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!

Survival Friday: Wildfires

Survival Friday: Excerpt from The Green Beret Survival Guide SurvivalFinal

While I lived in Boulder, CO, several times wild fires threatened the foothills. 

I like what the Department of Interior says about wildfires:  “All fires start small.  All fires go out.  What matters is what happens in between.”

Here is what they also say about understanding wildfire:

  • The wind throws embers one mile or more ahead of the flames. These embers start new fires.
  • As the main fire approaches your house, strong winds blow embers everywhere possible – under decks, against wood fences, into woodpiles, and through open doors and windows. Embers blown onto the roof come to rest in thick piles of dry leaves.
  • In some places the air is so smoky that you can’t see more than 10 feet.
  • Close to where the fire is burning most intensely, the air is far too hot to breathe.
  • The rising smoke and ash create winds on the ground cause all the fires to burn even more intensely.
  • Fires like this occur every year. Fires don’t just happen in the summer; in many areas fires can happen year round.
  • When it is dry and windy be watchful and be prepared to take action to protect your family and property.

To prepare your home if you live in an area prone to wildfires, here is a list of things to do:

  • ·      keep your roof and gutters free of leaves.
  • ·      store firewood at least 30 feet away from structures.  The nice pile up against the side of your house is called fuel for a wildfire.
  • ·      your outdoor furniture should be made of noncombustible materials.
  • ·      clear the area around your house of other combustible material such as leaves, bark, pine needles and underbrush.  Especially trim grass and brush around your propane tank.  Optimally you want a hundred foot barrier of no trees, shrubs or bushes around your house.
  • ·      when building walls, barriers, gates, landscaping, etc use noncombustible materials.
  • ·      when evacuating a wildfire, you should leave as soon as you receive notice.  Considering there is a chance your house might not be there for you to come back to, besides your G&G bag, also take that fireproof container with all your key documents in it.  And your pets.  Beyond that, forget about it.  Just like below, when discussing a tsunami, people are more important than any keepsake.
  • ·      while evacuating, make sure you have enough gas.  This goes back to always keeping your tank at least half full and having at least a five gallon spare can that you can grab to take with you.
  • ·      leave any gates open for firefighters and others.
  • ·      drive with headlights on.  If it’s smoky, close all windows, and recirculate air inside the vehicle.
  • ·      if you get trapped, park in an area that is clear of vegetation (parking lot, gravel area, dirt), close all windows and vents, cover yourself with a blanket or coat and lie on the floor.  Car tires may burst from heat. 
  • ·      in an extreme situation, you have to consider whether you can stay in your house only if:  your only escape route is blocked; smoke is so thick you can’t travel; you don’t have time to evacuate; or emergency personnel tell you to.
  • ·      You cannot stay in your house if:  you have wood siding or shingles; you’re located in a narrow canyon or on a steep slope; you have a lot of vegetation close around the house.  Find a neighbor with a better house.
  • ·      if you do stay in a house, do the following:  use a sprinkler or the sprinkler system to wet the yard.  Wet the roof with a hose.  Turn off all propane and gas.  Close all windows and doors.  Move fabric covered furniture away from large windows or sliding doors.  Turn off everything that circulates air through the house.  Close all interior doors.


99% of what Writers are hearing in terms of advice comes from 1% of Authors.

So how much actually applies and is useful?

I recently taught at a conference that forced me to get back to basics. Both in terms of the craft of writing and the business. Like many agents and editors, successful authors, after years in the trenches, become a bit jaded, and we also tend to forget what it was like to be on the outside looking in.

Looking at many conferences and conventions we see the same names presenting, again and again. Normally, they are very successful authors, whether indie or trad, who indeed have a lot of great information to impart. Still, the same person saying the same thing at a lot of conferences the same year might be overkill. The same is true of popular blogs where the same party line is touted, without considering the nuanced sides to every issue. After all, I’ve never seen a business event in publishing to be all good or all bad. Every thing has shades to it that every writer has to factor into their own personal situation.

IMG_1247But, after all, we want to hear from success stories, not failures. Still, if it were easy to replicate those successes, then everyone would be doing it. Plus, many success stories feel their path is the path, and don’t take into account not only other paths, but the changes in the business and even in story telling since they started.

For decades the spiel was pretty much the same: write a great novel following a traditional form of narrative structure (I still teach the five part structure) and then query an agent, hope the agent takes you on, then the agent pitches an editor, etc. etc. etc.

That’s somewhat true now, but there are so many more options, if I were new to publishing I’d be completely confused, as many writers I’ve met at conferences are.

First—does what the 1% say regarding their career path even apply any more? Things are different now than they were just six months ago. For trad authors issues like rights granted, reversion clauses, and non-compete clauses are growing more and more important. For indie authors, the market is saturated, so how do you get a toehold in it and leverage your way up, especially if you don’t have backlist, which is the conundrum for the new author?

When I was listening to an agent present I felt like I was in a time warp going back five years or more. Much of what she said was applicable but some of it had cobwebs hanging all over it. In fact, the success story she touted was a couple of years out of date and no longer applicable. But in a similar manner, I’ve heard some on the indie side speak and while what they say is often cutting edge, the cut is often very much slanted toward indie, while disparaging to trad publishing. I tend to believe for a new author, trad is probably the better option simply because the learning curve in publishing is so steep, that to learn it and break in while publishing yourself (while still writing, being a parent, working a job, etc.) might be more a cliff than a curve.  I think it all co-exists, much like Cool Gus & Sassy Becca above.

Second—does narrative structure even hold true in a different story-telling market? I turn to TV for this as my wife and I spend an inordinate amount of time watching it (she always controls the remote and she’s always right about what to watch). Shows like Orange Is The New Black do things to story (time hops, protagonist really not being part of climactic scene, etc) that are non-traditional but fascinating.

While I teach the basic narrative structure, I do so as part of craft, always reminding writers that to be true artists they have to learn the rules, then break them.

The same is true of the business. We hear “This is the way to do it!” shouted, but is it for you? Actually, the true entrepreneur blazes a new path. One reason I’ve stayed alive in publishing for a quarter century is I never thought I had it made. Every author I know who thought they had it made, ended their career the second they thought that. I’ve constantly reinvented myself and still am. I’m doing things differently now, both creatively and business-wise, than I was six months ago.

I want to hear from you—the writers getting all this great advice from so many sources. What have you heard that you liked, didn’t like and what do you want to hear that hasn’t been spoken yet?

A 25 Year Series Arc: The Green Berets re-launched (discounted & free)

patch-500x500Write what you know is a maxim often preached to writers. When I began writing over 25 years ago, I followed it, writing novels based on my continuing experience as a soldier, particularly as a Special Forces soldier. Thus, I believe on key to my Green Beret series is insight into a mindset less than 1% of American have experienced (much less than that if you consider just Special Operations).

I started my first novel in 1988. It ended up being the second book in my Green Beret series: Dragon Sim-13. I wrote the most recent book in the Green Beret series: Chasing the Lost in 2013 and am writing the ninth book in the series now, Chasing the Son. We’re re-launching the updated entire series discounted or free on Nook (.99), iBooks, Kobo, and Google (Free) this week to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the introduction of my main character in the series, Dave Riley. Much like me, Riley has been through a lot of over the year.  Here are all the links to the books on all platforms on one page including audiobook excerpts.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

Dave went from an NCO to a Warrant Officer to a private contractor to retired and living on Dafuskie Island. Along the way, he lost a love, fought many battles, and met Horace Chase to launch a new part of his life in the Low Country.

HelicoptersThat first book back in 1988 was initially titled Payback. It was set in Russia, not China. Of course, the Cold War ending put the end to that. I had to rewrite it and thus Eyes of the Hammer became the first book published.

I went into Special Forces when it wasn’t sheik. When my Infantry Battalion executive officer flat out told me I was destroying my ‘career’ by applying to the Special Forces Qualification Course. I pinned on the crossed arrows of the newly minted Special Forces branch at Ft. Benning while attending the Infantry Officer Advanced Course. That didn’t go over well there.

I was part of the committee at Ft. Bragg that completely revamped the Q-Course to update it. That helped design the new Special Forces branch. That wrote manuals focused on fighting Low Intensity Conflict, as it was called then, that led into the War On Terror. And, once off active duty and in the reserves, was constantly called to active duty for various tours of duty in various places around the globe, usually not tourist attractions.

I incorporated all this experience into my books. While I took a bit of turn toward science fiction in Synbat (which foreshadowed my career as a scifi writer with 3 #1 bestselling series), I stayed true to Dave Riley. He disappeared for a while after Z (terrible title!), but then I wrote Chasing the Ghost about another ex Spec-Ops guy, set in Boulder, Colorado, where I lived for a time. And I realized Riley and Chase has to meet and they did in Chasing the Lost, which I consider one of my best books. And that book flows naturally into the next book which will be out later this year. I love my cast of misfits and veterans in the low country; sort of my version of Deadwood. A lawless place where there’s a lot of violence in the shadows.

Sneak PeakSo this week, we’re celebrating Riley’s return to these platforms and the partnership of Riley & Chase.

Nothing but good times ahead.

With lots of shooting.

And, if you haven’t yet, download my free Sneak Peeks which has excerpts from all the Green Beret books (and many authors).



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