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In Write It Forward: From Writer to Successful Author, I discuss and recommend having a catastrophe plan. I’ll tell you what that is below, but recently I’ve had a “moment of enlightenment” where I realized there are people for whom a catastrophe plan is not necessarily a good thing. Some of us need to “burn our ships.”
Which are you? Even more importantly, it occurs to me that perhaps they are both the same, it’s just having a different approach to the same objective.
- To prepare for things that might go wrong to keep those things from going wrong.
- If the catastrophe happens, you have a plan and can deal with it.
- To provide a sense of calm about possible catastrophes since you have a plan in place, thus freeing your mind to focus on what you want to create instead of being worn down with worry.
This is all very nice and well. But as we always note: there are many roads to Oz, so one size doesn’t fit all.
Some people work better under pressure, and not so well when they are calm and at peace with their world. Crisis and catastrophe motivates them rather than defeats them.
Throughout military history there are numerous accounts of leaders who committed their troops to a course of action where there was no catastrophe plan. Where it was all or nothing. Victory or annihilation. Caeser crossing the Rubicon: Alia iacta est as I learned in my Latin classes at Cardinal Spellman High School in da Bronx.
When Cortez arrived in the New World, he had his ships burned. No looking longingly over their shoulders for a way home for his men. Forward and win. Or die trying.
David Morrell advises writers not to quit their day jobs because then they’ll “write scared” and he believes scared writing is usually bad writing. I remember hearing him say that at Thrillerfest a few years ago and it worried me for a little bit until I realized writing was my day job and I certainly had no inclination to quit it.
Sometimes scared writing is inspired writing. Sometimes we are most creative when we are under the most stress.
In Special Operations training such as the Q Course (Special Forces Qualification Course), Ranger School, scuba school, etc. there is an emphasis on placing candidates under extreme stress and then evaluating how they perform. Those who can’t perform under stress aren’t ‘bad’ people. Or losers. They just aren’t people who should be in a unit that is expected to perform at a high level under extraordinarily stressful environments. To reverse this, however, a person capable of thriving under extreme stressful situations is probably not the best candidate for an occupation that requires repetition and drudgery. They might go postal on you.
To muddy an already confusing situation, perhaps always looking ahead for possible catastrophes is a form of burning ships. Perhaps the ship I am currently afloat on has a good chance of foundering. In fact, I’m pretty certain that nothing is certain.
I stayed “afloat” in traditional publishing for 20 years by always having a “spec” manuscript written in addition to the manuscripts under contract. Thus whenever my “career” ended because a publisher didn’t renew me for more books, I was already selling a new series to another publisher in the form of that spec manuscript.
In indie publishing, I am preparing for possible changes in royalty rates and business models that might have an adverse effect in the way we are currently flourishing with Who Dares Wins Publishing. We’re acting, rather than reacting. We’ll post on this shortly.
So which are you?
A person who needs that backup plan?
The person who needs to burn their ships?
Or the person who always has a backup plan in case their ship burns?
I’ve been posting a lot about leadership lately. When I was researching Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War I became very intrigued by fellow West Point graduate, Ulysses S. Grant. Few people know it, but at the end of the 19th Century, he was voted the most popular American of the century, over Abraham Lincoln. When he traveled abroad after being president, he was greeted by throngs all over the world.
Grant has a very hard time getting a command at the beginning of the Civil War, even though he was a valuable commodity as a West Point graduate. Rumors of his drinking from his time at Fort Vancouver hung over him like a cloud. He finally wrangled a command of the 19th Illinois (an event I have fictionalized in a scene in the novel as to the cause of, as no one really knows why the governor of Illinois gave the regiment to him).
What isn’t fiction though, are two orders he issued shortly after taking command. This was a unit made up of volunteers, hard-drinking men who’d caused trouble for their previous commander. Note how carefully Grant words his first order on taking command: he requires the cooperation of the officers and NCOs, but he hopes to receive the support of the enlisted men. Grant understood the nature of the citizen-soldiers he was commanding, much more than most of his contempories. I always found giving my respect to my soldiers and telling them I had to earn theirs, worked very well.
Then look at the second order he issues, where he commends the men and compares them favorably to any regular army unit. What do you think that did for the men’s morale?
18 June 1861
21st Illinois Regiment
The undersigned, having been duly appointed Colonel of the 7th Congressional District Regt of Illinois Volunteers by order of Govr. Richard Yates, hereby assumes command.
In accepting this command, your Commander will require the cooperation of all the commissioned and non-commissioned Officers in instructing the command, and in maintaining discipline, and hopes to receive also the hearty support of every enlisted man.
Colonel Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding 21st Illinois
12 July 1861
21st Illinois Regiment
The Colonel commanding this Regiment deems it his duty at this period in the march to return his thanks to the Officers and Men composing the command on their general Obedience and Military discipline. Having for a period of years been accustomed to strict military duties and discipline he deems it not inappropriate at this time to make a most favorable comparison of this command with that of veteran troops in point of Soldierly bearing, general good order, and cheerful execution of commands.
Colonel Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding 21st Illinois
These two orders sum up Grant’s leadership style and set a template for anyone who wants to be a successful leader.
Write It Forward
Don’t let fear take you down.
As a former Infantryman and Green Beret, I learned a lot about fear. Now I’m seeing it consuming publishing and authors. I’m going to cut to the chase here. I did a booksigning this past weekend and was seated next to a traditionally published author who was giving away free copies of his mass-market paperbacks. He’s selling well, probably has a decent contract with his publisher for two or three more books (coming out in two or three years…). But. He kept glancing at my POD trade paperbacks and also noticed how much I really didn’t care if I sold any of my print books. Well, it’s not that I don’t care, of course I care, but 99% of my income comes from eBooks. I could tell he wanted to ask me about about ePublishng. How it worked. How I got into it. But I could also tell he was afraid. Too many people really believe it’s better not to know reality rather than face the fact that perhaps they are approaching reality the wrong way. Letting go of the traditional world of publishing is tough. I know. Been there. Done that. I’ll go back into it with the right deal; one that accepts reality rather than wishful thinking.
I’ve had three bestselling authors approach me in the past month to ask how eBooks work. Jen Talty just got an email today from another. The simple fact they were asking tells us how little most authors understand about how bookselling is changing. How much disinformation people in publishing are putting out there in a desperate attempt to save their jobs. Lets face it, eBooks are a game changer whether we jump on the digital wave or not.
The amount of information Jen and I have learned about publishing in the past two years is staggering. I’ve been in publishing for over two decades. I thought I knew the business. But the last two years taught me that there is still so much to learn. We’ve taken a close look at what we’ve done right. What we’ve done wrong. And all the little tricks of the trade. We’ve actually put a document in our Dropbox where each of us is putting tidbits about lessons learned so some day we can run a workshop and publish a book about it. We’re not just talking about eBooks and publishing, we’re making our living at it.
Frankly, I don’t think anyone in NY Publishing really understands the big picture of ebook publishing from writer to reader. I keep seeing panels at conferences made up of “experts” on digital publishing, but rarely are these people making their living off selling their own books through digital publishing, so I submit they are observers, not experts. That doesn’t mean their opinion isn’t valid, it just means it isn’t completely solid. I had an editor from Random House tell me they were chasing the technology to see where it would lead—such a statement staggers me as the primary rule of combat is to act, not react.
I make my living writing and publishing eBooks. I made over six figures in profit in August from my eBook sales. My latest release, The Jefferson Allegiance just peaked at #2 on the Nook bestseller list. This is a book New York editors didn’t see how they could market. I’m putting these numbers up not to boast, but to show how it’s about the book, not the publisher’s perception about the book. I think that’s a key change authors need to understand: the gatekeeper in publishing now is no longer the publisher—it’s the author and the quality of the book. I’ll have a blog post about this soon.
It’s sort of like historians writing about battles they weren’t in. You want to know about the battle? Ask a veteran. A historian can theorize, the veteran can tell you the real deal. I submit that a lot of these conferences and convention springing up should start inviting authors who sell rather than the same experts who theorize.
Here’s the thing I want authors to understand. Take your emotions out of it. Let go of your fear. You now have an opportunity that’s unprecedented. You can reach your readers directly. You don’t need all the people in between. Learn from what Jen and I have accomplished, and others like us. The authors doing it. Not the people theorizing about it. However, on the flip side, you can’t do it all alone. You need to work with people who are experienced in the new technology and the new market for books. You can stay with the known or venture into the unknown where the future lies. You can keep switching deckchairs on the Titanic or you can find a ship that’s actually going somewhere.
Lately, publishers and editors have been trumpeting how much they’ve done for authors. My experience after 20 years in the midlist? They could care less. Publisher after publisher threw my books out there with no support. They made money off them, great. They sold a million copies of Area 51 without a single dollar in promotion, great. But did Random House care about me as an author? They passed on my new series which we will launch by Xmas and I know it will sell. As I stated above, it’s not about the publisher, but about the book. Once more I ask: if mass-market sales were the benchmark by which publishers determine future sales, is selling 5,000 eBooks a day a benchmark of success?
Fear is at the core of the book Writer It Forward, from Writer to Successful Author, because conquering fear is the #1 key to success.
Fear is ruling publishing. Those who have the courage to see past the fear will succeed.
Write It Forward.