Publication Day: Shit Doesn’t Happen II: The Gift of Failure

SDJH II coverBook Two in the Shit Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure Series is published today

Available at all platforms via this landing page.

“My God, Thiokol. When do you want me to launch? Next April?” Senior NASA official on a conference call to the manufacturer of the solid boosters, when they recommended on the morning of the launch that it be postponed.

“It’s dark here to write, but I’ll try by touch. It seems like there are no chances, 10%-20%. Let’s hope that at least someone will read this. Hello to everyone. There is no need to despair.” Captain Lieutenant Dmitri Kolesnikov, commander 7th Compartment (turbine room) Russian submarine Kursk.

“If we arrive safe at Cairo it would be the greatest trip ever made on the western waters, as there were more people on board than were ever carried on one boat on the Mississippi River!” William J, Gambrel, first clerk & part owner of the steamship Sultana.

“Should hostilities once break out between Japan and the United States, it would not be enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. To make victory certain, we would have to march into Washington and dictate the terms of peace in the White House. I wonder if our politicians (who speak so lightly of a Japanese-American war) have confidence as to the final outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.” Admiral Yamamoto, Commander Japanese Navy. (Note that this quote was used extensively for propaganda purposed by the United States by leaving out the last sentence)

Mulholland & The St. Francis Dam
During the Los Angeles Coroner’s Inquest, William Mulholland said, “this inquest is a very painful for me to have to attend but it is the occasion of that is painful. The only ones I envy about this whole thing are the ones who are dead.” In later testimony, after responding to a question, he added, “Whether it is good or bad, don’t blame anyone else, you just fasten it on me. If there was an error in human judgment, I was the human, I won’t try to fasten it on anyone else.” William Mulholland, chief engineer, Water Department Los Angeles

“I am not prepared to be a tsar. I never wanted to become one. I know nothing of the business of ruling.” Nicholas II, last Czar of Russia.

“It was repugnant. Through the eyes of our civilized society it was a disgusting decision. My dignity was on the floor having to grab a piece of my dead friend and eat it in order to survive. ‘But then I thought of my mother and wanted to do my best to get back to see her. I swallowed a piece and it was a huge step – after which nothing happened.” Dr. Robert Canessa


The Content Flood & Authors Whining Part Deux

IMG_0819Some thought my last post at Digital Book World was aimed at Authors United, but it wasn’t. I mentioned them as simply the clearest example of a misguided business focus by authors. We all can be a bit, shall we say, unfocused. Some find me a bit bleary-eyed at times. But that’s Cool Gus waking me up too early in the morning.  Or is it Becca– she always seems to be on top.

It’s easy to blame Amazon for declining sales. While for Hachette authors, they have a legitimate hatchet to grind (couldn’t resist), it’s not the complete story. Also, they are focusing on an outlet, when they signed a contract with the distributor, which refuses to sign a contract with the outlet. Their real gripe is with the organization they are contractually obligated to.

Be that as it may be, and it is; we also have some indie authors who act like we all should link arms around the campfire and sing Kumbaya. That we all should help each other and that competition, ‘well, no, that’s not really an issue’. In fact, when I bring it up, I’m chastised like some mercenary from the now defunct Blackwater, resurrected as Academi (seriously, folks). But I was never a mercenary and served in Spec Ops out of deep sense of comradery with my fellow soldiers. I do these blog posts (and I’ve done a lot of them) sharing my thoughts and projections for fellow authors. Take ‘em or leave ‘em, but I submit if you look in the archives of this blog, I’ve got a lot more good stuff here in terms of craft and business for authors than 99% of others around ye old campfire. Let’s go back to my mention of ‘hybrid author’ in 2011? You know, when everyone was talking about it. Not. Now you can’t swing a dead duck without reading or hearing ‘hybrid’ mentioned.

I’ve got a new term: Diffusion.  It’s how our content is being diffused in the flood of total content.

But we can blame Amazon for declining sales since it opened the floodgates; just not in the way Authors United believes. Because I submit many of those non-Hachette authors who signed the letter are also losing sales. Yes, they believe Jeff Bezos and Russ Grandinetti sit in the dark playing with their algorithm blocks, occasionally throwing one at Jon Fine, and are screwing authors.


It’s the content flood and diffusion. And sorry, Jon Fine, tsunami sounds cool, but I’m telling ya’ it’s Biblical, dude.

Let’s look at some indicators that have been very telling.

Harlequin’s revenue has gone down every single quarter for over three years now. Every quarter. I’ve watched that. I used to think HQ was the perfect business model for the new digital world with readers willing to buy specific lines of books regardless of author. However, HQ is a direct casualty, let’s call it a center of mass shot with a sucking chest wound, of the indie author movement. So many of their successful authors jumped ship quickly for higher royalties, it’s taken its toll.

The reason? Romance authors are by far the most business savvy of any genre (don’t even get me started on SFWA which apparently just learned women can write good books). Because RWA chapters do stand around the campfire and chat. Every month. Not like men chat. But like women chat. You know. That. They even ask directions. In the business. And they share. That’s not to say they wouldn’t pound a stiletto high heel into your brain if you crossed them, but they’ll smile when they do it. Their customer base, 56% of fiction, is so broad, the content surge is only beginning to lap at their high heels.  But com’n, some of ya are feeling it.  Eh?

And Harlequin was sold. I blogged about this when I talked about The #1 Thing Authors Need to Consider Ref Amazon-Hachette (28 May 2014). This caught me some flack from some trad authors who felt I’d overstepped my bounds. But if you don’t own your rights, you can be traded, down-sized, out-sourced, and disappeared.  Diffused into nothingness.

BOL(new_3a)Elloras Cave is on the ropes. The pioneer in digital. How can that be? They claim some vague Amazon campaign against them. Yeah, Bezos and Grandnetti decided to screw them because . . .? These guys are working on getting drones flying over China.  Of course, looking deeper, after reading The Everything Store, there is the issue about some types of erotica being submerged due to content and cover because of concerns about the wide range of customers on Amazon. After all, we can’t have a gun on the cover of one of our books and pay for advertising on Amazon (gun removed from cover on right).  Soooo . . .

I mentioned Cool Gus’ revenue is up 22% this year over last. There are several reasons why, but one is we did something counter-intuitive. By the end of this year we will be working with half the number of authors we started the year with (and that wasn’t many to start with). Our partings have been amiable, but we’re really honing our business model, which is to provide top service to a handful of authors.

There’s going against a prevalent business model, which I’ve seen agents and publishers pursue over the years: throw a lot of authors and books out there and make a little off each.

That model, as evidenced by the crash and burn of a number of companies, is not a forward looking one.

And another reason we’re ‘down-sizing’ while ‘up-earning’ (oh yeah, trademarking that along with diffusion) is we believe going forward that a couple of top authors, looking at the reality of their royalty statements, crunching the numbers on digital percentage, will realize they need to change their business model (it’s even a radical concept for many trad authors to understand they need their own business model and not be handcuffed to a publisher or, gasp, their agent!). But the concept of going from a model they’re comfortable with and has served them well for a long time, into the unknown frenzy of the indie world, has them understandably hesitant. The learning curve is incredibly steep. That’s where Cool Gus is focused. It takes Jen and I about an hour to walk an author through what exactly we provide and why it’s needed in a world where cover design, editing, formatting and upload can be outsourced on a one time fee basis. As if that were enough to be successful.

We’ve always believed an eBook is organic. Very much unlike print (which actually is getting more organic with POD, which is the future, and I have no doubt Jeff Bezos and Russ Grandnetti have sat in the dark and come up with a very specific plan for that– one reason Jen visited Createspace HQ last year, but I digress). Thus it requires an organic publisher able to adapt and change and operate swiftly.  Swiftness is revenue in the digital world. And slow is one of the chief adjectives for large organizations.  We also believe an author’s career is organic and needs to be adaptive to rapidly changing opportunities, not locked into long term contracts and archaic business models.  At the same time, we think an author has to focus on long term revenue, not the quick money up front.

Beretee KnifeThe reality is the Flood is going to get deeper and deeper and deeper and our content will suffer more and more diffusion. Many who are doing well now, won’t be doing so well in the future, both indie and trad and hybrid and Martian. That’s not being mean, it’s being realistic. The first step of change is to rip away denial. That’s the only way to not only survive but thrive.

My last two books released this month (on the 9th and next week on the 30th; another lesson learned, back to back releases) are titled Shit Doesn’t Just Happen (I and II): The Gift of Failure. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, and again in those books, that Special Forces are Masters of Chaos. Combat is chaos. Disasters are chaos. And publishing is getting increasingly chaotic.

Let’s master it.

Why write THIS book?

SDJH II coverRegarding:  Shit Doesn’t Just Happen:  The Gift of Failure and excerpted from it:

Because I’ve made mistakes.

We all have. And some of us have made mistakes that contributed, either completely or in some percentage, to a no-do-over. This is an event where you can’t go back and change the result. There has been an irrevocable event. Often these involve death or permanent injury/wounding. You can’t undo those.

Soldiers understand this because the environment in which we operate is full of no-do-overs. I’ll discuss why Special Forces are called Masters of Chaos later on, but even as Masters, we only control what we control. The best-trained, best equipped, soldier in the world is still only one piece of the entire picture.

That’s the part we have to focus on; what we have control over. Our lives play out with many events and tragedies that are beyond our control, but in which we have some input, some effect. That’s what this book highlights, showing you catastrophes step by step, and how each step teaches us something.

There aren’t bad people in these catastrophes (mostly). They might have made some wrong decisions, but we all have, and the value we can place on them is to learn from them. Sometimes, many of the victims were innocent and not responsible, but we must focus on those who are responsible and in charge and made the key decisions. Or didn’t make a key decision.

I can look back and have to examine where my part was; where my human error, my lack of focus, my wrong thinking, poor decision-making and ignorance, entered into things. There are things I might not have been able to prevent, but if I don’t examine my role, I’ll never become better at what I do and a better person. And deep inside, I wonder what I could have prevented.

That is why this book exists.

No_Highway_in_the_SkyWhen I was young I watched the movie No Highway In The Sky starring Jimmy Stewart. It’s about an engineer who fears the first jet-engine commercial airliner will crash because of metal fatigue. He’s so convinced he’s right, even though everyone else thinks he’s wrong, that he retracts the landing gear while the plane is parked on the runway to prevent it from taking off. Of course, by the end of the movie he’s proven right.

But of more interest, three years after the movie, the first jet passenger plane, the de Havilland Comet had two fatal crashes. The cause: metal fatigue.

Then I went to West Point and subsequently volunteered for the Special Forces (Green Berets). As I’ll describe in the Why Listen To Me section, both of these experiences had a profound effect on the way I view the world around me. Operating in the covert world leads one to have a paranoid perspective where shit doesn’t just happen, it’s expected, and we have to deal with it.

I’ve written quite a few novels based on my experiences, but also some nonfiction books. The Green Beret Survival Guide is full of not only survival information, but stories about survival events. In a way, this book is an expansion of those types of individual stories to larger catastrophes. Who Dares Wins: Special Operations Strategies for Success is where I apply what I learned and taught in Special Operations to the civilian world. As we’ll see in the following disasters, expertise in areas such as communication, goal-setting, leadership, character, motivation, etc. all play a role.

Finally, my wife (who is terrified of flying) and I became very interested in a television show titled Seconds From Disaster, which aired on National Geographic. Over the seasons it covered just about every plane crash and numerous other disasters. And we noticed a startling commonality. No plane crash just happened. There was always a series of mistakes, miscalculations, negligence and other events leading up to those final seconds and the disaster. Which led us to develop the . . .

The Rule of 7: no crash happens in isolation or as the result of a single event. It requires a minimum of 7 things to go wrong in order for an airplane to crash. And one of those 7 is always human error. It might not be the primary cause, but it is always a contributing factor.

This book will show you how the Rule of 7 applies not just to plane crashes, but to catastrophes across a spectrum of widely different events, from a ship sinking to a battle, to an emigrant party in the wilderness to tulips and a housing bubble.

What can we learn from 7 catastrophes that is relevant to us and could very well save your life and that of others?

We are more powerful than we believe in the face of catastrophe.

A catastrophe involving humans does not happen in isolation.

In fact, with enough knowledge and preparation, many individuals and organizations can avoid catastrophes altogether, and if caught in one, survive.

Thus, this book is about 7 catastrophes, utilizing the Rule of 7 to show you at least 7 contributing events to each catastrophe and how each one could have been avoided.

That is the purpose of this book.

“There is no danger that Titanic will sink!”

The first catastrophe I study in Shit Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure is the Titanic.

titanic“There is no danger that Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable and nothing but inconvenience will be suffered by the passengers.”

Phillip Franklin, White Star Line vice-president, 1912

Titanic is a classic example of systematic cascade events, many unrelated to each other, any of which if corrected, would have averted the final event.

The Facts: The Titanic sank in the early morning of 15 April 1912 after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic. The official death toll is 1,517 making it #5 on the all time fatality list for shipwrecks. What makes this sinking notable is that the Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time of its maiden voyage and was declared ‘unsinkable’ by its builders.

Hubris is the father of tragedy and catastrophe.

The Timeline:

Roughly 1,000 BC: Snow falls on Greenland, which will become the iceberg the strikes.

31 July 1908: Plans for Number 400 (Olympic) are presented to the White Star Line and approved. Number 401 (Titanic) is also approved.

31 March 1909: Construction begins on Titanic.

1909: The fatal iceberg calves off a glacier on the west coast of Greenland.

31 May 1911: Number 401 slides on 22 tons of soap and tallow into the water. It is not christened or formally named, keeping with White Star tradition.

2 April 1912: First sea trials of Titanic.

10 April 1912: Titanic sets out on her first, and last, voyage.

14 April 1912; 11:40 pm: Titanic strikes an iceberg.

15 April 1912; 2:20 am: Titanic sinks.

I cover the six cascade events leading to the final event, the sinking.  Cascade #3 is:

CASCADE THREE: Lack of a sufficient number of lifeboats for the crew and passengers.

Titanic carried enough lifeboats to accommodate 1,178 people; for a ship with a capacity three times that. It must be understood that at the time, the theory was that lifeboats weren’t exactly that. They were transfer boats, as it was believed that if needed, there would be time to radio for help, and then transfer all passengers and crew to the responding vessels. In fact, the lifeboat capacity for Titanic exceeded that which was legally required at the time: British vessels over 10,000 tons were required to carry at least 16 lifeboats with capacity for 50% of passengers and crew. The Titanic actually exceeded this requirement by having a capacity for 52% of the people on board.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a focus on the 48% that weren’t provided for.

Plus, the Titanic displaced 52,000 tons, more than five times that maximum. By constructing the largest vessel at the time, the builder was outstripping maritime law. As we push the limits of technology and construction, constantly going for bigger and faster, there is a need to be self-regulating in terms of safety.

The Titanic carried 20 lifeboats. 14 were wooden with a capacity of 65 each. 4 were collapsible boats (wooden bottom, canvas sides) with a capacity of 47 each. There were also two emergency cutters with a capacity of 40 each.

Interestingly, the Titanic had 16 sets of davits, each of which was capable of handling 4 lifeboats. Doing the math, this gives the ship the capacity to carry 62 wooden boats (62 boats x 65 capacity equals 4,030 people). The original design for the Titanic called for 48 lifeboats, which would have held 3,120 people. But that number was reduced to 16 for various reasons (including esthetics as some of those additional lifeboats would have blocked the view from the deck).

Lesson: When building technology that outstrips current safety requirements, one should not take the easy way and adhere to outdated laws. The reality of the new technology requires a new reality in safety requirements.

After the Titanic sinking, naturally, the lifeboat requirement was changed so that a ship was required to carry enough lifeboats for its capacity, a common sense requirement that should have been organically implemented by designers and builders as ships grew larger.

Sadly, while the Titanic’s lifeboats had the capacity for 1,178 people, there were only 706 survivors.

To rely on simply obeying the law when dealing with safety issues, one leaves things open to a final event that will require the law to be changed after the fact.

It should not require death to update safety requirements.

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