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The headline screams: LOCAL AUTHOR GOES OUT OF BUSINESS!

Ever see that? How about a blog titled: “I Can’t Make A Living Writing Any More”?

Hmm. Nope.

Writers are strange creatures. I have complete strangers hit me up on twitter asking me publicly if I’d recommend an agent for them. Or look at their queries. Even their manuscripts (nothing  compared to what agents get hit with). Next brain surgeon I see on twitter I’m going to ask him for some free surgery, since my brain seems a little off. Seriously.

Ever have someone ask what you do, and when you answer that  you’re a writer, they say: “Never heard of you.”

My reply is: “What’s your name?” and when they tell me, I say: “Never heard of you either.”

Nah. I give them my card, a book if I have one handy. Every person is a potential reader.

Writers, we tend not to value themselves. And one of the rules my wife has taught me is: We teach people how to treat us.

I just realized I’m writing this blog after writing yesterday’s blog about Bernie Madoff. The mind works in mysterious ways. Real subtle, there, Bob.

WDW_B&N copyBack to teaching people how to treat us: when I do consulting or keynoting for Who Dares Wins, outside of the world of publishing, I quickly learned that when asked my fee, if it were too low, I might not get the gig as they then felt I wasn’t very good if I didn’t charge much. Almost the opposite of being a writer, who will give away their first born to give a talk, somehow thinking they will eventually sell books.

You have to consider not only the actual talk, but your expertise.  When I present Who Dares Wins, I’m not just giving a company a two-hour presentation.  I’m giving them the benefit of decades of experience as a Special Forces student, team leader, operations officer, commander, soldier, instructor at the JFK Special Warfare Center and consultant to previous organizations.  Also, being a NY Times bestselling author who has sold millions of books and started up a successful publishing company that has thrived through extreme turmoil in the entertainment business.  That stuff is hard to come by.  Rare.  It’s worth something.

I do feel uncomfortable when someone asks how much I charge for a talk, particularly in the writing world when I know money is tight for the organizations.  I remember, though, what I was told one year at the Maui Writers Conference.  A CEO of a very successful company told me that in the corporate world, to get the kind of high level expertise that was being given at Maui one would expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars.  And all these best-selling authors were getting was a plane ticket and a hotel room for their collective experiences and expertise.

I believe writers should value their expertise.  If asked what you charge, consider who is asking, what is being asked, and what value it will have to those who receive your expertise.  Remember, all they can do is say no, or tell you what they can pay.  Or you can always negotiate.  One technique I use for some of my day long presentations is give a percentage of my book sales at the event back to the organization.  This is a win-win situation.

Remember: if we don’t value ourselves, no one else will. List to Harlan Ellison — Pay The Writer (warning language)

Write It Forward!

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, ClaudiusHerod [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 . . .

2cfa3f55dc70babbda2b8dad9e18b36212.  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.

Want more good stuff? Sign up for my newsletter. Click here! If you sign up, you get a free book. And, like those late night commercials, get the book and we throw in a wonder-roller to remove dog hair. Okay, that was one step too far. NOTHING removes dog hair, as Cool Gus consistently proves– I just had depot repair on my Macbook Air and they found dog hair inside it.

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.

1st internet messageIn 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.

dewey-662x1024We’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.

IMG_2811Anywho. 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.

IMG_2658Strangely, 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.

Ramp jumpThe best solution for conquering fear is to do the same thing a patrol must do if it is ambushed:  attack right into the fear.

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.

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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.

Attack the ambush!  Write it Forward and Who Dares Wins!

 

Time Patrol: Ides of March

15 March 2016

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