This week I flew to New York to sit down with my business partner, Jen Talty, meet an author, and do a booksigning at my alma mater, West Point. The trip was supposed to be one big long business meeting with the focus on the future. However, it turned into an adventure taking us down Memory Lane with many reflections of the past, bringing us full circle to the present.
The trip did not start well. I choose to fly into Stewart Airport near Newburgh. So Tuesday I was supposed to fly from Knoxville to Detroit to Stewart. Except the Detroit flight was delayed for maintenance reasons, so I ended up getting off the flight, knowing I wouldn’t make my connection. (My bag did make it to Stewart without me—it later told me it had been molested, but we won’t get into that here).
They couldn’t rebook me into Stewart that day so I went home. They rebooked me for the following morning, even earlier, to go Philly, then Stewart. I got to the airport at oh-dark-thirty, a term which existed long before the movie, and the Philly flight was canceled. Not good. I eventually booked into LaGuardia via DC and Jen drove down from Newburgh into the city to pick me up. Then I reminisced by asking her to drive me around the Bronx where I looked at the two houses I grew up in. I know I was smaller as a child, but damn, those houses were TINY. Especially for four kids. Jen says I talked for a couple of hours non-stop, which she’s never heard me do. “Hey—that wasn’t here!” Duh.
The Bronx was pretty much the same and I was sort of able to navigate Jen up to West Point. It was not as bad as when Jenny Crusie and I got Lost in Yonkers at the start of our great He Wrote She Wrote booksigning expedition of ’06. Although we did meander a bit and I kept having to remind Jen that you can’t turn right on red in the city. She’s not a city girl. We took Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson and then into Highland Falls. At one point, outside of Stewart I saw a Super 8 hotel and said, “Hey—my company had a big party there one time Firstie year!” I explained the Academy’s 10k rule at the time, which I’ll get into in another blog but it was quite insane.
I didn’t even come close to making it in time for my signing on Wednesday so we drove through the Academy, I looked at it for the first time in a couple of decades (pretty much the same, but not). Jen wanted to go to the West Point Cemetery, so we went. I got out of the truck and said, “okay, seen enough, it’s cold.” Sadly, she wanted to see more. After freezing, we went up to Newburgh (getting my bag from the airport). We sat in a diner for a couple of hours starting to hammer out all the little business details we’d listed (we’re big on lists). Well, that is until Jen pulls out two folders with tabs, color-coded and graphs and charts. I stuck with the list. PS– to the left is the grave of U.S. Grant’s son, Frederick at the West Point Cemetery (Jen REALLY wanted to go to the cemetery even though it was 2 degrees out)
And then it began.
We were lost in the trees. We were looking at rebooting backlist, how to launch new titles, pricing, marketing, etc etc etc. But it wasn’t feeling right. So we started talking about the big picture. What had we accomplished at Cool Gus the last several years? What did we want to accomplish the next several years? I think it started when I brought up one of our Slideshares (example to the right) and said, “we’ve got too much on it.” I pointed out that the Cool Gus logo on the opening slide was misdirection. I’ve loudly proclaimed, “No one goes into a bookstore and says give me the next Random House.” Well, no one does the same with Cool Gus. And we still had Who Dares Wins under it and what the heck does that mean to someone? We’re getting rid of that. I’ve always found I’m very good at pointing out mistakes to others, because I’m making them myself. My wife says I’m a contrarian—tell me the sky is blue and I’ll start to argue it isn’t, just to argue. That’s hurt me, so I’m trying to stop it. But it is damn hard, especially when they throw you a slow ball you can knock out of the park.
Essentially, we had too much stuff, too much detail. Our messages were blurred and mixed. Then we started talking about what we were doing. We’d started as a publishing partnership. And we realized that’s what we were in terms of emphasis—not a Publisher. We’re a Partnership.
So the next day when we met this author (at Denny’s, we’re a very classy outfit) we wanted to partner with, that’s the way we discussed it. We’d work together to get her new series out there, starting this fall to supplement her books coming out with other publishers. They’re HER books, not Cool Gus’s. The partnership of our experience and the author’s writing and experience is what will sell books. It might sound like semantics but I think there’s a big difference between looking at ourselves as a publisher and looking at ourselves as a partner who works for the author. Part of that is I told Jen that she was now the face of Cool Gus, not me. I have to focus on being a writer. She was the one who came to me over three years ago and suggested we partner on my backlist. It evolved from there and now its come full circle.
Some of this came from seeing the data out of Digital Book World where 1/3 of traditionally published authors say they’d like to self-publish. That struck me. Because, if you want to do it right, you really can’t “self” publish. The learning curve is much too steep to risk it. That’s why most writers I talk to who are considering it say they are scared. They should be, and I say that nicely. It’s a scary world in publishing right now, but it’s also a very lucrative one and very wide open for authors who are willing take smart, calculated risks.
One thing Jen and I realized is we made a lot of mistakes at Cool Gus (still make some) but we made them on my books, not someone else’s. We look at everything we do and dissect it and try to figure out a way to do it better. For example, we discussed our visit with Kobo last year and realized when we go next, actually Jen goes back with our new author and then I go in June with a new book, how we’ll do it differently, much more effectively, in a way to engage their merchandizing department. Experience is invaluable in the digital world and there are not many who have the full gamut of experience from author to all the various aspects of making the book available to readers. I think larger publishers have all the pieces, but do the pieces work together smoothly? All our pieces are in two people. In the same manner, a lot of the work can be contracted out, but do those contractors have a vested interest in the eBook’s success, does the contractor have the full gamut of experience, and, very importantly do they have all the personal connections with the distribution channels?
I’m excited about this new mindset. Where we’re a partner with the author, actually working for the author, and we provide value to readers. Those who’ve been in publishing for a while understand that while lip service is often paid that publishers support their authors, the reality is that publishers often have had the mindset that they are the key linchpin in the process and there are very good reasons for that (distribution being the key one). But in a digital era, the key linchpin is the author and the consumer is not the bookstore, but rather the reader.
All in all, it was a great trip down Memory Lane with a good look at the future. However, I will not tell you what happened to my bag.
After many years of writing and teaching novel writing, I firmly believe that perspective or point of view is the number one style problem for most writers. It is also one of the easiest problems to correct with a bit of awareness of both the problem and possible solutions. For the sake of simplicity, in this chapter I will stick with the term point of view, although it is interchangeable with perspective.
When considering how to tell your story, the first thing you have to do is select a point of view. This may be the most critical decision you have to make. Often the type of story you are writing will clearly dictate the point of view, but a good understanding of the various modes of presentation is essential because this is one area where beginning novelists often have problems. They may select the right point of view, but it is often used poorly because of a lack of understanding of the tool itself.
Regardless of which point of view (or points of view) you choose to use, there is one thing you must have: you as the author must have a good feeling about the point of view with which you are telling the story. If you don’t have a warm and fuzzy about that, this confusion will most definitely be translated to the reader. Remember, ultimately, point of view is your voice as a writer.
Some people write like an MTV music video: point of view flying all over the place, giving glimpses into each character but never really keeping the reader oriented. I say this because the best analogy I can give for point of view is to look at it as your camera. You as author are the director: you see and know everything in your story. But the reader only sees and knows what the camera records: the point of view you choose. You must always keep that in mind. You see the entire scene, but your lens only records the words you put on the page and you have to keep your lens tightly focused and firmly in hand.
The key term to know, like a director, is the word ‘cut’. A cut in film terminology is when the camera is either a) stopped, then restarted later, or b) stopped and another camera is then used. To a writer, a cut is a change in point of view. In an MTV music video, you can go about three seconds before having to ‘cut’. Robert Altman, in the beginning of The Player, uses an extremely long single camera sequence before the first cut– another reason to watch the film.
The most critical thing to remember about point of view is that you have to keep the reader oriented. The reader has got to know from what point of view they are viewing the scene. Lose that and you lose the reader. Thus, as with everything else, there is no wrong point of view to write in, or even mixture of point of views to write in, but it is wrong to confuse the reader as to the point of view through which they are ‘seeing’ the story.
Take the camera point of view a bit further. When directors do a scene, they immediately look into a viewfinder and watch the recording of the take. They do this because, although they saw what happened, they have to know what the camera recorded. As an author, you have to get out of your own point of view as the writer and be able to see what you write as the reader sees it.
- What is reality? What someone perceives it to be.
- Thus there is no ONE reality.
- So your choice of point of view taints reality.
- In real life, POV is different perspectives on a situation.
- 3 people see an event, three different POVs.
In writing, POV is the author’s choice of the perspective through which the story is told.
- 3 people see an event, we only get the POV the author chooses to show it through.
- Or three different POVs that conflict.
Which is real?
What point of view do you think you’ve written your manuscript in?
What is Communication?
- The primary goal of communication is to evoke a response.
- Thus the receiver of the communication is more important than the sender.
- Thus, the sender needs to take the point of view of the person the message is intended for.
- We are transmitting both logic and emotion.
- We are transmitting on the conscious and subconscious levels.
- We are externalizing something internal.
- Receiving a message correctly is also key.
- Figuring out what someone is really trying to transmit is a critical skill.
- Writing makes things real.
- We speak differently than we write.
- Think like the reader.
- Less is better.
- Writing is the only art form that isn’t sensual.
- Signifies responsibility.
- It’s in the public domain.
- Gets it out of your head into the real world.
- Don’t qualify; say what you mean and say it simply.
- Organize research records.
- Information that can’t be accessed is useless.
Controlling the Camera
Who Is Telling The Story?
You are. But whose voice does the reader ‘hear’ when they read?
You are getting a story that is alive in your head, into the reader’s head, through the medium of the printed word.
The POV you choose is the format of that medium.
- POV is the camera through which the story is recorded.
- All that counts is what is recorded.
- Get out of your head and focus on the camera and what the reader ‘sees’.
- A shift in POV is a shift in the camera=a cut.
- You stop the camera, restart the same one in a new time and/or place.
- You stop the camera, go to a new camera. Can be same place (head-hopping) or a new time and/or place (a new point of view character).
- Or you as the author control the camera and can go anywhere and any time you want (omniscient point of view).
Can you say what your book is about in 25 words or less? The Write It Forward Workshop: Conflict and Idea, we’ll discuss ways to find and state your original idea so that you can stay on course while writing and revising your book. Conflict drives your story and must escalate throughout your entire novel. One of the techniques we will use in this workshop is the Conflict Box. The Conflict Box is a way of diagraming conflict and allows you to focus on the protagonist, antagonist, their goals and finding out if you have the necessary conflict. The course will begin on 1 February and is done on-line in a Yahoo Loop email delivery system so you can read and work on lessons when its convenient for you. The course runs for one month and costs $50.00. For more details and to sign up go to the Cool Gus Website.
We just launched an experience™ application on the new, battery-powered Dynamics ePlate™ credit card.
So what is this ePlate™ credit card? Basically, it is an app for your credit card that allows you to pick and choose where your “points” go. The card itself has two reward buttons and you can change the reward associated with either button. When you make a purchase you can decide if you want that purchase rewards to be applied to your favorite author, Bob Mayer or another product available on this system.
The credit card itself is really pretty cool. It’s no different than a regular credit card, except the buttons light up. Whatever button you decide to push on your card will change the information on the Electronic Stripe™. This is important because each button is associated with a different product. Or in our case, earning points toward Bob Mayer’s books! We all use a credit card, so imagine checking into a hotel and immediately getting a free book just because you used this card. Or, with the push of a button, get something else. That’s the unique beauty of this system, you can choose where your points go, instead of different credit cards for different things.
But you’re not limited to two experiences. Through your bank’s website, the Dynamics’ Experience Manager™ provides you with a list of all possible experiences. You simply select the experience and link it to the button on your card. That way, you can earn more great products.
Here is how the app will work for the Bob Mayer experience:
The first $25.00 you spend using the app, the user will get a free eBook. The ebook is delivered instantly to the customer’s mobile phone the second the purchase is completed. Now that is pretty cool! Subsequent purchases help earn additional books in the collection. Once the reader has all the books available through the experience, they will receive a pre-publication exclusive (The Authors Edition) of the book Bob Mayer is currently writing. This version of the work will also include extra chapters and other exclusive content only available to Dynamics ePlate™ users. Again, pretty cool and a way to get eBooks before anyone else. In fact, it allows you to be a “Beta reader” on Bob’s next book, because there will also be an email address at the front of the book where you can send comments and suggestions that Bob can look at during re-write.
This is a really cool innovative way for readers to connect with Bob’s writing in a new way. It’s also a great way for new readers to find an author they have never read before.
We first heard about Dynamics ePlate™ at Thrillerfest this summer when we met with Jeff Mullen, CEO of Dynamics and it didn’t take more than a minute to realize what a great company this would be to work with. They’ve won many prestigious business and technology awards. For more information on Dynamics please visit www.dynamicsinc.com.
For the Bob Mayer experience, please go to http://www.dynamicsinc.com/bobmayer.
It’s a great time to be a writer… and a reader!
Posted by Jen Talty
An Icon is an image or words that represents your product/company/service to your consumers. The Golden Arches: McDonalds. The Swoosh: Nike. The Apple: Apple. We see these images and we know exactly what they represent and what we as consumers can expect from those companies. Icons can also be the name of your company. Amazon is a good example. Or it can be your face. Dr. Phil is a good example. However, many experts would argue that it is the presentation of his name that is the Icon, not his face. In this case, both are Icons because both make a promise to his fans.
I’m not a fan of using your mug shot as the Icon for your author brand. While YOU are the BRAND most authors are not recognized because their author photo is not the biggest marketing tool. A good book, cover, title and author name are they keys to branding fiction. Now, if you are a non-fiction writer, then using a professional image of yourself might be the way to go, but I would suggest developing some kind of symbol as your Icon along with your photo. Something that goes well with your Creed.
The majority of us aren’t going to achieve global recognition. However that doesn’t make our Icon any less important, so take some time to really consider what you to put out there and remember, you can change this and your readership will embrace it if its done for the right reasons.
The Icon has always been the weakest part of our branding until recently. We struggled with coming up with an Icon that fit every aspect of our business–more importantly–every aspect of Bob and all that he does. Our first Icon was the chess piece: The Knight. This was something Bob had done for his Who Dares Wins Consulting business and since we decided we’d keep that as the publishing company name (after days of wargaming) it seemed fitting. But it never felt right. We then made the switch the cool looking keyboard, but it still didn’t feel right. We really loved the next one, the globe with the SAS patch, but shortly after we came up with it we had an MOE (moment of enlightenment). As we explored our business plan from where we started, to where we are now, to where we want to be five years from now we realized it was time to make some big changes and move more mainstream.
Then came a 4-day war-gaming email session that landed us on…drum roll please…Cool Gus Publishing with Cool Gus as the Icon. Gus, with those sunglasses and the bright light gleaming off in the background screams, “lead, follow or get the hell out of the way.”
It’s ironic in a way because 3 years ago, when Gus was just a pup we tossed around the idea of Cool Gus Publishing, but we were more focused on building the foundation of the business, which is Bob’s backlist, so we were looking at all things military. As we went from 2 authors to 10 authors, as our sales grew and as our focus reached beyond the foundation and looked to where we planned on being 3 years from now, this change makes perfect sense.
It also solidifies our brand, pulling it all together with image and message and making the connection between author and reader. Cool Gus is fun and entertaining (remember Cool Gus and the Giant Whale expedition)? But Cool Gus also has a deeper side. He’s a thinker and very intellectual (Intellectual Gus is the one that does all the heavy lifting).
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for one our authors’, Amy Shojai who is making the jump from non-fiction to fiction. We contracted her for her debut fiction release coming out this fall. We are very excited for one of our resident experts on pets to bring that expertise into her fiction writing with one of the main supporting characters being a dog! Got to love that. Cool Gus is beaming with pride.
The current publishing climate makes the branding process even more important for the writer. Its one of many tools you have to help create discoverability and sustainability. The emphasis is on ONE of MANY. Nothing happens in a vacuum. AND it all takes time to develop. Don’t feel as though you have to immediately go out and come up with every aspect of the WIF Author Branding Plan. You don’t. In actuality, you can’t. It develops over time as you grow and develop as a writer and as you put more quality books out there for your readers to enjoy. It happens as you begin to have real interactions with your readers outside of your book.
Those interactions are part of your Rituals and that will be the next topic we discuss in our branding plan.
Write It Forward!