In Part 1 we talked about Publishing. Now its time to talk about Bob's writing and teaching.
When writing series like Atlantis and Area51, what was your approach? Did you have a map of how the overarching series would go or did you just plan it a book at a time?
With both Area 51 and Atlantis, I really didn’t plan a series, mainly because publishers tend to only buy books one or two at a time. So planning a nine book series like Area 51 is naïve in that market. I started both with a concept, then as the publisher wanted more books, I had to plan out the entire series. Again, this is a problem with traditional publishing in that you are at the mercy of the publisher.
I just finished going through the entire Atlantis series and updating it and I was pretty amazed myself how I pulled all the elements together at the end. I’m now going through the Area 51 books.
However, for the future, as I plan my writing program for the next several years, the focus is on series. I will continue my new historical fiction series about West Pointers as the first book, Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & The Civil War is gaining traction. I also have a new title coming out on the 4th of July, The Jefferson Allegiance, which is the first in a modern series featuring historical puzzles that need to be solved in the present day.
What is the most interesting/strange/moving/weird fan letter/email you have received?
I had someone call me—and I have an unlisted number—to tell me about her stash of alien weaponry. I told her my stash was pretty complete. Actually, most people are pretty nice. I do worry about reviews on Amazon getting skewed in that the vast majority of readers don’t post reviews, thus we’re not getting a representative sample of the market. Also, some people post negative reviews based on personal preference rather than the quality of the book.
I think the best feedback is from children. I’d never considered that kids might read my books. So when got letters from them, it was a surprise. But when a kid writes that he’d never liked reading, never read a book, and his parents forced him to go into the bookstore and pick a book and he chose Area 51 because of the flying saucer on the cover, read it, loved it, and now loves reading—you can’t beat that.
Have you met any authors whose work you loved and felt a bit star struck or has that happened to you?
Not really. Most authors are pretty friendly, especially if they’re at a writer’s conference. We have a group of authors that met at the Maui Writers conference year after year and we all keep in touch: Elizabeth George, Terry Brooks, John Saul, Erik Larson, Susan Wiggs, Dorothy Allison and others. Writers really need other writers in their lives, because our brains work differently. And not necessarily in a good way.
I’m looking forward to seeing James Rollins, Lee Child and others at Thrillerfest in July. Networking is something I really didn’t do early in my career and it hurt me in a lot of different ways. I can honestly say, I’ve learned more about writing and the business of publishing in the last two years from other writers than in my first 18 years.
Do read your book reviews? Should authors read their reviews?
I don’t read reviews other than checking for problems. We had an issue with formatting early on, so those reviews alerted us to the problem and I’m actually going through every single book, line by line now, cleaning them up. It’s been time-consuming as we have over 40 titles, but it has to be done. Other than that, reviews are opinions and a lot of things go into them. I don’t think authors should really read their reviews too much and they definitely should not respond to them.
99% of the email I get is positive. That 1% of negative used to really bum me out, but I’ve learned to deal with it. Actually, when I open an email and it’s nasty (not constructive feedback, but stuff like “I burned your book”) I do two things. I hit delete, because I don’t need to fill my mind with that stuff, and I smile. Because to earn such an emotional reaction, you had to really touch the reader. It’s like any relationship: you’d rather have anger than apathy.
Have ever read a negative review and thought "yep they have a point, I should have tried to do that a different way" and used that in future writing?
We learned about the formatting issue from Amazon reviews. It bums me out because those reviews are there forever, even though we’ve uploaded new, clean versions.
I’ve gotten feedback that I respect. Over the years, I learned to focus more and more on character. I think a writer is only as good as their weakest writing. So instead of focusing on strengths, we have to really build up what we’re weak at. I remember meeting Elizabeth George while she was on book tour several years ago and having dinner and all we talked about was the importance of character.
Are you a writer that enjoys the writing process? Do you enjoy one part more than the other? Outlining, first draft or editing feel more rewarding?
Research is fun. I just finished a historical novel, Duty, Honor, Country, A Novel of West Point & The Civil War, and it was a great experience. Rewriting is the hardest part for me. After a while, no matter how much you love a book, you get kind of sick of going over the same material again and again. But it’s a very necessary part.
I’m not too thrilled going back through all my books, line by line, looking to update them, but it’s necessary. Also, I’d forgotten most of what I wrote so it’s kind of interesting. I am looking forward to leaping into a new book soon.
You teach as well as write and publish. Teaching to me equates to public speaking, how did you get into this?
I was in the Green Berets in the Army, and most people don’t know Special Forces are teachers more than anything else. I also taught at the JFK Special Warfare Center & School at Fort Bragg for many years. I enjoy teaching. I’ve done my day long Novel Writers Workshop for many groups. The last couple of years, my day long Warrior Writer Workshop has been in demand because it’s one of the few workshops that focuses on becoming an author, rather than the traditional focus on just the writing (speaking of which, I’m in the process of updating that book). There really is no training program for writers to learn how to be professional authors, and Warrior Writer gives a template for that.
While I am an introvert, I don’t have a problem giving a keynote in front of 500 people. I’m not sure why that is.
What do you enjoy more? Teaching, writing, publishing?
Always the writing. The teaching is a nice break. This summer I’ll be traveling to New York City to present Warrior Writer at Thrillerfest, and also flying to Australia and New Zealand to present.
I’m enjoying publishing in that I now have much more control over my career, but it’s very time-consuming. I have had to become even more disciplined in my work habits. I have to turn off the wireless when I’m writing. Otherwise there is always something that requires attention.
Have you had any students that have been successful?
I’ve had many students go on to get published, some have even hit the bestseller lists, however it wasn’t because of my teaching, it was because they were open to learning and becoming better writers. Also, they worked hard. I think those are the two common traits of successful writers: open-mindedness and hard work.
I would like to thank Bob Mayer for taking the time to do this Q & A.
It has been an absolute pleasure.
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