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In the intro, I talk about DRM and some of the things we need to be aware of as authors. The next blog post will go into this in more detail.
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Bob Mayer is a West Point Graduate, Former Green Beret, CEO of Cool Gus Publishing and a NY Times Bestselling Author. With 60 books published, Bob has sold over four million books, and is also a leadership speaker and consultant.
- Discipline and putting in the work as an author
- How authors lie and some of the myths around sales figures and the industry
- How to stay afloat in the river of digital books
- Focusing on a niche for long term success
- Longevity as a writer
- How Bob works with his COO, Jen Talty to run Cool Gus Publishing
- On the mindset of successful indies and the lure of control
- Multiple streams of income and how Bob manages his speaking as well as writing
- On the future of foreign rights, subscriptions services and other things to consider for the next few years of publishing upheaval
- The themes that span Bob's fiction work -you can check out a sampler here
- What writers can learn from TV
Transcription of interview with Bob Mayer
Joanna: Hi, everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com, and today I’m here with Bob Mayer. Hi, Bob!
Bob: Hi, thanks for having me.
Joanna: It’s great to finally have you on the show. So, just as an introduction, Bob is a West Point graduate, a former Green Beret, the CEO of Cool Gus Publishing, and a New York Times bestselling author, with 60 books published. Bob has sold over four million books, and is also a leadership speaker and consultant, and one of the indie—I don’t want to say gurus, Bob, but you are a bit of a guru!
Bob: OK. Not fond of the term guru, but that’s OK.
Joanna: Well, we’ll say you are our sort of Green Beret leader, how’s that?
Bob: OK, that works.
Joanna: Yes, that works. So, just on that, I am absolutely fascinated with your military background, and one of the big things about the military, I guess, is discipline. And with 60 books, that’s just amazing.
One thing all writers chase is this daily word count goal, and I wondered if you could give us some recommendations around discipline for the indie life.
Bob: I think every author’s different. I don’t think you can have a rule and apply it to someone else. Also, I hate to say it, but authors lie. I’ve listened to authors make presentations who I know, and they’re saying, “Oh, I do this and I do that,” and I’m going, “No, you don’t.” Because we feel guilty about making a living just sitting in front of our computer and inventing stories. I definitely know authors who have, are very fixated on 3,000 words a day, x number of pages, but for most of us, I think it’s a creative process, so I just go with the flow.
The biggest thing is, you have to just sit there and do it. The bottom line. The hardest thing about being a writer is writing. Everything else is great. But my rule is, you’ve got to put the time in.
Joanna: Absolutely, and it’s interesting you say authors lie, because you do write about that on the blog and in some of your books for authors.
Do you think that also the booksellers lie and the bestseller lists lie, and it’s all just this smoke and mirrors thing? It just seems that people actually sell fewer books than it seems they do.
Bob: I definitely know that. I know for a fact, I know agents over-report their deals at a publishers’ lunch, because they take the agent’s word on it, I know agents who have over-reported deals by half a million dollars. I think sales figures are inflated, and I think it’s a problem, because then authors are looking around going, “Well, everybody’s doing better than I am,” and the reality is, they’re not: they’re just saying they’re doing better than you are.
I know the churn on the list on Amazon and the other online platforms is so much faster now than it used to be. Yes, certainly there’s a handful of people who have consistent great sales, but for the rest of us, it’s up and down fast now. So, I kind of take everything I hear with a grain of salt.
I also notice that indie authors are publishing less numbers than we did in the golden days of indie, where there were a thousand ebooks a day and this and that, and I think pretty much across the board, everybody’s numbers are down.
Joanna: And do you see that as representative of just that there’s more people in the market?
Bob: Yes, the unlimited shelf-space. I mean, it’s good news / bad news. We’re happy that we have distribution, the problem is, we have distribution. Every book that’s ever been published is on the shelf now, more are getting added every day, and none of them are getting taken away. You know, John Fine from Amazon called it a tsunami, but that’s the wrong term, because a tsunami recedes. This is a flood that is not going away.
Joanna: You say that, and I just saw Barbara Cartland’s entire backlist going up on ebooks. Something like 400 books from a name author, in, in romance, and that’s hard to compete with.
But what do you see as the best way to manage this river of content?
Bob: I don’t think there is a way to manage it, and our motto is always, “The best marketing is good content, and better marketing is more good content.” One thing I am doing a little different, I’m finishing up a book this week, one of my Amazon 47 North books, and then after that, I’m going to write three or four shorts, because I can write three of four shorts in the time it takes me to write a novel: three or four books out there gives you that much more exposure than just putting another novel out. But it really does come down to content: you’ve got to have content. But also, the people who are selling really well have got great word of mouth among readers.
Joanna: Which takes time to build, obviously. And the other thing I was interested in, because I interviewed Colin Falconer, one of your authors, and also in your book, “Write it Forward,” you say niche is the future, focusing on a brand, and you have the Atlantis brand, which is awesome, and also some other ones.
What are your guidelines around writing in a niche?
Bob: Well, it’s interesting, Colin today, we did a Bookbub ad on him yesterday, and last I checked, he was in the top 50 on Amazon, he was the top 15 on Apple, so it was selling really well, but we also know that goes away in two or three days, but the last time we did it with him, with “Isabella,” his sales overall just rose and just stayed up there, so we’re hoping to see that again.
One thing I’m doing—it’s like I’ve had a 25-year plan—the book I’m finishing right now, my Night Stalkers books, I’ve locked into that, my Cellar series, and I’m locking in my Atlantis series now, into that, so I’m planning to get to the end of this book in November, it says, “If you want to know more about these characters, they’re in a six-book series called Atlantis, if you want to know about these characters, they’re in a two-book series called Cellar,” I’m trying to consolidate everything so that the books cross over among themselves.
Joanna: And when you do that, do you have a very clear idea of your target customer? Because you do span quite a big sort of rainbow of niches.
Bob: Well, that is probably the biggest mistake I made in my career, was not picking one niche, run 60 books inside of that. I’d probably be doing a lot better, but I just wrote whatever I felt like it. And, I’m still going to write what I feel like it, I’m able to do that because I have so many titles, but I would recommend for a new author, just pick one series. I mean, I was talking to Bella Andre, and I was kind of joking, I said, “How many Sullivan books are there going to be?” and in all seriousness, she said, “Twenty-six.” I mean, she’s like: this works, my readers love this family, I’m going to keep writing inside that family.
Joanna: And how do we balance writing what we want to write versus running a business?
Bob: Yes, you shouldn’t do what I’m doing, that’s what I tell people. But, I think also, though, you give yourself more chances if you have not had that great break-out, that book or that series that takes off, to keep beating to death a series that’s doing OK but not great, it’s really hard if the twelfth book in a series is going to explode off the charts. It’d be nice to think that my eighth book in my Green Beret series, I thought it was a fantastic book, readers loved it, but I did not necessarily see the cross-over into the entire series itself. So you can either take the sniper approach, where you target one shot for everything, or the shotgun approach, where you take 20 shots, hoping one hits.
Joanna: I think I’m at this point of not really knowing what do you call a successful series? I mean, I’ve got three full-length and two novellas, and I want to do more.
When do you make a decision about when’s a series working or not?
Bob: I don’t think you can make that decision, because you don’t know when the magic moment is. I do believe there is a certain tipping point where things just start working. And everybody tries to explain how some of these series that have been very successful work: if they knew how to do it, it’s the old lie in publishing: why isn’t every book a bestseller? We’re only going to publish bestsellers. No one knows what makes it. My wife and I were talking about that, where it’s just like, “What is it about this book, we’ve read much better books than this certain book, but it just resonates with readers somehow,” and I do think that’s something you can’t market, you can’t attack for it, you can’t even teach it. You can teach the craft of writing, but I don’t think you can—Terry Brooks, his book on writing is called “Sometimes the Magic Works,” and sometimes it does.
Joanna: That’s a good point. Now, just to get into your books for writers, because you have a number, and they’re all fantastic, and I recommend everybody gets them. Now, in “Write it Forward,” you say that when you run workshops, and I quote, “Less than ten percent of writers have a clear idea of where they want to be in five years’ time,” which I find so interesting.
So, how do you advise that writers go about making a decision about five years’ time.
Bob: Well, there's no decision: I think you just have to say it really comes down to one thing right now, and it’s the same thing as in traditional publishing. My first book came out in 91. Actually the first conference I went to, I roomed with a guy who had just won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Paperback, so he thought his career was made, it was his second book, he was like, “Wow, that’s great.” He didn’t last two years.
I watched a lot of people fall by the wayside, and nowadays more so than ever. The only person that can stop a writer is themselves, they’re going to quit, because the distribution’s there, now you don’t have an agent looking at you saying, “No, I don’t like the book,” I mean, used to be you needed your agent, you needed your editor, you needed your publisher, you needed the bookseller, you needed the book buyer, you needed the bookstore, to get to the reader. You don't need any of those people now. So due to the reader, the people who are saying no are the readers. That’s the people you have to convince that it’s worthwhile to spend money to buy your book.
Joanna: But when people are, are formulating that five years’ time goal, I guess for me, because I gave up my other career, where I earnt x amount, for me, there is a financial goal around, a five-year plan of I should be making this, this amount, therefore I need to write this many books. Is that a way to break it down logically?
Bob: Yes. And I think you have to have multiple revenue streams. When we started Cool Gus, part of our plan was I was going to go with Amazon’s imprint, even though I run my own publishing company, we gave the Area 41 series to Amazon, and I signed a new series deal with them, and the reason we did that is we knew we needed that marketing that Amazon brings to the table. So, you can literally break down, and we do do that: we say, “How much do we have to make per month, how much is our overhead going to be,” like a real business does.
The problem is, that’s all nice and well, but you can do everything you can to control that, but you can’t make it happen. The only thing you can make happen is the writing.
Joanna: Exactly, although, in general now, it does seem the more books you have, if you have a trickle of money per book, you’re obviously going to make more.
Joanna: I guess, you mention people falling by the wayside there.
Do you think that burn-out is a problem right now, with sort of speed becoming more of an issue, I guess?
Bob: I don’t know how some of these people want to keep it up. I mean, they’re tremendously hard workers, and, I know quite a few of the top indie authors, but can they keep it up for five, ten years? putting out three or four- I mean, I’ve been putting out three books a year for twenty years, but I think the pressure is just tremendous now.
And the problem now is, it’s nice being indie, but you’re also on your own. And I think some of the indie authors are starting to see that. They’re starting to see they’re on their own, and they sink or swim on their own, and they don’t have a team. And one of the reasons I formed Cool Gus was I wanted a team; I wanted just more than me to carry on, to do things. Plus, as a publisher, you know, we’re helping other authors, but we also get an income stream from those other authors.
Joanna: I’m fascinated with Cool Gus, and I’ve seen you and Jen speak.
Could you talk a bit more about how you manage the business between you and Jen?
Bob: It’s pretty simple! She handles pretty much all the technical aspects, the marketing aspects. I noticed Bella Andre, in an interview after BEA, say she needed a COO, she was the CEO of her company, but she was the company. I emailed her, I said, “That’s funny, because on Jen’s card it says COO, Chief Operating Officer,” because basically we discuss things, we make decisions together, she probably sent me ten emails this morning going what do we want to do, do we want to be first in series three with a new series we’re launching on Apple and Kobo and Barnes & Noble, do we want to do this? We make the decision together, but ultimately, she’s pretty much the one that implements everything.
Joanna: It’s funny, because, I look at her and I want one too. I would love a Jen, I think everyone wants a Jen now! Do you think there is going to be a change in what we used to call agents, as in what Jen does could, is partly what an agent used to do, surely?
Bob: I don’t think she does what an agent used to do. Agents used to just sell rights. I know Kirsten Nelson has started up her own publishing arm, but I think there’s a huge difference. I actually see agents as an endangered species. Are we going to need to sell rights? The big trend I noted at BEA this year was a lot of the indie authors, I mean, I talked to Hugh Howey, and he said he doesn’t know any indie author who’s signed a traditional deal, including himself, where it was a print deal, who was happy with that deal, who was happy with the way it turned out. I could have told him that, because there’s that pie in the sky thing that they promise you with traditional publishing, and then they just fail to deliver it.
So, I see more those authors going completely, not hybrid anymore, I almost think the hybrid concept is not enough: they see no reason to be hybrid. So, kind of what do you need an agent for? Well, foreign rights, right now, but I don’t usually end up selling my foreign rights, right now, because if we have the distribution to be digital into those countries, do you want to give up that control for seven years?
Joanna: Which I want to come back on that, actually. But you talked about seeing Hugh Howie and Bella at BEA, and it sounds like it was amazing. I’m wondering, are you hearing anything new, though?
Do you feel like we’ve really stabilized as a sort of indie community? Or what do you see as what’s new coming through?
Bob: Last year, the big buzz at BEA was is everything stable, and I still see it in traditional publishing, they act like, “Oh, we’ve weathered the digital storm, everything’s fine now,” and I don’t think anything can be further from the truth. I think the turmoil’s going to get worse.
I see indie authors very wary of signing a traditional deal, now, even if there’s a lot of money put on the table. I know Liliana Hart was talking about turning down seven-figure deals off of traditional publishers, I think traditional publishers are very, still very naïve: it just amazes me that they seem to think the business model as it is right now is going to continue as it is right now. And the fact of the matter is, there’s less and less physical shelf space. Barnes & Noble is in trouble, there’s only so long they can live off the digital margin that they’re making on their bestselling authors, till somebody’s going to start saying, “I want to make more money, you’re not producing any product.”
The thing that shocked me, I guess I’ve been out of traditional publishing some years, it sounds like a lot of the deals now are net, not gross. I used to get a gross off the cover price. And I’ve been hearing people say, now I know the deals they’re signing are net, and net to me is an extraordinarily dangerous term. I would never sign a contract that said net returns, because you could deduct anything out of the author’s slice. I mean, I was looking at all the big banners at BEA, going, you know, they’re $35,000 apiece, and a lot of authors paid for that: not that author, a lot of the other authors at that publishing company paid for that banner.
Joanna: Yes, and if people listening don’t really know what that means, in terms of net. You said things can be deducted, a banner is one example. So costs are deducted from that, so you end up with, instead of $30,000, you might get $5,000 or something, you just don’t know, that’s the point.
Bob: Yes, you get shocked when you see, like we’re running that ad for Colin today, we paid for that. If we were running net, we’d deduct that from his royalties, and that’s not the way, I don’t think that’s fair to the author, to start deducting monies, because then they have to look into your books to see are you treating them fairly. If you show them the royalty statements from Amazon or whatever, they can look and they know they’re getting a percentage or that.
Joanna: Exactly. And I wonder, you said about Liliana and I’ve met her, she’s brilliant, and are indies actually having fun as well? Everyone’s working hard, but is this fun, the control?
Bob: I think it is. I mean, listen, I’ve been in publishing for 25 years, and this is the best time ever. Because we do have control, and I think that’s a key word. I just did a blog post where I mentioned five years ago, the number one New York Times bestselling author had dinner with me, and she said, “Should I be worried about this ebook thing, this digital stuff?” and I said, “Nah.” And if I had that dinner today, I would say, “Oh yeah.” And the biggest thing I would say is, they’re making great money, a lot of those authors, but I think some big name author is going to go indie soon, for control, so they can sit there and go, “You know what? I want to write what I want to write. I don’t want to have to get an approval of my agent, I don’t want to, I want to put the cover on it, I want to put the prices on it,” I mean, I still find it weird, you know, James Patterson, Scott Turow, Malcolm Gladwell all complaining about Amazon, yet their books are for sale on Amazon, and they have absolutely no control over that.
I have absolute control over where my books are sold. I get to choose what price, I get to choose everything.
We always give our authors final say in everything, they get to choose that.
Joanna: Do you think that this is partly a personality thing? I mean, you’ve obviously, you test things, you change your mind, you seem quite happy to go, “I used to think that, now I think this,”
Is it a personality thing to be a successful indie?
Bob: Yeah, it is. I think there’s some authors who are very successful with traditional publishing but they would not fare well as an indie author, because they would not want to make all the decisions; so what they would have to do, if they did it, is they’d have to trust somebody: then you start getting into dangerous territory, with this COO model, where I think you have to have one point of contact, like I do with Jen, and I trust Jen to do things.
But I definitely know, there’s a lot of traditional authors I talk to, and they end up finally saying, “I’m too afraid. I’m too afraid, I like that known advance check, I like that known entity about a publisher doing things for me, even though they’re taking an inordinate amount of money, I need my agent handling that.”
One of the biggest mistakes I made in my traditional publishing career, and I think authors still make this, is letting their agent handle their business.
An agent cannot do a business model for you. An agent can assist you, but you’ve got to do your own business model and come up with your own goals.
Joanna: And you mentioned multiple streams of income and your own business model: that includes speaking and consulting as well, right?
What does your business model look like?
Bob: I was early in on ACX, as a matter of fact they laugh there, they say they have Bob’s team there, because I introduced Bella Andre to them, and they’re very happy about that. ACX is a nice income stream. I also run workshops here at my house, on the river, right on the river, where we bring four people in for the weekend. Speaking, I do consulting, you know, it’s not a priority for me, but when people ask me, like I just did a conveyor belt company in Chicago: I went in and spoke to them about goal-setting and leadership and things like that.
So I’m always open, I call myself a publishing whore: I say yes to pretty much everything, but most things in publishing don’t work out. I would say for 50 things I say yes to, one thing pays off.
Joanna: Which is interesting, and that saying no thing: that’s a challenge, isn’t it, because you’re obviously very high-profile these days.
Bob: Yeah, the only power I would say I had, I’m a whore, I say yes to everything, but now I don’t. I do say no to things, because that’s the only true power an author has, is to say no. No agent is better than a bad agent, no deal is better than a bad deal. Amazon had offered me last year to do a serial, and I just wasn’t keen on the idea, and I said no to them. I mean, I turned down money on the table. In retrospect, I’m glad I did, because it wouldn’t have worked out well. I do think there are times authors just simply have to say, I got to look long-term, I can’t go for the immediate bail-out, I’ve got to look two, three years down the line on how this is going to work out.
Joanna: I wondered, because I’ve read bits of your stuff where you say you’re quiet, obviously you’re a writer, you’re a quiet guy.
Do you call yourself an introvert?
Bob: Yes, I am. And that’s a big problem for most authors: we are introverts, so it’s very hard. I remember I did a presentation at the National Speakers Association in San Francisco, and it was the exact opposite of a gathering of writers: it was all extroverts and everybody talking business, passing business cards around, talking about money, the bottom line. A writers’ conference is the exact opposite, everyone’s standing in a corner, nobody’s talking about business, nobody’s talking about money. Um, but we have to: we have to start talking about those things.
Joanna: Mm. Are you a member of NSA? Because I’m one, too.
Bob: No, I didn’t end up joining, because I don’t do enough gigs with them.
Joanna: I felt exactly the same, I would go along and it would just be so loud!
Bob: Yes, it’s totally the opposite.
Joanna: Yes! So, just come, to come back on global, I’ve just put a book out in German, and it’s been hell, absolute hell, to be honest.
What do you see as the future with foreign rights? Is it indie publishing or is it selling those rights?
Bob: It’s hard to say right now. You’re probably better off selling rights, I’m trying to remember. Tina Folsom- she’s German, so she makes more money in Germany. I think if you don’t speak the language and you don’t have a presence in a country, it’s really difficult. The other problem is, it’s such a tiny part of the foreign marketplace right now. But I look at 2010, four years ago, here in the States, digital was three percent of our market. So if you live in Germany, it’s about three to five percent right now. Well, I go, where’s it going to move to in four years? Is it going to end up being 50 percent of the marketplace, and, you know, would I rather be indie then?
I think what’s going to happen is that some smart person, hopefully—I know Bookbub’s expanding to England—some smart people in these foreign markets are going to realize they can be aggregators for these indies, find the translators for them, do the marketing inside the country, which is key, I think. Plus, Amazon doesn’t really have the people in place in those countries. You know, they’re supposed to have a UK KDP rep, he quit. So I’m not even sure if they have a UK KDP rep right now. So we’re sort of following where those companies are going, and those companies are really uncertain, too, what they’re doing there.
Joanna: I feel the same way. I mean, do you think we’re just in that toddling phase, really, we’re in no way mature?
Bob: Yeah, we are, but, we are, but we’re where the United States was four years ago. Those of us who started out real early here, it worked out really well, so I’m kind of hoping those of us, you know, I have a book in German, I have a couple books in Spanish: they don’t really sell at all, but I’m hoping, you know, the problem is, to invest $10,000 in a translation, even Bella was like, you know, “Yeah, I’m going to back off on that a little bit, you know,” holding off on it. And it’s also genre – romance writers are doing real well with the translations, specially in Germany. Thrillers, science fiction, the rest of us: the market’s not there yet.
Joanna: Well, I’m glad you said that, because I’ve been looking at it going, “Oh, this is a lot of work.” You almost have to start again. I have no platform in German!
Bob: Yeah, I even notice this now, I mean, I’m trying to think if it was Bella or somebody else is starting to tweet in German, and tweet French, and Sylvia Bailey’s doing that, but of course, she’s got a big powerhouse behind her.
Joanna: I have done a couple of those, based on what they gave me! But it is kind of odd. And then, talking more about business again,
How can authors go from being just an author to running a business as an author?
Bob: Well, I think you’ve always had to do that. Even successful traditional authors I know are running businesses. I mean, I think actually what an author has to do now isn’t that much different between a traditional and indie author. The only difference is, the indie has to make more decisions and has more control. But we all pretty much have to do the same thing.
We, even, there are wonderful lawyers who go out of business because they can’t run a business. They’re a great lawyer, but they can’t run the business. And the same thing’s true for writers: you’ve got to be an entrepreneur. And especially now, the distance between me, the author, and the reader, is the Internet, so there’s a lot of things that you can do. And it’s really hard to explain sometimes, they go, “How do you spend all that time?” I really can’t explain it, but it eats up a lot of time.
Joanna: It does, and just circling back to the discipline,
Do you spend whole days on your fiction and whole days on business, or do you split every day?
Bob: I try to write every day: I think you’ve got to put the writing first, you’ve got to really focus on it. Actually literally I hang up the phone and turn the Internet off and just focus on the writing. The Internet will always intrude.
Joanna: I’ve been using Antisocial, the app that turns off Twitter and Gmail, which is quite good. Then I wanted to ask you about the longevity thing, because obviously, you’ve been in the business such a long time.
What are your tips for longevity as a writer?
Bob: I usually tell from Terry Gilliam, you can’t beat a Monty Python for a quote, where he talks about making a movie, and he says, “To be a successful movie maker, you have to be stupid. You have to have like this mule-like stupidity, not listen to what other people are saying, just put your head down and do what you’re going to do,” because there will always be people saying you’re doing it wrong, you can’t do it. It doesn’t mean don’t listen to people, but you really, truly, deep down inside have to believe you’re going to be successful.
And success is different for different people.
But it’s really this stupid belief system that you’re going to do it, even though, logically, there’s going to be a lot of times when you look at the numbers and you look at what’s going on in the future and what’s changing in publishing and you go, “You know, this isn’t going to work.” I’m an old man, I don’t have time to do a second career! So I’m stuck in this.
I kind of also believe putting your back against a wall works really well, when you absolutely have to do it, you do it.
Joanna: Which is good. And I wondered, because sometimes I just go, “Argh,” and I feel like my head’s exploding and it’s all too much, you have dogs, don’t you: do you go out walking with your dogs?
Bob: Yes, we take them out every day. I try to do something physical around noon time every day.
Joanna: Yes, because I think that daily management of stress seems to be actually very important. People might think we are not stressed, but it is quite stressful!
Bob: Oh, it’s very stressful. I think the danger now, what really is bad, is you can check your numbers constantly, and you just can’t get into that, because one day you can be like, “Oh, everything’s great!” and the next day, “Oh my god, it’s all going to hell.” Jen and I will email back and forth, and I will say, “We’re in it for the long haul. Consistency and long term is what we have to do, even though everything seems to be happening short term and fast.”
Joanna: And it’s trying to keep that view, and you almost have to remind yourself of it every day, and I have to tell my husband, as well, it’s not necessarily this month! But you recently wrote a great blog post on harsh truths for writers, which was awesome, and it said, “You have to be ahead of innovation, not following it. I get rather bored lately reading blog posts and tweets, etc., because it’s all the same stuff,” and I totally get what you say there.
But how can we be ahead of innovation?
Bob: Well, I call it catastrophe planning, actually, it almost sounds negative, but you’ve got to ask yourself, “What happens if Amazon cuts royalty rates? What happens if Barnes & Noble goes under? What happens if?” That’s from my Special Forces background, where we always What If the worst possible scenario. And there’s a couple of reasons to do that which people don’t really get.
They think you only do that thing so you have a plan in case this happens. You know, we’re talking about direct sales right now. In case Amazon drops its royalty rights, build our own website with a shopping cart, and do direct sales to our readers, making 100 percent royalty.
But you also do it because if you know you’ve anticipated all the bad things happening, it makes you a lot calmer. You know, when, when the housing bubble hit here in the States, my wife and I were watching the shows, and were just amazed at these people who’d stand there and go, “I never thought it would happen to me.” We always think it’s going to happen to us. So, we’re mentally prepared for that.
And I think you can read between the lines, one of the things I’m curious about right now is Scribd and Oyster. I didn’t think those were going to work, but Netflix worked. I remember watching Netflix thinking, “I don’t know if Netflix is going to make it, DVDs in the mail, downloads are going to kill them,” and they transitioned very well to downloads. So I’m kind of watching that, going, maybe subscription services are going to be very successful, maybe that’s something we need to look further into.
Try to think where is everything going to be a year or two from now.
Joanna: Yes, which is really difficult. And on direct sales, I think a lot of us are thinking about that right now, with the Hachette thing, it just makes us think. I’ve been looking at Gumroad and Payhip: do, have you made a decision on that?
Bob: What we did do, actually, for about a year, we had a shopping cart, all of that. We stopped it because we were cannibalizing our own sales. And our rankings on Amazon. So, right now, it’s just let’s start looking into various programs to do that. We’re not going to do it yet, we haven’t decided to do it, but we are definitely looking down the line later this year, probably, of maybe cranking it up. Just because, if your book does not rank, if you’ve got a ton of books that are just selling okeydokey, it can’t hurt ask people to the website, to control them.
I mean, there’s a lot of interesting things people are doing. One thing with direct sales you can doCherry Adair is doing this, and I really haven’t looked at it hard, but we’re talking about this: the book you sell on your own website is, is actually an enhanced version, it’s a different version of the book. So that way, you probably don’t get price-matching, you’re giving readers something extra on your website. We just launched initially called it a Sampler, now we call it a Sneak Peek, of 42 of my books, with the opening chapter, the cover and an author’s note about each book. Well I’m thinking we could do that for every book, and it’s a different book, actually, than the book on the other platforms.
Joanna: I had a look at that, your sampler, I didn’t know you’d changed the name, but that’s awesome. And for you, obviously, you could do an author bundle, as well, which of course I’m interested in!
Bob: Um, bundles, I saw them, I think it was really great when the first people did it. I’m a little leery. I mean, yes, the authors that do it, a lot of them say it was great, it was worthwhile, but you’ve got to wonder what their goals were. Some of them were just to become New York Times bestselling authors: that’s fine. Financially, I don’t see it being that worthwhile. We bundled my Atlantis series and even now I’m questioning, you know, if someone bought the six books versus they buy the bundle, how much money are we losing, versus would they even buy the six books, you’re kind of like up in the air, you know, balancing and that. We, we’re continuing it but bundles are a 50-50 deal right now. There’s good things to it, and there’s negative aspects to it.
So it’s like everything else in publishing, nothing has ever been all good or all bad.
Joanna: And the hard thing is, you can’t actually split test it at the time, because we can’t have more than one thing, you couldn’t do a different cover or anything, because it has to be the same product. Which makes it so hard. And then you just mentioned the Atlantis series there, and your fiction goes into myth and legend and technology and, you know, does so many things.
What are the themes that keep coming up for you in your fiction writing, particularly?
Bob: I think I did a blog post a while back called True Lies, where I had the four pillars of story, I’ll see if I can remember them. One is my background in military Special Operations; another is history, I’m really fascinated by history, myth, myths and legends, you know, Atlantis, Area, Area 51’s a modern myth; and the other one is, myths, history, the brain, I focus on the brain. I find the mind very fascinating, so I’ve got “Psychic Warrior,” even my Atlantis books, a lot of it revolves around the brain, how the brain functions, what do we know, what don't we know, the conscious and the subconscious.
Joanna: I find them really interesting as well, and, I, I think one of the challenges for writers is choosing what you’re going to write next, isn’t it!
Bob: Yeah, actually, I’m finishing this book this weekend, and I, we have a pretty good idea, my wife and I, what we want to do next, which is totally, again, a standalone, about the Berlin Airlift, totally outside everything else we’ve done, but we just find that a fascinating story, that a lot of people have forgotten about.
Joanna: And do you go on research trips, are you a traveler?
Bob: No. My wife and I, she was actually in Berlin when the wall went up, she heard Kennedy make his speech, I was in the military, traveled: we joke that our hobby is story, and in the evening, we pile in bed with the two dogs and my wife controls the remote, I don’t get to touch it, and I watch whatever she tells me to watch, and she’s always right. We watch pretty much everything: we watch an unbelievable spectrum of shows, because each of them gives us something, whether it’s about character-driven housewives shows, I mean, those people are crazy, but you learn something about borderline personality and things like that from those shows. We watch old movies, we watch series, and we just analyze them.
Joanna: Mm. I love that you, you emphasize TV as well, because we actually got rid of our TV six years ago, but recently, we’ve been downloading shows, because the TV is amazing. Like, True Detective, we just watched it, I mean, that’s fantastic writing!
Bob: The best writing right now is on cable TV. And that’s what tell people. And I also tell them you’ve got to watch it twice. Any series, we watch the entire, we watched The Wire probably three times, but we watched, um, Breaking Bad twice. And the second time we watched it was much more interesting than the first, because you already know what’s going to happen, so you can actually see the writing. You can focus on what it – you know they’re setting something up, down, and you know what it is they’re setting up now, on the second time around, so we can actually see those key points in the storytelling.
Joanna: Are you tempted to write screenplays at all?
Bob: I did, but, you know, Hollywood is – I know Sue Grafton got out of it. People go to Hollywood to suffer and Los Angeles to die. I mean, it’s all about money, and we’re just not that into it. It’s a brutal business.
Joanna: I agree. I’m going to get the True Detective script, because I just, you know, from that kind of religious, supernatural angle, there’s some good stuff in there, really good stuff. But anyway, just before we go, just give people a bit of a spectrum on what is available from Bob Mayer in terms of books.
Bob: The spectrum, you know, my Area 51 series was nine books: I’ll never do that again, because I actually arced a story for the first seven books, which was incredible difficult. But that’s my bestselling series. Then I’ve got my Night Stalkers, which I pitch as The Unit meets Warehouse 13. Atlantis was six books, but what I am doing is I’m rolling Atlantis into my Night Stalker books, combining them together, so that’s going to be a lot of fun, because I’ve got parallel worlds and time travel, so you can do anything.
But then on the other side, the thriller side, I’ve got my Green Beret series, where I’ve merged my Horace Chase character from the Chasing books into Dave Riley and the Green Berets, so the ninth book in that will be out before the end of this year, “Chasing the Sun.”
So, those are my main two projects right now, that I’m moving forward.
Joanna: And your non-fiction?
Bob: I am working on a non-fiction book, which touches on what we talked about, called “Seven by Seven: The Anatomy of Catastrophe.” I’m taking seven catastrophes, like the Titanic, the Challenger, and I’m going to analyze the seven things that would go wrong, because we have a theory that any catastrophe requires at least a minimum of seven things to go wrong.
Joanna: Wow. Can you do that about the publishing industry?
Bob: Oh, yes, and always one of them is human error! Any plane crash has to require seven things to go wrong: my ex-wife was a maintenance test pilot, and always one of them, it may not be the primary cause, but human error. And to me, the big problem in publishing is, people want things to stay the same: they’re afraid of change. And I saw it in the Army, because I was in the Army when we transitioned from the Cold War to the War on Terror, Special Ops, we were red-headed stepchildren, and then all of a sudden we’re the darlings: that was not easy to transition. We had to really change the way we thought.
Joanna: Wow. I could talk to you all day, Bob, but it’s time for us to go. So, where can people find you and your books online?
Bob: coolgus.com is the best place. We’ve got a landing page for all my books, all the various platforms you can buy them, and all the other authors, too.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, that was brilliant.
Bob: OK, thanks for having me.