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.

Blog Contest for this Week: Sign up for my Newsletter and get your name put in for a drawing to win signed copies of AREA 51: Nosferatu AND Legend AND a Cool Gus MUG! I send out a newsletter no more than 4-6 times per year. Besides interesting information about Cool Gus, Sassy Becca and Big Orange (my new Jeep), I also gives newsletter subscribers exclusive content. You can sign up here.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Nightstalkers by Bob Mayer


by Bob Mayer

Giveaway ends March 23, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

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.

A day in the life of an Agile Publishing Partnership

by Jen Talty

In the last two months, we have partnered with two new authors; Mark Chisnell and Sibella Giorello. At Cool Gus, we believe that anyone in between the author and their readers must add value. That is a question we discuss with authors for a long time before both parties decide if this is a partnership that can add value to the author’s career because (one of our other sayings): there are many roads to Oz and Oz means different things to different authors. Publishing is not a ‘one size fits all’ business.

So, what is it like to be me? Never a dull moment when you’re surrounded by 4 screens, three computers, an iPad and surround sound. Who says I need a dog under my desk? The best part is yesterday, amidst the madness, I figured out how to cool down my iMac. Nope. Not telling. You all can sweat it out!

Cool Gus Command Center

Cool Gus Command Center

So, a day in the life…

Yesterday, after finishing up a first read through and sending an editorial note to Jennifer Probst for a short story titled Dante’s Fire, updating keywords for Bob, approving ads for an on-line ad campaign, creating a bundle cover for Mark and Colin Falconer, sending work to one of my assistants, and updating our Kindle Countdown, I began working away on a cover for Sibella for her YA book titled Stone and Spark when I received an email from Sibella letting us know her other publisher had been informed that Amazon would be featuring the third book in her Raleigh Harmon Series: The Rivers Run Dry from 14 to 30 March and she figured it would be impossible to switch gears and get the first book in the series: The Stones Cry Out up and ready for sale by 14 March. Yes, that is she emailed Bob and I on 10 March 2014. And one day later, The Stones Cry Out is available for sale via Amazon partnered with Cool Gus. I use the word partnered because we don’t really view ourselves as publishers, but we’re not a paid service either. Money rolls to the author; always.

A few things had to be in place in order for this to happen. First, we needed cover, which we had, though we are going to be updating it as we work on an over all branding plan with Sibella. Because this is a backlist title, we also had an edited manuscript. I received the email at 11am and by 4pm later that afternoon, I had the book loaded to Amazon and by 6pm that night, all the reviews had been linked. While I did that, Bob and Sibella discussed some other things they could do to promote both books. While I waited for some thing to happen on the back end, I went back to my to do list putting together some bundles we’ll be featuring shortly.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we had some missing reviews (49 to be exact) on one title for Mark from Powder Burn. I did what I could on my end (that was sending an email with all the proper ASIN and ISBN numbers) and continued on with my list. The reviews have been found and are now back where they belong. Thank you.

Couple of key things here. First, what other “publisher” would help promote another publisher’s book? At Cool Gus, what is good for the author is good for Cool Gus. We’re not about a book; we’re about careers. Building them. Supporting them. The long tail. We’re hoping Colin Falconer will be picked up by Amazon Publishing and we’re working on making that connection for Colin, getting his manuscript to the right people.

Something else to consider: we don’t want 100 authors. We can’t do justice to 100 authors. There is only one of me and cloning isn’t an option since Bob has sent the mold off with the mothership. Publishing is a business. It’s a people business. We were at a conference last month and someone asked me what we get out of attending conferences. That answer is simple: networking. We have spent a lot of time cultivating relationships with the people at KDP, Createspace, Amazon Publishing, Nook, Kobo, Google, Bookbub, Book Sends, Audible/ACX, Storyfinds, Overdrive, Inkbok, and so many others in this business.

Bob has always said it is nearly impossible to self-publish if you have more than a couple of titles. What can be overwhelming to the new author is all the nuances there are to self-publishing, which has changed drastically just in the last couple of years. Bob has made his living as an author (or is it writer, I forget) since 1991. He knows both camps. His insight into the business comes laced with experience and blunt honesty, which is available to our authors at any given time.

The reason we were able to get the book up in such a short time is because we are a team. We work together to make sure the author (which is who we work for) gets what they need when they need it and in a timely fashion. This is why we are looking for just a couple more authors to round out our team.

It’s a great time to be an author.

Blog Contest for this Week: Sign up for Bob’s Newsletter and get your name put in for a drawing to win an AUDIO edition of The Kennedy Endeavor. Bob sends out a newsletter no more than 4-6 times per year. Besides interesting information about Cool Gus, Sassy Becca and Big Orange (Bob’s new Jeep), Bob also gives his newsletter subscribers exclusive content. You can sign up here.

Also, Bob is doing a Goodreads Giveaway. Here are the details.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Cut Out by Bob Mayer

Cut Out

by Bob Mayer

Giveaway ends March 16, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

True Lies 10: Reality Sucks

Back in 2004 my wife and I owned a house on Hilton Head Island.  Real estate was booming and it seemed everyone was a mortgage broker offering great terms.  A guy who did some painting on our house also offered to broker a mortgage for us.  Back in those days, being self-employed, I could get a no-income-verified loan.  I know—shocking in the current environment, eh?  I had to sign over my liver and kidneys and heart to get my current mortgage.  And pay well above the going rate.

My wife reads the NY Times every day.  The paper version.  All of it.  I mean everything in it.  And she remembers what she reads.  I keep track of numbers.  And we both started to notice some disturbing things in 2003 into 2004:

  1. Mortgages were way too easy to get.
  2. The Fed was at 0%.  It couldn’t go lower.  It could only go up.
  3. Variable rates were as low as they were going to go.  They could only go up.
  4. Like tulip mania (look that one up—Jen did), house prices just couldn’t keep going up.  Yet everyone acted like they would.

???????????????????????????????????????So we talked about it, and even though we liked our house, we put it on the market.  Even the realtor told us we were crazy (along with a lot of other people).  We showed it 72 times.  We sold it.  We then moved to the other side of the island and rented on the intracoastal (a great place to live and where I set my latest Green Beret book, Chasing the Lost).  We rented for eight years after that, because we felt things hadn’t yet bottomed out.  (BTW the way, the puppy shot is just for fun)

Not long after selling our home, the housing bubble burst.

We watched a special on HBO about a neighborhood where everyone’s prices nose-dived and they interviewed the owners.  And the one thing we heard again and again:  “We never though it could happen to us.”

My wife and I were quite shocked because we always think anything can happen to us.  Mine comes from my paranoid Special Ops background and my wife’s, well, let’s keep that to ourselves.

The ability of people to fool themselves into inventing their own fantasy world is phenomenal.  Because reality sucks.

But it is reality.

I prefer to live in reality, even though it is difficult at times.  At Cool Gus, we run our business on a reality base, not a wishful thinking base.  What brings this to mind is something I’ve been watching that, for me, is a harbinger of where the publishing world is headed.  Since 2009, Harlequin’s sales have steadily declined.

2009:  $493 million

2010:  $468 million

2011:  $459 million

2012:  $426.5 million

2013:  $362 million.

Doing math, which is part of reality, we see an accelerating decrease.  Those years coincide with the rise of indie/hybrid/Martian authors.  As a member of the Romance Writers of America and a lot of other writers’ groups, I can tell you that RWA, by far, is the most advanced and savvy group of authors around.  Surprisingly, SFWA (Science fiction, fantasy writers) is one of the least tech-savvy, business savvy groups.  Romance writers have been leading the way in embracing indie publishing.  Thus authors who might once have fought for a HQ contract are now doing it themselves.  And some very successful romance writers have jumped ship and gone indie.  Their defection has not been offset by successful indies going trad.

Add in a second factor:  the decline of print sales.  Spare me the numbers touted by publishing.  Take out your top 5% of authors whose books get brought in to COSTCO on pallets, and print sales are dropping fast.  Especially for mass market paperbacks, which is HQ’s bread and butter, much like garbage was the Sopranos bread and butter.  We still make a lot of garbage but there is less and less shelf space for print books and more and more readers are going digital.

Jeremy Greenfield of Digital Book World had a recent article in Forbes where he interviewed the CEO of HQ.  I found it a bit weird.  Which harkens back to reality.  At the end of 2013, people in trad publishing were breathing a huge sigh of relief, feeling they’d weathered the digital storm.  An exec at one trad house even said, “Anyone who is going to buy an eReader has already bought one” just before Xmas.  I get a sense of “things are going to be okay” from trad publishing.

That isn’t reality.

WEB_Section8The CEO of HQ first blamed the revenue on pricing.  He complained about eBook pricing.  Which is odd since HQ gives the lowest royalty rates around to its authors, so they keep most of that income for very little overhead.  I do agree that the .99 eBook is kind of low. But we use it for the first Atlantis book as a leader into the series and it works.  We also use free on Section 8 Shadow Warriors as a loss leader into my thrillers.  It’s been ranked #1 in Men’s Adventure and War on Kindle Free since we did that.

But, the point is HQ and trads can’t control how indies, who are their competition (which they don’t seem to take too seriously, yet complain about) price their books.

I thought years ago that HQ would be on the cutting edge of digital.  After all, they have their niches locked down.  Readers love their series, and are not particularly attached to specific authors. HQ did start Carina, but that looked like a step in the wrong direction.  It was as if they were relegating digital to red-headed stepson status.  I watched Carina bounce around, without much focus or direction.  Pretty much working under the “let’s publish a lot of stuff and make a little bit of money off it” instead of using the HQ brand to branch off established lines into digital.

Here’s what really strikes me about the article.  First, the CEO says that quality will allow them to demand a higher price.  Which insinuates that someone like indie author Bella Andre isn’t putting out quality, except her quality is good enough for HQ to give her a print only deal.  Hmm.

The closer was the most interesting part:  HQ is optimistic in its earnings report, predicting a stabilization in 2014.

Why?  What’s changed?  The wishful thinking that things are going to get stable kept people in houses that went further and further under water as the housing bubble imploded.

“We’re just in transition.”

How? The numbers say income is decreasing at an accelerating rate.  How will that change?  Of course, transition doesn’t always mean transitioning to something good.  We can also transition to something bad.

The reality we see at Cool Gus is things are going to get much harder.  The market is saturated and will get even more saturated.  While there are great benefits to digital, a downside is that every book is out there forever.  There’s no rotating on the shelves, so to speak.  Actually not the shelves, but the store.

We believe it’s going to get harder for all authors: trad, indie, hybrid and Martian.  The solutions are varied and somewhat different depending on each author’s platform and product (thus our focus on a handful of authors and tailoring our partnership to fit their needs).  But I do believe trad authors really need to take a long hard look at their digital royalty rates and question how much their publisher contributes in that arena to take most of the income.  I firmly believe an author must earn at least 50% of the price of the eBook.  And get paid at least every three months, if not every month.

Also, once an author is no longer frontlist at their publisher, but it still controls their rights, the lack of marketing and low digital royalty rates will destroy careers and livelihoods.  I can personally attest to how trad publishers deep six their backlist.

Yes.  Reality sucks but it can be dealt with.  The first step is to get past the denial.

*****Admin Note From Jen*****

Blog Contest for this Week: Sign up for Bob’s Newsletter and get your name put in for a drawing to win an AUDIO edition of The Kennedy Endeavor. Bob sends out a newsletter no more than 4-6 times per year. Besides interesting information about Cool Gus, Sassy Becca and Big Orange (Bob’s new Jeep), Bob also gives his newsletter subscribers exclusive content. You can sign up here.

Also, Bob is doing a Goodreads Giveaway. Here are the details.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Cut Out by Bob Mayer

Cut Out

by Bob Mayer

Giveaway ends March 16, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win


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