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It’s a great life. I’m my own boss. I wear shorts and t-shirts in the summer and sweats in the winter to work, which is in my house. I sit at my desk with a great view of the TN River with a blank stare, drool running down the side of my mouth, and I’m working. Well, not really. Because no one’s paying me for my great thoughts. They’re paying for my writing.
I’ve been doing it for over a quarter of a century and here are some harsh truths I’ve learned about making a living as a writer.
1. No one owes you a reading. You have to earn it.
2. The minute you think you have it made, your career is over.
3. You have to be ahead of innovation, not following it. I get rather bored lately reading blog posts and tweets and comments from all the gurus making predictions, comments, yada, yada, because I’ve had the bisque. That doesn’t mean there isn’t much to learn. I do read them. Now I focus more on the subtext. But other than that, a lot of it is the same old, same old. But I also have to accept for many writers, it’s new. Still, I also remember what some of these same ‘gurus’ were saying 3 or 4 years ago. Uh-huh. Nevertheless, it’s incumbent on a writer to pay attention to the business side.
4. Listen to those who have skin in the game. I make my living selling stories to readers. If you want to make a living selling stories to readers focus on those people. Those who make their money in ancillary ways off of the book business? Listen to them but also understand their motives are different than yours. Many of them want to make their money off you. Caveat emptor.
5. Trust no one. From the classic I, Claudius: Herod [to Claudius]: Trust no one, my friend, no one. Not your most grateful freedman. Not your most intimate friend. Not your dearest child. Not the wife of your bosom. Trust no one. Okay, that’s extreme but essentially, no writer should count on anyone else professionally. Your agent, your editor, your publisher: they are not your friends inside the business. They are not your business manager. They are people who you work with as a self-employed part of the publishing machine. They might love you, but when the numbers don’t add up—later, gator.
6. Publicity doesn’t equal sales. You can be on the front page of the NY Times and unless the story is specifically about your book, it doesn’t lead to sales. I’ve actually BEEN quoted in an article on the front page of the NY Times, one of my books was mentioned, and I got a whopping bump of about four sales because the article wasn’t about the book. I interviewed for a NY Times article that came out this past weekend and didn’t make the final editorial cut. Whatever.
7. You can be as ‘right’ as you want to be but still fail. I only have to be right for my business. Not anyone else’s. What works for me will not work for anyone else. Stop trying to prove you’re right to others. They don’t care.
8. People lie. Writers are professional liars. I’ve listened to keynotes from writers and known they weren’t telling the truth. I’ve seen ‘deals’ posted in Publishers Marketplace and known the agent was grossly exaggerating the sale. No one blogs about “my career has gone down the crapper”. Nope. People talk about good things. So don’t let it discourage you when everyone seems to be doing better than you. Often they’re hanging on by their fingernails.
9. No matter how good your writing is, someone will not like it. In fact, the better it is, the bigger the pushback. The more successful you become, the more people will try to take you down. Don’t let them. Also remember, you need haters to succeed. Like a relationship– we’d rather have hate than apathy.
10. Math wins. Always. The Content eBook Blob is eating up a lot of midlist self-pubbers. Remember the movie The Blob? 1958? Steve McQueen? Every book that is digitized is on the shelf forever. No one is walking the aisles with computer printouts removing those that are beginning to ooze. And every day more and more titles are added.
11. Nobody knows everything. When we go to industry events, I constantly remind my business partner, Jen, that no one there knows everything. Of course, she sometimes reminds me I don’t know everything. Despite having my wife call me a contrarian, I’m afraid I have to disagree with both of them. Anyway, most people in the business know only a niche. In fact, the larger the organization they are part of, the less they know. People pretend to know a lot, but that’s because they’re . . .
12. Afraid. Fear rules many things in life. Fear is insidious. Repeat the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear from Frank Herbert’s brilliant Dune:
13. It always comes back to content. Bundles, Bookbub, sacrificing goats; they all have their place. But it always comes back to content. Write good stories. Then more good stories. And you will succeed.
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You get a free book for signing up. That’s pretty cool. And Ides of March is up for pre-order.
And remember. It actually is the best time ever to be a writer. Because the only one who can stop you. Is you.
In days of old, when men were men and the sheep ran scared, and the Internet was only something academics used (first Internet message sent on 29 Oct 1969, read all about it Black Tuesday), writers had to actually leave home to do research. Often go to a place called the library. Spend hours wandering the stacks. Quite a few of my book ideas came out of those stacks. Do you remember the Dewey Decimal System? I still know the numbers I’d gravitate to.
We’d check out loads of books. Earning the wrath of the librarian by continuously checking out the same books, because it takes longer than the checkout period for a borrowed book to actually write a book. Ah. Those were the days. When we ate rocks for breakfast, broke ice to take baths, hunted Woolly Mammoths with our spears.
Then there was this thing where you could hook you computer (no hard drive, just floppies) to a phone line. The computer would dial a number. You’d often get kicked off. But every once in a while, you’d get that static sound and you were connected. To what? Not much. And you needed two phone landlines or else you got yelled at. And you paid hourly.
But we traded our breakfast rocks for gravel and the Internet grew wider. I anticipate Skynet soon, so I am preparing. Seriously. Back to eating rocks for breakfast. Avoid the ones with mushrooms.
Wikipedia came along. The scourge of thinking and researching.
Just “google” it.
My wife and I have a policy. We don’t google. I see people having dinner conversations and they’re googling what the other people are talking about. Uh, well. No. I’m lucky, my wife has an unbelievable wealth of utterly useless information in her head (don’t get her started on the mob), which suddenly becomes useful when needed.
While you can find a lot of details on the Internet (like how long does it take a bunch of piranha to eat a cow, for example, and yes, I looked that up; I mean I googled it) I still like using books and original documents. A search on the Internet only finds you what you’re looking for. A narrow answer.
Actually, let’s back up. Googling something means you already know enough to ask the right question. BTW, we learned that phrasing inquiries as questions yields better results than simply keyword searches, which seems intuitive, but isn’t.
As a writer, I’m more interested in what I’m not looking for. The answer to the question I don’t even know to ask. This requires reading books, long articles, watching movies, TV shows, etc. My hobby is story; fortunately my work is story. And my wife shares that passion. And she has a better memory than me. Which means I lose every argument we have. But I’m a guy, we’re supposed to lose every argument we have with our spouse. That’s called marriage. In Don’t Look Down, which Jenny Crusie and I co-wrote, my character, Wilder apologizes to her character, Lucy. I never understood why. Still don’t. I just knew her character was made at my character and he did what guys do. Say I’m sorry. I’m sure he was wrong about something.
Anywho. Books. I still like paper books even though most of my livelihood is via eBook. Especially for nonfiction. I’ve got this huge tome, The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II on my desk as research for my WIP, Time Patrol: Ides of March. since Nicholas II abdicated on the 15 of March 1917. And I read that book for just one of six subplots in the novel. As you can see there are some stick-ems in place.
Strangely, I’ve found information in there that differs somewhat from Wikipedia. And, naturally, I’ve found a lot in there that isn’t on Wikipedia and I would have never known to ask about, because I didn’t know it. There is some logic in all this musing, but it’s early Sunday morning, the dogs haven’t eaten yet, and the pack is giving me that look.
January 29, 2016 in The Publishing Borg | Tags: Art, author, blog, books, business, eBooks, ePublishing, social media, The Future of Publishing, The Publishing Borg, Who Dares Wins, writer, writing | by Bob Mayer | 6 comments
Your patrol is suddenly fired upon from the right. Your fear wants you to jump in the convenient ditch to the left—to avoid the ambush.
However, if the ambush is set up correctly—that ditch is laced with mines and you’ll die if you do that. In life, avoiding problems by running from them doesn’t solve the problem.
Your next fear-driven instinct is to just hit the ground. Stay where you’re at and do nothing. Except you’re in the kill zone and if you stay there, well, you’ll get killed. We all want to ignore problems. Because that’s the inherent nature of a problem. But ignoring your greatest problem will keep you in the kill zone and the result is inevitable.
The third thing you want to do is run forward or back on the trail to get out of the kill zone– escape without dealing with those who ambushed you. Except, if the ambush is done right, the heaviest weapons are firing on either end of the kill zone. And you’ll die. We want to avoid problems by going back to the past or imaging it will get better in the future even if we don’t change anything.
The correct solution is the hardest choice because it requires courage: you must conquer your fear, turn right and assault into the ambushing force. It is the best way to not only survive, but win. To tackle problems, you must face them.
You’ve heard write what you know? Maybe write what you are afraid to know. I see many writers who avoid writing what they should be writing because it would mean confronting their fears. Be curious about your fear—it’s a cave, but instead of a monster inside treasure could be inside.
Remember fear is an emotion. Action can occur even when your emotions are fighting it. Taking action is the key to conquering fear.
How do you expand your comfort zone by venturing into your courage zone? Every day try to do something that you dislike doing, but need to do. If you’re introverted, talk to a stranger every day. If you’re a practical person, do something intuitive every day.
Do the opposite of your Myers-Briggs character.
I went into the Army during the Reagan era. I went into the Infantry, the “Queen of Battle.” Everything in the Infantry back then was built from top down. We operated as part of a “combined arms team” with artillery, armor, aviation, etc. We were a cog in a very large machine.
After my first tour in the First Cav Division, I put in my paperwork to go to the Q Course, to become Special Forces qualified. My battalion commander signed it, but told me my career as an officer was over. Special Forces was considered an additional assignment, not a career assignment. What that meant was after a tour in Special Forces, I would return to the Infantry but would then be one tour of duty behind my contemporaries. I wasn’t very concerned about that. I figured if I was going to be in the Army, I wanted to be in the best part of the Army, so off I want.
Then the Cold War ended, but the Army didn’t really change much to adapt. There were some minor adjustments, but nothing substantial. Special Forces became a separate branch in 1987 for officers, so I removed my crossed rifles of Infantry and pinned on the crossed arrows of Special Forces while I was at the Infantry Officer Advanced Course, which was not popular.
The First Gulf War was largely conventional and General Schwarzkopf was not fond of Special Operations (like most high ranking officers of the time), so they were under-utilized. Then 9-11 happened and the units best capable of dealing with this new type of warfare were Special Operations. Terrorism had always been around. But it took something so dramatic to cause change; and even then, the Army was slow to adapt. Any large organization takes time to change; it’s the nature of things.
In the modern world, the focus is on small, elite units, capable of a multitude of missions. Able to respond quickly.
Traditional publishing has been around a long time; with little change. Print book sales are still consignment. The publishing process from query to bookstore is still agonizingly long; I’m seeing deals being announced now on completed manuscripts with pub dates of 2017. Royalties are still paid as if computers were never invented and capable of real time reporting. It’s the nature of large organizations to keep doing things the same way until change is forced.
Amazon launched in 1994. Selling books via snail mail. The Kindle was launched on 19 November 2007. Less than ten years ago. The first one sold out in five and a half hours, retailing at $399 (and Jen purchased her first Kindle in that five hour window). Publishing took little interest. I remember a panel of agents and editors at a conference in 2010 laughing about eBooks, saying why should we be concerned with something that has been less than 3% of the market? That is large organization mindset where the past dictates the future.
Then eBook sales exploded.
Publishers made some adjustments; the Agency Pricing war was fought. Publishers ‘won’. But now the party line is that this eBook thing has crested and print is coming back. Because people always want things to be as they were, what they were comfortable with.
But things have changed and will continue to evolve. I’m hearing a lot of grumbling from authors who are still working in an archaic business model where the focus is on the publisher, not the author or reader. Contracts contain pretty much the same boilerplate, with the addition of restrictions such as non-compete clauses. Publishers made record profits, mostly because of digital sales, where their overhead is low, along with low royalties paid to authors on those sales. In essence, publishers are still mainly geared to fight a conventional war in a digital age. There are certainly innovations happening and change is occurring, but for many to believe that things are static is irrational. To believe that things won’t continue to change at an ever-increasing pace is also irrational. But it’s the party line.
Not at this party. I was part of the evolvement of Special Forces from the red-headed bastard of the Army into the tip of the spear. Helped developed the Special Forces Selection & Assessment and the new Qualification Course. I went from being one of the last First Lieutenant A-Team executive officers to being among the first officers to put on the crossed arrows.
In 2010, I traded in my conventional publishing mantle for that of an indie author. I did so because I’d already been through a slow change in a large organization. I didn’t want to be part of another one, because often those who don’t adapt quickly get caught in the gears of change and crushed. I saw an opportunity to change quickly. I met Jen at a conference in 2009 and after a lengthy discussion about traditional publishing and digital publishing (something that Jen had already been involved in for five years) we formed Cool Gus. It was a steep learning curve to inculcate all aspects of being our own publisher in a different type of model from what I’d experienced in 20 years of traditional publishing. But in the back of my mind, the key was the future, not the present and certainly not the past. As the Internet drew authors ever closer to readers, we foresaw a day when more and more authors would want the ability to be in charge of their own creativity and career. To become a form of Special Forces.
At the core of Special Forces is the A-Team. 12 soldiers. Unlike the conventional Army, A-Teams most often conduct operations on their own, not part of a larger maneuver element. They are fast, agile, able to conduct a wide array of missions. The individuals are among the most highly trained soldiers. I envisioned Cool Gus to become an A-Team in publishing, working with authors who not only could write great books, but were also business savvy. The biggest thing I foresaw was a need for an entity that would not only make the author the most important part of the process, but also give the author complete creative control, not just of content, but over all decisions. But also have a single point of contact that gave expert advice and took care of the heavy lifting of all aspects of publishing, so the author could focus on writing.
We’ve had several bestselling authors go hybrid with us; one of our guiding principles is that the author’s overall career goes first, not just their career with us. What’s good for the author overall is good everyone, thus we wholly support their traditional career and adjust to adapt to it.
Jen and I sat down for a week not long ago, hammering out a revised business plan (we’re always revisiting things as the situation changes, much like Special Forces and since we’re small, we can change fast). And we pondered terms, because labels are important. We never really considered Cool Gus a publisher. But we needed something to call it that fit our vision. So we came up with Author-Centric-Team, not quite A-Team, but close: A.C.T..
We believe 2016 will be the year more bestselling traditionally published authors become hybrid. We’re going to blog more about this, because it’s a complicated issue in many ways. As always, something I preach in Who Dares Wins, also drawn from my SF background, fear has a large role to play. We are afraid of different, especially when the familiar seems to be working okay. For a traditionally published author to explore something outside their safe cocoon of agent/publisher and try something different is daunting.
We are evolving into the age of the author, not the publisher, and the need for an Author-Centric-Team is going to grow larger. We look forward to sharing this concept with you and also in getting feedback.