Blog Archives

November is National Novel Writing Month #NaNoWriMo

And I’m all in! Officially! Registered on the NaNoWriMo site and everything. I’m pumped!

1414872206879If you’ve “unofficially” participated in NaNo I highly recommend going to the website ( and sign yourself up. Lots of support and the creative energy is contagious. This past year I participated in 4 writing retreats and it was amazing how much work I got done. I finally finished my novel which I just retitled today: Residual Memory. I’m making one more editing pass and then off to the editor. I think from there I’m going to give Kindle Scout a try.

But in the mean time…

Memory UploadMust work on the new project, which is tentatively titled: Memory Upload. Which is book two in the series. I did a cover for it as you can see and loaded it to my book information on my NaNoWriMo author profile.

We’ve done various posts on NaNo and we have a page of tips right here on the blog and various posts under the NaNoWriMo category. Feel free to browse at your convenience.

I’ve actually done NaNo before and I did get a book out of it: Rekindled. However, I wasn’t very prepared for NaNo so the book was pretty much a hot mess and required major rewriting. But for me, I’d rather rewrite than do the actual writing. I’m weird that way. All I had going into NaNo the last time was a very vivid image of my hero and that he was a cop and that his high school sweetheart ran out on him, leaving him with a ton of questions and an inability to trust. That was it. Knew nothing else about the story or the people. Some how the Chicago mob got involved. No idea where that came from.

This time I’m a little more prepared. I have all my characters set up. I have a basic outline of the story. I’m fairly confident that I know how it will end, though that might change, but I do know the Chicago Mob won’t be showing up in this one…or wait, maybe…

So, who is with me? Who is going to share in the journey both here and over at

Ready? Set? WRITE!

PS–there is a twitter chat today #NaNoCoach at 4pm PDT.

The Origin of “Hybrid” Author which has led to . . .

cyborg1Hybrid publishing, hybrid agents, Labradoodles, and the end of humanity as we know it as the cyborgs take over.

All I see now is people blogging about hybrid this and that, particularly hybrid authors. I just googled “earliest mention hybrid author publishing” and everything is coming up 2013/2014/2015. I first mentioned hybrid in connection with publishing on 11/30/2010 in a blog about: Agents: Human, Machine or Borg?  I first mentioned the hybrid author on 6/12/2011: Indie vs. Trads: The Elephant in the Room.

What I’m pointing out is that at Cool Gus we’ve been three years ahead of cognitive functioning in publishing. We’ve been in existence going on six years. Three years is an important number as you’ll see shortly.

I emailed my business partner, Jen Talty, a week ago, after a series of blogs and articles discussed the possibility of some big name traditional authors considering indie publishing as an option to complement their successful trad careers.  Since we have some bestselling authors working with us– and have done this for years– this is an area we have some experience in. My wife also works with several NYT bestselling authors as a story editor.

Here’s the deal– it’s a three year learning curve to truly master anything– including indie publishing. So if one wants to go hybrid from trad, you’ll be doing okay in 2018; and spend a lot of time learning a new skill set. Or use the expertise that already exists. Or go for some fly by night start up that gives boilerplate, except understand that eBooks are organic, not static like print; a different beast. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as you’re looking at a very different marketplace in digital. It generally takes from 45 minutes to an hour for us to discuss with an author about what indie publishing entails in order to explain it. Think how long it would take a traditional publisher to explain how their business works? And many trad authors, don’t even understand all the pieces and parts in their own publishers. They just trust that it does work. That same kind of trust has to exist in a concierge publisher that facilitates traditional authors going hybrid.

I recently got an email from an author who said her agent had referred her to an alternative “publisher” if she wanted to go hybrid. This “publisher” had the following option: they get referrals from agents; they charge the authors upfront fees for cover, editing, formatting, etc. They pay low royalties, which first go to the agent who gets 15%. Thus the publishers takes a percentage on the back end even after the upfront fees. That’s three hits financially for the author. It makes no sense, but this business is running and working with agents, and through them, authors who don’t know any better. Our belief is revenue flows from publisher to author; never the other way. Or else what is the point in making a mutual commitment for the future?

When I try to explain to a trad author how they can sell 3 times less copies and still make more money they look at me like I’m a cyborg. The biggest thing, though, is the creative freedom of indie publishing. Our authors get the final say on every aspect of their career and their books. More on this in another blog, but we’re seeing more and more authors getting disgruntled with the lack of control they have. Unlike some, I don’t believe people in trad publishing are ‘evil’ or ‘dumb’. No one goes into publishing with the idea of becoming rich. We all are in this because we love books and I think that’s why some of the rhetoric could probably be toned down and even the title of my blog from years ago shouldn’t have “vs” in it. I’ve worked with many sharp agents, editors and publishers in the business. But, the playing field is changing.

Juking the statesYes, I know, eBooks have “leveled off”. Uh-huh. Except no one is counting Cool Gus’ eBooks sales. Or most indie eBook sales, which are an increasing portion of the market. So to quote The Wire, as I often do, people are “juking the stats”. Understandable. And the stats are getting juked all around with partial snapshots presented as the full reality. Regardless, the biggest thing we believe in is that every author is a unique entity, and thus every one has different needs in a publishing partnership.

Actually, most people are not deliberately changing the stats, we just don’t have the real numbers and the ones being touted make most people in publishing feel comfortable, as if they’ve weathered a storm that’s passing by– eBook sales leveling, indie bookstores opening. We all want to feel comfortable, but one thing over 25 years in this business and a decade in Special Operations have taught me is that the moment one gets comfortable, is the moment it’s over. Yes, indie bookstores are opening, but Barnes and Noble is shuttering store after store. And for the midlist author, who needs that massive rack space from B&N, that’s a very troubling indicator. Authors who are racked in airports, Target, Costco, etc, are doing okay. But if you’re not . . .

And even if you are one of those racked everywhere, you’ve still got great choices. Actually, a name-brand author is the one who would benefit most from hybrid publishing, as they have built in discoverability. I remember a publicist at Random House telling me they put most of their marketing push behind their bestsellers; but not behind midlist and new authors. In essence, becoming a top selling author happens in a way no one can really predict. But here’s a key issue: does the marketing push, once an author is a bestseller make that much difference (other than co-op money)? Or does the author’s brand already make that difference? And if that’s true, then . . .



I think it’s time we start looking at the reality of the marketplace for authors, divorced from the spin on either side. Divorced from what publishers think, what agents think, what ardent proponents of either side think, but in terms of each individual author’s career needs, path and dog preference.

I believe hybrid is a great path, which means I don’t believe it’s an either/or for an author between going indie or going trad. Go for the best of both worlds. But it has to be the best of both worlds. I do think for a new author, going the agent/trad publisher route is probably the best path, despite what others may say. There are many advantages to traditional publishers, especially for a newbie. But in the opposite direction, for a traditional author to go hybrid also requires the advantages a knowledgeable concierge publisher can offer (okay, trademarking that one).

So in a series of blogs here, as best I can in between finishing a book, feeding Cool Gus and Sassy Becca, and saving the world from the rise of the machines, we’re going to discuss the pluses and minuses of both worlds and that nebulous world in between everyone has now called hybrid.

Why this Author Walked Away from a $25,000 Advance to Publish His Novel Independently

By Elliott Garber

I wrote the final words of my first full-length novel just over one year ago, closing my laptop with a dramatic flourish and breathing a deep sigh of relief. It was done. A major life goal complete.

The_Chimera_Sequence_Elliott_Garber copyI could already picture hardcover stacks of The Chimera Sequence—a bioterrorism thriller that one reader described as Michael Crichton meets Tom Clancy—lining front tables of Barnes & Noble bookstores around the country. Who knows, maybe my name would even make an appearance among the lower ranks of a coveted New York Times bestseller list?

That was the dream, at least, even though I already had a very realistic understanding of the rapidly evolving publishing industry. Alongside my novel writing, I had spent the previous couple of years reading everything I could find about the publishing process.

I even conducted a little experiment of my own with a short story. Much to my surprise, No Dog Left Behind has already earned me a few thousand dollars in its two years of life on Amazon. That represents a lot more money and readers than I ever would have found through almost any traditional route for a short story.

So I began the post-book writing phase with my eyes wide open, knowing all along that I would be okay doing things on my own if I didn’t find the right traditional publisher to work with through the process.

After going through several rounds of editing with the help of a diverse group of friends and family members, I was ready to begin. I sent out query letters to about 20 well-known agents, gleaning their names from the Acknowledgement pages of recent bestselling thrillers. Simple Google searches led me to their submission guidelines, and I personalized each e-mailed message based on the other authors represented and any shared personal interests I could discover.

I was fortunate to hear back from about half of these agents within a few days, and almost all of them requested that I send the full manuscript for their review. Woohoo! First hurdle, complete. I attribute this initial success to the fact that I developed a catchy blurb, but probably even more to my own online platform and unique professional background. The agents were intrigued enough to find out if I could actually write.

Within a few days, I received a phone call from one of my top choices. It was actually a voicemail—due to the secure environment of my workplace I’m not able to use a personal cellphone inside. The message was short and sweet: “Loved the book. Give me a call when you can.”

Needless to say, I called the agent right back and received my first offer of representation. The agent had recently helped a couple of other former military guys launch their own successful careers in the thriller genre, and he was convinced that he could do the same for me. No guarantees, of course, but he was fairly certain that we could be looking at a six-figure offer for an initial two-book contract.

It was tough not to say yes right away, but I did want to give the other agents a chance to at least finish reading my book before making a final decision on whom to partner with. As it turns out, the decision was made for me. Although a couple of the other agents expressed a tentative interest, none of them felt strongly enough about my manuscript to offer representation without further modifications first.

The next step was submission of the manuscript to editors at all the big traditional publishers. This was tough for me, as I was really at the complete mercy of my agent’s previous relationships and professional connections. I was expecting to get responses from these editors within a week or two, but instead it stretched into a month, then two months.

I felt as though the whole process had lost momentum. I knew in my head that this was normal—that the traditional publishing process takes time—but in my heart, I still wanted to be one of those lucky few authors who get so much immediate interest that a competitive auction is held within days. Sadly, it was not to be.

The rejections slowly began trickling in. “Sorry, loved the story, but just don’t see where it would fit in today’s market.” Huh?

“If I had gotten this book last year we totally would have gone for it, but the virus threat has been done too often already.” Not what I wanted to hear.

“Unique plot and captivating characters, but the action simply builds too slowly for a modern thriller.” At least this one contained feedback I could use for the next time around.

We finally got some bites after moving on to the next tier of editors just outside the “Big 5” publishing houses. At this point, I was already disappointed in myself, the book, and the process, but I wasn’t ready to close the door on a traditional option yet.

After several weeks of negotiating, my agent was able to present two final offers. Two books for $25,000—take it or leave it. This works out to $12.5k for each book, of course, and those payments would be split and stretched out over about three years. The contracts were pretty much boilerplate for a new midlister like me, with no special provisions that would make them more author-friendly in today’s rapidly changing publishing environment.

The publishers could not guarantee anything in the way of initial print run numbers or marketing budget, and my first book would not be released until sometime in 2016. Not exactly a proposal to get very excited about.

But I would be a REAL author, right? Wasn’t that worth it? I might get to see those stacks (of one? maybe two?) of my books at Barnes & Noble! I could be one of the select few who successfully made it past the proverbial gate-keepers and begin turning up my nose at all the independently-published authors I had learned so much from over the last few years.

No, thank you. Based on everything I had learned, I knew that this level of advance did not represent a very significant investment on the part of the publishers. I was confident that I could do almost everything they could with the book, on a tighter schedule and with more long-term potential for success.

It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, but I decided to walk away from these $25,000 offers and continue with the back-up plan to publish my thriller independently.

Fast forward six months, and here I am! The Chimera Sequence has been on the market for almost a month already, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to have some affirmation of my choice. No New York Times bestseller lists yet, but I’ve already sold a few thousand copies of the book. More importantly, I’m steadily gaining readers and fans who are asking about my next book.

Was it easy? No, as my wife will tell you, neither of us could have imagined how difficult the whole publishing process would be. But I did it, all while working full-time and enjoying life with two young children at home. It was difficult, yes, but not impossible.

It’s too early to know for sure if I made the right decision. Who knows, maybe my book would have taken off in print, and I would have seen many more thousands of dollars in royalties than that initial five-figure advance represented. It’s possible, but unlikely. Especially in light of this week’s new report from Author Earnings, it’s clear that indie publishing is a better choice for many authors who desire ongoing financial success.

I’m grateful to all my fellow authors and readers who have helped me through this process so far, and I’m excited for the opportunity to continue sharing my stories with the world.

Here are some of the best resources I’ve found for other authors interested in learning more publishing in the 21st century:

KBoards Writer’s Cafe

The Passive Voice Blog

Hugh Howey’s Blog

Russell Blake’s Blog

Elliott-Garber-Mascot-Dog-AmputationBio Page: Elliott Garber is a veterinarian and military officer currently assigned on active duty with a special operations command. He has lived in India, Egypt, Mozambique, and Italy and traveled to over 50 other countries around the world, including a recent deployment to Iraq. You can often find him under the water, up in the air, or out in the woods. Elliott lives with his wife and two young children in Coronado, California.

Elliott blogs and produces a podcast at:

He also shares updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, and he would love to hear from you there.

1 of N does not equal N—Craft Tuesday at Write on the River

Thumb_Nail_Novel_WriterArrghhh. Math. Sorry, but it’s the best way I can explain this concept. What this formula means is that just because you can buy a best-selling book written by so-and-so, the famous writer that does not mean you can write a similar book and get it published.

What I’m talking about is those people who sit there and complain that their book is just as good as such and such and, damn it, they should not only be published but have a bestseller. Also, those people who look at book number 5 from a best-selling author and complain about how bad it is. Yes, there are many book number 5’s from best-selling authors that if they were book number 1 from a new author, would not get published. But the primary thing that sells a book is the author’s name. I’ve always said Stephen King could write a book about doing his laundry and it would be on the bestseller list. Stephen King earned being Stephen King and to misquote a vice-presidential debate, I’ve read Stephen King and you ain’t no Stephen King. Neither am I.

Another thing people do is they see a technique used in a novel and use the same technique, and then get upset when told it doesn’t work. They angrily point to the published book that has the same technique and say, “SEE.” Unfortunately, what they don’t see is that that technique is part of the overall structure of the novel. It all ties together. I’ll discuss book dissection to study various aspects and techniques and I still stand by that; however, I also remind you of the story of Frankenstein. Just because you can put all the pieces together, that doesn’t mean you can necessarily bring it to life. There are some techniques that only work when combined in context of other parts of the novel; thus using it in isolation can be a glaring problem. You can’t take the beginning of one bestseller, tie it in with flashback style from another, and have a similar flashy ending as another and expect the novel to automatically work.

Every part of a novel is a thread connected to all the other parts. Pull on one piece and you pull on them all. Tear apart a novel or a movie and see the pieces, but then be like a watchmaker and see if you can put them all together again as the writer did and if you understand why they go back that way.

For example, Quentin Tarrantino ignored the classic three act screenplay structure with Pulp Fiction. Yet the movie was a great success. So therefore, a number of new screenwriters decided they didn’t need the three act structure. However, what they failed to see is that it was not so much the unique story structure that made Pulp Fiction such a success, but rather the intriguing dialogue. Tarrantino’s structure without the Tarrantino dialogue would have spelled failure.

It is also more important to figure out what is working and why, rather that what you feel didn’t work in a book you read. An attitude that will serve you little good is the there’s so much crap on the shelves in the bookstore. I admit that there are times when I am looking for something to read, and I stand in the local supermarket looking at the paperbacks, that I really can’t find anything I want to read or that sparks an interest. But that doesn’t automatically mean it’s all crap.

I had to do this many times. I’d read something I might not like, but it seems to be selling quite well. Instead of dismissing the rest of the world as stupid, I try to find what it is about the book that people like. That doesn’t mean I’m going to do the same thing, but it does broaden my horizon.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a little fire burning deep inside believing you are better than those people getting published, but I think that’s the sort of thing that should be used to fuel your writing, not expressed loudly so everyone can hear it.

John Gardner once said that every book has its own rules. Remember that when you examine a book to see what you can learn from it. Look at the parts from the perspective of that book’s specific rules.

backgroundBlack Tuesday finalThe Novel Writers Toolkit, Write It Forward, How We Made Our First Million on Kindle, 102 Writing Mistakes, and Writer’s Conference Guide.

And coming 24 August and available for pre-order: Time Patrol: Black Tuesday



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