People seemed to like my last post so more of what my wife and I watch.
Hey—Duck Dynasty is like the #1 show on TV. There’s something soothing about it. We watch it when we’re upset. I think it’s the voices. I call it the “professional” wrestling show of reality TV in that you can tell some of the episodes and “incidents” are obviously scripted. Still. If you want to relax, tune in for an episode.
My wife watches a bunch of the Housewife shows. I’ve had to watch enough that I can sort of recognize some of them now—especially the Atlanta ones. My wife says it’s research into mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder, narcissism, etc. She has a point. Lots of screaming and yelling. The guy who thought all the stuff up is a genius. And very, very rich. Also, to me, the shows are product placement—every restaurant, hotel, club, etc. is giving them free time and stuff to be shown off. Reminds me of a wicked movie called The Jones with David Duchovny and Demi Moore. Where a fake family moves into a gated community in order to show off all their stuff as a strange sort of product placement on the sly. Pretty brilliant when you get down to it although indicative of a sick society.
I never got into Survivor, maybe because I’d been through so much survival training, it seemed like a joke. Even wrote a book about the topic: The Green Beret Survival Guide. Originally the title was The Green Beret Survival Guide for Zombies, the Apocalypse and Lesser Disasters, but we realized having a funny title (even though there is humor in the book) for such a serious subject, wasn’t productive. The book covers a wide range of topics from minor problems like a power outage for a few hours, or various driving conditions, grabngo bags (do you have yours ready?) to more serious incidents such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and alien invasions. I actually believe it’s the most important book I’ve ever written because it will save someone’s life, if it hasn’t already. Remember: Preparation is the KEY!
But Survivor is an interesting examination of people using each other. I think a show where a TEAM has to band together to achieve something would be interesting. Robin Sage, the last phase of the Q-Course would make a fascinating show. I went through a lot of training in the military, and Robin Sage, while not the most physically demanding, was the most demanding mentally. Constant lose-lose situations. Jumpmaster school has the lowest graduation rate, since you had to score 100% to pass. No 99% when jumping out of a plane. We graduated 14 out of 87 in my jumpmaster class and we’re talking all the students were Spec Ops.
But I digress, which I do often on this blog. We’re also fans of the murder and mayhem channels—ie true crimes. It’s often a bit scary to see when prosecutors are willing to go to court with little evidence and also when they fail to get convictions with a boatload of evidence.
I’m currently in the air, flying back from the Romantic Times Convention in Kansas City. It was quite interesting and we had several productive meetings for Cool Gus. Nothing but good times ahead!
And I’ll do a post Tuesday, the official pub date for The Green Berets: Chasing the Lost, but it’s becoming available on all platforms and is already selling quite well on Amazon and is going live on Kobo, Apple, and Nook. Here’s a video trailer for it:
I’m so tired, I’m not sure I’ll make it to Friday, but I find these big conferences/conventions always give me a vibe. Sort of a barometer of where things are at in publishing. Today I listened to a panel consisting of Sylvia Day, Abbi Glines and Colleen Hoover, moderated by Mark Coker and it pretty much verified what we’ve been feeling at Cool Gus: a publisher really has to work hard to justify it’s position between the reader and the author. What value does the publisher add is the key question?
Sylvia Day brought a lot of publishing experience to the panel, as well as seven million books sold. She was pretty blunt in her assessment that while she works with several big publishers, they’re not bringing as much to the table as they were just a year or two ago. She brought up the library issue as being frustrating that her publishers weren’t getting her books into systems while she herself could through Overdrive. All three agreed piracy wasn’t an issue they concerned themselves with.
They all also indicated they write—a lot. A common theme I see in the successful authors is an unbelievable work ethic. Sylvia Day, Bella Andre, Marie Force et al, are focused and driven.
We gave a workshop on self-publishing options that meandered but we knew it would. Tomorrow we give one on the future of publishing, which is like trying to see through the snow that’s coming down now.
The vibe: Hard to put my finger on the pulse. It’s so heavy in favor of “self” publishing it’s a bit scary even for us at Cool Gus, where we’ve technically been doing it for four years now. The entire dynamics of publishing has changed so radically in the author’s direction in the last three years it’s kind of stunning. It echoes what I hear from Amazon reps like Jon Fine where the digital world has democratized publishing. It’s wide open for authors who can write a good book—but they also have to run a good business too. Larry Kirshbaum, the publisher at Amazon, is here, which gives me an indication how seriously Amazon takes authors as customers, a refrain not many people pick up on, but is critical.
Personal contact is key and one thing we picked up from Jennifer Probst was to start building a “street” team for my books. Because the distance between the author and the reader can be as short as the Internet, it works two ways: authors have to be more responsive to their readers.
We sent out a group of ARCs of The Green Berets: Chasing the Ghost and have already garnered seven reviews, which is a nice start given the official pub date is 7 May even though it’s on sale on Amazon already (Psst we need a pre-order button!). The book is slowly moving up the charts, I think #3 in men’s adventure, which sadly, would make it like #300 in romance. Really, sometimes I think I need to switch genres. Given seventy some odd percent of readers are women, well, duh. But via my wife, I do write strong female characters. Anyway, I meander, much like Jen and I did for our workshop.
I find RT to be a very good conference for networking. Lots of savvy writers here. Lots of people publishing with multiple publishers as well as self-publishing.
And now, my brain is sliding into mush so I will post this and try to give a more coherent account after I get home and have some time to think.
Kill your TV! I’ve heard that from numerous keynoters at writers’ conference over the years, and I politely disagree. There is some wicked good writing on TV these days and in the movies (which I watch on TV via On Demand). My wife and I were both involved in the military (she was a military brat) and traveled all around the world. My wife was a young girl in Berlin when the wall was going up. We no longer do traveling or the tourist thing, but rather every day, after work, we grab Cool Gus & Sassy Becca, climb into the big bed, and then I watch whatever she brings up on the remote. We view it as work, because we analyze, dissect and discuss what we see.
Sorry, fellas. I don’t ever get to touch the remote. We watch every type of show and movie. From the latest reality show to the earliest movies. We make extensive use of the DVR and On-Demand. Our cable bill is so high, Comcast shuts us down every month because we exceed the maximum allowed for our area, which no matter how often we pay our bill, they still do—bad business Comcast!
So, I’m going to start blogging about what we watch and have watched and want to watch, from the point of view of quality (perceived, of course) and how a writer should view these shows. Also, for fun, we’ll let Cool Gus rate them, 1 to 5, completely subjective.
Let’s start with one from left field. I was actually sitting by myself in the living room, trying to catch up on The Americans, as I’d fallen behind my wife, and on the last episode, when my wife walked in and said “You have to see this.” More on The Americans below.
So turns out she’d only watched the opening scene of a show called Rectify and knew right away it was something we’d be interested in. It opens in a prison with a guard doing a cavity search of one prisoner and in the next room a guard handing another prisoner his clothes and turning his back as the man dressed. No, we’re not weirdos interested in cavity searches. Those two incidents set the show: how you can divide people up by how they react to other people’s shame: some turn their backs, some get pleasure out of your shame, and others, the truly evil, give a look that sends the hair on the back of your neck up. The story is basic and based on an older show, methinks, called Life, starring Damien Lewis, known for Band of Brothers and Homeland. Okay, so an aside here, which is going to happen. Life had an intriguing premise: What if a cop convicted of murder is exonerated and as part of his settlement with LA, gets millions of dollars and his gold detectives badge back so he can find the real killer. Pretty cool, eh? Probably never heard of it.
Anyway, Rectify, is about a guy whose death row conviction gets vacated, not exonerated, and is released. Not sure where it’s going but it has our attention.
Another show on BBC in America (which, isn’t pretty much everything now coming out of the BBC?) is The Bletchley Circle. It’s one of those shows, only seen the first of three episodes, that, as a writer, makes me pound my head wishing I’d thought of it, the idea is so brilliant. During World War II, the British used a bunch of brilliant women as part of their Enigma program, decoding the Germans encryption. The story is this: after the war, because of the times, these women all go back to being wives, girlfriends, waitresses, etc. because, you know, women aren’t that smart right? Except there’s a serial killer in London, and one of the women starts seeing a pattern. And she gathers three of her old gal pals and . . . . Awesome idea.
Perhaps I find it interesting because my book, Bodyguard of Lies, is based on a quote from Winston Churchill: “In wartime, truth must always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” And there’s another nonfiction book with the same title, by Anthony Cave Brown that my battalion commander gave me when I first reported to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and took over my first A-Team. He told me to read it. And I did. And it scared the crap out of me reading about covert ops in World War II and all the betrayals and double and triple crosses. Anywho I wrote about a housewife and female assassin in Bodyguard, and in the 90s no one wanted it. But now it’s the hot thing. And actually, I’m bringing Hannah and Neeley back in my Nightstalkers: The Book of Truths as they join forces with the Nightstalkers and . .
Speaking of double-and triple crosses, The Americans, is just pure wickedness. About two Soviet spies in the DC area who are deep cover with two kids. The Cold War wasn’t so cold, was it? I was part of covert ops just after the Reagan era (BTW, his first public appearance after he was shot, was my graduation at West Point and he shook every graduate’s hand, even though you could tell it was tiring on him). It might seem weird, but the show makes these Russian spies very sympathetic and real.
Whew. Just writing this blog post, I listed like 40 TV shows and movies that I want to talk about, so I guess we’ll be having a lot more blog posts like this. Let’s say around once a week.
And, since we did defeat the Soviets and capitalism with all its curses and blessings did survive, my latest book, The Green Berets: Chasing the Lost is out, and already getting rave feedback, especially the ending, which I can’t give away, but my wife added the extra, extra twist at the very end, which even I thought took wicked a step beyond.
Until next time.
Put three people involved in publishing in a room together or engaging on Twitter and they will find little to agree on except one thing: publishing is in chaos right now. Many use the term: it’s the ‘wild west’.
As a former Green Beret I read a book years ago from an embedded author: Masters of Chaos: The Secret History of the Special Forces.
I like the term Masters of Chaos. We were trained to thrive in chaos. I remember back in the Q-Course (qualification course) during the last phase, Robin Sage, when we parachuted into the North Carolina countryside and linked up with our ‘guerrillas’ to conduct an insurgency. While it was somewhat physically demanding, more importantly, no other training I ever went through was as much of a mind-frak. We were constantly put in lose-lose situations (think Kobayashi Maru) and expected to win. Then I commanded a Special Forces A-team and realized why we’d had such training. Then I became an instructor at the JFK Special Warfare Center that ran Robin Sage and other training like it. So I became well versed in the mindset, strategies and tactics of Mastering Chaos. I use it in my Who Dares Wins consulting business and also apply it to writers in Write It Forward.
That is why in 2010 when Jen Talty approached me about publishing my backlist in eBook, I saw the potential. We built Cool Gus on my backlist. We tried many different things. We made mistakes. We conducted After Action Reviews and changed. We learned. We adapted. Next week we’ll be at RT and sit down and will redo our business plan (Jen will bring color coded charts again, argh), based on having gone through what I believe is a three year cycle in digital publishing and a new cycle is just beginning.
Lately there’s been a lot of in-fighting in publishing. Well, not lately. For the last three years. We used to get involved in it. We have indie VS trad authors. Authors VS agents. Publishers VS Amazon. Amazon VS the aliens from Sector Blue.
Here’s the deal: We’re (Jen and myself) focused on our business. We’re constantly being contacted by bestselling authors, including four #1 NY Times bestsellers in the past six months, asking us about eBooks and publishing. They pick our collective brains and then move on; actually they don’t move on because they can’t. And therein lies the current conundrum. The #1 issue right now for authors is RIGHTS. If you look at what happened in music when the digital wave hit, the artists who survived and prospered did so one of two ways: they went on tour (not likely for authors) or they owned the rights to their music.
How many authors own their rights? Or have a credible expectation of ever getting their rights back in their lifetime?
This is why we’re seeing Scott Turow, president of the misnamed Author’s Guild, spout what appears to be nonsense. And James Patterson do a full page ad on the back of the NY Times Sunday book review that essentially said nothing other than: “Let’s maintain the status quo!” I used to think it was because these authors got paid so well in the status quo; and they are. But the real issue is their backlist is locked up with “claws of steel” as one author wrote me. And depending on the last contract they signed, so is their future. And if they went indie, could not their backlist be held hostage?
Authors think an advance is designed to allow them the time to write the book. But pretty much every novelist wrote their first manuscript without an advance. The term advance is like calling an estate tax a death tax. Good spin, but not reality. Publishers give advances to get to own the rights to publish the book. In today’s market, most bestselling authors are in essence, in indentured servitude to their publishers. There’s nothing wrong with that, and that’s a key thing we learned in Special Forces when assessing a situation: we evaluated the reality, not trying to see it through a prism of “right” or “wrong” and trying to warp reality to fit our vision of each.
“Legacy” is a key term that a #1 NY Times bestselling author recently emailed me about. It took me several days, and several hours of conversation with my brilliant wife, to figure out exactly what he meant.
Let me give you an example from my own experience: I have written or co-written 50 books as of today. I own the rights to every single book I’ve written on my own: 47. I don’t own the rights to the three I co-wrote. Interestingly, those three were the bestselling three individually of all 50 titles. The first was a NY Times Bestseller in hardcover. Yet, those three titles combined, now sell less copies in six months in all formats, then the lowest selling of any of the 47 titles I control sells in one week. I sell more of my first book published in 1991 in one day than those three books sell in six months. I don’t care how big a name an author is, how many of your books will you have the rights to in ten years? And if you don’t have the rights and aren’t still writing away like crazy, how hard do you think a publisher is going to be pushing them? What about your kids inheriting those rights? Your legacy?
Here’s another key thing we’ve accepted at Cool Gus. Readers don’t give a rat’s ass where a book comes from. They want story. I don’t see readers writing rants about agent, editors, publishers, indies, trads, etc. In fact, the biggest complaint I hear from readers is they have too much choice now. Too many stories to choose from. Readers aren’t hurting, that’s one thing we accept. Which is why our over-riding motto at Cool Gus is: Authors create product (which is story, not book) and readers consume product. Everyone else (including Cool Gus) is in between and must provide value to both ends.
In Special Operations, we had to accept that only twice in the twentieth century was a popular insurgency defeated. Both by the British SAS whose motto, Who Dares Wins, I use. Do you know how they did it? Not by defeating the insurgents. By doing what we have tried, and failed to do repeatedly: win the hearts and minds of the people.
Here’s where I’m at in trying to master my own chaos of writing: I don’t need to win over other writers, agents, editors, publishers, publishing gurus, etc. by making arguments about how ‘right’ I am. Because I’m not right for anyone else; just me. And well, Jen, and the other authors who have partnered with Cool Gus (we don’t view ourselves as a publisher but rather a partnership, where the author is in command) in their own chaos of writing. As Jen and I constantly say: there are many roads to Oz and Oz means different things for different people. The bottom line: I just need to do right by the one group of people I have to care about: Readers are the people whose hearts and minds I, as a writer, and publishing partner, have to win.
PS: If you’re going to be at RT next week, feel free to stop by and say hi. Jen and I will be hanging out in some common area pretty much all the time. One of our SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) of attending conferences is when we leave our rooms in the morning, we don’t go back until the day is done. I’ll be sitting with my back to the wall, having excellent observation and unobstructed fields of fire. Jen will have her back to the room, but that’s okay, because I’ve got her back. We’ll be there trying to win hearts and minds. Come join us.
PPS: Only two weeks away (7 May) from the publication of my first new series book in a couple of years: The Green Berets: Chasing the Lost. Lots of fields of fire in that book.