Bob Mayer is the bestselling author of more than 50 books, who has sold over four million copies across a variety of genres. His books have hit the NY Times, Publishers Weekly, Wall Street Journal and numerous other bestseller lists.
Mayer graduated from West Point and served in the Infantry & Special Forces. He commanded recon teams, a Green Beret A-Team and held other positions in Special Operations, where many of his bestselling ideas were formulated.
Mayer’s obsession with mythology and his vast knowledge of the military and Special Forces, mixed with his strong desire to learn from history, is the foundation for his science fiction series Atlantis, Area 51 and Psychic Warrior.
Mayer is a master at blending elements of truth into all of his thrillers such as The Green Beret Series, The Shadow Warrior Series, The Presidential Series as well as his historical fiction, leaving the reader questioning what is real and what isn’t.
Bob Mayer Interview
Scroll down for a complete transcript of the interview or click the Play button below to listen to the interview now. And don’t forget to leave a comment to let us know what you thought of this interview!
Books by Bob Mayer
Bob Mayer Transcript
Tim Knox: Hi everyone, welcome in to Interviewing Authors. Bob Mayer is my guest today. Bob is a former West Point grad, Green Beret, Special Forces officer who became a NY Times bestselling author.
His science fiction series Atlantis, Area 51, and Psychic Warrior continue to be bestsellers. He’s 50 books in now, sold over 4,000,000 books so far, and they just keep going on and on.
Great interview with Bob. He is someone who has been around awhile and seen pretty much everything and is not afraid to talk about it.
Some good opinions here, some good advice. So if you’re an author interested in writing the kind of books Bob writes — or just an author in general — there’s a lot of good advice here.
Bob even has his own publishing company now called Cool Gus Publishing and we talk about that, too.
Great interview with Bob Mayer, NY Times bestselling author, former Green Beret; the author of one of my favorite books The Green Beret Survival Guide. If you’re writing any kind of end of the world you need to read this one.
So hang on tight. Here’s Bob Mayer on this edition of Interviewing Authors.
Tim Knox: Bob, welcome to the program.
Bob Mayer: Thanks for having me.
Tim Knox: We have a lot to talk about today. I appreciate your time. Before we get started though if you will, just tell the audience a little bit about you.
Bob Mayer: I’ve been writing for a living for about 25 years now. Before that I was in the military in the Green Berets. I was traditionally published for 20 years with 42 books and I went indie in about 2010. Since then I don’t know how many books I’ve published. I think I’ve got a little over 60 books out now.
Tim Knox: Wow, very prolific and you also started your own publishing company. I want to talk about the Cool Gus Publishing. We both have dogs named Gus so that’s a pretty good basis to start from. Before we go into it though let’s kind of go back. Have you always been a writer even before the Green Berets?
Bob Mayer: No, not really. I was a reader. I know there’s people who say, “I always wanted to be a writer,” but for me it was just reading. I read all the time. In the military they weren’t big on creative writing though sometimes it seemed like that. I ended up writing a lot of standard operating procedures, operation orders, deployment orders. I just started writing fiction when I had the time.
Tim Knox: You were always a reader. What did you like to read?
Bob Mayer: I read everything. I got to the point where… I grew up in the Bronx and I pretty much read everything in the local library and I had to go to the next branch over and the next branch over – a lot of nonfiction actually, pretty much every historical book I could get my hands on. I remember finding The Hobbit and being so excited that there were three more books after it. That was pretty cool. Just pretty much anything and nowadays, for the last 20 years, I pretty much read whatever my wife tells me to read. She’s the most prolific reader I’ve ever met.
Tim Knox: She has you trained.
Bob Mayer: Well she always chooses correctly.
Tim Knox: Very good. At what point did you go into the military? Give us a little background there. Did you go to college? What was your background?
Bob Mayer: Actually that’s when I went to the military. When I was 17 years old I entered the Military Academy at West Point, spent four years there, graduated, went into the infantry then volunteered for the Special Forces. I spent about 8-10 years on active duty and about the same amount of time in the Reserves.
Tim Knox: A lot of your books are about the special ops and Green Berets and the sort of thing. Do you pull from that time in the military? Is there anything real life there to the work or is it just kind of a basis?
Bob Mayer: There’s a lot there that’s real life but, you know, you have to change everything. Real life we always said it was 99% boredom and 1% terror. If you write the 99% boredom the readers would get really bored. One of our favorite sayings was ‘hurry up and wait’ or ‘prepare to prepare’. That sort of stuff doesn’t really make it into a novel but a lot of the missions we did you can just change the location and the reasons for it and a bunch of other things and they made their way into my books.
Tim Knox: How old were you when you did start writing?
Bob Mayer: That’s a good question. How old was I? I guess I was – let’s see, 1989 – 30.
Tim Knox: So the first 30 years of your life you were a voracious reader. You didn’t write much. What made you decide to flip that switch?
Bob Mayer: You know I think I was living in Southeast Asia studying martial arts and you can only do that for about 4-6 hours a day and I think I just got bored. I had the old original 512K Mac with me and I just sat there and said, “I can write a book. Why not?” I think I wrote three before I even did anything with them. Someone read one, the manuscripts and said, “Hey, this is like a real book,” and that got me thinking.
Tim Knox: I love that term – “It’s like a real book,” as opposed to a non-real book. What were those books about?
Bob Mayer: Those were all military thrillers. They started my Dave Riley series which actually I just picked up last year the 9th book in the series. My character’s aged. He’s in retirement now. He’s a little old, knees not so good, a little rough around the edges. I aged him with the timeline in between the books.
Tim Knox: So the first three books were Riley books in a series and then you took a break for him.
Bob Mayer: Oh no I wrote actually six books with Riley then I took a long break and then I wrote a character, Horace Chase in Chasing the Ghost, who sort of was a younger version of Riley on Delta Force Afghanistan, things like that. Then I realized why don’t I hook the two of them up? So I got them together in the low country of South Carolina in Chasing the Lost and I just really like it. I call it the Deadwood of the United States because the law isn’t the greatest down there in the low country. I’m actually working on the 10th book in that series now, Chasing the Sun.
Tim Knox: How was it going back and working with Riley? Did he say, “Hey Bob, where you been?”
Bob Mayer: It was interesting. I got emails from some of the guys I served with and a lot of them are retired now and they kept saying make him a little more beat up, a little more tired, a little crankier, taking a lot more pain killers for the various injuries and wounds he’s received.
Tim Knox: I want to talk a little bit more in a few minutes about your characters because you really do write some really strong characters and they’re not all perfection. They’ve all kind of had a real world slant about them but just going back, when you wrote those first three books and decided it was a real book, how did you figure out what to do with them?
Bob Mayer: I had no clue. I rode my bicycle down to the local Army post and found the writer’s marketplace. It was like 10 years out of date. I did everything wrong. I didn’t know about agents. It took me three years to get published. I was actually in graduate school back in the States when I got “the call”. I picked up an agent in the meanwhile.
It was a steep learning curve and that’s one of the big things I’m really big about. Nowadays with the internet you can do that. Pre-internet teaching writers to be authors was almost unheard of.
Tim Knox: That’s one thing that you do a lot now with your blog and that sort of thing. You’re very much giving back when it comes to teaching authors. So you found an old Writer’s Digest and did you just start querying agents?
Bob Mayer: Yeah I started querying agents in snail mail from South Korea.
Tim Knox: How long did that take?
Bob Mayer: It took forever. People get upset now if something doesn’t happen in a day. We’re talking three months if you heard back at all. A lot of times you just never heard back anything. So it took forever. Sometimes I think we forget what it was like when it was just snail mail and you didn’t know how a book was doing for 18 months.
Tim Knox: Some authors are a little spoiled these days. I just love the fact that you rode your bike down to the library, got a 10 year old Writer’s Digest and queried agents for that amount of time.
Bob Mayer: I didn’t query agents. I queried publishers.
Tim Knox: Oh did you? You went directly to publishers.
Bob Mayer: Directly to publishers and I think Avon requested a full and then another publisher. I just queried everybody. I violated the rules that they say of know who you’re sending to. They called me back and said, “Listen, we don’t do this type of book but we have an agent,” and that’s how I got my first agent.
Tim Knox: So you finally did get an agent through a referral from a publisher. Did he sell those first three books?
Bob Mayer: Yeah.
Tim Knox: What year was that? Do you remember?
Bob Mayer: First book came out in 1991.
Tim Knox: So I guess at that point did you make the conscious decision that hey I’m a writer and this is what I’m going to do from now on?
Bob Mayer: Yeah I did. Of course I lived rather cheaply in a one room unheated apartment for quite a few years. Plus I was still in the Reserves and with my specialty in Special Forces they called me quite often needing my expertise. If I needed extra cash I could serve for active duty.
Tim Knox: So you could just go be a Green Beret for a little while and pocket some money and go back and write. There’s a book in there somewhere if you haven’t already written it. You know that.
Bob Mayer: Oh yeah.
Tim Knox: You have been so prolific. You’ve gotten so many books published over the years and sold a lot of books. You started doing independent self-publish a few years ago. What made you decide to do that?
Bob Mayer: Actually what made me decide to do that was I got the rights back to so many of my books over the years and my wife and I sat there and we could never quite understand why no publishers saw that as valuable. I eventually ended up with the rights to all my books and even during my career I reinvented myself over and over. I worked through I think five of the big six back then. I just never understood why no publisher looked and said, “Oh my gosh, you’ve got the rights to 20 books. If we break you out with this new series we can take your backlist and make you huge.”
Nobody looked at it that way. They all kind of looked like, “Well you had your chance and you failed.” Regardless of the reasons why the books didn’t sell and we won’t get into that with the returns and declining print runs and all that.
So in 2009 I met Jen Talty, my business partner, and she asked me what I was doing with my backlist and I said nothing. She said, “Well have you heard about digital books?” We started out kind of slow. The first year we hardly sold anything but it really wasn’t until I decided the hell with it; I’m going full tilt into this. I pretty much gave up on New York. Things really took off.
Tim Knox: Once you made that decision things really took off for you. You’ve done self-publishing ever since. You also have your own publishing company, right?
Bob Mayer: Yeah I self-publish through my own company called Cool Gus and since we have the expertise we’ve picked up other authors. We stay small because I think you can only really work… we don’t view ourselves as a publisher. We’re more a concierge service for authors where the author comes first. The author makes all their choices. We have an author right now who Amazon Publishing approached him just last week and said we really like one of your books, which Cool Gus published, and we’re okay if he wants to take it there because that’s the best thing for his career.
So I think putting authors first is really critical. The business model has been really skewed towards publishers were more important than authors and that’s not the right way to look at it.
Tim Knox: That’s one thing I was going to ask you because you did have so much experience with so many publishers. The old mentality there was the author really was kind of a… you just turn out the books, we’ll do everything else and take care of it. Things have really changed now with digital publishing. Do you think traditional publishers are ever going to come around?
Bob Mayer: They’re our competition in a way and that’s what nobody wants to talk about. We are competing against each other. It used to be the competition was to get published. Now the competition is discoverability.
What I see happening is the rich are getting richer and the midlist is getting killed and that’s pretty much it. They’re going to give bigger and bigger deals to their top authors because if you look in an airport bookstore it’s a little mind-numbing. It’s the same exact names, nobody new. That’s all they’re putting their money into now to get the best return for their buck but they’re not racking the midlist anymore. They’re not taking chances on new people as much as they could. So I don’t know where it’s going to go with that.
Tim Knox: What are your thoughts on self-publishing as a whole? I think the internet really has kind of leveled the playing field. Anybody can be a self-published author now but you still have to have that talent and the ability to build an audience, don’t you?
Bob Mayer: Well my mantra is always the best marketing is a good book and better marketing is more good books but it’s a lot more complicated than I think a lot of people realize. When we start talking with an author, and we pretty much only work with previously published authors who have backlists. To explain to them what we do takes about 40 minutes because you think oh I just need a cover, format the book, get it edited, formatted, cover, slap it up there. The whole intricacy of indie publishing is much more. Right now everybody’s arguing should you go Kindle Unlimited? Should you go Select? Should you do this? Should you do that?
My business partner just had a phone call today. She was talking with Barnes & Noble about a new venture they’re trying. It’s really complicated. It is publishing. There’s a reason publishers are so big and have so many parts. You kind of need a lot of those parts. Now you can make it small and lean, which we do at Cool Gus, but still you cannot replace that expertise.
Tim Knox: Do you think the authors now have to be more than writers? They have to be business people, marketers; they have to do it all.
Bob Mayer: They have to do it all or they have to work for somebody who’s willing to do that for them. Most of your successful self-publishers work with a handful of people. Belle Andre a couple weeks ago was talking and she said, “I really need a CEO for my company or operating officer, somebody to handle all these details.” It just gets a little bit overwhelming, especially if you have multiple titles out there.
Tim Knox: And especially when you get to where she is. Even a lot of midlisters now that are making a nice living writing and doing this sort of thing. They have to be very entrepreneurial in the whole approach, don’t they?
Bob Mayer: Every author does. Unless you’re getting a seven or eight figure advance from a traditional publisher you’ve got to run a business. Even traditionally published authors have to run a business. You can be the greatest writer in the world. If you don’t know how to run a business it’s going to be a tough way to go.
Tim Knox: Yeah and that seems to be the theme. I’ve interviewed probably 65 or 70 authors and it is a running theme. You’ve got to be an entrepreneur now. The thing that I have seen and I want your take on this is a lot of the, I don’t want to call them old guard but the guys and gals who have been publishing traditionally for years. They’re having a hard time making the switch you did successfully from being traditionally published to doing everything themselves.
Bob Mayer: Yeah I know quite a few traditionally published authors and especially if they’ve been very successful it’s almost an inverse problem in that their publishers took such good care of them that they’re pretty clueless with a lot of the things. I think for some of them besides the issues of their backlist being held hostage, they’re very scared of going indie and that’s one of the reasons why Cool Gus we work with some of the authors who go, “I don’t want to do all of that stuff. You guys do it for us. Just fill me in on what’s going on but you guys take care of all those details because it’s just overwhelming.”
Tim Knox: Right and it’s good that you do that because some of them, they can’t even figure out how to do the Kindle publishing. Granted it’s not easy for anybody but when I talk to someone who’s sold a ton of books and been doing it for 30 or 40 years and they’re lamenting that fact. It really does show me how it really is a different world. They’ve got to learn how to take care of themselves now.
Bob Mayer: That’s just the tip of the iceberg. It sounds simple to self-publish. You can hire a cover artist. You can hire a formatter to upload you onto Kindle. You can hire an editor. But there’s a synergy to it all that’s really hard to explain to people, all the little subtleties to all the different platforms – how they market, how they merchandise. A lot of it is personal contact. We go to Amazon at least once a year. We meet them at conferences because it is a people business and the more you work with these people the more you get filled in on all the things going on.
Tim Knox: Talk a little more about that because that’s another kind of underlying theme is the relationship building that you have to do, not just with people in the industry but with readers and book buyers. I think if the internet has done one thing it has made authors much more accessible to their readers and their fans.
Bob Mayer: I think authors are incredibly accessible now. I think readers don’t even realize how accessible, especially indie authors. I tell people at conferences, I say if you’ve got an author you like email them and say, “If you send me a free Kindle file of your next book I guarantee I’ll post a review for you.” You could probably get a lot of free books because reviews are really, really important these days.
You mentioned book buyers. That doesn’t exist for indie authors, for most of us. It’s all of a sudden the reader and the only people between us is a company like Amazon. The interesting thing at Amazon is they are siloed and one of the things we do at Cool Gus is we try working with as many silos of Amazon that we can because that exponentially increases our chances for merchandising.
Tim Knox: Right and you have to take advantage of every option you can. I love your blog. One of the things you have So You Want to Make a Living Writing: The 13 Harsh Truths. Talk a little about that because I’m sure you’re approached all the time from bright-eyed bushy tailed writers or people that want to write and they think it’s going to be an easy road. It really isn’t.
Bob Mayer: Every road’s different. I think that’s one of the hardest things I try to emphasize. There is no right or wrong. I did follow up to 13 Harsh Truths with 13 Great Truths about how great it is. I think when we go into it we’re very naïve and we think oh I’ll just write the book and the book will stand by itself. There’s so much competition out there, especially nowadays.
There’s a large degree of luck involved which people really have to admit. A lot of your bestselling authors were just in the right place at the right time. There were 50 other books just as good as their book but they worked really hard but they also got a bit lucky. I also believe you can make a living here if you’re willing just to work really, really hard at it, be professional.
One of the things I watch now, the problem with the internet is everybody reacts to everything that’s going on too quickly. Nobody cares. I just wrote a blog today called Nobody Cares What I Feel Like. The only thing I can do is make business decisions and I think that’s one of the hardest things for writers to do is pull their emotions out of it and say, “Okay, I’m running a business. With anything I do I have to ask myself how does this affect my bottom line?”
Tim Knox: Right so you’ve got to be a writer and again… I had one writer sum it up I think best to me. Writing is a business. You are creating a product and you’re selling that product to a customer and you have to approach it like that with the marketing, the relationship building, that sort of thing. It is strictly a business.
Bob Mayer: Yeah I mean even back in traditional publishing I said the minute your book is done and it’s published it’s not your baby anymore. It’s a product. People always say, “What’s your favorite book?” I say it’s the book I’m writing because you have to sever your emotional ties to a book when it’s done. First off of course you’re going to get reviews, especially on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Goodreads but also it is a product you’re trying to make a living off of.
Tim Knox: Yeah and do you think now with self-publishing, indie publishing, there are a lot more people, authors who may not be making a living but maybe they’re making a nice little side money that they never would have made before?
Bob Mayer: Yeah I think there are but I also think writers lie. I do think we hit a peak and I do think a lot of people’s numbers are down from where they were just a year ago or two years ago and nobody ever wants to blog about that or admit that or talk about it. I think there’s an air of desperation I’m picking up. I’m picking it up in traditional publishing. I don’t think we’d be seeing this huge pushback from these very successful traditional publishing authors if they weren’t a bit afraid. They’re looking at their royalty statements and thinking I’m not doing quite as well as I was two years ago.
Tim Knox: Why do you think that is?
Bob Mayer: There’s more product out there. I mean that’s the bottom line. Jon Fine of Amazon called it a tsunami and I said that’s not the right term because a tsunami recedes. This thing isn’t receding. This is a flood that’s here to stay. Now there may be things coming up that will sort that out a little bit but you’re competing with millions of titles now. Some of these people are really good writers. They’re really good writers who never would have got an agent before or gotten published. They’re making an impact on the marketplace.
Tim Knox: You see that flood only continuing to get higher and higher.
Bob Mayer: Yeah absolutely. The only thing that can stop a writer right now is themselves and there will be a lot of people quitting but for everybody that quits there will be two who think, “Oh I’ve got a great book.”
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about your books. You write the Atlantis Series, Area 51, and Psychic Warrior. Tell us a little about those series and how you came up with those and why you like series.
Bob Mayer: Well I remember Susan Wicks hit number one in the New York Times. I asked her how she did it and the first thing she said was series. Series are key. I’ve written a lot of standalone books. I’m just fascinated by myths and legends. Atlantis is the older legend and Area 51’s a modern myth. What I’ve actually done is I’ve got a book at Amazon right now. I do also work with 47North. They’re science fiction and my Nighstalker Series and I’m literally combining four of my series into one storyline. I’m combining Atlantis, Area 51, Nightstalkers and my Cellar Series. All the characters are coming together into one main storyline, which is really kind of cool.
Tim Knox: That is kind of cool. When did you come up with that thought?
Bob Mayer: Well I had combined Cellar into Nightstalkers and 47North was really open for me doing that and then people kept saying they wanted more Atlantis books but I kind of closed out that. But since I have time travel and parallel worlds the possibilities are infinite so into my Area 51, Nightstalker world I rolled the Atlantis concept into it. It actually fell together pretty well and I tried thinking wow I had this great master plan for 20 years, which is what it seems like, but in reality since I was the writer my brain works a certain way so it makes sense that it all pulls together.
Tim Knox: Was it a lot of fun writing that book and bringing everything together like that?
Bob Mayer: Yeah it really was because it really opens things up. The book is out in November, called The Time Patrol and what I’m going to be doing then is I can just play with anything. I’ve got parallel worlds I can go to. I’ve got Amelia Earhart appearing and disappearing as a character throughout the series, characters from other timelines and other series appearing and disappearing. As long as I keep it straight in my head it’s a lot of fun.
Tim Knox: How do you keep all that straight in your head?
Bob Mayer: I just need to start killing characters off.
Tim Knox: That’s one way to do it.
Bob Mayer: Yeah.
Tim Knox: We have to talk about some of the fundamentals because this show is primarily listened to by authors who want to do what you’ve done. They want to write, want to be discovered, want to sell books and that sort of thing. From the fundamental standpoint let’s talk a little about character development. Now that you are bringing all of these characters together and you may kill off some, how close do you get to your characters and when you’re developing how deep into the background do you go?
Bob Mayer: You get pretty close to them. A lot of my main characters are reflections of me in different ways. One thing my wife and I do, we kind of joke that our hobby is… we don’t travel much because we’ve been all over the world but it’s story and character.
One thing we do, which drives some people crazy because they say kill your TV, but we watch a ton of TV. What we do though is we’ll watch a series and then we’ll watch it again. We watch Breaking Bad as it came out, all the seasons, but then the last year we sat down and watched all the previous seasons again and the difference is the second time you watch something whether it’s Breaking Bad, Deadwood, Rome, is you know what the story is so now what you focus on is what did the writers do with these characters? How did they develop the characters?
We watched Weeds. We just discovered it about two months ago and we just watched all seven or eight seasons and we’re really fascinated about that lead character, Nancy Botwin. We try to figure out what her personality disorder is. We did the same thing with Walt in Breaking Bad. What’s his personality disorder? How do the writers keep him consistent?
That’s what I think one of the hardest things for writers to do is to keep a character consistent to their personality instead of adjusting their personality for the plot. You can’t do that. You’ve got to make them do things that occasionally the reader’s going to go, “That’s pretty stupid,” but if they really understand the personality they go, “But that’s what they have to do because that’s who they are.”
Tim Knox: It’s kind of funny because I do the same exact thing and I just did it with Breaking Bad. The Walt that you come to know up to the last episode there and then you go back and start over. The Walt that’s standing in the desert in his tighty whities, when I saw that the first time it never occurred to me where he would ultimately end up.
Bob Mayer: One of the things that struck me was why he wouldn’t take the offers he got to work at Gray Matter but then when we looked at his personality disorder and one of the things in his personality disorder is he cannot stand being offered charity. So that wasn’t even a choice on the writer’s part. If that’s who they pegged Walt as, when they get to the point where someone’s going to offer him healthcare they’re going to go, oh he ain’t going to take it. That’s just who he is. He’s not going to accept it even though it makes sense. Everything would have been fine for him to take that.
My favorite Breaking Bad moment actually is when Marie steals the stupid little spoon at the open house because we went back and looked at that and we said if she hadn’t done that none of the rest of the seasons would have happened because that’s what brought her husband back into the plot line, back into investigating Heisenberg. All of that stemmed around one little action and that’s the things we find amazing.
Tim Knox: Yeah I agree. I mean there are just so many little things going on but do you think the true Walt, was it the Walt in the beginning or the Walt at the end?
Bob Mayer: Yes because a lot of people are in the situation Walt was in at the beginning of that. How many people end up doing what he does? I mean that was in him. It took the circumstances to bring it out and that was the hard part for the writers. They had to give little hints in that early character that he had the potential to become that thing he became.
Tim Knox: Yeah and this is completely off topic but did you find it fascinating that so many people were rooting for Walt? The more evil he got I’m like Walt’s the man.
Bob Mayer: I don’t know. I don’t get that. He lost me when he sent that woman in to check his house when the killers were in it. He didn’t care if she got killed. I’m like this guy is a bad, bad, bad guy. This is a very bad guy. You can root for Jesse to a certain extent but even he had his bad parts.
Tim Knox: Yeah I don’t know anyone who was really without some kind of blame in that entire show. Let’s talk a little about the research that you do for your novels. How deeply do you go there? I know you’ve traveled all over the world and been a lot of places but when you are writing about a location do you try to make it as factual as possible or is it all made up?
Bob Mayer: I try to make it as factual. I call it an area study because in Special Forces we want to get a feel for the place. Like I’ve written about Little Bighorn and never understood that battle until I actually went there. As soon as I got out of the car and looked around I went, “Oh I see what happened to Custer.” I think a feel for the terrain is really, really critical. I mean I’ve parachuted into operational areas in the middle of the night and when the dawn comes and you look around you go, “Oh my God, where the hell are we?” You had no clue what you were really getting into until you’re actually there.
Tim Knox: You have no idea what you’ve landed in until the light comes up.
Bob Mayer: Right.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a bit about marketing again if you will because that’s such an important aspect of authorship, selling books – being able to market yourself. How much time do you actually spend on social media, doing the blogging? How much of your time is taken up in the marketing side?
Bob Mayer: Less and less because I think you have to do it. I don’t think it’s as effective as people think. It doesn’t really sell books. It can give you reach and it can give you presence but as far as selling books I don’t think that’s necessarily the goal of marketing. It’s sort of to put your footprint out there, your platform out there. When push comes to shove you’ve got to spend more time writing.
What I actually spend a lot of my time on is not necessarily specifically marketing; it’s running a business. Especially since I’m in publishing and checking on the other authors. What are they doing? We outsource some stuff. We do slide shares and book trailers for our authors and things like that.
Tim Knox: Are you enjoying that business, being on that side of it?
Bob Mayer: Well my business partner, Jen Talty, does most of it. I like the control. You talk to a lot of indie authors and they like the fact that our success or failure rests on us. When you’re writing a book you’re not sitting there going oh I hope my agent loves it or I hope my agent can sell it to an editor and I hope the editor can sell it to a publisher and the publisher can sell it to the bookstores. It’s like eight people you have to please before you get to the reader. Now it’s like, okay, I know I can publish this and I’ve got to please the reader. That’s it. What is the reader going to think?
Tim Knox: Is that who you should write with in mind, the reader?
Bob Mayer: Totally. I always write for the reader but now the distance between me and my reader is the internet and that’s really close.
Tim Knox: Do you like that?
Bob Mayer: Yes I like it a lot.
Tim Knox: In the time we have left let’s talk about some general advice. I know you do a lot of teaching and advising at your retreats. Given where we are now in the business, if I come to you and say, “Bob, I’ve written a book. What the heck do I do with it?” What’s some good advice?
Bob Mayer: Write the next book. Really I mean a lot of new authors query us even though we don’t really take queries like that. I always tell them to write their next book. One thing I might do differently I think nowadays is if I had a book I would think about writing maybe four or five shorts in the same world as the book.
With the things I’m doing right now, in the next couple weeks I’m putting together seven short books that are all interconnected non-fiction. All interconnected and we’re going to burst them out in the market like that because we really feel like the more titles, the more they’re connected, the more we can do with them as far as marketing goes.
Tim Knox: I really like that advice and I hear that a lot. Hugh Howey, when I was interviewing him he talked about how his original plan was I’m going to write for 10 years, I’m going to build up a catalog. At some point maybe somebody will find me and discover me and when they do I’ve got a backlist.
Bob Mayer: He was really smart about that and I agree. I would not be where I was if I didn’t bring 42 backlist titles into the picture. If I had been starting out fresh it would have been a whole different ballgame.
Tim Knox: What’s on the horizon for Bob?
Bob Mayer: These seven nonfiction books which are either going to really do well or just tick everybody off. The title is Shit Doesn’t Just Happen. That’s going to be the title of all seven books and it’s about the gift of failure. Each book’s going to cover seven catastrophes, disasters, failures and say why it didn’t have to happen and then say what did we learn from that? There’s going to be seven books with seven catastrophes in each of them.
Tim Knox: Can you give us an example?
Bob Mayer: The first book’s going to have super storm Sandy, the Kegworth airplane crash, the Titanic, Custer at Little Bighorn, the World Trade Center, Touching the Void which is a mountain climbing story and the housing bubble. It’s very quick and to the point where I list the seven cascade events that led up to each event and I say how it happened and I say anywhere here this is a human decision that could have changed these events and kept them from happening.
Tim Knox: Where did you get the idea for that? That’s really such an interesting concept.
Bob Mayer: My wife and I have always been fascinated by that. My wife doesn’t fly and there’s a TV show on National Geographic called Seconds from Disaster and it covers a lot of disasters, a lot of the same ones, but particularly plane crashes. We started noticing a theme in plane crashes that it was never just oh the plane crashed. It was always seven things went wrong and any one of them wouldn’t have crashed a plane but by the time they hit the 7th one the plane crashes and always one of them is human error. If you can fix that one human error the plane won’t crash.
Tim Knox: I find that fascinating. I’ll be your customer number one. I’m always interested in dissecting that sort of thing and seeing exactly what that tipping point where things went dreadfully wrong was. Bob, tell us how we can find more information about you and your books.
Bob Mayer: The easiest way to do that is to go to CoolGus.com. I have an author’s page and links to every platform, including audiobooks which is huge right now. I’ve done 40 audiobooks. And there are other authors there listed on Cool Gus.
Tim Knox: Are you doing your own audiobooks or do you have them narrated?
Bob Mayer: I have them narrated. That’s another thing people don’t understand. You’ve got to be a professional about all this stuff. Things have to be professionally done.
Tim Knox: Do you have to put that ego aside and let somebody else do it?
Bob Mayer: Oh certainly. It’s a talent and it’s a skill.
Tim Knox: Very good. Bob Mayer, this has been a pleasure. We will put up links to Cool Gus and I hope to talk to you again soon. This has been great.
Bob Mayer: I appreciate you talking to me. Thank you.