the team actually pull their weight? Below I will discuss team building. To wait until a survival situation to evaluate team-members is foolhardy.
- Security gets looser, the more people on the team. I call it the trust ripple effect. How many people do you trust? Trust with your life? How many people do they trust? In the move Contagion, as soon as the CDC character tells his wife about the outbreak and to get out of town, warning her to TELL NO ONE, what does she immediately do? Tell someone. As Ben Franklin said: “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” In covert operations we tended to be very paranoid, but you’re not paranoid if they are out to get you.
Where to find survival team members?
Most likely it will be your family.
Think about last Thanksgiving. Do you really want to huddle in a hide site with those people?
In mild to moderate emergencies, you will want to gather your family and friends as quickly as possible. Much of what I discuss about teams applies to this situation.
Other places to find potential survival buddies:
- Your church. Ask the Mormons. They have this down to a science. Actually, a religion.
- Hunting and garden clubs. Two extremes here, but each brings something to the table.
- Those attending self-defense classes or survival workshops.
Honestly, though, much like I am not a fan of writers groups, since they are often the blind leading the blind, I’m not a fan of picking strangers to be on your survival team. The level of trust needed, especially in an extreme emergency, is very, every high. Ask yourself: do I trust this person, these people, with my life?
The whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. Think what this means for survival. Honesty is the cornerstone of strong teamwork because it builds trust and respect. How many strangers would you trust? How many people that you know would you trust with your life? And remember, the worse the emergency, the more people will lie, cheat and steal, and eventually, kill, placing their survival ahead of yours. There will also be those who won’t. Remember in the movie Contagion when the scientist, with her dying gesture, tries to give the man on the next cot, her blanket?
There are those who would give you the shirt off their back and those who would steal the shirt off your back.