Archive for 'Writing'

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Backlist is Frontlist? Duh

I’ll be winding down blogging here at Genreality at the end of this month.  I’ve just got too much writing to do to be able to keep up this, my own blog and guest blogging at Digital Book World.  I’ve most certainly appreciated the opportunity.

I’m growing rather frustrated with these ‘amazing’ announcements from various publishers and gurus about their innovations they’ve implemented that they imply are on the cutting edge.  Tor announcing dropping DRM was treated liked a genius move when any indie author could have told them over a year ago to let go of it.  But the wheels of publishing move slowly.

The next was Open Road Media proudly announcing that they think backlist isn’t really backlist any more given the digital revolution.  I agree. And said so over a year ago:

While I am very big on looking to the future, there is one area where I think publishing should look to the past.  Traditional publishers are sitting on top of a gold mine that they have traditionally never exploited except when an author broke out:  backlist.

The reason for this was limited shelf space.  For many years I wondered why no traditional publisher bought my latest manuscript, not only for the manuscript, but with the thought of breaking that book out and then acquiring my extensive backlist. I always felt like I was sitting on a gold mine, but not a single publisher saw it that way—in fact they viewed it quite the opposite way. I understand the problem was shelf space, but now that’s no longer an issue. Even though shelf space was an issue, it always felt like publishers belonged in gambler’s anonymous rather than in business. They were always betting on throwing one hundred new books against the wall, hoping one won the lottery. There was little sense of nurturing an author’s career or looking to the future with a long-term commitment.  The reason for this is no one can really predict what will be the next Hunger Games.  But this is a rather haphazard way to run a business when publishers do control the rights to a considerable amount of backlist.  Remember, it isn’t backlist if someone hasn’t read it and Digital is a complete game changer in that regard.

I was very fortunate to hit the sweet spot in publishing. When my print sales had dropped so low, but my eBook sales had not taken off, I was able to exercise my rights clauses in my contracts to get my books back (I’d already gotten the rights to most of them years earlier, but there were still some key ones I needed, like my Area 51 series). I even did a blog where I offered Random House reverse royalties on Area 51 if they just let me publish them. No response. When I proposed a promotional program for Area 51 to coincide with the release of Super 8, a blockbuster about Area 51, my editor told me they could barely promote their frontlist, never mind their backlist.

Backlist is gold. 

So.  Yeah.  And since then, here’s the really cool thing.  Amazon wants to republish my Area 51 series under their 47North imprint on 11 December while releasing a new title:  Area 51 Nightstalkers.  As one editor told me:  we want to prove that we can take books NY threw away and break them out.

Actually, already kind of did that on my own, as I earn more in one week with Area 51 eBook sales than Random House could manage in 6 months.

I just wish that people would recognize that many of the “original” ideas that publishers are coming up with were already done by indie authors a while ago.  I recognize it’s hard to change a large organization or business model.  I pinned on the crossed arrows of Special Forces when it finally became a recognized branch of the Army while attending the Infantry Office Advanced Course at Ft. Benning.  Think that went over well?  Special Operations were the bastard step-children of the military for decades, and now they’re the darlings.

I submit that the author-entrepreneurs like Barbara Freethy and Bella Andre and Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath who are being ignored right now are going to be the leading voices in publishing in a few years, while the old dinosaurs slowly sink into the tar pits.

And, yeah, I, Judas: The Fifth Gospel is still in Nook First and selling quite well.  And, oh yeah, I suggested the Nook First program to Barnes and Noble last year in August and the very first book they did it with, The Jefferson Allegiance, hit #2 nationally over Labor Day weekend.  I’m now working with PubIt, Amazon, Audible, Kobo etc. (Hey, Overdrive respond!) on numerous innovative marketing programs.  What I love about these companies is their openness to authors and their enthusiasm for what they are doing.

Monday, June 18th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
The First Basic Question

Here’s a tough question I get sometimes, one that I had to figure out how to really articulate clearly a couple of weeks ago when I taught a workshop for a roomful of teenagers:  How do you get started?  Not with outlining or telling a story or learning about craft or trying to get published.  I mean when someone wants to be a writer but has yet to put down words and isn’t sure where to start with even that very first step.  (I’ve been writing since I was eight.  This isn’t an issue I’ve had to deal with for awhile, so I really had to think about it.)

I wonder, sometimes, if writing can seem like such an arcane activity that some people need permission to start.  Or need to get over the hurdle and into believing that yes, anyone who is literate can write.  When someone asks, “I want to write but I don’t know how to start,” what can I tell them?  I’ve come up with a few ideas of how to get people there.

Brainstorming.  Write down ideas, and don’t worry about making them sentences, or making the words pretty.  Make a list if you have to.  You want to write, you’ve got ideas — write them down in whatever form you can.  The point is just to get words on a page, the first words that come into your mind.

Journaling.  Start small:  go outside, go to a park, go to the mall.  Bring a notepad and pen.  Sit quietly, just watching and listening.  Then, write what you see.  Time it, at first — spend ten minutes writing everything:  the people you see, the noises you hear, the kinds of activity going on around you.  Describe the trees, the clouds, the sky.  Again, this doesn’t even have to be prose.  Just make a list.  Describe as much as you can, in as much detail as you can.  This is why the timer helps — you have to force yourself to keep writing, and I can’t isn’t an excuse.  (I still keep a travel journal, which helps me get down my newest experiences and sights into concrete form.)

Personal Journaling.  Keep a diary of your day’s activities, and get in the habit of doing this for a few minutes every day.  Again, focus on details, senses, feelings.  Practice getting that storm of thoughts in your brain onto the page, a little bit at a time.

All these activities kickstart the practice of getting thoughts from your brain onto paper, and the more you do this the easier it will get.  No one will read any of this, it’s all for you, so like I said, don’t worry at all.  Just practice making marks on a page or typing words on the screen.  I think you’ll find that if you do this every day, it gets easier.  If you start by setting a timer and forcing yourself to write for five or ten minutes, you’ll get to a point where the timer bell goes off, and you’re still writing.  That ten minutes will turn into twenty, then a half an hour, and beyond.  Writing takes practice.  It’s a muscle you have to develop.  You might start with lists, but soon your thoughts will start flowing, one sentence into the next.

You may not even realize it when those random thoughts, lists, and ideas start flowing into a continuous narrative.  And the stories that have been living in your brain will start to find their way to the page.

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
New Release: I,Judas: The Fifth Gospel and how real marketing works

On Monday, my latest novel, I, Judas: The Fifth Gospel was released exclusive to Barnes & Noble via Nook First.  Let me tell you a little bit about the book and then talk about where I think the best bang for the time is regarding marketing for authors.

What if Judas is still alive, hidden away in the jungles of the Amazon, waiting for the Second Coming?

As a massive object appears in space heading directly toward Earth, the Brotherhood heralds it as Wormwood, one of the signs the Rapture and it’s just three days away.  They have been preparing to implement the Great Commission as designated by Jesus—where everyone on the planet must hear the word of God before the end in order to be saved.  They will use advanced technology to send that message directly into the minds of every human on the planet.  The question is:  will the message kill everyone who gets it or save them?

Believing him to be the anti-Christ, they also send a team of assassins up the Amazon to find the Great Betrayer and kill him before Armageddon.

Opposing the Brotherhood is the Triumvirate of the Illuminati.  They believe they must stop the Great Commission and the assassination team.  At the same time they rush to gather nuclear weapons and launch missiles into space to divert the Intruder, as they call the object, believing it to be a natural phenomenon over which technology will prevail.

Three survivors do finally make it to Judas, and he tells them a story, the true story of what happened over two millennia ago.  And what is approaching.

As the object nears Earth, both sides become locked in a world-wide battle for the future of the human race, as Judas prepares in the jungle for the Second Coming, the fulfillment of his Fifth Gospel.

Which is not at all what anyone expects.

Now, let’s talk about marketing.  I believe most authors are spinning their wheels on a lot of social media that has little effect.  Often it’s an incestuous relationship.  We want to sell books to readers, not writers.  Not that writers don’t read.

After several years as an indie author/publisher let me list what I think is effective:  commenting on other people’s blogs.  They read the comments on their own blogs.

Going to industry events and meeting people face to face.  We can become overly reliant on social media.  I just took a 6 am flight from here to NYC and caught a 9 pm flight back home just to spend one day walking the floor at BEA.  It will pay off big time.

No matter how much and how many you can reach with social media, this is still a people business.


Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
How Should Authors Handle Book Reviews?

My first book came out in 1991.  Over 50 books later I’m still kicking and fighting as an author.  My very first review ever, on my first book, in the NY Times was overall positive but said:  “Fans of thrillers will love it, but characters right out of action comics.”  My editor thought that was great.  I don’t think the last part was very positive.  And it was accurate.

Then along came Amazon.  Originally, in days of yore, when men were men, and the sheep ran scared, anyone could post a review on Amazon anonymously.  You should have seen the bloodletting.  And, of course, I read them.  At least now you have to buy something (not necessarily the book you’re reviewing) to have the opportunity to review.

An author can get 99 “attaboys” but one “aw-shit” would sink me into a funk.  Same with emails from readers.  Honestly, 99% of readers who email are really nice.  But every once in a while you get the “Your book sucked so much I burned it.”  Same effect.

I don’t mind constructive criticism.  You should see the mss critique letter I got from Elizabeth George.  She sent it like this:  an open letter saying a bunch of stuff, then a sealed envelope.  At the bottom of the letter she said ‘open the letter if you really want to know’.  I opened it.  There was blood on the walls, but damn if that book isn’t pulling together solidly.

So I learned.  A lot.

Also, reviews can help you find problems with formatting, editing, etc.  No matter how much we try, things do slip through the cracks.

Now, I don’t read Amazon reviews other than to check to see if anyone has problems with formatting of eBooks, because that can happen and we immediately want to get in contact with that reader if we can and correct any problems, so we’ll post a comment on the review letting them know that.

With emails, when I open one and it starts getting nasty I do two things now:  I instantly hit delete and I smile.  Because, as I teach in Write It Forward, anger is an indicator.  Of something for the person who is angry.  So they must have really gotten into the book to get so angry.  I’d actually rather have an angry reader than an apathetic reader.  I read Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile recently and it really bothered me a lot.  I initially said I didn’t like it.  Then I had it pointed out to me why I didn’t like it and it was because it said something to me that was bothersome to hear.  Great book.

Here’s what I’ve learned I can’t do with reviews:  respond.  Bad, bad idea.  You can’t change someone’s mind.  Let it go.  Responding can start something that the writer can only lose.



Wednesday, May 16th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Questions for writers regarding craft and career

I wrote my first draft of The Novel Writer’s Toolkit in 1994 after four books published.  It was all of 11 pages long.  That was the extent of what I consciously knew about writing a novel.  In 2009, I wrote my first draft of Warrior Writer, a book designed to teach writers how to succeed as authors after my frustration over the lack of education for writers and all my experiences—it evolved into Write It Forward.  I still have not had a single response from an editor or agent showing me what their formal training program is for an author they sign or contract with.  In today’s fast moving marketplace, writers can’t afford to learn like I did—the hard way.

Over the years, I rewrote the Toolkit every six months, adding all I was learning about writing.  The Toolkit ended up being 80,000 words long and was published by Writer’s Digest in 2001.  It earned out in less than six months and had a great run.

Last year I updated both books extensively, partly because I’ve grown as a writer and now an independent author. But also because today’s publishing environment has changed and with that change has come the ability to update books to meet the changing needs of today’s successful writers.  The Novel Writers Toolkit now focuses 100% on the craft of writing.  I removed the business section because that belongs in the other book, formerly Warrior Writer, which I renamed Write It Forward: From Writer To Successful Author.

One key thing I added in the Toolkit was a section on Conflict, especially the Conflict Box.  I put in all I’ve learned in the past several years.  I have to say I believe I’ve learned more about writing in the past two years than in my first twenty.

In the Toolkit, I teach how to answer key questions about your book including:

Can you state what your book is about in one sentence?

Do you clearly have conflict lock between protagonist and antagonist?

Do you know where your ‘camera’ is when you write each scene?  i.e. Point of View?  Do you know when you’ve done a cut?

Do you know all your characters’ primary motivations, their motivation leveles, and their blind spot?

Write It Forward is the sum of what I’ve learned in 20 years of traditional publishing and two years as an indie author and publisher.  I made many mistakes over the years and I wrote this book to keep others from making the same mistakes.  I’ve included where I believe publishing is now and where it’s going.  I also focus on helping writers sort out their own path to Oz, given that each of us are starting from a different place and our vision of Oz is unique to each of us.

For example, can you answer these questions, which Write It Forward poses as exercises and then teaches you how to answer:

What is my strategic goal as a writer?  Where do you want to be in five years?

I’ll do anything to succeed as a writer, except don’t ask me to do . . . . ?

My greatest fear as a writer is?

How high is your ‘imposter syndrome’ as a writer?

Are you in command of your writing career or are you counting on an agent or editor?

Do you know where you stand on the three P’s: Platform, product and promotion?

Both books focus on building the complete writer:  one who masters the craft of writing into being an artist, and one who develops their work into being a career writer.

Reference the Novel Writers Toolkit

“A book to inspire, instruct and challenge the writer in everyone.”
#1 NY Times Best-Selling Author Susan Wiggs

“An invaluable resource for beginning and seasoned writers alike. Don’t miss out.”
#1 NY Times Best-Selling Author Terry Brooks

“Something for every writer, from neophyte to old hand. My hat is off to Bob.” Best-Selling Myster Writer Elizabeth George

Reference Write It Forward

“I have always loved how your programs delved deeply into the psychological models you need to develop characters. No you are using that to develop people.” Co-Creator of the Chicken Soup Books Jack Canfield

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Have a Career Plan as a Writer

A while ago I asked Susan Wiggs for some career advice. We’d taught together for seven straight years at the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference. She also lives one island south of me. She emailed me back within 20 minutes of my query with a very detailed explanation of the route she followed for success.

First, Susan said she studied successful authors in her genre.  She looked for the patterns.

Second, what she came up with was a plan to write three books. Since they were romances, she couldn’t use the same protagonist in every book; so she looked at a unifying concept. She decided on a fictional town. Suzanne Brockman uses a Navy SEAL team. This gives reader continuity. I’m using West Point as my unifying concept in my current Duty, Honor, Country series.

Third, you need a unifying theme. In romance, well, it’s usually some form of romance. I’m using the theme of loyalty versus honor. I’m applying that theme on two levels: personal for the characters; and also in the big picture because my focus is on the Civil War.

Fourth, the goal is then to sell the heck out of the first book and get a commitment from the publisher to push the numbers on the three books. Now that is out of your control. Both Susan and I have experienced publishers that didn’t push a series.

I think though, if you approach agents and publishers with a plan, you have a much better success of the plan working than not having a plan.

In fact, I was on an agent panel at Pacific Northwest Writers (no idea why I was on panel—guess because my agent was sitting next to me). And I mentioned the idea of having a plan. After the panel was over, one of the agents told me in all the years he’d been agenting, no one had ever approached him with a plan. He said he’d love it if writers had one.

I think that is the Catch-22 that a lot of agents and editors can’t get past, they would love a new author to have a plan, but they don’t have the time or energy to teach you how to develop one. So we’re still working on the throw 100 new books against the wall and hope 1 sticks paradigm. I really think we need to get smarter.

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Best and Worst Writing Advice I’ve Received

The best writing advice I ever received was actually reading a lot.  I think that’s absolutely the best way to prepare to be a writer.

I never took a creative writing course.  It wasn’t a big subject at West Point. When I was there, everyone got a BS.  With no major.  But we did have a concentration and mine was in psychology.  I feel psychology is the best subject for writers to study, because you have to create realistic characters.  The hardest part of developing a character is having a character’s blind spot be realistic.  Something about them that’s wrong, but they are blind to it.

My first draft of the Novel Writers Toolkit was 11 pages long.  Everything I knew about writing after publishing 4 books, fit into 11 pages.  Consciously knew.  What I had to do was move stuff from my subconscious to my conscious as well as learn more.  I just rewrote the Toolkit this past year with the latest.  I’ve learned more about writing in the past two years than in my first 20.

I don’t have an MFA; I have a Masters in Education.  My first writers conference was in 1995 and I was a presenter with four books published.  I took some writing courses.  I even took some graduate levels writing courses.  In one, the esteemed visiting writer came in.  He told us to take out a piece of paper and write what we felt.  I wrote:  “I feel like I’m wasting my time taking this course since you haven’t taught us anything.”  Needless to say, that didn’t go over well.

I’m actually not a fan of critique groups. Often the blind leading the blind.  And egos can get in the way.  Also, a novel is too big for most critique groups.  I’m a fan of beta readers.

I’m actually not sure, off the top of my head, what the “best” advice I received was.  I actually think it’s more important that I’ve had an open attitude and been willing to learn and change.  After teaching writing for two decades the biggest problem I see is that you can give the “best” advice in the world, but if someone isn’t willing to listen and change, it’s worthless.

I think we have to take every piece of advice we get by factoring in who is saying it.  Also, to be honest, writers often lie.  Hmm.  That was a weird sentence.  But I’ve heard keynote speeches and I’m thinking to myself “bullshit”.  Most of my work is sitting at the keyboard, staring aimlessly into space, with some drool coming down the side of my mouth.  Thinking is work.

The worst advice?  That part of my brain that tells me constantly I’m crazy to be writing for a living.  It’s an insane business.  It’s better now that I’m indie, but I also have to work two jobs now.  I saw on an informal list where I was one of 22 indie authors who’ve sold over 200,000 eBooks at Self-Publishing Success Stories.  I’m actually up to around 600,000 now.  That’s not many indies who are selling a lot.  It’s a tough job and if I had had any common sense, I’d have done something different.

But it’s the best job in the world.

Also, I don’t understand those people who let what someone says discourage them.  I love the classic story, told in various formats:  The young man wanted to be a great violinist.  The master came to town and the young man wrangled an audition with him.  He played his heart out.  When he was done he asked the master what he thought.  The master said:  “Not enough fire.”

The young man was crushed.  He quit the violin and pursued a different career.  Many years later he met the master at a function.  He told him about the audition and the result.  The master was surprised and said:  “I tell everyone that.  If my saying that was enough to stop you, then you really didn’t have enough fire.”  No one can stop you, but you.

What about you?  What’s the best thing you’ve heard and the worst?