Bob Mayer is a New York Times bestselling author, writing instructor and former Green Beret. He has written more than fifty fiction and non-fiction titles, selling more than 4m copies in the process. Here, he talks about his approach to writing and his thoughts on the publishing industry.
Imagine you’ve been put in charge of one of the big US publishing companies. You’ve got a free hand. On your first day, what’s the first thing you’d change?
I’d focus on backlist, rather than front list. I’d hire people to work with their best backlist authors to repackage the titles and get them out there again. I’d restructure contracts to wipe out unearned royalties (since the titles are probably currently earning little anyway) and give the author a higher royalty percentage on eBooks as an incentive to promote.
Backlist would cost little to reinvigorate but could yield tremendous revenue. I’ve earned over a million dollars with my backlist in 18 months. Books NY threw on the scrap heap.
Publishers have got to change their mindset that the book is the product. The story is the product. They also have to shift focus from distributors being their customer to readers being their customers.
When you made the leap from traditional to indie publishing, how confident were you that it would be a success? Did you see it as a big risk?
Not very. I did it early. Jen Talty, my business partner suggested putting out some of my backlist I owned the rights to. But my focus was still on legacy publishing. But then I looked at the reality of how legacy wasn’t changing yet the world was. I made the leap 100% in Jan 2011. We sold 347 eBooks that months. Now we sell over 1,000 a day.
Having a strong backlist seems to be a big advantage right now, but that’s something that new authors don’t have. Do you think this puts pressure on new authors to write quickly, and does this mean a shift from the old model where an author might work on one book for a number of years?
I think everyone has to work faster. Even legacy authors are being pressured to produce more titles, more often. It’s just a reality of the situation. For a new author, focus on product and getting at least three titles up before worrying about sales or marketing.
On the other hand, it only takes one great book, aka To Kill A Mockingbird, and that’s it. But those are so rare.
Self-published authors are constantly being told to promote their work via social media. Obviously that’s important, but do you think there’s a danger that some authors focus on promotion at the expense of actually writing?
I don’t think you can do much promoting or sales via social media. I suggest building community via social media. Making business contacts. I think some people are Facebooking Blogging, Tweeting, etc and think they’re working because they see fake numbers like numbers of followers etc. but that does not equal sales. Connecting with the one right person could make all the different. 95% of writers are wasting a lot of time on social media.
You changed the name of Who Dares Wins to Cool Gus Publishing. Why the change, and does it signal a change of approach?
Honestly, the British Government owns the copyright on Who Dares Wins - the motto of the SAS. So when we incorporated we learned we needed a new name. Also, a company name can’t be descriptive, which was something I didn’t know. Why all those film companies have weird names. So I was sitting there trying to think of a name, with my yellow lab, Gus, lying on my feet. Cool Gus had already been somewhat iconic, so there it was.
The change will be that we’ve trademarked Cool Gus and he will actually have his own line of products soon. Because he is, after all, Cool Gus.
Did you always want to write, or was that something that came to you later?
I went to West Point and then served in the Infantry and Special Forces. I never thought of being a writer, but I always read. And read. And read. It was only when I was living in the Orient studying martial arts and had some time, that I wrote a couple of manuscripts, but I didn’t think of selling them until someone read them and said they were like a real book. That first real book came out in 1991 and I’ve been doing it ever since. An overnight success.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words each day?
My style has changed over the years. Now I work with my wife as the story-pusher. She “streams” scenes. I take them and use them as the basis for what I’m writing. She’s brilliant and the only person I’ve ever met who can keep an entire book in their head. So Deb has really streamlined my process, no pun intended.
The hardest part about writing is writing. But I find if I force myself to sit at the keyboard and do it, something magical happens: I do it.
How do you see Amazon’s position in the publishing industry right now? Do you worry that they’ll develop a monopoly?
I’m prejudiced on that because I just signed a 3 book deal with 47North and delivered the first book two days ago for an 11 December pub date. Amazon is going to blast out Area 51 Nightstalkers, my new book and my nine Area 51 back titles all on the same day. I’m hoping it will be huge, given the world is going to end the next day according to the Mayans.
I’m not worried about Amazon having a monopoly because they don’t own the internet. In 1994, pre-Amazon, any publisher could have looked to the future and done something. They didn’t. So they can’t complain now.
With all the uncertainty over the future of the industry, is it a good time to be a writer? And is it a good time to be a publisher?
It’s the best time ever to be a writer. The distance between the writer and the reader is the Internet. I’ve been doing this for almost 25 years and never has it been better.
It’s a good time to be a small publisher like Cool Gus. But for the big ones, they have to change and my experience in the Army in Special Operations was an insight into how hard change is inside of a large organization. I think they can do it and succeed, but they need strong leadership, and too many people in charge grew up under the old system.
Finally, what do you have planned for the rest of 2012?
I just delivered Nightstalkers. I hope to move to TN at the end of this month. I need to deliver the 2d Nightstalkers by the end of the year. Between now and then I plan on writing another thriller, and two non-fiction books: The Green Beret Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse, Zombies and Other Lesser Disasters and another. Plus attend several conferences including one on Discoverability in NYC in September.
So no rest, but I love doing it all.