Watch out NY, Cool Gus is heading your way!

This week is Thrillerfest. The conference kicked off yesterday with the Master CraftFest, which is a one-day intensive workshop focused on the craft of writing. Then Wednesday and Thursday is CraftFest, which is more craft and its good to see this conference focus so intently on the craft of writing. The most important part of an authors marketing plan is a good solid cleanly crafted story. We tend to focus so much on the business, especially when things like the Hachette/Amazon negotiation seems to be the center of attention. The business part is important, but you don’t have the business part until you put your butt in the chair and write a damn good book.

There is also PitchFest. I actually attended the very first Pitchfest and pitched to a lot of agents. Bob was there too, but this was about a six months before we put our business into action. I remember Bob strolling in and out of the room, observing. He had given the keynote on how to pitch and made himself available to authors to work pitches. I have mixed feelings about PitchFest, but it is a great networking experience and you do meet a wide variety of agents and other authors. But it’s exhausting, so anyone reading this and attending Pitchfest my suggestion to you is drink water and take small breaks and don’t stress. The most important thing isn’t so much pitching your story, but making a business contact. We also recommend not spending your entire time at the conference focused on these pitches, practicing the pitches, making last minute adjustments to your pitch. Do it before you go to the conference, and then don’t think about it until its time. I know, that’s hard, but really, from someone who did the whole pitch thing for YEARS, its better that way.

ThrillerFest is then Friday and Saturday and filled with panels and workshops and lectures all ranging from writing topics to business topics to panels given from experts in various fields that might interest writers. Bob and I always recommend when picking which panel to attend base it on who the presenter is and not the topic.

East IndiaThis will be the first summer Bob and I are not attending either RWA or Thrillerfest. Well, okay, that’s not entirely true. I WILL be at Thrillerfest on Friday, lurking in the lobby, but I’m not actually attending the conference. I’m heading into the city and will be meeting with someone from Amazon and also meet with our author, Amy Shojai and then having dinner with some really cool authors Friday night. But for a few hours, I’ll be hanging in the lobby checking out all the happenings, talking writing and publishing so please, come on over and say hello, cuz you know, its all about networking.

Oh, and before I forget, today is release day for East India by Colin Falconer! Very excited about this book. One of Colin’s best works yet!

Nothing but good times!

So You Want To Make A Living Writing? 13 Great Truths

IMG_1494This is the flip side of my 13 Harsh Truths post of 29 April.

It’s a great life. I’m my own boss. I wear shorts and t-shirts to work, which is in my house. I sit at my desk with a great view of the TN River with a blank stare, drool running down the side of my mouth, and I’m working. Well, not really. Because no one’s paying me for my great thoughts. They’re paying for my writing.

I’ve been doing it for over a quarter of a century and here are some Great Truths I’ve learned about making a living as a writer.

  1. You can. You constantly hear “No one makes a living writing novels.” I’ve heard it for decades. In 2012 I was at a conference where I gave a keynote, then was listening to another keynote speaker saying “Don’t quit your day job”. And it started to worry me, until I realized my day job was writing. So I didn’t quit.
  2. It’s the best time ever to be a writer. I’ve been doing it for over 25 years and have heard all sorts of gloom and doom, but I can honestly say, I don’t think there’s ever been a better time. That’s not to say it isn’t an extremely confusing time, but that’s why I’ve done other blog posts on that, including one about 99% of advice coming from 1% of authors.
  3. There is more information than ever before out there. Which could be bad too, but seriously, you can garner a wealth of information about the craft and business of writing without leaving home.
  4. Leave home. One of the greatest mistakes I made in my early writing career was not networking. Even in self/indie publishing, it’s key to network with people. I know you’re an introvert, but get out there and talk to people. It’s a people business. And network with a couple of other serious writers on your craft. I’m not a fan of large writers groups getting together and doing line by lines, but 2 or 3 serious writers working on story, like we do in Write on the River, is invaluable. Find better writers than you to work with.
  5. Publishing is full of great people. Yes, both in the trad and indie world. Everyone I’ve met is there because they love books and stories. You hear terrible stories about publishers, editors, agents, Amazon etc. but pretty much everyone I’ve met has been really nice. In fact, I’ve been very impressed with how nice the people at Apple, Amazon, Pubit, Kobo etc are, especially to authors.
  6. Writers support writers. Mostly. I always advise writers to join their local RWA chapter. It’s the most professional writing organization around and your local chapter has tons of expertise and friendly people and monthly workshops.
  7. It’s about story not the book. Change your frame of reference. I sell stories. In various modes: digital, audio and print. Wrap your brain around that concept. It’s about the content not the format! I market using . . .
  8. Slideshare, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc. all from home. I used to not be a fan of book trailers, and while I don’t think they do much direct selling, they increase your digital footprint. And they’re cool.
  9. The framework of the story is evolving in the digital age. Since you can self-publish just about anything, you aren’t constrained creatively. I think self-pubbing is doing what the cable networks did to TV. HBO broke ground on new formats for series and characters. Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood. Other networks have picked it up. Have you seen Orange Is The New Black? And its precursor Weeds, which my wife and I are binging currently? Jenji Kohan does things with story that are crazy. And seriously, Weeds was Breaking Bad before there was a Breaking Bad. Definitely a different format there. I love studying story and then playing with it.
  10. You can stuWeedsdy story in books, but also on Netflix and On-Demand. Watch everything twice. The first for enjoyment of the story and characters and to learn what happens. The second time is the key as a professional writer. Because you know what’s going to happen you can see how the writers crafted the story and characters now. The second time is eye-opening. If Marie hadn’t stolen that damn state spoon in Breaking Bad, Hank would still be alive and the story would have gone in a completely different direction. Get it? You didn’t the first time you saw it and probably forgot that little event. The second time, it looms large.
  11. Focus on craft; not marketing and promotion. You can’t promote crap. The best marketing is a good story; better marketing is more good stories.
  12. The gatekeepers are readers. While traditional publishing is still a viable path, they no longer control distribution. This is such a fundamental change in the business paradigm, I truly believe very few people grasp the implications. New York is hanging on to its antiquated business model instead of embracing change. As part of the transition in the Army from a focus on conventional forces to Special Operations, I saw how hard change is in a large organization. But evolve or . . .
  13. Bottom line: The only person who can stop your success is you.


Survival Friday: Water Sources

Survival Friday: Excerpt from The Green Beret Survival Guide SurvivalFinal

Almost any environment has water present to some degree. Figure 6-1 lists possible sources of water in various environments. It also provides information on how to make the water potable.

Note: If you do not have a canteen, a cup, a can, or other type of container, improvise one from plastic or water-resistant cloth. Shape the plastic or cloth into a bowl by pleating it. Use pins or other suitable items—even your hands—to hold the pleats.


If you do not have a reliable source to replenish your water supply, stay alert for ways in which your environment can help you.



DO NO SUBSTITUTE THE FLUIDS LISTED IN FIGURE 6-2 FOR WATER  (Really, don’t.  There are a lot of misconceptions put out in fiction about what can and can’t be used instead of water.  Remember, you’re not a vampire.)


(“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”  You don’t want to be the poor Ancient Mariner)


Heavy dew can provide water. Tie rags or tufts of fine grass around your ankles and walk through dew-covered grass before sunrise. As the rags or grass tufts absorb the dew, wring the water into a container. Repeat the process until you have a supply of water or until the dew is gone. Australian natives sometimes mop up as much as a liter an hour this way.

Bees or ants going into a hole in a tree may point to a water-filled hole. Siphon the water with plastic tubing or scoop it up with an improvised dipper. You can also stuff cloth in the hole to absorb the water and then wring it from the cloth.

Water sometimes gathers in tree crotches or rock crevices. Use the above procedures to get the water. In arid areas, bird droppings around a crack in the rocks may indicate water in or near the crack.

Green bamboo thickets are an excellent source of fresh water. Water from green bamboo is clear and odorless. To get the water, bend a green bamboo stalk, tie it down, and cut off the top (Figure 6-3). The water will drip freely during the night. Old, cracked bamboo may contain water.  (Bamboo is a lot more common than you realize.  When you do your area study, this is something you should look for:  all the sources of water that you might not have considered before.)


The Everything Store; Amazon-Hachette; Yada Yada

EverythingAmazon is both “missionary and mercenary” and is a line from Brad Stone, the author of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. That to me sums this book up and sums up Amazon.

Given recent events, aka Hachette-Amazon, it’s required reading for anyone involved in the publishing industry. I think it’s actually required reading for anyone who just buys from Amazon. It lays out how a company that was just a thought in 1994 became what it is today.

After reading the book, then I suggest reading the reviews written by some of the people mentioned in the book, including Mr. Bezos wife. I’m a bit surprised at the negative reaction from some of these people because I didn’t think the book is a smear job on either Bezos or the company he started and still runs. It lays out a business template of someone driven to success.

My take on Bezos from this book (which might totally be wrong, I’m sure his wife knows him better): he wants to win. It’s not all about making money (although I’m sure he doesn’t complain) but about winning.

I’m business partner of Amazon (and other platforms) simply because eBooks resurrected my writing career after traditional publishing said it was over. I tell writers it’s the best time ever to be an author. I’ve been able to re-publish my extensive backlist and get it to writers and Amazon facilitates that. I was recently able to publish a free Sneak Peak containing excerpts and author notes from 42 of my books and make it live on Amazon (and other platforms). What bookstore or publisher would do that? I get paid every month, while traditional publishing still issues royalties as if computers and the internet had never been invented.

Also, every interaction I’ve had with Amazon employees (including a day long visit in January) has been positive. They view authors as customers too, which is key although there are rumblings that might change.

That said, after reading this book, I also cast a leery eye at the future and make plans in case winning comes at the cost to me and my career.

As far as Amazon-Hachette, I think the real point is the future of print. Put simply, the current business model is antiquated and extremely inefficient with bookstores being consignment stores and books being shipped back if they don’t sell. Print on Demand is the inevitable future as the machine gets smaller and the price point gets lower. The part of the negotiations that really caught my eye was the mention that Amazon wants to include a clause where they can print up books and sell them if they are out of publisher stock. This means a POD machine at every Amazon fulfillment center and one doesn’t have to stretch the imagination to envision chronic shortages of supplies of print books from publishers. It would be dramatically more efficient, but would give Amazon much more control over publishing.

I also envision Amazon kiosks in airport, at colleges, in malls, etc. with POD machines. Inventory is stored in the computer. The book is printed when the customer wants it. Of course, the problem is: how does the customer know the book exists if they can’t see it? Which is a problem for digital: discoverability.

I was in Costco yesterday (yes, with great emotional suffering) and noticed how much the book table has shrunk in the past year. Same with going into a Barnes & Noble a couple of weeks ago: a lot less books getting racked. But, also, at airport bookstores, at Costco, the only books being racked at from a handful of mega-bestselling authors. Not much democracy there. For well over a decade publishers have gone more and more to the blockbuster and relegated the midlist and new authors to the slums. Understandable business-wise but apparently something some of those mega-bestselling authors who yell loudly about Amazon care nothing about.

IMG_1494At Cool Gus we take emotion out of the business process and look realistically to the future. I see many crowing that “digital has flattened” and “ebook sales have slowed”. Yes, as one getting above 50% and heads toward 100% things will slow down. It’s math. For those who worry about Amazon taking over the world, we also noticed at BEA a much more aggressive approach from #iBooks, Google and PubIt (although what the split means, we won’t get into).

As I noted in a previous blog: anyone who thinks the status quo is going to be maintained needs to be looking for a new job soon.

That said: It is still the best time ever to be an author. And, I believe, to be a reader. I’ve got a print book on my desk that would have been “out of print” but for POD technology, which I’m using for research. And I’ve got books on my iPhone, always ready to be read, like when I’m sitting in the doctor’s waiting room later this morning.

Nothing but interesting times ahead!


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