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Friday, December 7, 2012

'The Best Promotion is a Good Book': An Interview with Bob Mayer

1.       In your book The Shelfless Book, you mention that your goal was a breakout book. What made you think you have a breakout book that was e-published? (Since most people think of traditional publishing as the way to breakout.) What was your strategy? You weren’t entirely confident that e-publishing would work, but it did. What convinced you to give it a try?

The concept of a breakout book has changed. In e-publishing break out can happen many different ways.  You can go viral, aka 50 Shades of Gray. But it's more likely you build a fan base gradually over time. So the need to have that immediate splash isn’t as pressing any more.

I’m in this for the long haul. My mantra is “the best promotion is a good book. Better promotion is more good books.”

I wasn’t confident e-publishing would work back when it was only 3% of the market place. But after committing to it, I grew more and more confident. It’s now at least 30% of the market in just three years.  And it’s spreading all over the world.

We’ve actually changed the title of ShelfLess to How We Made Our First Million On Kindle: The Shelfless Book. We did that because title is metadata and that title gets more attention.

2.       Most authors don’t seem to set goals beyond “get published” or “become a bestseller,” but you have carefully delineated and broken down goals. Could you tell us about goal setting for authors? Since the number of sales isn’t in our control, how can we effectively set goals for ourselves?

Most authors’ goals are:
                1.  Get published
                2.  Get the next book deal.
With goals like that, the vast majority (over 90%) end up failing. The number one definition of success is:  set a specific long-term goal and doing whatever it takes to achieve that goal. Just getting published is the first step, and in this digital age, relatively easy.

I disagree with your second premise. The number of sales is, to an extent, in our control. By the quality of the book. The professionalism that goes into cover, editing, formatting, etc. I think authors surrender too much control emotionally.  If the author doesn’t control the book, who does? Actually, with e-publishing, we control many times more than we used in traditional publishing.

There are other things authors control and need to put time and effort into. A big one is networking. I go to a lot of conferences and conventions. I schedule meetings with reps from Amazon, PubIt, etc. I just visited Kobo headquarters in Toronto last month. That puts a face on the books. Even though our work is done electronically, it’s still a people business.

I also think it’s key to be innovative. To try to think ahead of the technology and not chase it. As I write my replies here, Jen Talty and I are emailing back and forth about the possibility of producing a pocket size version of my next book: The Green Beret Survival Guide for the Apocalypse, Zombies & More. We plan to publish that in the next couple of weeks and it occurred to me a small version that can be easily carried would be a good idea. So Jen is checking into the various options out there. We went to Barnes & Noble with the Nook First concept in 2011 and ended up with a #2 national bestseller with The Jefferson Allegiance as the first title in that program. We’re always searching for ways to innovate.

3.       You teamed up with Jen Talty to produce and market e-books, but you weren’t entirely sure you wanted to be an e-book publisher when you started. What have you learned about e-books since you began your venture? Could you tell us about being a “hybrid author”? Can you tell us about the advantages of being a hybrid author versus a traditional print author?

I was still thinking about taking my next manuscript to my agent back in 2010. But I studied the business and considered not where traditional publishing currently was, but rather where it would be in three years.  And I felt it would be in bad shape. I’d played the NY game for 20 years and 42 books. I decided to take a risk and go it on my own. But not on my own since I had Jen working the technical side of things. I think the term “self-publishing” is wrong. You can do it for one or two titles, but to be in this for the long haul you need a team.

What have I learned about e-books? One of the reasons you need a team is that an e-book is organic. It’s not static like a print book. We’re constantly updating, reformatting, doing new covers, etc. There are so many things you have to do and can be done, that it’s a full time job for Jen to keep track of it all. In fact, we’ve expanded and hired someone to work with her, since we’ve got around 100 titles now at Cool Gus Publishing.

4.       In Bodyguard of Lies, you often write from the perspective of two women. Hannah and Neeley. Hannah seems like a stereotype, but she quickly proves that she is anything but. You find all sorts of talents and resources in this woman. Is that your take on modern women? That they have talents and skills often forgotten and under-utilized? Was it hard for you to write from a woman’s POV?

It wasn’t hard, but I have an ace in the hole. My wife is a story-streamer. In TV they call someone like her a story-pusher. The author gives her an idea of where she wants the book to go and my wife writes a stream of consciousness laying out the scene. The author than can pick and choose what they want to use. It's a pretty unique talent. Hannah and Neeley were constructs we did together. Men and women do think differently. Which is why a man would have a hard time writing a romance. I wrote some with Jennifer Crusie, but I wrote the male point of view. My wife has worked with a #1 NY Times bestselling author with her streams and now she works full time with me. 

I believe a good writer can do the POV of the opposite sex if they are capable of getting out of themselves.  It’s all about mastering point of view.

5.       If you were going to counsel someone who was interested in e-publishing, what might you say to him or her? What are the pitfalls? What assumptions should be challenged?

That it’s easy. It’s not. You have a lot more control, which also means a lot more responsibility. You have to be in it for the long haul. You can’t keep checking sales every day.

A big pitfall is that many people seem to be forgetting about craft and focusing too much on promotion and marketing. Again, the best promotion is a good book. You can tweet and Facebook and all that constantly, but it really doesn’t sell books. Good writing sells books.

6.       Many self-pubbed e-authors don’t generate a lot in terms of sales. Can you address that? What’s the greatest misconception they have about the market? Can you tell us what you’ve learned about promoting e-books?

They aren’t thinking long term. Someone asked me that when I was on a panel at the Self-Pub Book Expo:  he had one book and had great reviews but it just wasn’t generating a lot of sales. He wanted to know what to do. I said: “Write the next book.”

Become better writers. I’ve worked on my craft constantly. I know I’m much better now than I was just a year ago. Learning how to really work with my wife has been very hard, but we’ve hammered out a working system. Even then, though, it’s difficult.

More product on more platforms equals more sales. I’ve invested around $50,000 in ACX audiobooks in 2012. I view that as a long term investment.

A big key is series. The biggest mistake I made the last couple of years was writing a bunch of stand alone books rather than pushing series forward. The most successful indie authors have series.  I’m correcting that mistake with Area 51 Nightstalkers coming out on 11 December. It’s a spin off of my best selling Area 51 series and starts a new series, basically pitched as: The Unit meets Warehouse 13.

7.       You are obviously incredibly prolific. Please tell us about your work habits and your process.

I work seven days a week. The mornings are my creative time. I literally have to turn off the wireless on my computer and set a timer on my iPhone to keep myself from getting distracted. 

There is no substitute for success in this business that’s more basic than actually planting your butt in chair and writing.


Bob Mayer will be a featured guest at the Love Is Murder Mystery Conference, Feb. 1-3, 2013, in Chicago. For more information, go to  He'll also be speaking to the First Coast Chapter of RWA in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, March 16, 2013. Keep checking this website for details:   


Maris said...

I'll be at Love is Murder in February. Look forward to hearing Bob. Thanks for this interview, Joanna.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Maris, I think Bob's comments are very interesting. Glad you stopped by.