Thursday, October 9, 2014

What exactly is an MTA, and why do you need one?

by James Jackson

Mr. Jackson is a former US Navy Chief Petty Officer. He has spent almost two decades in military service with a large portion of that as a tactical instructor.

During his years in service, he has been part of fielding teams, mobile training teams and interacted with other branches of the US Military as well as foreign military units.

Since leaving the Navy, he has served as an advisor for diplomatic security and as a private military contractor.

He is an author, an outdoor survival instructor, serves as a disaster mitigation consultant, and is a Military Technical Advisor for several published authors.

For every author there is, or should be, a requirement that they conduct due diligence research. That way they will be to provide enough details that the reader is immersed within the story they tell and not taken out by something that just doesn’t sound right. Research is extremely important.

Due diligence would require that the author be able to describe the locale that their story takes place in in intricate detail. How many times have you read something where the story fails to cover some basics and just plain falls short? The concept is simple to understand.  If a story is set in Washington D.C., there are a lot of locations that are known to the locals that won’t be something that Google maps will show. Case in point, there is a museum close to the Smithsonian Complex that is not part of that complex, that contains medical oddities. It’s often mistaken as being part of that complex yet has no association with it. Some of the locals know of it, but tourists would be hard pressed to find it.

While that is one example of something that could be added in to a novel to increase the details, another example was a novel I read many years ago that was a spy thriller set in that same city. The details were so intense that years later, a tourist that had read that same book, traveled to D.C and was amazed that the location was just as true to life as depicted within the book. He visited the Lincoln Memorial and went downstairs to see if there really was a drinking fountain right outside the door to the restroom. It was exactly as described. When the tourist reached under the fountain to see if there was space for a magnetic holder, a key element within the book as it was used as a message for the main character, he was amazed to find one. Inside, there was a simple note, “Good book, wasn’t it?”

That is the level of detail that every author should strive for. That brings us to technical assistance. What is technical assistance? For some, that might mean the tech guy you call when your computer goes down. Technical Assistance or Military Technical Assistance for authors is a service that can provide a level of detail to authors that is unprecedented. While MTA is not for computer technical issues or in-depth knowledge of locations, it is for basic technical assistance that can flesh out a character, the actions of that character and/or character background. 

Military Technical Assistance does that same thing only for the thematic elements within a book. Military Technical Advisors are a resource that all authors should have on speed dial or bookmarked on their favorites. 

Why, you may ask, when Google can provide “everything” you need? 

Google can only provide so much. Without someone who has actually been in the military, used the equipment, been on a deployment, or used that particular weapon system, how accurate can an author really be if they only rely solely on Google? 

Military Technical Advisors are commonly found in Hollywood working within the film and television industry. While those companies, extremely prevalent and numerous in and around Los Angeles, provide their services to directors, actors, and screenwriters, there are very few that provide any kind of service to authors. The world of writing is overlooked for the most part, by the MTA industry. Apparently, it just isn’t worth their time and effort to work with authors as all the ’big money’ is in the film industry.

That’s where The Ward Room comes into play.

The Ward Room

What, pray tell, is this Ward Room? The Ward Room is a site where authors can go for information about weapon systems, uniforms, rank structure, and even some general information about locations around the world. There is even a page for Writer Resources that breaks down ‘basic’ information and covers some of the most common mistakes. If the information an author seeks is not listed on that page, then they can contact the site and request that someone review their work. There are two free services offered that any author can take advantage of. If they want a more thorough insight, there is also a listing for premium services.

Why is this even important if the book is fictional? In every fictional work, there is something based in the real world.

Let’s put that into perspective. There are millions of fictional works out there that could use the services of a MTA. Several particular issues come to mind. In a book I recently read, a supernatural thriller about a reporter investigating a cult, there was one scene where the main character was handed a Gloch handgun. I’m sure the author meant Glock but that slipped past not only the author but the editor as well. In another novel, a character popped open a revolver and spun the cylinders before engaging the safety. How is that even possible? A revolver has one cylinder with chambers. The way it was described was that the revolver had multiple cylinders. Revolvers, for the most part, do not have a safety like other conventional handguns.

Even big name authors, New York Times bestselling writers could use the services of a MTA. In a novel by a well known military suspense author, he placed the 3/75th Ranger Battalion at Fort Lewis, Washington. At the time that the novel was written, Fort Lewis had already been combined with neighboring McChord Air Force Base to become Joint Base Lewis/McChord, a joining that had taken place several years prior. While that’s a minor issue, one that Google might have shown, the major issue was that 3/75th Ranger Battalion is stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia and not JBLM. That is another case where a simple email to a MTA that specializes in assisting authors would have prevented this error and the many others that the novel was riddled with.

Consider other fictional books with a real world setting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book that contained characters that were part of the US Armed forces and the rank structure was way off. Sergeants, Majors, and Colonels in the US Navy? Not going to happen. One book that stands out, I won’t name the title or author, depicted a lieutenant general attempting to evacuate his unit out of Egypt while under siege from an army of the undead. I had to pause several times and ask myself just what size unit was this general in command of? He apparently had no staff, no logistics unit, no air support, no artillery, no headquarters section and he micromanaged what was described as a company sized unit that apparently had no other officers at all. 

That is micromanaging to the Nth degree. Imagine a general officer directing privates, corporals and sergeants. Not something that normally happens. Later in that same book, the general was able to squeeze his entire unit onto an Arleigh Burke class naval vessel. In the real world, that general would be in charge of a division sized unit or larger. A division is approximately 10-15k troops. He would have a command staff made up of other officers from colonels on down to lieutenants, and a senior enlisted staff. That staff would have told him that there is no way a division would fit on an Arleigh Burke class vessel; there ‘s barely room for the crew.

As you can see by the example provided, Google can show some results, very generic results, but falls short when in comes to specific details. To get the real deal, the inside scoop as it were, authors should consider the use of a Military Technical Advisor. The Ward Room offers such a service. There are several free services available that can readily answer questions and address issues. There are also premium services for authors and publishers that want more.
The Ward Room is a resource that enables authors to enhance their work. Take advantage of it.

Check out the Ward Room at

Look for these James Jackson books coming from Permuted Press:

Up From The Depths 1: Denial Measures 9/8/2015
Up From The Depths 2: Acceptable Losses 10/6/2015

Up From The Depths 3: Collateral Damage 11/10/2015

Up From The Depths 4: Movement to Contact 12/8/2015

Up From The Depths 5: Defilade 1/5/2016

Up From The Depths 6: Secondary Objectives 2/9/2016

Monday, May 26, 2014

Being a cross-genre writer

Categorizing my writing style has always been a somewhat difficult thing. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edgar Allen Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, H.P. Lovecraft, C.S. Lewis, Stephen King—these are all authors that have had a profound impact on my writing.

I also loved reading comic books as a child, everything from Tales from the Crypt and Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery to Shazam, The Spirit, Marvel and DC comics and everything in between. I never missed an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. If I wasn’t reading, I was either writing or playing music.
I read a lot of classics—To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Frankenstein, Animal Farm, A Brave New World, Atlas Shrugged—but I always seemed to have a predilection toward the macabre and the unusual. Working in a bookstore eventually brought me in contact with a lot of newer authors and I began to read different genres. But the ones that really kept me glued to the page were the adventure and thriller novels—Clive Cussler, Nelson DeMille, James Patterson, John Grisham, Brad Thor, Vince Flynn—the high-octane stuff.

Around 2003, when I began writing my first complete novel, I decided that I was going to blend all my favorite genres into my writing. Horror, fantasy, science fiction and adventure would all have a place in my book. I loved the life-like characters Stephen King created in his books, but I wanted more action. Clive Cussler’s adventures were captivating, but I wanted something darker, more ominous and creepy. James Rollins’ creatures were frightening, but I wanted a touch of the supernatural, creatures not bound by the laws of physics.

So I created DIABLERO, and brought a demon-possessed Blackbeard the pirate back to life in modern times. It was a character everyone knew, but he wouldn’t be just a pirate—he would have powers to raise an army of the dead and open a gateway to another dimension. The adventure begins in North Carolina, but ends on an island in the Bahamas. Creepy and dark, with lots of action and great characters. It was the kind of book I always wanted to read.

I continued my foray into action/thriller/sci-fi/horror madness with a book called LILITH, another myth that was familiar to people, yet enough of a mystery that I could add some embellishment and still make it believable. It’s my biggest selling book to date.

I figured that the problem with blending all these genres together would be finding an audience. For some readers, a book that incorporates all those styles can be somewhat confusing. “I thought this was supposed to be a thriller? What’s with the supernatural stuff?” “This horror novel sucks—it’s nothing but action!” People who read thrillers don’t necessarily like horror, and people who read horror don’t necessarily like action/thrillers. Some people don’t like the supernatural aspect, while others are offended by the military/black ops aspect of some of my stories. This has been made evident by some not-so-favorable reviews. But the good reviews far outweigh the bad ones on all my books—so far.

I don’t really target audiences, or take polls, or check out the latest trends—I write what I would like to read. I feel like I’m filling a niche, here, because there aren’t many writers that do what I do. Authors who love horror read and write horror books; authors who love adventure/thrillers do the same. I’m not a purist—I happen to get an equal thrill from reading a good sci-fi book, a creepy horror novel or an engaging military adventure. But bringing it all together on the page and making it work is the biggest thrill of all.

For more info on me and my work, check out my website, or follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Interview with literary agent MacKenzie Fraser-Bub of the Trident Media Group

*NOTE - Since this interview, MacKenzie has formed her own agency, Fraser-Bub Literary.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing the talented MacKenzie Fraser-Bub of the Trident Media Group. MacKenzie agreed to become my agent, and I must say I was impressed with her enthusiasm, professionalism, knowledge of the industry, and the connection she made with my material and with me as a person. I think the following interview will be of immense help to writers who want to understand what goes on in the mind of a literary agent, especially for those who are thinking of querying MacKenzie.

From the Trident Media Group website:

Before embarking on her career as a publishing agent, MacKenzie wanted to experience working inside a major publisher, and gain valuable insights on marketing, which she could use later to her clients’ advantage. She became Publishing Manager at Touchstone Books (a division of Simon & Schuster). She worked closely with the sales and marketing departments for a wide-array of bestselling authors, such as Philippa Gregory, Lisa Unger, Bethenny Frankel, J.A. Jance, and R.L. Stine.

  1. What were your feelings when you first moved to New York City to become an agent at Trident?

I started at Trident as an assistant to Scott Miller and Kimberly Whalen.  They were the BEST bosses – they are the toughest, most talented agents, and I learned so much from them, and from their clients.  I felt immensely lucky riding the elevator up to the 36th floor in this fancy NYC building every single day (even though at that time I was spending my days in a tiny cubicle).  Being back at Trident as an agent is a dream – my colleagues are all incredibly smart and talented.  And now I have an office and a view of Madison Square Park!

  1. Describe a typical day in your life as an agent.

I’m an early riser, so I’ve checked my email most days before 6am, but nothing significant is possible until I’ve had a venti dark roast from Starbucks.  I read on my commute into the office – The New York Times first, and then submission material. I have a Samsung tablet and it makes it super easy to have tons of material at my fingertips.  

The first thing I do when I get to the office is… check Facebook.  I promise it’s not about seeing baby pictures and Buzzfeed articles – it’s about getting a taste of what people are generally talking about.  I follow a lot of media bloggers, publishing trades, book clubs, publishers, and writers, and I like seeing what they’re putting out, and how people are responding.

After I look at the new deals on Publishers’ Marketplace, I spend the morning responding to emails and returning calls.  If I’m lucky I can squeeze in reading time.

Lunching with editors is a super fun part of the job.  I love hearing about what’s going on in the publishing houses, what people are reading, what they’re on to and what they’re over – and book people are always just generally super interesting!      

I’m constantly on email and it’s important to me to always be very responsive and available, but I try to devote much of my afternoon to really focusing on reading and editing.  As a millennial I’m an EXCELLENT multi-tasker. 

Sometimes on the way home I read submission material, but if it’s been a long day, I decompress with Spotify. 

(Skip ahead many hours and I’ve also been known to fall asleep with my tablet open to a manuscript…)

  1. What are some of your favorite things about being an agent?

Working with creative people.  Collaborating with fabulous clients, brilliant editors, and energetic publishing teams is such a dream.  It’s immensely satisfying to work with debut authors from the ground up – to see their dreams realized in the publishing process. 

  1. What do you look for in potential clients? Is it all about the writing, or do you feel that agents and writers should connect personally, as well?

A connection to the writing is just step one.  I’m not looking to be besties with my clients, but as we’re going to need to have very open and honest conversations about a very wide variety of issues, some of them personal, throughout our relationship, some level of personal connection is essential.   

  1. Tell us about a couple of your clients (if you want to. If not, no biggie). How many clients do agents typically work with at one time?

My clients are fabulous.  I’ve been very selective with who I take on because I want to give each and every client my 100%, and I can only do that if I love your work.  The balance of the actual workload is always in flux based on who’s where in the submission / editing / publishing process, but I’m a good multi-tasker, and if you need my time, it’s important to me that you get it.     

  1. What do you like to see in a query letter? What do you not like to see?

Voice, personality, and creativity.  I like it when authors comp their book to another book I’ve read and liked – ideally not Harry Potter or 50 Shades – I can connect with this better if your comp is more of a deep cut.  I like when your pitch to me is personal – why you think we specifically are a good fit.  I don’t like ideas that feel overly familiar and formulaic – it’s a tough market, so freshness and innovation is essential.  And please, check your grammar!  A couple of misplaced commas or blatant misspellings in a query letter is a non-starter. 

  1. How do you get most of your clients—slush pile, referrals or writers conferences?

I’ve gotten a lot of clients through referrals – other agents, clients, people in the industry.  I reach out to writers I see on Goodreads or Amazon.  I just recently found a fabulous client at a writers’ conference.  A few from the slush pile. 

  1. Describe some of the more outrageous things authors have done to get your attention.

I’ve been pitched in the bathroom and in the elevator. Sometimes one person will literally call me half a dozen times over 2 or 3 days. Once at a conference I looked down and someone had drawn a big heart around my picture in the conference program (to be fair, I don’t think the person intended for me to see that).   I stopped using twitter because queriers would email me commenting on tweets I’d sent out, which really freaked me out. 

  1. Are you open for submissions? Is one time of year better than another for sending queries?  What genres are you currently seeking?

I am always open to submissions, any time of year.  I personally read every single query that comes in.  My main areas of interest are women’s fiction and romance, but it’s always all in the read for me and I obviously sometimes come across Sci Fi or Fantasy projects I love (hi, Toby! :)

  1. Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books and why?

Most recently some of my favorite reads have been The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty, The Good House by Ann Leary, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, and Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. I think Maggie Shipshead is an amazing new talent. I am obsessed with Jonathan Franzen, I love Pat Conroy, and I’m fairly certain I’ve read every Phyllis Whitney book ever written.  All of these writers have really distinctive voices, and the ability to create layered, realistic, complex characters in tightly woven stories.

  1. How long can someone expect to wait for an answer to a query? For a partial or full manuscript?

I respond to queries very quickly – always within a week.   I try very hard to respond to submissions within 6 weeks (emphasis on try).

  1. What would you tell a new writer trying to break into the world of publishing? Why do you feel it’s important for an author to have an agent?

Writers should write. They should join critique groups or use beta readers.  Going to conferences can be a great way to connect with other writers, meet industry professionals, and work on your craft. 

Authors who want to be traditionally published need agents.  Agents edit pre-submission; we put your work in the hands of the right editors at the right houses.  We negotiate and vet your contract, collaborate on marketing strategies, cover design, and publicity plans.  In short, we’re your advocate to your editor and your publisher.     

I’m a proponent of the hybrid model – a mix of indie and traditional – and an agent is an integral part of that plan, not just in terms of getting your book in front of the right editor, but also in terms of shaping your career and advancing your brand.  An agent helps design your publishing plan in all respects – what to write, when to publish, how to reach new readers.  It’s a tricky business, and you need a professional partner to help you navigate the process. 

Thanks MacKenzie for this awesome interview!

Published or unpublished authors who wish to submit to any of the agents at TMG, please send a query letter using their online form to one literary agent only at Your query should include only a paragraph about yourself, a brief plot synopsis and your contact information; it should not include a manuscript, a proposal, or any writing samples.

For more info on me and my latest books, go to, Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dealing with negative book reviews

I don’t mind negative book reviews. I really don’t. Every writer will get one at some point. I think it’s important to know what people don’t like about your writing as much as what they do like. Nobody should get pats on the back 24/7. It’s just not good for the soul. So I try to glean from them any bits of information that I can to improve my writing.

I know that a lot of authors worry that negative reviews will affect their sales…well…negatively. I have found that not to be the case. My books are still selling steadily, even with a few one-star reviews. I have seen books that remained on the best-sellers list in spite of a majority of bad reviews. People know what they like. I’m not saying reviews have no effect, but maybe not as much as we like to think.

Then there are vitriolic reviewers who will lambast you for daring to write something they don’t like. They hate your style of writing, your characters, your plot, maybe even the fact that you live on the same planet and breathe the same air they do. I have had reviewers comment that they couldn’t believe someone would publish such garbage, that only my friends gave me favorable reviews or that I wrote my own reviews under a fake name, and on and on. Not that I’m anyone special, but I can’t help but detect an undercurrent of jealousy or envy in some of those so-called reviews, especially after signing with a new publisher and a new agent.

I have found that the best thing anyone can do in those cases is to ignore it. Or do like me, and blog about it. Either way, it’s best not to engage with people who write hateful reviews. It only encourages them. Just let them fade into their own little corners of existence, and instead, focus on the good reviews and the people that support you. After all, they’re the ones you’re writing for, not the people that hate your writing.

Critique is a different thing. I love critique, especially from people who make writing their business, like editors and agents, because it makes me stronger. I like critique from readers, too, because it helps me gauge whether my audience is satisfied, or if I’m going in the right direction.

But ultimately, I have to write for myself. It has to please me first, because if I’m not really happy with what I’m doing, then what’s the purpose in writing at all? If I’m not happy with what I’m doing, regardless of the haters and the naysayers, then I’m not only letting myself down, I’m letting my audience down, as well.

For more info on me and my writing, go to or follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

My journey to finding a literary agent

The day has finally arrived when I can say, “I have an agent!” —but not just any agent, mind you—the awesome and talented MacKenzie Fraser-Bub of New York’s Trident Media Group. Now when the phone rings and I jokingly say to my wife, “That might be my agent,” I won’t be joking. 
That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s time to kick back and take it easy. It’s more like a new beginning, kind of like stepping up my game and saying, “Okay, I’ve made all this noise, tooted my horn and got the attention of a major agency. Now, it’s time to live up to the hype I created for myself.”

Which I fully intend to do.

But how, you may well ask, did you get this far? What’s your secret? To which I answer: perseverance and persistence. I would also like to think I write good books, as well. Put those three things together, and you have a winning combination.

But five years ago, when I started my agent search, it seemed like an insurmountable hill. Actually, it was more like Mount Everest. I had just finished writing my first complete novel, a supernatural thriller, and had no experience whatsoever as a published author. I had virtually no short stories published, just some articles in magazines and the stories I wrote as a full-time newspaper journalist.

I wrote up my query letter, my biography, and my story synopsis, and then started firing off emails to any legitimate agency that represented my genre. I got a few full manuscript requests, but after a year, I had amassed nearly 100 rejections. By that time, I decided I was going to try some small presses, which I did, and got interest from two publishers. DIABLERO was eventually released by Nightbird Publishing in Oct. 2010.

For my next book, a supernatural technothriller, I was still unable to find an agent. I got an offer from DarkFuse to publish, and in Dec. 2012, LILITH hit the streets in hardcover, paperback and eBook. I was happy.

Soon after, Crossroad Press published my young adult sci-fi thriller, GOD PARTICLE, and I eventually did another book with DarkFuse, a horror novella called THE BLACK CHURCH

When I finished writing the follow up to LILITH, a book called PRIMORDIAL, NY Times bestselling author Douglas Preston agreed to read the manuscript and give me an endorsement if he liked it. Two weeks later, here’s what he said: “Primordial by Toby Tate is an exceptionally well-crafted sci-fi supernatural thriller that tells a gripping story of ancient evil and modern horror, with exotic settings, vivid characters, and a plot that moves with the speed of a tsunami. The atmospherics are excellent and the story offers plenty of surprises right up to the shocking end.”

Can’t beat that for an endorsement. With that blurb in hand, and four published books under my belt, I went on yet another agent hunt. Once again, there were no takers. I was flummoxed.

But then, out of the blue, I got an offer from Permuted Press, publishers of zombie and apocalyptic fiction, who were looking to expand into other types of horror and sci-fi. They not only wanted PRIMORDIAL, they also wanted the sequel as well as a novella prequel, and they offered to reissue my first novel. Four books altogether. I was ecstatic.
They sent me the contract, and I realized upon printing it out that it was 20 pages long. The longest contract I had ever signed was three pages. I had to get an agent. I really did not feel comfortable signing a contract that long and involved.

I asked them to give me a week, which they did, and an author friend of mine suggested a few agencies I should contact. I contacted exactly two. They both wanted to read the manuscript. When MacKenzie from Trident made an offer, I knew I couldn’t pass it up, because Trident had been one of my dream agencies since the beginning. 

So there it is. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t have a NY Times bestselling book right off the bat, because where do you go from up? I believe that things happened exactly the way they were supposed to, and still are. I’m just slowly climbing the ladder, and I have to admit, so far I’m enjoying the journey.

For more info on my books and my music, go to, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.