True Lies 12: The Content Bubble and 8 Cent eBooks

There once was a poor man who owned one really fine horse

One day he went out to the pasture and the horse was gone

His neighbors said: “What a bad thing. The only thing you had of value is gone!”

His reply: “I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing. It just is.”

Two days later his horse returned, leading 6 fine wild horses.

His neighbors said: “What a good thing. You now have six times what you had! You’re rich!”

His reply: “I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing. It just is.”

With his son he proceeded to break the wild horses.

His son was thrown from one of the new horses and shattered his leg.

His neighbors said: “What a bad thing. Your son is crippled for life!”

His reply: “I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing. It just is.”

The kingdom went to war against a foe they could not defeat.

The king’s men came around levying young men. The poor man’s son, because of his leg, was exempt.

His neighbors said: “What a good thing. Your son won’t die in this worthless war!”

His reply: “I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing. It just is.”

And on and on. Which is my way of saying I’ve been observing publishing closely, since it’s been my livelihood for a quarter of a century, and not a single thing has ever been all good or all bad. It’s all mixed and often turns out, as I often tell my wife, like you least expect.

So here’s what I see, for what it’s worth, on two topics: The Content Bubble and Book Bundles and the two are connected in shaping my new forecast (cloudy with a chance of confusion) for publishing.

I’m trademarking Content Bubble like I should have hybrid author. The great thing about digital is that anyone can upload their book. The bad thing about digital is anyone can upload their book. Forget about ‘gatekeepers’ and all that. Let’s deal with the reality that every day, more and more books are getting ‘shelved’. And they won’t ever get ‘unshelved’. And not only new works, but more and more backlist. Mostly from authors who were ‘successful’ in trad publishing (ie they got published). I put that in quotes because if they got their rights back, then most likely never ‘broke out’. It’s the Catch-22 that for very successful authors it will be a cold day on Pluto before they ever see any rights revert.

As I mentioned in an earlier True Lies: Reality Sucks, my wife and I sold our house at the height of the housing bubble, when few people realized we were in a bubble. That solution isn’t going to work with books, but the reality is the bubble is growing bigger and bigger. The ‘burst’ isn’t going to be dramatic. We’re already in it. It’s not a burst, but rather a spreading flood that isn’t going to subside. The midlist of both indie and trad authors are seeing that it’s harder and harder to get discoverability online. And it’s harder and harder to stay on a major top 100 list for any period of time.

I’ve seen a handful of bundles from a group of authors hit the NY Times list this past month. Authors have been very excited about it. Again, it’s good news, bad news. 12 titles at .99 equals an 8 cent eBook, with the author earning less than 3 cents per sale. Of course, that’s not the point of these bundles. Hitting the NY Times and other lists is one. Mainly it’s about exposure. Also, to gain new readers. And to jiggle the almighty Amazon algorithms. Those are all positives.

But let’s project out the reality. We’re going to see a slew of bundles now from multiple authors all trying to recreate this. Some will succeed. Most will not. But they are saturating the market with inexpensive eBooks.

Is that bad? Not as bad as one might think. We have to sort readers into groups. There are a group of readers who will download every free/good deal eBook they can. They will only read a handful, of course.

SpecialOps1(2)Still, more and more content, for less and less, is a slippery slope. But if it works for an author, it works. I’ve seen several blogs and comments about how it’s helped some of these authors overall. Also, it’s my theory no one ever writes a letter to the editor (or a blog) saying “I’m doing something I need to stop doing!” It’s always telling someone else not to do something, which is ludicrous. Plus, if Beelzebub offered to bundle his bestselling eBook with mine, along with Satan, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Brett Favre, I’d probably do it. Heck, we’ve done several two for one combos that have sold quite well, such as Spec Ops 1.

One thought I have is that collaborations and ghost writing are both paths to pursue for authors who have any sort of brand. (so, once more, if you think you can write one of my series, such as Shadow Warriors, Psychic Warrior, etc. drop me a line).

What’s actually happening is that digital is morphing into a pattern very similar to print publishing. Except the choke point is on the back end in discovery, not in the front end on getting a contract.

Just like a successful author went back to print and got more shelf space when they sold well in a bookstore, the algorithms at Amazon reward a book (and its author) that sells. So we’re back in the quandary of the marketing goes to the books that sell, but how do you sell if you don’t get the marketing?

I don’t have all the answers. But I’m understanding the situation better and factoring the reality of it into my business plan and the plan for Cool Gus. In many ways, the digital landscape is beginning to mirror the way the print landscape was. There are some key differences, but my focus is on those factors I control.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. It just is.

Survival Friday: Survival Tracking and Evasion

Survival Friday: Excerpt from the Green Beret Survival Guide SurvivalFinal

This usually comes into play during an extreme emergency when there is conflict among people, so I go into more detail on it in Sustainment.  In order to understand how to evade being tracked down, you need to first understand how to track someone.  In Special Forces we sent personnel to a tracking school run by headhunters.  Seriously.  We also run a school called SERE:  Survival, evasion, resistance and escape.  It’s considered such a key element, that it is now part of the Qualification Course for every Green Beret.  Pilots are often sent through SERE training as they have a high likelihood of this given their mission.

The key to tracking someone, however, is not examining bent twigs, or marks in the dirt, but rather understanding the mindset and habits of whatever you are tracking.  Predators tend to cluster near water sources in areas where water is scarce.  Rather than tracking down their prey, they let their prey come to them.  People tend to take the easiest path.  That’s why ambushes are set up along paths and choke points.

Where will whoever or whatever you are tracking be going?  What is their destination?  If you’re very sure of their destination, perhaps you can get there before them.  Will they need food?  Water?

To evade someone tracking you, you must avoid the easy way.  You must break bad habits.  You must confuse them.  You must make it difficult for them to follow.

My first platoon sergeant told me an interesting thing:  few people ever look up.  Remember in Hunger Games when the heroine hides up in a tree?  Like everything else, this is a double-edged thing:  you might not be noticed, but if you are, as she was, you are trapped.

One of the best ways to avoid being followed is to use water.  Few people want to wade through water or go into that swamp.  Francis Marion during the Revolutionary War was able to evade the British because he knew the terrain and was willing to go where they weren’t.

Here are keys to evasion:

  • if ever captured, try to escape quickly.  The longer you remain a prisoner, the lower your chances of escape.
  • if ever arrested, say nothing.  You have the right to remain silent, then remain silent.
  • don’t be noticeable.  Ever watch a crowd?  Ever see the people who stand out?  You don’t want to be that person.  At West Point, one of the keys for ‘surviving’ Beast Barracks was to ‘ghost’ as much as possible.  To not get noticed.  In the same manner, a rule of survival on the New York subway is to not make eye contact.  One of my rules, SOPs, is to never poke the crazy person.  When walking down the street, avoid eye contact and all contact with those who could possibly be threats.
  • if your team has to evade, you must make an important decision: whether to break the group up into pairs or try to evade as a team.  Remember, of course, that you are evading to a point, usually your ERP, or if your hide site was over-run, another ERP you’ve come up with.  So if any team members are captured, you must assume they will give up the location of the ERP.  On the other hand, pairs have a greater chance of evasion than a large group.
  • like poor Butch and Sundance in the movie:  “Who are these guys?”  Always assume, in an extreme survival situation, that someone is after you.  You aren’t paranoid if they are really out to get you.
  • don’t hide in obvious places.  In The Road, when the pair of them go into that house on top of the hill, that was, well stupid.  Especially after the son sees the pile of shoes in one room.  Assume any place that looks inviting is a trap.
  • keep your eyes open for anything you can use.  Later one we’ll discuss a way to treat water with plastic bottles.  While I’m not a fan of hoarding, in a survival situation you never know what can become useful.
  • don’t leave tracks.  This seems obvious, but few of us have ever thought about it.  And even fewer have ever looked behind ourselves to see if we are leaving tracks.
  • I could go into a long spiel on how to avoid being tracked by dogs, but if you’re in that situation, something really strange has happened.  If you think this is a possibility for you (since you’re reading this in a maximum security prison), then you can find other resources with this information.

In Conclusion

The odds that you will have to track or evade are low in a mild or moderate emergency.  But the odds you will have to land navigate without electronic aid isn’t so low.  Make sure you have maps, both road and topographical.  Make sure you have a basic understanding of the terrain around you.  Practice your routes from your home to you IRP, LRP and ERP and on to the Hide Site.

When traveling, plan your route and plan alternate routes.


True Lies 11: Lying for a Living & The Unforgiving Minute

I often joke that I make my living telling lies when I do keynotes and presentations.  It gets a nice chuckle from the audience.  But it’s true.  Thus this blog every Tuesday is called True Lies.  Balance that with my Survival Friday blog and you have great insight into my psyche.  Scary isn’t it?

Fiction does a curious dance with fact.  Not just in terms of the story, but also in terms of the author.  Are romance writers romantic in their personal life?  Are thriller writers coming from a thrilling background?  Did military technothiller writers serve in the military?  Do erotica author live the ‘lifestyle’?  Have science fiction writers traveled in time and/or space?  Horror writers battled vampires?

The answer is predominantly: no.  Some for practical reasons:  ie their genre is out of the realm of reality (I hope, although I can tell you exactly what the interior of the Mothership looks like from personal experience).  But I submit even for those who could live what they write about, there’s another factor at play:  reality messes with fiction.

WDW_WEBFew writers who base their fiction in the military world served (actually less than 1% of our population has, which says something.  Not good for a variety of reasons).  And most heroes are Special Ops:  SEALs, Green Berets, Ranger (which brings us down to a tiny, tiny percentage of our population).  Expanding slightly, then you’ve got all the heroes/heroines who are former CIA, ATF, Secret Service, SMERSH, and from secret organizations that the author invents, etc.

Romance writers love the Alpha hero.  Navy SEALs, Highlanders, Vikings, Big Foot.  That seems at odds with the reality of extraordinarily high divorce rates in the Special Operations community.  By the way, the terms Special Ops and Special Forces are not interchangeable.  I was in Special Forces, which is part of Special Ops.  So are SEALs.  So are Psyops and Civil Affairs.

One of the hardest things for me to do when writing fiction is to set aside reality.  Yet, at the same time, I hope the fact that I have some unique reality in my books based on my experiences, makes it a bit different than that of other authors.  When I read a book by someone who walked the walk, there are always small touches that strike my that probably go unnoticed by the vast majority of readers.  I loved the film Red and I don’t know who added the touches, but overall, despite being over the top and a comedy, it was a surprisingly accurate portrayal into the world of covert ops.  The last line of my Commander’s Policy letter for my A-Team was:  “Keep your sense of humor; you’re going to need it.”  When Bruce Willis comments on the Swedish K submachinegun on the wall in Malkovich’s lair; that was an inside comment.

Sumter_ShilohI was discussing this with my wife this morning and I said that the reason writers succeed in writing what they haven’t experienced is that they are writing the fantasy version.  Fiction, particularly genre fiction, is escapism.  War is hell and do you really want hell?  Stephen King does, but then it’s called horror.  Hell on earth in the form of war sent William Tecumseh Sherman, who saw what was coming, home on mental disability early in the Civil War.  Later on he made the South howl with the hell he unleashed.

There’s a whole slew of romance out there where the term billionaire is in the title.  Yep, why not?  Why fall in love with the guy who works at the chicken processing plant when there’s a billionaire out there?  It’s entertainment.

Reality is mostly boring.  Veterans will tell you that 99% of their time wasn’t particularly exciting.  “Prepare to prepare!” was one of our rallying cries on my A-Team.  What’s hard to get across is the odd, angry shot.  Or the “unforgiving minute” as Kipling called it.

HelicoptersAlso, true insight can bring disillusionment.  My first published novel, The Green Berets: Eyes of the Hammer, came out around the same time as Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger.  Both are about Special Ops going to Colombia to destroy drug labs.  The differences?  First, he had a kickass title and I had a lame one.  Mine was because the A-Team involved was the ‘eyes’ for the gunships (Specter and Apaches) they called in to the do the job.  You knew that right?  Not.  But it was in tone that we differed.  At the end of his book the world was a better place, the good guys won and the bad guys lost.  In mine, the good guys kind of won, the bad guys kind of lost, but really, are we going to win the so-called ‘war on drugs?’  Not.

Realism is not a good thing to soak into escapism.

What I have done is focus on theme.  I can go over the top on action and story (and it’s fun, especially in my Nightstalker books).  But I always want to really have a solid theme that I hope resonates with readers.  I was going to list some examples here, but one is supposed to show, not tell.  Especially with theme.  So I leave it to the readers to decide for themselves.

My writing is who I am.  I’ve had to evaluate my writing and platform numerous times.  I know that if I changed some things I would be more “successful”. But I also wouldn’t be who I am.

Maybe that’s the point of True Lies.  I can lie in my fiction, but I have to be true to myself in my lies.

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

Nightstalkers by Bob Mayer


by Bob Mayer

Giveaway ends March 23, 2014.

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Top Ten Reasons for Writing a Mystery– #1 from Sibella Giorella

We welcome our newest author, Sibella Giorella, to the Cool Gus gang.
From Sibella:
The Clouds Roll AwayFor a limited timeAmazon’s offering TheClouds Roll Away as part of The Kindle Big Deal.
A very big deal. Readers get this Raleigh Harmon mystery for a mere $2.99. (An 80-percent discount!)
In honor of this screaming deal, I’m posting my Top Ten Reasons for writing this mystery.
First up, #10
My FBI sources often surprise me. 
No. That’s not right. 
They always surprise me. But especially the bureau’s geologists. 
But outside of the FBI’s materials analysis unit, the rock-hounds don’t get much glory. Nothing even close to hairs-and-fibers. Or blood spatter. Even duct tape analysis is far more famous than mineralogy. 
And that’s odd. Because on any significant crime, forensic geologists are usually among the first-responders.
stones-cry-out-finalIMG_1186And for the rest, please visit Sibella’s blog as she lists out her ten reasons over the course of the next ten days.
We also have Sibella’s well reviewed bestseller The Stones Cry Out now available as a Cool Gus title.
And on other fronts, Cool Gus & Sassy Becca took Big Orange out for a joy ride, but they came back.
They always come back.

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