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Authors create product, readers consume product—those in between must provide long-term value

When talking with an author about possibly partnering with Cool Gus, the second they drop the phrase “my agent” into the conversation, we know the odds of coming to a working partnership are not likely.  This is not because agents are evil or mean, but because we’ve found most to be mired in an outdated business model and unable to see the advantages of focusing on long-term profitability.  This is because traditional publishing didn’t particularly value the long tail because it wasn’t possible with limited shelf space in consignment outlets, called bookstores.

That’s changed.

Ten years ago when someone from the outside asked me to describe the publishing business, I would say:  “Slow and Techno-phobic”.  While the Big 5 and others scramble to adapt to the digital world, there is a segment that has been very resistant to the winds of change blowing through the publishing world:  agents.

When I present my Who Dares Wins concepts, whether for people inside the industry or those outside, I use the Myers-Briggs 16 character types as part of understanding character.  I focus not on what one is, but what the exact opposite character type is.  After all, we all like to do what we’re good at.  Where we need to improve is where we aren’t good.

For example, the least common of the 16 types is actually labeled Author.  INFJ.  Introvert, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judgmental.  The exact opposite, the ESTP:  Promoter.  Duh.  Big problem authors!

What do we want an agent to be?  Most agents want to be Sellers.  The exact opposite?  Architect.  That suggests to me that while agents might be very good at selling, they are not so good at structuring a business plan or analyzing the changes in publishing. An architect tends to be a strategic thinker, while a seller is tactical.

I’m generalizing here, and I know there are agents who have adapted swiftly, such as Kristin Nelson and Scott Waxman.  But overall, most agents are still so focused on the traditional format of publishing doctrine, they can’t see the bigger picture.

backgroundFirst, agents are focused on the advance.  The ‘guaranteed money’.  Authors have been propagandized into thinking an advance is the kindness of publishers giving them money so they can write.  Authors need to rethink that.  An advance is the money that binds the author’s content to the publisher via the contract.  Nothing wrong with that if the author is happy with the money and the almost complete lack of business control they’ve surrendered when they cash those checks.  The concept of monthly income after publication seems to escape many traditionally published authors and especially agents since over 90% of traditionally published books fail to earn out.  The concept of a publishing partner working for the author, allowing the author the final decision (after getting experienced advice) on everything from cover, to content, to product description, to metadata, to promotional opportunities, to pricing, etc. is one that doesn’t seem to do much for agents.  Also, working with a publishing partner that considers the publishing timeline in terms of days and weeks rather than months or years is a concept few in traditional publishing seem to grasp.

Let’s break this down simply.  The bottom line in publishing is:  Authors create the product, which is content (not the book).  Readers consume the content.  Everyone else is in between.  They must provide a value to that relationship or they are not relevant.  Since an agent is more focused on the relationship between author and publisher (not reader), their value is even more put to the test in a market where distribution no longer rules.  It is discoverability.

fresh green grass with bright blue skyRecently I’ve seen a spate of earning reports that indicate a trend:  while overall print sales are slowing or down for major publishers, they’re making more.  Where is this ‘more’ coming from?  The higher P&L on eBooks.  Where are the agents rallying to point out that this ‘more’ is being taken from the authors?  That authors getting a royalty rate that is pathetically out of date is lining the pockets of publishers?  When 75% of the cover price of an eBook goes to the platform and the publisher, something is very out of balance.  And then 15% of that 25% for the author goes to the agent?  In essence authors are getting just over 20% of cover price.  At Cool Gus our authors make over 50% of that cover price, varying depending on each one’s situation—which is another thing.  Every author, every book is a unique entity.  In Special Ops, one of the tenets is that Special Operations Soldiers can’t be mass produced.  Authors can’t be treated that way either.

Yes, there are big-name authors, in the top 5%, whose agents have negotiated for them higher royalty rates (hey, midlist author, ask your agent about that).  Good for them.  I submit however, that we will see some big name authors jump ship and go hybrid, not for more money, but for creative control.  The problems for these authors are several:

  1. Backlist is held hostage by their traditional publishers.
  2. The politics of becoming hybrid, where publishers and agents feel the author has ‘betrayed’ them, when in reality it is a positive for everyone involved if they work together.  For example, we’re working to promote Jennifer Probst’s books from Pocket with her backlist and also the frontlist we will publish.  We link and promote all her traditionally published titles.  We can actually run price specials, countdowns, and targeted ads that promote Jennifer Probst, which is a win-win for all involved, including her traditional publisher and her agent.
  3. Lack of awareness of how to ‘self’ publish.  I refer back to my Kirkus article on how the term ‘self’ publish is a misnomer.  Top authors need help in this area, especially if they are focused on writing.  They need the expertise and advice of an organization experienced in what they want to do.  But they don’t need boilerplate services:  they need a partnership tailor made for each one’s unique situation.
  4. Fear.  I won’t get into it, but fear is ruling publishing.  Many authors are terrified to break free and take a chance.  Understandable.  But potentially fatal to their long-term career.
  5. Editorial.  Some authors are wedded to the editors.  While we can say this is purely a business relationship, it goes beyond that.  We’re talking creative process.  However, there are very good freelance editors and one thing we do at Cool Gus is invite authors to our Write on the River retreat where we all work together on story and they also have access to my wife, who has worked with several NY Times Bestselling authors. A few weekends ago we had Jennifer Probst here and Richard Phillips and his writing partner.

We’ve negotiated with authors about their backlist, only to have the agent jump in between and shift their client’s focus toward selling their electronic backlist to a traditional publisher and getting an advance.  I submit they are harming their clients in their own self-interest (and mistakenly in their client’s interest).  They want that advance money which is guaranteed.  I occasionally check on the status of the digital version of books we tried to partner on, and not a single one has been published yet, over a year after talking to the author.  So a year’s worth of revenue that can’t be recouped is gone while they wait on the rusty wheels of traditional publishing to get around to their backlist.  And, as an editor at Random House told me:  We can’t promote our front list, never mind our backlist.  How do you think they’re going to focus on you?  I make more in one day from my backlist I own the rights to than St. Martins does in six months in the three books I co-wrote with NY Times Bestselling author Jennifer Crusie.  Who at SMP has a vested interest in promoting and selling those stories?  No one.  They’re overwhelmed dealing with their current authors and frontlist.

Lastly, agents are effective in securing foreign rights.  But even that model is changing.  Three years ago, people were laughing at eBooks in the US market at only 3%.  They aren’t laughing now.  Russ Grandinetti from Amazon said at the Frankfort Book Fair that they’re seeing a growth in digital devices in Europe matching the US market three years ago.  So three years from now, digital will be a huge earner in foreign markets.  A market authors can have control of via digital, instead of signing away their rights.  Something to consider.  While I believe in operating swiftly in most areas in publishing, foreign rights is one area I’m taking my time in.

Bottom line is that authors have to consider the long-term business, thinking strategically instead of tactically..  The long tail of earnings.  Publishers, and especially agents, seem to be more focused on the immediate dollar.  Authors need to be focused on their income stream five to ten years from now and also accept a fundamental truth: no one cares more about their stories than they do.

#Nanowrimo Point of View and Voice

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.

Written Communication

  • 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.

The Camera

  • 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.

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?

Nanowrimo coverIn honor of Nanowrimo month, Cool Gus has put together a Nanowrimo Survival kit at a discount:  three books in one at a big discount (over 50% off buying them individually).  We’re only going to run this special for November, then we’ll be taking it down.

The Novel Writers Toolkit which is how to write the book.

Write It Forward which is how to be a professional author and build a career using my Who Dares Wins concept.

And How We Made Our First Million on Kindle which is about negotiating the world of digital publishing.

Trick or Treat: Nanowrimo Survival Combo

Nanowrimo coverIn honor of Nanowrimo month, Cool Gus has put together a Nanowrimo Survival kit at a discount:  three books in one at a big discount (over 50% off buying them individually).  We’re only going to run this special for November, then we’ll be taking it down.

The Novel Writers Toolkit which is how to write the book.

Write It Forward which is how to be a professional author and build a career using my Who Dares Wins concept.

And How We Made Our First Million on Kindle which is about negotiating the world of digital publishing.

Cool Gus Sassy Becca Under DeskOn other fronts, Cool Gus is out of his cone.  So Becca can stop licking the top of his head.

The Kennedy Endeavor is going to be tight to make the planned 14 November pub date.  Most likely a week later as I’m in the midst of a big rewrite based on feedback.  Sometimes I wonder why I make books so complex but the whole issue of Berlin, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy’s assassination, etc. is just too entangled to easily make sense of.  Using Mary Meyer as the linchpin to the backstory is hard while also having my present day fictional character of Paul Ducharme and Evie Tolliver try to track down exactly what The Sword of Damocles is; a leftover from the Endeavor between Kennedy and Khrushchev to defuse the crisis, yet appease their militaries.

Here’s President Kennedy giving his Sword of Damocles speech at the United Nations:

Only one more flight this year:  to Chicago on Sunday to present Who Dares Wins for Flexco.  Then the last Write on the River Retreat of the year here with Jennifer Probst, Jennifer Talty and Richard Phillips whose trilogy has been a conistent staple on the Amazon science fiction bestseller list.  The dates for the first WOR Retreat for 2014 is 15-16 February and I’ll come up with more dates as my calendar solidifies.

Nothing but good times ahead.

The Author’s Marathon: 10 Things To Remember

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  It’s become a refrain of experienced authors to those rushing into the “gold mine” of self-publishing.

My first book came out in 1991.  My 53rd was published recently and I’m aiming to complete six books this year (4 down, 2 to go).  I made a living in traditional publishing for 20 years and an even better one in indie publishing the past several years.  I’ve written thrillers, science fiction, romance, an alibi, men’s adventure, hit-women, non-fiction on writing, non-fiction on team-building, a confession, a musical, Michael Crichton type books, and more.

One of those is a lie.  Perhaps two.  Perhaps that’s a lie.

backgroundOn twitter I notice that the Chicago Marathon is off and running today.  I’ve run a bunch of marathons (none recently) including NY, Boston, Marine Corps, Jooisy Shore and others.  So let me tell you what I’ve learned about the marathon of being a writer and how I’ve stayed in business a quarter of a century.  Geez, that makes me feel old:

  1. Know your goal.  Each of us has a different goal for our writing.  Thus each of us is unique.  I call this the strategic writing goal in Write It Forward and it should be stated in one sentence, with a concrete, external outcome and a time lock.  Much like your protagonist’s in your novel.
  2. Write.  Sounds easy, right?  When I was under contract for three books a year, I wrote four.  In traditional publishing I always stayed on ‘spec’ manuscript ahead.  Thus, if a contract wasn’t renewed, my agent was already out pitching a new book to a new publisher.
  3. Write.  I set my own deadlines as an indie author/publisher.  Writers are TERRIBLE at meeting deadlines.  Here’s the amazing thing though:  if you force yourself to write every day, it’s interesting how the pages add up.
  4. Focus on the story not the book.  I’m going to blog more about this, but I recently saw that the COO of one of the Big 5 said something to the refrain of “it’s all about the book” and my first thought was:  Duh.  Then my second was, no, it’s not.  It’s about story for fiction and content for non-fiction.  How that story and content get to the reader can vary from the book, to digital, to audio, to etchings on cave walls.  Don’t limit yourself.
  5. Network.  This business is run by people.  The BIGGEST mistake I made in traditional publishing was not doing more networking.  At Cool Gus we spend a lot of time and money going to events like BEA, RT, ITW, and other events to meet people.  To put a face, besides that cool dog face of Gus, on Cool Gus.  We’re heading out to Seattle in three weeks to visit the Death Star.  Jen is going to do her hair up like Princess Leia.  I’m going to charge my phaser or am I mixing scifi?  Light saber?  Let’s not go there.
  6. You must market and promote, but you can’t.  But you must.  But you can’t.  But you must.  Enough on that.
  7. When choosing between writing time and marketing and promoting time, lean toward writing time.
  8. Being a guru feels good but it doesn’t sell books.  Because I’ve done it (and still do with things like this blog), I can tell you, it can reach 50,000 people and lead to zero sales.  Seriously. How many of you are going to read this and go “Gosh, that Bob Mayer guy knows what he’s talking about, I’m going to buy his book!.  Right.  Thought so.
  9. Admit when you’re wrong.  When I first started dipping my toe into indie publishing I was reading Joe Konrath’s blog and he quoted some numbers and I basically said he was full of shit in the comments section.  He replied that I was dumber than I appeared or something to that extent.  Six months later I had to write a blog entitled “I was wrong, Konrath was right.”  At Cool Gus we constantly re-evaluate our business plan.  What worked?  What didn’t?  We can’t change for the better if we don’t admit what we did turned out wrong.  Be prepared to change course when the winds of publishing blow in a different direction or be prepared to sink.  As James Jesus Angleton said about the Bay of Pigs, they didn’t have an “escape hatch”.  (I’m writing The Kennedy Endeavor now and a lot of it is about the Cuban Missile Crisis, etc. etc. you don’t really care do you?)Kennedy_Final
  10. Keep track of what other people are doing but remember, each of us is unique in terms of Platform, Product and Promotion.  Thus what someone else is doing is never going to fit us exactly.  Sometimes what someone else is doing could be a disaster for me.  Pick your own path wisely.  This loops us back to number one.

11. Because Spinal Tap says you have to go up to 11.  Don’t take it all so seriously and be slow to react.  The internet is a very dangerous place.  I’ve seen internet lynch mobs go crazy over the slightest thing (done it myself a time or two) but a day or two of waiting and watching isn’t going to change anything.

IMG_0879Cool Gus, BTW, is not a happy camper, but he is healing up.  He hates the cone of shame.  He’s lying at my feet right now whining.

And oh yeah, Breaking Bad tonight.  Long shot on ending:  Jane’s father as the wild card?  But Jesse takes out Walt, gets Brock and HEA?  And do you realize if Marie had not stolen that spoon, none of this would have happened and Hank would be alive?  That’s story-telling.

There are no HEAs in Breaking Bad.

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