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Dec. 6, 2018. a high point in my publishing journey. Left to right - Zeke with "Bullseye Breach," me - Grandpa, and Elijah with "Virus Bomb." Elijah titled "Virus Bomb" in third grade. "It has computer viruses, biological viruses, and bombs, right? How about 'Virus Bomb?'" Nobody came up with anything better.

I’ve avoided writing blog posts about my own publishing journey because, well, nobody cares. But maybe my mistakes, woops, experiences, will help other writers. So, here goes.


My publishing journey started with my thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, August 19, 2013. I posted a Facebook essay about our less-than-storybook first year of marriage, and lots of friends loved it.

My growing-up years were, well, unique, and I had always wanted to write it all down, and with the encouragement from my anniversary essay, I figured it was finally time to capture it all. And so I wrote a bunch of Facebook posts about where I came from. Every post generated encouragement to write more. Except from my wife, Tina. She made fun of the Greg fan club.

But I was on a roll. A local publisher, Beaver’s Pond Press, offered an event that September for new writers, and I figured I could get something ready by then. Beaver’s Pond had just published a book I liked, “Tell My Sons,” by Lt. Col Mark Weber, about lessons he wanted to leave for his sons before Cancer took his life.

So I stitched my Facebook posts together and brought my own amazing story to the meeting. Lily asked everyone in the meeting, what genre did they write? I didn’t know what a genre was. I learned I had written the start of a memoir, and that Tell My Sons was also a memoir.

I left Lily a copy of my brilliant manuscript and she looked it over. She told me I should take some classes about stories. The sentences I had put together were all grammatically correct, but nobody would want to read it because all it offered were memories from some somebody nobody had ever heard of. What was the lesson? Why would anyone care? Which was pretty much what Tina had told me before. Husbands, listen to your wives. So much for a brilliant start to my publishing journey.

Lily recommended a book list and I read them all, cover to cover. I found out, there’s a whole body of knowledge about good story-telling, going all the way back to Aristotle. Who knew? Nobody had ever told me that. I wish some of those books had discussed showing versus telling. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Publishing Journey Milestone – Bullseye Breach

And then in December, 2013, Target Corporation lost 40 million customer credit card numbers to eastern European attackers in the largest data breach in history until that time. How does somebody on the other side of the planet break into a Fortune 500 company and plunder it? Everybody produced news stories, but nobody offered any answers. I wrote a blog post about Target’s response.

I put the memoir on hold and decided I’d continue my publishing journey with a cybersecurity book. The public needs to learn how this stuff happens, and since nobody would come clean about the barrage of data breaches plaguing everyone, I would use fiction to show how they unfolded. And so, I spent 2014 writing “Bullseye Breach.” I showed a draft to Lily in late 2014 and Beaver’s Pond Press agreed to publish it.

But ain’t nuthin’ free in this world. Beaver’s Pond calls itself a hybrid publisher, meaning it subcontracts with developmental editors, copy editors, cover designers, interior designers, and printers, and marks all them all up as one package for budding authors. I bit and “Bullseye Breach” debuted on April 15, 2015. I paid to print 2500 copies, and I’ve been paying every month since then to store a pallet full of books at a warehouse/fulfillment center in Minneapolis. I learned the volume discount only makes sense if you can move the volume.

At the end of the publishing cycle, Lily told me I needed a marketing plan in the next few days. I had no clue how to put together a book marketing plan, so Lily sent me a couple samples and a template.

Turns out, marketing plans are critical. Distributors use those to decide which books they think will sell, and distributors tell brick-and-mortar retailers about what they think will be hot. Good marketing plans offer tangible evidence that they’re credible. The rest never even show up in catalogs, unless somebody, usually the author, pays a fortune for placement. Without that credible marketing plan, nothing works.

My Publishing Journey Made Me Famous, Sort-of

But I didn’t know any of that, I only had a few days, and so I cobbled something together and sent it back. A couple copies of “Bullseye Breach” actually made it to a local Barnes and Noble bookstore. They sat on a table, buried under a bunch of other books nobody had ever heard about. But hey, my book was in a bookstore.

I learned later that I paid to ship copies from the Minneapolis fulfillment center to the Barnes and Noble warehouse in New York, then to the store in Eagan Minnesota, and when nobody bought them, I paid to ship them back again. My books moved 6000+ miles and cost me nearly the retail price of each book to travel across town and back with a stop each way in New York City.

More Tough Lessons


How tough can it be to run a software package to turn a manuscript into an ebook? So I made my own ebook. ISBN numbers are a big deal, but nobody told me that ebooks need a different ISBN number than physical books. And so I gave the “Bullseye Breach” ebook the same ISBN as the physical book. I didn’t find out this was wrong until years later. Nobody seems to care.

Launch Event

Lily told me that launch events should be an essential part of everyone’s publishing journey. She insisted that I run one. And so in February, 2015, we set a date in April. Our church agreed to let me use an available large room, and I invited 200+ people. A few days prior to the event, the printer in Peoria, IL. still had not shipped books. And so I jumped into my car on an early Friday morning and headed to Peoria to pick up a few boxes of books, so I could have them for this event that Lily told me was so important.

Before I got out of town, Tom, the Beaver’s Pond Press general manager, called and assured me they would have books available for this event. To make sure, they asked the printer to put a few boxes of my books onto another truck shipping copies of different books to Minneapolis that day. Tom persuaded me that I didn’t need to drive the 500+ miles to Peoria, and so I turned around. Which, with hindsight, was good, because I probably would not have arrived before the printer’s 4:30 PM closing time, and nobody was willing to stay after hours to accommodate me.

Lily told me she had another commitment and could not attend my launch event. She sent Tom in her place. About a dozen people came and struggled to stay awake while I delivered educational presentations. The lesson? Launch events are probably more important for celebrities than some bald guy.


I hit up lots of people for endorsements. Most turned me down. Winn said the characters didn’t make him care about them. And then he quizzed me on the most important aspect of fiction. I had no clue. He said, show versus tell. You’re telling when you should be showing. He gave me an endorsement anyway, and I thanked him for it. And that was when I learned about showing vs. telling in fiction.

Personal computer manufacturer Lenovo invited me to an IT industry conference in late April, 2015 in Las Vegas. Robert Herjavec, of Shark Tank fame, was scheduled to appear on a panel. Of course I signed up to attend. C’mon, one of the most famous cybersecurity people in the world – and I had a cybersecurity book looking for an endorsement – duh! I spent money for a plane ticket, hotel, and meals, and carried books on the plane with me. When I checked in, I asked the conference organizers if I could give Robert one of my books. They told me to get lost.

Okay, so I’d do it without their help. The presentation room doors were unlocked while the panel prepped backstage before their presentation, and so I slipped into the room with a book. Somebody stopped me and invited me to leave. Now. I asked him to please give Robert a copy of my book and promised to leave without making any further trouble. He agreed, I watched him hand the book to Robert, Robert smiled and said thanks, and I left.

That’s the whole story. My book disappeared into a black hole. I learned that chasing celebrities to give stuff away is mostly a waste of time and money.

Publicity, Comparable Titles, and the Lady in Pink

With a book about cybersecurity, I should be on the news. After all, don’t news stations interview authors?

I knew the radio announcer on a popular Twin Cities talk station from several years of charity events we’d done together, and so I pitched him. And pitched him. And pitched him some more. He told me that everything anyone needed to say about cybersecurity had already been said, and then he asked me if his computer would be safe after he installed some backup software he’d heard about from somebody.

John eventually let me on the radio for a few interviews. John retired and Cory filled his spot. I pitched Cory and we did lots of interviews over a couple years. But Cory left in early 2022 to run for Minnesota Governor, and so my interviews with that station mostly dried up. I still pitch that station, but today’s radio personalities don’t often say yes.

I also do occasional interviews on another station with an announcer I’d met at the Holes 4 Heroes charity event.

But I wanted more, and so I looked for help from PR professionals. After trying a large PR firm that didn’t work out, Rachel approached me. We shook hands and Rachel went to work. She told me I needed comparable titles. What are those? Well, other similar books. People who read those books might be interested in my book.

In May, 2015, Rachel sent me on a mission to Barnes and Noble. I tried the store in downtown Minneapolis.

I struck up a conversation with the guy behind the counter. Had he heard of my new book and how would I find similar books? He found it in his inventory system, categorized as an obscure engineering textbook. Well, that was wrong. I asked him how to fix it and he said I should talk to my publisher. We talked some more and he eventually said that nobody wants to buy a book based on reality. People buy books to escape. Nobody would be interested in my book.

I may have offered a few helpful suggestions about how about how people who manage bookstores should treat authors. And he may have responded with comments about facing up to harsh reality.

A lady dressed in pink approached me after that. We talked for a minute and she put two $20 bills in my hand and bought the one copy I had with me. I told her the retail price was only $18.95, and she said it was worth $40 to her to buy that copy on the spot. As I compose this, more than eight years later, it just now occurred to me why she commented about buying my book from Amazon, right there in the middle of a Barnes and Noble store. I’m chuckling. Better late than never, I guess.

That lady in pink put me on Cloud Nine. I found a few comparable titles and Rachel arranged for great local TV interviews,. My publishing journey was about to take off.

Except it wasn’t.

The TV interviews went well and the lady in pink gave me a glowing review on the Barnes and Noble website. But that was probably the single, one, and only book I ever sold via Barnes and Noble, and the store didn’t sell it.

I learned three publishing journey lessons.

  • Comparable titles are a big deal in the publishing industry.
  • So are categories. Make sure everyone in the supply chain gets them right.
  • I still need coaching to turn media appearances into sales.

Book Awards

I spent money to submit “Bullseye Breach” for a few book awards. The Midwest Book Awards nominated it as a finalist. Which I thought was way cool. I contacted Laurie Hertzel, book editor with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but Laurie didn’t want to write about it because she didn’t like Beaver’s Pond Press. I still have the book award writeup. Nobody cares.

Chicago BEA Tradeshow

The Book Expo America (BEA) show is the largest book tradeshow in the United States and it was in Chicago in 2016. Lily offered a package to display “Bullseye Breach” in a Beaver’s Pond Press section in the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers of America) booth. And so I spent money to place a copy of my book in the IPBA booth.

As long as my book was there…

The cost included an attendee badge, and so I traveled to Chicago and holed up overnight in a Motel 6. Next morning, I headed to McCormick Place and slipped in while exhibitors set heir booths up. I figured I could get an inside scoop on how the publishing industry works. I struck up conversations and learned that after a blizzard of mergers and acquisitions, only five big publishers are left in the world. Today’s imprints are just divisions of one of these five conglomerates. Big publishers don’t talk to authors. They talk to agents. Millions of authors pitch to thousands of agents, who pitch to a few dozen acquisition editors with the five major publishers. I tucked that nugget of know-how away for later.

The show opened and I positioned myself in front of my book in the IBPA booth. I noticed the other book covers used vibrant colors and popped. Mine looked dull in comparison. Another nugget for later. I struck up conversations with people as they walked by, until the guy controlling the IBPA booth invited me to enjoy the show from anywhere else except in front of my book in his booth. I reminded him that I’d spent money to place my book in his booth. He told me to leave. I asked, how was I supposed to meet people? I’ll never forget his answer: “Serendipity.”

Amazon had just bought Audible, and I educated myself on audio books. And I met another author who bought her own booth. She must have spent a fortune, and I felt bad for her, because none of the publishers I talked to wanted to give me the time of day. What’s the sense in spending all that money for a tradeshow, only to act hostile to your audience?

That experience cured me of book tradeshows. I learned that traditional publishing is a meat market. Unknown authors are pieces of meat. I wrote an email to an IBPA vice-president about my experience after the show, but nothing came of it.


I heard that libraries offer great marketing opportunities. Authors can contact local libraries and do events, and an eager public will turn out to join a local author in his publishing journey. So I brought a copy of “Bullseye Breach” in to my local public library. The lady said they would review it and if it met their standards, they would accept it as a donation. After multiple visits, emails, and phone calls over the next six months, I finally noticed it on the library shelf one day. Apparently, my donated book met whatever standard it was supposed to meet. Author events? Um, no. Unless I wanted to spend money to rent a conference room.

Bookstore Appearances

I contacted my local Barnes and Noble bookstore about running an event. After all, they stocked my book. After nobody returned phone calls or emails, I buttonholed a manager face to face. She said no, because running an event meant they’d need to stock books. I also approached Mall of America Barnes and Noble. That manager tossed her hair like a Hollywood diva and walked away, mid sentence. I ran into another bookstore owner in Minneapolis and gave her a sample copy. I never heard from her again.

I spent nine months pitching to an independent bookstore in St. Paul. They finally said yes and agreed to sell my books on consignment. I brought in a case for my eager audience to buy after watching my brilliant presentation. Three people showed up. Two were high school students who wanted me to teach them how to hack their school server to modify their grades. It was a muggy summer evening, and the third audience member was a guy on the street who just wanted to spend time in air conditioning. I brought my case of books back home.

Target and US Bank

Who could be better readers for a business thriller than business owners? And so, summer, 2016, an idea struck me. What if US Bank gave a copy of my book to everyone who opened a business checking account? I pitched the idea to the bank branch manager nearest me. She liked it, so I brought her ten books to give away. And then I went on the road to other US Bank branches around the Twin Cities. I found out that branch managers had no authority to make such offers – it would have to come from corporate. One branch returned my books via UPS. I never found out what happened to the rest.

I also pitched a promotion event with a local Target store. That store manager told me the same thing – all decisions about promotional events come from corporate.

Well, if corporate makes all the decisions, how about influencing corporate?

And so, in December, 2016, I packed my grandsons into the car and headed to the MSP airport post office with a car full of books, preprinted address labels, and individual notes tailored for each Target and US Bank board member. We inserted a note into each book, inserted each book in an envelope, attached matching address labels to each envelope, and mailed individual books to everyone. I went home tired and more than $150 poorer, but excited that decision makers would see copies of my book and my note suggesting a promotion event.

Nobody even bothered to say no. Another phase of my publishing journey down a black hole.

Email Campaign

In 2017, an adjunct professor in New York contacted me via Beaver’s Pond Press. He wanted copies of “Bullseye Breach” for his students, but his school bookstore could not buy them because they weren’t in the right catalog. I sold him a few copies at my cost.

He offered a suggestion. The NSA keeps a list of cybersecurity centers of excellence, and maybe some of those schools would be interested. After all, that’s why I wrote “Bullseye Breach” – I wanted colleges and training centers to use it as a teaching tool. So I found the NSA listing and reached out to more than 2000 people from colleges in all fifty states. I found them all by hand and composed each email individually. A few people responded. I sent a sample to one school in Colorado. A knucklehead from the University of California at Irvine compared my email campaign to drug dealing. I marked all the emails with delivery and read-receipts, and five years later, I still get occasional deleted-not-read notifications.

Cold email campaigns don’t work.

Publishing Journey Milestone – Virus Bomb

The second book would be different. No more spending a fortune with a hybrid publisher, only to find out later that I was an afterthought. This time, I would write the best book I could write and publish it properly – whatever that meant.

What would happen if Jerry Barkley uncovered a cyberattack and found himself in the middle of a plot to start WWIII – but nobody listened? By mid August, 2016, I had a draft ready. I watched video after video and studied blog post after blog post about what literary agents wanted to see in queries, and then opened the Publisher’s Marketplace website and queried every agent I could find who said they wanted thrillers. But nobody wanted my tech thriller.

I joined the Jerry Jenkins Writers’ Guild, and then his Your Novel Blueprint educational course. Jerry barbecued everything I showed him about “Bullseye Breach,” and different people barbecued different pieces of “Virus Bomb.” I fixed the “Virus Bomb” problems and kept querying.

I eventually sent 110 agent queries. About half responded with form letter rejections. The other half didn’t bother to respond at all. One agent said that since “Bullseye Breach” did not sell well, I would be better off self-publishing “Virus Bomb,” because publishers want a track record of success.

I talked to a Minneapolis publisher. They wanted $6000, and their marketing plan was to combine all their authors’ Twitter followers and pitch everyone’s books to everyone’s followers.

And then Morgan James Publishing said yes. But there was a catch. Morgan James wanted $4500 up front to pay for the profit from printing 1000 books for authors to use in seminars. Most Morgan James authors write self-help books and earn a living from seminars and speaking engagements. My fiction sort-of fit, because I use fiction to present truth better than the news. And so, I also said yes. And in May, 2019, I was an official published author.

Still More Tough Publishing Journey Lessons

The tough lessons never stop. I put together a great author website and filled it with blog posts, videos, and seminars full of cybersecurity content. If you’re reading this blog post, then you’re on my website. As long as you’re here, check out more of my content. It’s all pretty good.

I continued pitching local radio and TV stations and as of this writing in August, 2023, I’ve done more than 100 radio interviews. And with every media interview, I made sure the Morgan James marketing people knew about it.

Nobody cared. No retailer stocked “Virus Bomb.” Nobody but me promoted it. Very few organizations wanted speakers to talk about cybersecurity. I was on my own for all marketing and sales. Again.

But out of those 1000 books, I committed to buying, I can still buy about 940 for printing cost. One seminar in front of a large audience would take care of that. At least I don’t have another pallet full of books gathering dust in a fulfillment center this time.

Trafficking U – Today’s Publishing Journey Project

And that leads to book #3, “Trafficking U.”

Here’s the latest elevator pitch and back cover copy, newly revised after feedback from lots of people.

A chance encounter with a college student victim thrusts a bank fraud analyst out of her high tech office into a street-battle against sex traffickers and her own dark past.

To atone for her teenage years as a thief, principal fraud analyst Jesse Jonsen dedicated her life to putting away criminal predators. But then she met Leilani, a sex trafficking victim trapped in a corrupt college work-study program, and she devastated her own life to win a battle with Leilani’s traffickers. But one battle doesn’t win the war.

From her vantage point dealing with fraud for a major bank, Jesse watched the sex trafficking industry explode by preying on vulnerable young women. Seeing too much of her former self in these victims, she develops an idea to fight back that just might work. But only if she survives. And confronts the dark secret that drove her early choices and adult life.

Whaddya think? Does it grab you? Seriously, if you have thoughts, leave a comment.

From March 1, through this writing, August 15, 2023, I sent 77 agent queries. Of those, 43 disappeared into a black hole. Nineteen responded with form letter rejections. One said they don’t want queries from anyone new; one sent back an automated reply that they’re putting queries on hold for six months. Another’s inbox was full and never emptied. One agency took five months to send back a rejection.

I’m still querying. I’ll run it up to at least 100 queries before deciding whether to self publish. If an agent says yes, I’ll ask tough questions about our partnership, because I’ve learned that traditional publishing is a meat market and I’m not willing to be somebody’s afterthought. If I’m somebody’s afterthought, then I may as well self publish and keep control of everything.

I’m not sure how I’m going to market “Trafficking U,” but I know I’ll make different mistakes than with the first two books. And if I’m on my own for marketing, then I don’t need to be in any hurry to publish. Too many authors treat publishing as a goal. But my mistakes taught me that publishing should be a milestone toward the goal of finding lots of readers, not a goal itself.

I need to get busy. I won’t live forever and I’d like to sell a few books before I die.

Publishing Journey – The Future

I still want to write that memoir. But this time, I’ll do it right. I’m a better writer in 2023 than I was in 2013, and I’ll be a better writer next year than this year. And I have more fiction ideas swirling in my head.

How would Jerry Barkley handle all his friends and millions of others worshiping a con artist like an idol? What if they even elected this con artist president? What if Jerry knew something sinister about this guy because maybe he did some IT work for the guy’s company years ago? What if Jerry could prove he’s a crook? Would anyone believe him? Or would everyone turn on him?

Here’s another one. What if a TV pundit who made a fortune spewing conspiracy theories found Jesus and came clean?

Maybe a little controversy would be good for my publishing journey.

Nah – that’s too far out, even for fiction. TV pundits don’t spew conspiracy theories, do they? And we would never elect a crooked con artist as president, right?

One final lesson. My publishing journey is a marathon, not a sprint.