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.
Bob is posting his recap over at the Digital Book World blog. While we both came to the similar conclusions, our point of view and approach to the conference came from two very different backgrounds. During the first couple of presenters, Bob constantly leaned over and asked, “We’re doing that, right?”. My answer was always, “Yes, but no.”
This is because the entire model of marketing and discoverability when it comes to publishing, books and authors is in a constant state of change. SEO and metadata (two words tossed around a lot) are constantly being tweaked and updated. In Bob’s post, he gives us his insights into the first couple of speakers. On the way out of the conference, Bob asked me what my take on the conference was and I proceeded to give him a whopping headache.
When Rick Joyce, the Chief Marketing of Perseus Book group gave his presentation the biggest thing that I walked away with is that discoverability is not a technical challenge, but a skill and that discoverability is risky business. There is no road map. As soon as we master one new tool, another new shinny tool is given to us. Another point he made is: failure is the rule. Bob and I have tried many things in the last 3 years, many of them have failed. But have they really? No. Because we evaluated and reloaded and tried it differently.
Next up was Kelly Gallagher, the VP of Publishing Services, R.R. Bowker. The key things I got from this was: — know what to say and where to say it. –understand who is driving marketing and discoverability. I loved his four layers of consumer insight:
- Purchase Metrics
- Book Details
It really is the Wild West right now. What was true 3 years ago when Bob and I started Cool Gus Publishing doesn’t hold true today. What is true today won’t hold true six months form now. Search engines are being retooled. Consumers are changing their patterns. We have to adjust to these changes so our audience can find us.
The next speaker was Marshall Simmonds from Define Media Group. He talked a lot about Google searches, page ranks and how they relate to the author. Key thing here was as authors we need to focus on what we do control and use the tools to help generate discoverability in searches. Being number 1 on the page rank in Google isn’t necessarily the goal.
Have you noticed some changes in your searches? Images? I’ve always said as a designer of book covers its important to know where the eye naturally falls. On a Google page, it might not be the top spot, but that first image you see. These are things, once you understand the tools (and develop the skills) you can control to a certain extent.
Debra Mastaler, President of Alliance-Link was up next. My take from her wasn’t so much her presentation, but the conversation I had with her after the talk. One thing Bob and I have instituted in our business plan is to always be prepared ahead of times for conferences so I emailed her last week and set up a meeting. The key takeaway from this conversation is the research that goes into understanding your top key words and how to make meaningful connections to readers! Oh yeah, that got my attention. One thing she said to me was that in finding your readership, your book demographic, your fans, its more about understanding their community, not yours. She’s really big on Pinterest, not so much as a place to push information (though you should) but a place to see what your target market group is talking about. She talked a lot about back-linking. Which means to take the links others are talking about, and back step to where it came from…seeing how it got from one user to the other.
I missed Clinton Kableer’s talk, but Bob has a really good recap here (because I made him take notes for me). All of this comes down to learning a new skill and understanding how SEO really works. AND making sure, you stay on top of the changes. There are so many tools that we can use to compile data, it’s mind-blowing and overwhelming. It goes back to can anyone really self-publish? This all happened before lunch.
Elle Lothorien, the author of The Frog Prince then gave her perspective of Reviews. Again, Bob did an excellent recap. I also suggest finding her posts on Digital Book World blog. She makes some very interesting points, especially in this changing environment.
From there, I have to say the conference took a slight detour and began focusing the old ways of doing things. Erika Napoletano, Head Redhead/Nerd gave a talk that was geared more toward the unpublished author, or newly traditionally published author. She made some valid points, like have a website, an on-line presence. However, the title was Creating an Evil Empire to Market and Sell titles. Frankly, it was a boilerplate of what to do if you are traditionally published.
Corey Hartford, SEO Manage of F+W brought us back on track to what most of us came here for and discussed tools we can use to help increase our discoverability. Things like how important Titles of posts are and how they relate to your keywords. How long they should be. How you should title images properly and use captions. Comparing keywords side by side in Google looking for search changes and trends.
This brings us to Metadata and Len Viohos, executive director of Book Industry Study. We all know how important metadata and categories are for our books. However, he focused on the way NY Publishing does using something called Onix. This is the way metadata is pushed from publisher to store and publishers aren’t necessarily doing it right. Why? Because metadata has to be constantly changed and updated, and this system of pushing data doesn’t work as quickly as it should. There is also this problem of old metadata being repushed to bookstores. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to contact Kobo to let them know that they have books listened from Random House that one, they don’t have the rights to and two, aren’t even available! To me this goes back to discoverability being a skill set. Its not so much about building a community, but using under the radar tools that increase your chances of your book being seen by your potential readers.
Looking forward to tomorrow.
In a few words, how do you describe the type of fiction you write?
Factual fiction. I base most of my books on facts, then add fictional elements. 95% of my Area 51 series for example is factual, but the element where the WHY behind the WHAT is fictional is what makes it fun.
There are no rules except the three rules of rule-breaking:
1. Know the rule.
2. Have a good reason for breaking the rule.
3. Accept responsibility for breaking the rule.
You’ve also collaborated with romance author, Jennifer Crusie. What sparked the collaboration and how do you make it work?
We literally got off the same plane flying to the Maui Writers Conference and taught next door to each other. We each wanted to try something different. She asked if I wanted to write about a woman who runs a B&B or a film producer. I asked: How many people can I kill in the B&B?
What was your favorite book resulting from the collaboration?
I learned so much in the process. I learned about voice, about characters, about rewriting. Interestingly, the last manuscript I just finished, Nightstalkers: Area 51 reminds me a lot of our last collaboration, Wild Ride. My voice is very similar, except instead of third person, I’m writing omniscient, but it’s a very snarky omniscient.
I think we’ll see more and more collaborations as authors have to put more product out faster. Also, it allows you to reach a wider audience. I’d be open to doing another collaboration in the romance field with an established author, especially as it’s got the best audience out there, especially for eBooks. With my coming releases from 47North on 11 December, it could be a great complement to that.
What kind of books do you like to read? Which authors in particular influenced you?
As per Stephen King’s advice: better writers than me. I read what my wife tells me to. She’s the smartest person I’ve ever met.
I love Tolkein, Asimov, McMurtry, Richard Russo, Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, a wide range of authors.
Are you a character driven or plot driven writer?
I can do plot. So as I’ve gotten better as a writer, I focus more on character. A key is making sure a character is consistent. And also know their secret. Everyone has a secret.
Make the characters human. In my editorial letter on Nightstalkers, my editor pointed out that the 16 year old girl my Special Ops team runs into during their mission affects every member of the team and shows their human side. She changes all of them, makes them better people.
Can you tell us one–advice for writers who are just starting out?
In these days of self-publishing don’t waste time on promotion and marketing like most people. Focus on content. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Who was your most difficult character?
Robert E. Lee in Duty, Honor, Country: A Novel of West Point & The Civil War. He doesn’t have a big role in the book, but after focusing a lot of time on U.S. Grant who does have a big role, I had one of my fictional characters show up at Arlington, his home before the war. And I started to wonder, as a West Point graduate, about all the cadets and graduates who broke their oath of office to fight for the South. That must have been a terrible decision and it had terrible consequences.
I also had to understand Lee as a leader. While he was a brilliant tactician, I do question his strategic abilities.
If you could go back and change the ending to any novel you’d like, which would it be and what would be the change?
Hard to say. I know the movie adaptation of The Mist was horrid. Same with Starship Troopers.
Larry McMurtry is a great writer, but did Gus have to die?
Your latest title tackles some religious themes. What made you decide to write about Judas, the Great Betrayer?
Because we don’t know exactly what happened? He had a role to play. What would have happened if he had not done what he did? I’m not saying it was a good role, but who knows? I, Judas: The Fifth Gospel has been well received overall.
Are you at all fearful of taking on such a controversial topic?
Not particularly because I’m not taking a stand one way or the other, which is kind of the point of the book. I don’t know and I don’t pretend to know for others. Each person needs to examine things for themselves and make decisions. I respect people who have faith, regardless of what it is in.
For those who check my blog out and follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed a bit of ‘ghosting’ on my part. A fading out. At West Point one of the keys to getting through Beast Barracks and Plebe Year for some was to ‘ghost’. To not be noticed.
The primary reason for that is I am on deadline to deliver Nightstalkers (Area 51) at the end of this month. I’m on track to do this and love this book. I pitch it as The Unit meets Warehouse 13. It’s a combination of the hard core action of my thrillers, an edge of paranormal from my Area 51 and Atlantis series, and more snark than usual for me, like the books I co-wrote with Jennifer Crusie. By the way, I just signed the film option for Agnes and the Hitman.
Another reason, though, is I feel we can overdo social media. To a point where it actually hurts us. There are only so many ways to say the same thing over and over again. Also if you take one side of whatever ‘brawl’ is going on, it means the people on the other side aren’t going to be too happy. And, as I’ve said over and over, I don’t believe there are sides other than people doing what’s best for them. I blogged about this on Digital Book World. Speaking of which, DBW is running a conference in September: Discoverability and Marketing 2012 with some excellent speakers. They’re running a registration discount of $125 off if you use promotional code BOBMAYER which, well, is cool. Never had my own discount code before. I’m putting my money where my mouth is since I’m going to this conference and so is my business partner Jen Talty. Since the key to book sales now is not distribution, but rather discoverability, we feel it’s a critical conference to attend. I listened to Jon Fine from Amazon speak before (at the Whidbey Writers Conference) years ago. In fact he got me started on pursuing a stronger working relationship with Amazon culminating in a three book deal with 47North for the Nightstalkers books, the first one being published on 11 Dec.
Which, someone pointed out to me, is the day before the world ends. So, OF COURSE, that would be my pub date. My wife and I often joke that if I really succeed, it will mean the end of the world, we just didn’t realize how literally we should take that.
Oh yes, Thrillerfest. Pretty much business as usual in NY. With a whole lot of fear layered on top. It’s another interesting change in that when I attend a conference now, I spend very little time actually attending the conference. I pick a few key workshops or panels, do my workshops and panels, but the rest of the time I’m in meetings with people. Or writing like crazy. Friday was a good example. Jen and I took meeting with agents reference foreign rights; talked with another self-published author who had some great ideas, some of which we’re implementing and hopefully we gave him some good ideas; I did a virtual booksigning with audible (note my cool landing page at Audible with 28 titles live and more coming); then we did an hour and a half workshop on the future of publishing that evening.
Whatever. When people approach us about having Cool Gus Publishing do their backlist or their non-fiction (which is pretty much all we’re looking for now) the first thing they always ask is: How are you going to market me? And Jen and I look at each other and sigh. Because while we do market, it’s really not the key. It’s rather hard to explain to someone what we do and why they need someone to do it for them. We had a conference call Thursday night with an author I’m really hoping we can bring on board with her backlist. And it took about 45 minutes before I sensed she got it. She understood eBook publishing is an organic, not static process. Also, a key is the stuff we do at conferences: always searching out better and innovative ways of doing things. And, even more importantly, making connections with key players at Amazon. Barnes & Noble, Kobo, (anyone actually seen a live Apple rep?) and other places.
Which is why we’ll be at the DBW Discoverability conference in September. By the way, that discount runs out Friday midnight. So it’s decision time.
I also want to leave you with a fundamental concept that is at the key of the changes in publishing: The product is not the book. The product is the story. Writers create stories. Readers consume stories. How that story gets from writer to reader concerns all the people between the two, but it can go in print, digital (audio or eBook) or sign language. But we have to break ourselves from the notion that the book is the product. Story is product.