Finding Success as a Writer and Becoming a Bestselling Author

I'm Robert Stanek and today I'm writing about finding success as a writer and becoming a bestseller. In 1995, I attended a writer’s conference on Maui, hosted at the swanky Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. I’d just signed my first contract with Macmillan after years of trying to break in to publishing as a writer. Unlike most other attendees, I didn’t stay at the Ritz-Carlton—the hotel wasn’t something I could afford at the time. On a military salary, with a wife and toddler accompanying me, the best I could afford was a $79 a night room a few miles away, and the only reason I could afford to get to Maui in the first place was because I was stationed on Oahu, where I worked at the hush-hush NSA facility Edward Snowden made famous.
a picture of robert stanek

As I wrote about in my post “How Betsy Mitchell, SheilaGilbert, Diana Gill, Beth Meacham, Jim Minz, Tom Doherty, and Other PublishingLegends Helped Launch My Writing Career” I’d previously received a number of encouraging responses to my debut novel, Keeper Martin’s Tale, and other works of fiction I’d written from Magic Lands to The Pieces of the Puzzle. It’d taken years to break in, but I’d finally managed it.

The conference was mostly about breaking in as a writer, with seminars on writing, getting agents, getting published and such. I felt a little like the cat who swallowed the canary, as I’d already managed to land a contract. It wasn’t something I’d say in the crowd I’d found myself in, many of whom were rather snobby and elitist, certain they were the best writer in the world and that their big break was just around the corner.

The conference went poorly and I ended up skipping big parts of it to spend time with my wife and son instead. Nonetheless, attendance taught me some valuable lessons, especially about how much I disliked snobby elitists. I also decided sitting around talking about writing for hours and hours was a colossal waste of time. Instead of talking about writing, I would instead just write.

And just write I did. My first book, Electronic Publishing Unleashed, was 1031 pages in print and I wrote 800 pages of it over a 4-month period while also working full-time in the military. The other 200 pages of the book were written by contributors, one of which was originally supposed to be the author of the book, but for one reason or another wasn’t able to produce what was required. Meanwhile, the acquisitions editor loved my work and kept expanding my role in the book until I was its author and the others were contributors.

Electronic Publishing Unleashed was published in September 1995 to great success and I signed a contract for a second book with Macmillan almost immediately. This book, Web Publishing Unleashed, was entirely my project from start to finish. The book was written to a tight schedule, and I wrote as much of it as I dared as quickly as I could: again 800 pages over a 4-month period. I hand selected the contributors to round out the content and the book was published in March 1996 to even bigger success than the first.

Meanwhile, I was at a crossroads in my military career. I’d earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees while in Hawaii and my commanders were recommending me for Officers Training School (OTS). As one of the most decorated soldiers in the unit and a frequently recognized top performer, I knew most of the top brass and they knew me. After OTS, I could have any job I wanted in the military. But then there was this writing thing.

You’d think my initial success in writing would make the answer an easy one. That second book was a blockbuster bestseller from the start. It was selling like snow cones during a heat wave. But the answer wasn’t an easy one. I’d written Electronic Publishing Unleashed as a work for hire, meaning I received no royalties, even though the book had over $2.5 million in sales. I’d written Web Publishing Unleashed as a royalty contract, but I had received a very low rate, even with an agent. How low? Less than 1/2 the industry standard rate, and then since I’d signed up with an agent, he was going to get 1/5th of that.

Worse, I wouldn't receive my first royalty check for some time. It takes months for royalty payments to make it to authors. Books are published, shipped to stores. Stores pay based on sales, typically in 90 days or so, and in 90 days or so after getting paid, publishers pay authors. Still, my publisher loved my work and was in the process of signing me to three new contracts for FrontPage UnleashedPeter Norton’s Guide to Java Programming and Web Publishing Unleashed Professional Reference Edition.

Thus, when I decided to leave the military in June 1996, I had no idea where I was going to go or even if I would actually ever get paid royalties. My wife, son and I ended up in a tiny apartment in Oregon. Still waiting for that first royalty payment and living off the dregs of advances, I wrote all three books in the apartment manager’s back room. The tiny apartment wasn’t big enough for writing, and my wife’s sister and her daughter had joined us in Oregon and moved in with us as well. Fortunately, the building manager graciously offered me the writing space, where I was cooped up 16 hours a day working to finish all those books.

How we ended up in Oregon? I'm not really sure myself. It is where Peter Norton was. Perhaps at the time I thought since I was writing Peter Norton’s Guide to Java Programming with Peter Norton he’d actually be working with me on the book. As it turned out, I never even got to meet Peter and his contribution to the book was nothing more than his name even though he received half the royalties. Peter Norton’s Guide to Java Programming was published in July 1996.

By this time, offers from other publishers were pouring in. One in particular that intrigued me was from PC Magazine. They were looking for a regular contributor to write technology articles about the Internet, the Web and related technologies. Exactly the space I worked in. I was up to my ears in books, but how could I or anyone else possibly turn down $1+ a word?! I took the offer and started writing regularly for the magazine.

After a few months in Oregon, the family and I moved on to Washington state, and the wait began anew for the first royalty check to reach me. However, I finally did have advances in hand for the three books I’d written. The publisher had made a special effort to get the payments to me and I’d also finalized two new contracts for FrontPage 97 Unleashed and Netscape ONE Developer’s Guide.

Those payments paid for a U-Haul and helped secure a larger apartment in Olympia, which was about 8 hours or so away from where we lived in Oregon. My wife’s sister and her daughter were still living with us, so we really needed the big space. While we were there, FrontPage Unleashed was published (September 1996) and I was already hard at work on the other books and writing for PC Magazine.

The new apartment was nice enough, but still not a home for my family, and still rather crowded with my wife's sister and her daughter living with my family. Nonetheless, we settled in and I worked. My writing space was in the master bedroom, so I had the difficult task of crawling out of bed to a chair a few feet away every morning where I wrote through the day and into the evening.

For months, the rapid succession of contracts, delays from the publisher, delays from my agents (I was with Studio B by this time) and other things had all been between me and ever getting paid my first royalty check for all the work I was doing. That check seemed some sort of myth by this time, so I was unsure if I'd ever receive it and rather certain I'd made a horrendous mistake by leaving the military.

Just about the time every cent we had ran out and our options were running out, a check finally arrived. The check was for the first royalty book I’d written, which had been published in March of that year. It was now September.

In the military, I barely made enough to get by. I’d finished college and earned my degrees only because my wife worked overtime to help pay the tuition. The check I was holding in my hand was two year’s military salary. I nearly fell over. It’d taken months to get to me, but there it was. Proof that I’d done something right.

To say that we celebrated that night is an understatement, but we weren't able to go out anywhere or do anything special. It takes days for a paper check to clear, especially when it's made out for a huge amount of money, and the one credit card we had was maxed out already. Still, we celebrated.

The next month, October, my wife’s sister and daughter moved out. With writing seeming like a sure thing for the future, my wife and I started looking for a house. We found one right away and by early November we moved in. It was our first house. We quickly made it a home.

There are a big surprise for us soon after, and just in time for Thanksgiving: another royalty check.

I was upstairs working in the office when my wife brought it to me. She’d opened the letter and from her expression I wasn’t quite sure whether it was extremely good news or extremely bad news.

At my hesitation, my wife said, It's good news, really good news.

And it was. I’d never seen that much money in my life, yet there it was on a check written out to me.

I was stunned, shocked.

My wife gave me a big kiss and wrap her arms around me. We stood like that for the longest time, just reveling in the moment. It was a measure of my success as a writer. A success as wild as any I ever imagined.

The books I had been working on were published shortly after. Web Publishing Unleashed Professional Reference Edition in December 1996, FrontPage 97 Unleashed in January 1997 and Netscape ONE Developer’s Guide in March 1997. Altogether, those early books had many millions in sales at retail, exceeding even the wildest of my wildest dreams.

In your own writing, dare to dream. You never know what might happen.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 200 topselling books.


Amazon's Blackened Soul

To date, there are about a billion reviews at Amazon sites that don’t meet Amazon’s own criteria for acceptability. This represents about 3 out of every 5 reviews. Is it any wonder when Amazon’s own management and executive staff are allowed to break the rules when it suits them to target an author whose book wasn’t as flattering as Amazon hoped it would be. Yes, I’m talking about Brad Stone and The Everything Store, a book lambasted by Bezos’s own wife, Amazon executives, management and other employees in contradiction to Amazon’s own guidelines.

It’s no surprise that corruption is rampant at and within Amazon. Take for example what happened to my book Windows 10: The Personal Trainer, which was the first full-length Windows 10 book to market. Several individuals plagiarized the contents of the book, word for word in numerous places, entire passages and paragraphs, and even daring to take screenshots of my screenshots and use them in their texts. Subsequently they deluged my books Windows 10: The Personal Trainer and Windows 10: Fast Start with poor reviews while purchasing five star reviews by the dozens for their own books from Fiverr and other sites.

You might imagine that an author who’s been in publishing for 30 years, with hundreds of successful titles and nearly 10 million readers might be listened to, especially when he meticulously documents the plagiarism. You’d be wrong.

Complaints to Amazon documenting the plagiarism instance by instance across the entire texts resulted in my books—all William Stanek books—being targeted by Amazon, along with the accounts of loyal readers. Readers who simply had read and reviewed a handful of my books across the hundreds of titles I have available.

What happened to the plagiarizers? Nothing initially, yet any complaint I dared to lodge with Amazon about the plagiarism was met with immediate retaliation at all levels. Why? I had no idea, but it was déjà vu because a similar thing had happened to my fiction works, which is why I began to investigate who the authors of the books were.

It wasn’t difficult to discover that as before one of the books was written by a family member/associate of an Amazon employee. While I may have been naïve before to not know how to try to resolve such a situation, I wasn’t any longer. I quickly enlisted the help of someone with the ability to go over the head of those I could reach at Amazon.

We also pointed out to Amazon that my book had been available previously. Windows 10: The Personal Trainer is in fact an updated version of my book Windows 7: The Personal Trainer, which was itself published previously by Microsoft. I’m guessing that quickly put an end to the counter-claims of the plagiarists whose books were eventually removed from sale.

You might think that when someone steals another’s work and bases nearly their entire text on what they stole that they wouldn’t be able to republish such a text. You’d be wrong again. The book by the family member/associate of an Amazon employee was returned almost instantly to sale, and the other book followed a few months later.

Meanwhile, the print edition of Windows 10: The Personal Trainer was pulled from sale for nearly 2 weeks during the height of its success. No explanation, other than Amazon later admitting it was a mistake. A new deluge of poor reviews for Windows 10: The Personal Trainer and Windows 10 Fast Start followed.
When it was restored to sale, Windows 10: The Personal Trainer also disappeared from Amazon search results for Windows 10 books and didn't show up in other searches either. As no one was able to find the book, sales disappeared.
Did I dare say anything to Amazon? No, I did not because when the heart of a company is corrupted there’s no point.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 200 topselling books.

1) Beyond issues of ethics and morality, the fundamental issue--among others--is that Amazon guidelines don’t allow anyone with a financial interest (either for or against) to review a product.
Persons associated with Amazon, and in particular employees, had a vested, financial interested in limiting the success of Stone’s book, reducing its potential impact on Amazon’s bottom line and controlling the message surrounding the book. None more so than executives, management staff and others holding stock or stock options in the company. Amazon guidelines do not allow any persons with a financial interest in a product (either for or against) to review a product, but that didn’t stop persons associated with the company from ensuring their messaging, damage control and spin was heard far and wide.
Stone’s book had the potential to cause both a significant hit to Amazon’s public image and an enormous impact on Amazon’s bottom line, especially in the days leading up to and following its publication. Without Amazon’s public spin and careful management of perception through reviews and other means, Stone’s book could have caused lasting, long-term damage to the company and its reputation, not to mention its CEO.
Whether the reviews are removed entirely or quietly continue to disappear, it’s important to remember this is a fight that’s already won. The damage control and message control have already been accomplished. 
Make no mistake that Amazon was in a precarious position in the timeframe surrounding the publication of The Everything Store. Amazon as a public company had never been consistently profitable in its nearly 20-year history (at the time), quite the contrary it had been a consistent money loser. A sway in public opinion could have derailed the company's access to capital markets.
The difference between Amazon then and Amazon now is hundreds of billions in market capitalization. If several hundred billion dollars aren’t motivation enough for what was done, I don’t know what is.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.


How Betsy Mitchell, Sheila Gilbert, Diana Gill, Beth Meacham, Jim Minz, Tom Doherty, and Other Publishing Legends Helped Launch My Writing Career

"The writing style is strong... The ideas are interesting and the writing good," wrote Betsy Mitchell, who went on to become Editor-in-Chief at Del Rey. "The fantasy world you have created is truly wonderful and rich. Your characters seem real and full of life," wrote Sheila Gilbert, who is a co-owner of DAW Books. Both were written in reply letters after the editors requested the full manuscript for Keeper Martin’s Tale, my debut novel of epic fantasy. This was the 1990s and these heady statements, even though they ultimately ended in rejection letters, were the fuel that drove my writing.

To say that Keeper Martin’s Tale made the rounds in the 1990s is an understatement. My queries went out month after month, year after year, and usually one submission at a time while I waited and waited and waited for a response. Rarely, like a white whale half seen in the distance, but frequently enough to keep me motivated, my queries were answered with requests to see the full manuscript as I mentioned.

Over a period of years and with a variety of manuscripts, including fantasy, sci-fi and more, I received exciting responses from Diana Gill, Beth Meacham, Jim Minz, Toni Weisskopf, Betsy Wollheim, Terri Windling and others. One requested full manuscript submission even made it all the way to Tom Doherty, founder of Tor Books.

These types of requests and responses often came with letters that had handwritten notes or notations signed by the editors themselves where they’d say wonderful things. One executive editor said "It's a creative, provoking, and above all, thoughtful story," before going on to talk about how hard it was to launch a new book or series by a new writer.

How hard it was to publish an unknown was a frequent mantra. The book is very good but we want more, another. Some suggested I try breaking out with short stories, a collection or nonfiction first, and then once published try to publish fiction. Undaunted, I framed and pinned up some of the best responses and rejection letters as I went and used them as inspiration to keep writing. Other writers I knew weren’t even getting past the query letter. Meanwhile, I was getting regular requests for full manuscripts.

One editor finally told me quite matter-of-factly that the story I created wasn’t right for the publisher’s line of books. Epic quests like Terry Brook’s Shannara were what publishers were publishing and readers were buying. The publisher didn’t quite know what to do with the type of story I had written.

Keeper Martin’s Tale and the other Ruin Mist books were, at their heart, a story of intrigue between two powerful families: The House of Alder and the House of Tyr’anth. Epic quests were a part of the story, but they weren’t the story.

Versions of the books that got the best response were the ones where I submitted the story of Adrina, Vilmos and Seth as separate chapters. Chapter 1 began Adrina’s story. Chapter 2, Vilmos’. Chapter 3, Seth’s. Chapter 4 continued Adrina’s story, Chapter 5 Vilmos’ and so on. But even though the approach attracted, I was told repeatedly in the end that the approach would never sell. No one would buy a book where the story switched to a different character every chapter, especially when later in the books there were so many different characters. Any reader of current fantasy fiction knows how wrong they were about that.

Wrong or not, their words directed my efforts and my writing. My first big break came because of the frequent insistence that I try breaking in with nonfiction or other types of writing, that once I was published and a known quantity I would have an easier time selling my lengthy fantasy epic and other works of fiction.

The break came when I sold an editor at Macmillan on a proposal for a technical how-to book. At the time, I was one of a select few with a strong background in writing and substantial technical expertise in this new experiment called the World Wide Web. Originally, I was supposed to just be a contributor to a book in progress, but the acquisition editor liked my approach, ideas and writing so much that eventually my approach was adopted instead and I took ownership and wrote over 800 pages of the 1000-page work.

The book became a top-seller for the publisher and put me on the bestseller list. I was immediately asked by Macmillan to write another book. That second book became a blockbuster bestseller and my career as a writer was established in grand style. My biggest moment back then was when I walked into a Borders and saw two floor-to-chest-high stacks of the book. Now, this was also a 1000-page book, but it was still a sight to behold. That book and the ones that followed sold like hotcakes at $49.99 - $79.99 each, and that was the 1990s.

Twenty years later, I am now the author of nearly 200 full-length works of fiction and nonfiction. My books have been published and/or distributed by nearly every major publisher. The big ones at least, including O’Reilly Media, Simon & Schuster, McGraw Hill, Pearson Education, Microsoft, and Random House.

Not bad for a guy who spent all those years with his face pressed against the glass, trying to break in.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 200 topselling books.

Stay in touch with Robert Stanek by connecting on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/robertstanekauthor or on twitter at http://twitter.com/robertstanek.


A Lifetime of Books – 30 Years of Robert Stanek Books

My name is Emily Asimov. When I heard of Robert Stanek’s lifetime achievement nomination, I jumped at the chance to write a tribute. Robert is one of the most inspirational people I know and an exceptionally talented writer. He’s also the reason my work is published today, and the author of some of my favorite childhood reads. From his superbly written “The Kingdoms & the Elves of the Reaches” to his sublime “Journey Beyond the Beyond,” I have been smitten with his work for years and gobbled up nearly everything he’s written.

An extremely prolific author, Robert Stanek has been writing for over 30 years and has produced close to 200 book-length works of fiction and nonfiction. It’s no secret to anyone who follows his work that he also writes as William Stanek and has been published by nearly every Big 6 / Big 5 publishing house. That feat alone would, and has, made him the subject of jealousy and envy throughout the writing community.

What most don’t know about Robert Stanek is his giving, earnest spirit. Robert is the type of guy who would (and has) literally given the shirt off his back to help someone in need.

Robert has given tirelessly throughout his life to support causes he believes in. Anyone who knows him knows the causes he champions: veterans, peoples with disabilities, animal rights, conservation, and education. And books and libraries have no better friend.

If there was ever an author who deserved to be recognized for lifetime achievement it is Robert Stanek. When I think of books and authors I’ve read and reread during my life, only a rare few spring to mind with Robert being atop that short list. His works have challenged and inspired me. His works have educated me. His works have opened my mind.

Listing all of my favorites and the reasons why here would take pages, so I’ll keep things brief and list the top few:

The Kingdoms & the Elves of the Reaches, fifteen years in print and forever in the canon of fantasy classics

Journey Beyond the Beyond, a beautiful, underappreciated master work

Air War, a timeless snapshot of life in war that pays homage to the men and women Robert Stanek served with

The Cards in the Deck, an edgy thriller that far surpasses the original work, The Pieces of the Puzzle

After the Machines, one of the best works of science fiction I’ve ever read  

These books alone are reason enough for Robert to be “one of the most featured and respected Kids & Young Adult authors” as named by The Audio Bookstore. But Robert has written many, many more, and all of which are worthy of your time and support.

When it comes to helping others, Robert has spent a tremendous amount of time and effort championing veterans, peoples with disabilities, and other causes he believes in. Robert is a veteran of multiple wars, conflicts and campaigns, including Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Provide Comfort. In his inspirational true story, Air War, he writes about doing what was needed when called upon, the pieces of himself left behind on the battlefield, and his willingness to give everything to what he believes in. I came away from the reading in tears, a new respect for our service men and women, and with a profound sense that something deep within me had changed. Something had changed. I had grown as a person from living his experiences through his words.

The causes and challenges of peoples with disabilities aren't just something Robert supports but something he believes in wholeheartedly. He has a daughter with Downs Syndrome and some disability from his service. Whether supporting the Wounded Warrior Project, Special Olympics or otherwise, you can tell he gives a hundred percent every time. 

People like Robert who give with their heart rarely receive anything in return. But after reading this, I hope you will join me in supporting Robert Stanek, spreading the good word about his work, and sharing his kind heart and beautiful spirit with others. 

Robert Stanek is an author whose works you should read and shout about from the rooftops. He's earned the support a hundred times over.

Emily Asimov