I’m linking to an article I wrote that was published today in Kirkus:
Currently in Seattle where we infiltrated Amazon’s Death Star yesterday, Jen teaches at Bellevue Library tonight and I teach for PNWA down the road. Then then Emerald City Writer’s Conference tomorrow.
Okay, I coined “hybrid author” in June 2011 and this January it became all the rage as NY discovered it. Wow, pretty quick. Only 18 months.
Now we have Jedi Mind Tricks. Ah ha! I wrote about Amazon being the Evil Empire back on 2 April here. I labeled Jon Fine as Darth Vader, etc. etc. yada, I had the bisque. I mean really. I know we’re out in the sticks if we’re not in NYC, but self-correcting doesn’t seem to be working for the Big 6, 5, or whatever. Author Solutions as a solution? Come on. We didn’t collude but we’ll pay out as if we did?
I just saw a book deal in Publishers Lunch for 2015. Isn’t the Zombie Apocalypse coming before then? World War Z with Brad Pitt looking cute with an M-203? Don’t get me started on zombies, although I did watch Warm Bodies and it was a pretty brilliant spin on the genre which reminds me every idea has been done but not every story (but there was that Romeo & Juliet moment with the zombie and cute girl). Royalties are still being paid out as they were before the computer was invented. Really?
I digress. I’ve had a lot of thoughts about publishing this past six months, but I’ve been keeping my head down, something my first platoon sergeant (who had most of one leg shot off in combat) taught me: there are two firing positions in combat: the prone and the flying prone (which is when you got shot at and you’re not already prone).
He was quite correct.
He also told me “no one looks up”. What he meant was on patrol no one looks up and sees that sniper in the tree. But I also take it to mean few people look far enough ahead in a volatile and rapidly changing situation.
Frankly, everyone is grappling for answers and frankly, it’s kind of dumb to give them when
- Few are really listening.
- Those people are my competition.
- They’re not paying me for them.
The further we dive into the digital age, the more I realize what a unique entity Jen Talty and I founded with Cool Gus. And how the plan we laid out years ago is playing out as if we actually controlled things. And how our adjustments have fine-tuned that plan. A big example was back in January this year when we had a moment of enlightenment that we were not a ‘publisher’ but rather a partner to our authors where the author is in control and we support them, not vice versa. We’ve always had the mantra that authors create the product (which is story, not a book) and readers consume the product. Everyone in between must add value or else they are an impediment.
The concept of authors in charge is so anathema to traditional publishing that it’s a major issue. Frankly, I get it. A lot of authors are, shall we say it, assholes? They’ve got egos. Sometimes too big. And as I teach: every writer needs therapy because to sit alone and write 100,000 words is not normal. Writers are not in the bell curve and we’re not necessarily on the good side of it. 80% of authors have depression. 92% are angry. I made that last one up.
Which, in reverse, leads me to this: this is a business, not a love fest. I see authors tweeting and blogging how much they “love” their agent, their editor, their publisher. Yeah. And wait until the day your contract isn’t renewed and see how far that love goes, because, bottom line, their love is based on numbers. I see trad authors desperately defending trad publishing (can we say Authors Guild, and BTW, Scott, your books are still for sale on Amazon, huh?). I saw the interviews from BEA declaring the rise of the eBooks is over (yawn, learn math) and everything is just fine damnit, while I saw zero QR codes on those huge banners hanging everywhere.
Which, in reverse, leads me to this: After The Gold Rush. Yeah, Neil Young.
The gold rush is over for the indie authors. Oh yeah, we still got our Bella’s, our Hugh’s, etc. but what I’m seeing is a deluge of titles, a rapid reshuffling of bestseller lists in digital, and a growing sense of desperation and frustration from a lot of authors who were doing pretty damn well just a year ago. Even some of those who are raking in 7 figures annually are fraying around the edges. How many books can they write a year? How long can they keep the pace? Hell, Sylvia Day’s tweets exhaust me, and she’s living them. How many Bookbub ads, .99 specials, frees can one do until it’s all been tried? Then try them again as even more people are trying them?
A fundamental of Cool Gus was something one of my former students at the Maui Writers Conference told me when I saw him in New Orleans. He’s an extremely successful businessman. Head of the Bourbon Street Business Owners Assoc. We met for coffee at a hotel on Bourbon St. then walked across the street to one of his businesses, Ricks Café (you know Rick, Casablanca?), and he unlocked the door (it was early, before business hours for an upscale strip club even in the big NO). We went upstairs to a private room where I could only imagine what happened on that big table there (I doubt even Sylvia Day or EL James could either). And he told me . . .
See. That’s the point. Why give it away? In my Who Dares Wins consulting business I get paid more for one day of my expertise than most Harlequin advances.
The biggest issue is most people are reacting, not acting. A strategic plan, aka as in Write It Forward, is key to succeeding in the digital world. Most of the big publishers are reacting. Frankly, most indie authors are reacting, going to the thing that works now, rather than positioning themselves for what’s going to be working 2 or 3 years down the line.
Which is the last thing I’ll note for authors: if you don’t value yourself, no one else will. No matter how much you ‘love’ your agent, editor, publisher, indie bookstore, the Death Star, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Brad Pitt and his M-203, the person your really need to love is your reader.
Our Book Expo Experience.
Thursday night we found ourselves inside the Death Star, surrounded by Darth Vader (he thinks he’s Obi Wan, yeah, right) and his cronies from Planet Amazon. Apparently there is also a Darth Mar now. And a Countess from South of Broad in Charleston, who was wearing a cast on her foot, broken playing polo with other hoity-toities from CreateSpace (apparently they break every afternoon for a match, if that’s what you call it), which actually would be the title of a really cool science fiction novel: CreateSpace. Or that could be a thriller. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m using the title.
There were some interesting juxtapositions. We met with Amazon, Apple and Google among others. Want to talk about corporate cultures. Amazon, well, they’re like laid back except they’ve got metrics and algorithms and really don’t seem to care what anyone else is doing; which is actually our motto at Cool Gus. We’re doing our thing. We don’t really need to worry about what everyone else is doing, because they aint us. I had Jen Squared with me, which I’ve shortened in talking to my wife, to JT and JP. Jen Talty and Jen Probst.
We actually talked to a human at Apple; which was like a major breakthrough. And while they don’t have Amazon’s laid back attitude, they were very nice and very to the point (we literally got 15 minutes with them, and I think they were timing us). We got boilerplate from them, but good boilerplate. JT was still sitting in the Delta Crown room at LaGuardia downing cranberry juice and trying to figure it out while I was taking off and she emailed this morning saying she’d broken the code, which is good. And BTW, you might notice we’re not telling you what it is. Not because we’re mean, but we’ve come to the understanding that we paid to fly to NYC, stay there, register for BEA, spend two 18 hour days walking the floor and talking to people, and you know what? We got our info and contacts the hard way: we earned them. It’s a service we provide our authors as their publishing partners.
Plus there’s always the Death Star out there.
Google was also interesting. They were worried we wouldn’t find their room, but they were across from the bathroom on the lowest level, so not a problem. Like I always emailed Terry Brooks when I’d be on book tour in, I think, Lexington KY where this bookstore had photos of authors hanging on the wall and Terry’s was across from the door to the men’s room and I’d tell him I saw him the men’s room in KY.
Last year I noticed something and I noticed it again this year. We are in the digital age right? There are eBooks, correct? Why wasn’t there a single QR Code at any booth where someone could scan it and get a free ARC of whatever book was being promoted? There weren’t as many print ARCs as before but the Fedex station was still full of boxes and I saw plenty of suitcases being packed full of print ARCs. Nice, but not efficient. Seriously. Put a QR code on that huge banner. Or give out postcards with them on it. Heck, at Cool Gus we’ve got QR codes on the back of our business cards. Direct people to a web site where they can download the appropriate format with DRM (which I don’t like but might be appropriate in this case) and then shut the web site down prior to pub date.
And I just saw a video where someone was interviewing Richard Russo (whose books I love) and some other authors at BEA and they were saying digital has plateaued, the whole eBook thing has run its course, yada, yada, I had the bisque. When I stopped laughing, I didn’t even know where to start, but a basic course in math might be in order for those crowing about the “slow down” in digital growth.
I digress again.
While we were in the Death Star we had lots of storm troopers coming up, including some admirals and death cruiser captains and ask how they could help, which is such a digression from traditional publishing. Help sell books, you mean? Hmm. I think that is the business we’re in. Actually, we sell stories, not books. Different mindset, which we have at Cool Gus. Authors create story, readers consume story, everyone in between has to add value.
I say story because ACX had their own booth at BEA, celebrating their two years in existence, and I love working with them. Between the royalties and the $1 bonus per download, it’s very nice for the author. And they’ve treated me, particularly Nicole who actually tracked me down almost two years ago when I hadn’t even heard of ACX, very well over the past year with merchandizing and promo, so I’m very grateful. I also had directed Bella (whose code name is The Shark) Andre to them a while back and I guess she’s selling a lot of her audiobooks there. I just made that shark thing up, but I like her business attitude toward publishing. It aint about ego. It’s about getting story to readers.
We also met with some people from Sourcebooks, including their CEO, Ms. Dominique Raccah, and they wanted Jen T to talk algorithms. Ms. Raccah made a key point. Smaller and leaner publishers can do more interesting things and take more risks than bigger publishers. We can change faster. Adapt or die. I remember in bayonet fighting there is only the quick and the dead.
I prefer quick.
But this was also an interesting change from last year: this year because we had JP, aka Jennifer Probst (aka The Hammer), with us, who BTW happened to be the 6th bestselling author on Amazon last year, people started to understand Cool Gus is a publishing partnership where the author comes first. In our meetings, people focused more on JT than me because she’s the person who does the grunt work. I just grunt once in a while. Cool Gus is where authors have final say on the price point, pub date, cover art and copy, etc. but have a single point of contact to do this with and extensive experience they can tap into for advice. At one point with Apple, as Jen T talked HTML, algorithms, trajectory of the Death Star, etc., JP, The Hammer, and I just looked at each other, like, dude why are we even here taking this meeting? So I’m thinking we send JT to BEA next year alone and both stay home and write, because that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.
We stopped by the Cool Kid’s booth—the indie authors with combined sales over 10 million. Bella, Barbara, CJ, Hugh, Stephanie, and Tina. I only give first names, but they all also have secret code names I cannot reveal (wait, I think I just did with Bella?), because those of us who have sold over a million eBooks also have the secret handshake; which has something to do with writing a lot of books and working your ass off.
And there was a rep from Amazon there in their booth, I think Bobba Fett, with a little notepad, asking how the Death Star could improve Author Central. Like how they could improve the way they treat authors? Throw me in the briar patch.
Oh yeah. We also saw a banner from Douglas County Libraries, to whom we’d made a direct eBook deal earlier this year and we stopped to talk to them and there were people repping a bunch of CA libraries and we’re very excited to be working with them in the future, getting eBooks into libraries directly from Cool Gus. Personally, I spent my childhood in the library in the da’ Bronx, so I’m very happy about that connection. When I wasn’t bayonet fighting.
I’m seeing tweets now from NY where Bella The Shark and Patrick Brown of Goodreads are doing a panel, which is cool. We also met the guy who runs Nanowrimo while inside the Death Star.
I know I’m forgetting some stuff, but my brain is still fried, and apparently there was a snake somewhere in the vicinity of the yard while I was gone, so my wife, the story streamer, is not happy. I told her they taste like chicken, from my snake-eater days as a green beanie, but somehow that doesn’t seem to make her feel better.
And that is why men really can’t write romance.
And let’s not even go there with the snake imagery, or the light saber angle, Mister Darth Vader.
For the last several years I’ve made predictions about what will happen in publishing for the upcoming year, but I won’t be doing that this year. In fact, some people have noted that I’ve been very quiet on blogging about publishing and commenting on other industry blogs. And that will continue. A big decision we made at Cool Gus late in 2012 was that while we will continue to monitor and stay ahead of what’s going on with publishing, particularly the digital world, as we’ve always done, we see little benefit in adding our nickel to the conversation.
All our blog entries from the last three years are still at Write It Forward and most are still very valid (and free) for anyone interested in digital publishing. How We Made Our First Million on Kindle is a good primer (but not free) that Jen Talty and I co-wrote on our experiences as Cool Gus Publishing evolved.
Our motto at Cool Gus has been: Writers create the product and readers consume the product. Everyone is in between. Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way. So we’re not engaging with those in between much any more and focusing on our consumers: the reader.
It’s the beginning of the year and it’s cloudy and raining here at Write on the River. I’ve been in TN less than two months and I’m very happy about the house, the location, the river, my writing, but most particularly my wife, my new grandson, my son & daughter-in-law, and yes, of course, Cool Gus & Sassy Becca. I launched my kayak the other day for the first time on the Tennessee River and had a blast. I’m looking forward to running some rivers (no white water for me, just lazy paddles—so I guess that’s negotiating some rivers rather than running) in the Spring. Has anyone done the Little Tennessee River below Fontana Dam? Recommendations?
In 2012 I realized I’d made an error with my strategic planning as an author. I put out new titles, but they were all stand alones, instead of part of my successful series, such as Area 51, Atlantis, Green Beret, Cellar, etc. While I’m very proud of The Jefferson Allegiance, I, Judas, Chasing The Ghost, Duty, Honor, Country: A Novel of West Point & The Civil War, it wasn’t the smartest business plan. I’m being up front here, for those of you trying to break out: series are KEY. Look at Bella Andre, Marie Force, Barbara Freethy, Jennifer Probst. They’ve all got great series. I’m fixing that.
As an author, Area 51 Nightstalkers was published in December, going with the idea of pushing forward a series (although technically Nightstalkers launches a new series with a new cast of characters) and has been in the top 25 in science fiction on Kindle since pub date. I’m finishing the second book in the series, Nightstalkers: The Book of Secrets for a July pub date. I love this series because my snark is back. My log line is: The Unit meets Warehouse 13, which means action meets snark meets weird stuff. Additionally, lesson learned, in the Book of Secrets, the Cellar from Bodyguard of Lies and Lost Girls makes its first appearance. Yes, Hannah and Neeley are back. Teaming up with Moms, Nada, Roland and the rest of the team. I’ve had a lot of people asking for more Hannah and Neeley and in July, you’ll get them.
I watched Loopers the other day and thought the concept was brilliant, the opening was good, it started to sag, then the ending was outstanding. My wife just finally watched Game of Thrones (she used to make fun of me watching it as she walked past—swords and naked women, or some such comment) but now she’s hooked on it and blazed through the first two seasons in a weekend. She’s now watching Life, which I watched a couple of years ago on Hulu and she’s hooked on that too. Same actor as Homeland, which we both enjoyed. What series have you watched lately, new or old, that drew you in when maybe at first you kind of thought it was dumb? And, anyone who comments will be entered in a drawing for a free Audio book. Jen will be collecting the commenters names over the next couple of weeks and announce the winner.
I label 2013 the year of writing. And that’s what it will be as well as the year Cool Gus breaks out as a leader in the publishing world.
Nothing but good times ahead as Cool Gus & Sassy Becca snore underneath my new desk, in new house.