16 Sep September 16, 2020 – Real Book Spy Ryan Steck and Get in Gear Sean Ryan
You have to be passionate about it, or there is no sense in doing it.
Ryan Steck is an established authority on mysteries and thrillers, praised as one of today’s finest reviewers by Gayle Lynds. A former sports writer who transitioned into publishing word in 2014, Steck worked as a book critic and reviewer for several other websites and media outlets before launching The Real Book Spy in December of 2015. Since launching The Real Book Spy, Steck has broken relevant industry news, written hundreds of book reviews, and conducted interviews with many of the genre’s top thriller authors on his way to becoming one of the most respected voices among thriller fans. TheRealBookSpy.com is the go-to site on all things thriller and mystery. The site will let you know if a favorite author has a new book deal or has just penned a movie contract. There have already been more than two million unique impressions on the site. Besides his encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, Ryan is a book doctor extraordinaire, an editor, and a huge promoter of us pencil pushers.
Sean Ryan – Founder and President of Whitewater International Consulting Group
That’s the challenge for anybody: how do you stay relevant,
how do you stay competitive in an ever
changing competitive landscape?
Sean T. Ryan is a world-renowned business consultant, speaker, trainer, and executive coach. In 2001, he founded the WhiteWater Consulting Group to help organizations achieve and sustain outstanding performance through unleashing the passion and capabilities of its people. As the President of Whitewater International Consulting, he has worked internationally with companies such as Disney, Nucor Steel, FedEx and Nestle Waters of North America/Perrier Group of America. As former Vice President of Learning and Organizational Development for Perrier Group of America, Sean and his team shaped the organizational culture, people systems and processes, as well as leadership capacity. Their work helped enable a fivefold increase in sales over a seven-year period. With more than two decades of industry experience, Sean is highly regarded for his ability to guide organizations through complex transformational change in what he describes as a world of perpetual whitewater. He helps clients formulate winning strategies and then deliver outstanding results through platforms including SXR™ (Strategy-Execution-Results), used by start-ups to Fortune 500 clients. Sean’s new book is Get In Gear: The Seven Gears that Drive Strategy to Results.
Highlights from Ryan’s Interview
It’s tough to say how I got started in the genre of thrillers. Early on, I fell in love with the thriller genre books in general. C. J. Box was a big one for me, Open Season, the first Joe Pickett book of his, way back. But the guy that really changed, it seems so cliche to say, but changed my life and a lot of ways was Vince Flynn; author of The New York Times bestselling Mitch Rapp series. I think a lot of things we become passionate about based on where we’re at in life when we discover these things. So for me, my wife and I, we have six kids and one of our kids was having some medical issues and literally needed around the clock care, and I had the night shift. So I needed something to help keep me up all night and keep an eye on my kid, make sure they were okay. I just devoured all of Vince Flynn’s books and fell in love with Mitch Rapp; the universe, the characters, and honestly, it all grew from there.
It’s funny, I get asked a lot how that passion then turned into a website. It’s tough to answer. I feel like sometimes people ask me for advice, they want to start their own website or something like this. They think I don’t want to help them because I don’t want to build a competitor, but the God’s honest truth is even I’m not quite sure how it turned into this, which is bad to say for a business sense. But honestly, I’m a failed sports journalist. I found that I was dyslexic very early in my adult life, I didn’t know that growing up as a kid. I remember my doctor telling me to read, because it will really help get over my dyslexia. So I googled dyslexic authors, and Vince Flynn, who is really my favorite was dyslexic. So long story short, when I read his books, I fell in love with them, but I took a lot of notes. In my mind, that was a practice to get back to sports writing. I covered the Detroit Lions, which was pretty miserable because they’ve never been good. The one whole year I was a beat reporter for them, they went 0-16. So it was sort of miserable. But along the way, I was trying to work my way back to sports writing. When you’re watching an NFL game, you’re also writing the game story. So for me to take notes while I was reading the series was second nature.
These notes were sort of recapping the books, writing down stuff about the characters, almost like you would if you’re watching a sports game; stuff about the athletes that you’re watching, where they went to college or whatever. I literally started writing down that Mitch Rapp, Vince’s hero, went to Syracuse University. I ended up sounding like a total nutjob when I was done. I had all kinds of legal pads worth of notes and really didn’t know what to do with that. My wife said to me, why don’t you just put it out on the internet, like a Mitch Rapp fansite? I said I guess I could do that. It’s good practice for writing, getting back into writing. My goal was to go back to sports journalism. Well, I put everything up online.
Around that time, Vince Flynn had passed away, and what happened next was Kyle Mills, another New York Times bestselling author was selected to continue the series. Kyle and Vince worked very differently. Vince was known in the writing community as a pantser. He didn’t really outline, he didn’t take his own notes. He could just sit down and bang out a New York Times bestselling book. Kyle, on the flip side, writes huge 20,000 to 30,000-word outlines and needs a lot of notes. So when he took the series over, and I’ve heard him tell this story from his point of view. He said, send me all the notes and everything that you guys have. They sent him three pages that were already available on the internet, Vince had put them on his website for the next book, that’s all they had. I think he freaked out a little bit because he needed more than just that, and he was going through the series taking his own notes. But the publisher Simon and Schuster had discovered my fan site, and they put me together with Kyle. It was a really cool experience.
So after Kyle, who has all the pressure in the world of having to deliver a good book, in a way, I think I’ve become very much the keeper of all things Mitch Rapp. It’s sort of my job to go through and make sure everything is authentic to Mitch Rapp. Right down to a few years ago, American Assassin, the movie starring Dylan O’Brien as Mitch Rapp, Michael Keaton’s in it, the movie came out. Along the way, a rep from CBS Films and Lions Gate, when they were doing test images and stuff with the actors, I got an email that said, “Hey, we heard you’re the guy that knows everything about Mitch Rapp, right down to what kind of underwear he wears.” Like, I’m just a crazed fan, and I’m coming back with like, I only know it because Vince wrote it, not because I’m over here writing fanfiction about this. So I get to be the keeper of some things Mitch Rapp, and I take that pretty seriously. I never thought that would turn into something more.
At the time, I had started doing editing. I still am a full-time freelance editor, I work with a lot of really talented thriller authors and mystery writers. But I never thought that would turn into more until it became pretty clear I wasn’t going to go back to sports writing. So when I decided that that’s really not where my future is, I started writing book reviews for other media outlets. Along the way, I found that to be very not enjoyable for me. I was tasked with a book rather than being like I want to review this book, I was told what to review. It wasn’t the kind of stuff that I was interested in. I’ve sort of always equated it to this. When I watch the Oscars every year, I never know any of the movies that are nominated. I’ve never heard of them, I’ve never seen them. If I do try to watch them, they just bore me to death. The movies that I like, Mission Impossible, Fast and Furious, the critics always are lukewarm, but I love those and they’re the popcorn flicks. They make billions of dollars for a reason because we like that stuff, people enjoy that. That, to me has always been how the thrillers genre is viewed within publishing on the literary scene. New York Times and other places, they do great book reviews, but they don’t spend a lot of attention on the kind of books that I like or that other readers like. So along the way, I’m friends with a lot of authors and I worked with a lot of authors, and people kept telling me, “Hey, if you launched your own site, we’d get behind you, there is no one place or one-stop-shop for thrillers.”
So for advice, I went to a terrific author and dear friend of mine named Gayle Lynds. Gayle Lynds partnered with David Morel, who has the best nickname in showbiz, by the way, Rambo’s Daddy. He’s the one that created Rambo and wrote First Blood. They founded together International Thriller Writers of America (ITW). Every year they put on a thriller fest, it’s like Comic-Con for thriller people. So I went to Gayle and I said, what do you think of this, I’m kicking around this idea of launching this website, not just for reviews? The idea was to take the journalistic approach that I applied towards covering the NFL, the Detroit Lions, and put it towards the thriller genre. I thought, if I look at the publishers as the teams and look at the industry like the NFL, I want to cover the publishers, I want to cover the athletes which become the authors. I was like when someone signs a new book deal, I want to report that. When someone’s going to write a new franchise, I want to report that. I want to do interviews, I want to do book announcements, I want to do cover reveals, and obviously we have to do reviews. Gayle gave me a lot of really sage advice and she said, Ryan, go for it.
So I launched that in 2015. I full-on expected it to just be a hobby, I never thought it would take off. I never expected it to become lucrative or a real business. From day one, my wife, her name is Melissa, she had warned me. She said, “We have six kids, you don’t get to have a hobby just to do this. It’s going to have to pay the bills, or you’re going to have to find something else.” So that motivated me. I sat down and made a five-year business plan. We literally crossed off, every single thing I listed out, I checked every box of the five-year plan by year two. So I thought we got to go back to the drawing board, we’re growing fast. It turned out there was a real appetite for coverage of the thriller genre, and that’s what I was hoping to bring. So it’s been a wild ride.
So when I say it’s been a wild ride, I mean the Dog Days of launching the books, but you have to be passionate about it, or there’s no sense in doing. I would say this, I’ve worked 100 hours a week. Between editing and running the Book Spy and being a columnist for crime reads and other ventures, it’s 100 hours a week for about six years now. If someone would’ve told me that when I started, I wouldn’t have done it. So you have to be passionate if you’re going to go for it, I believe that. Everyone says to find something that you love to do and you never work a day in your life, I don’t believe that. I definitely feel like, at the end of the day, I’ve worked all day. But it’s something that I do love to do, so is it work? Yeah. I subscribe to the theory that no matter what, we’re going to have to work. Short of winning the lottery and just retiring and checking out and saying, I’m done, I’m just going to go live my best life, we’re going to have to work no matter what. So if you can find something that you are passionate about that makes it a little bit more worth it, then go for it. That’s where I came from. I believe that, but that does not make it feel like less work.
There have definitely been times along the way where I thought I want to do something else, and in some ways, I am even. I get really restless, I don’t like to do the same thing for too long. So we’ve added new stuff to the Book Spy, I have a new podcast coming out this year. Working as an editor, I work on some books that go on to sell really well. I get a fee for that, but it’s not what the author’s making. So along the way, I thought I should probably just write a book. So I did, my agent is going to be shopping that in a week or two finally. So there’s a lot of things going on, but I think if you find something that you’re excited about, it makes it more worth it. For me, it’s not just sitting in my office, loving that I get to read these books early; that has nothing to do with it. Honestly, people always think that sounds really tough, but I always say it sort of sucks to read a book six months before it comes out and love it because you have no one to talk about it with. So I find a book that’s awesome, I want to share that with someone and I can’t, no one else has read it. I’m excited about it, but I don’t want to make you excited about it six months early, because then you’re going to hate me. So I’m sort of just sitting on it all the time until we’re getting closer to the book’s release, and then I can tell you how excited I am and we can start talking about it.
For me, what makes this job really fun is, last year in 2019, we had 2.2 million readers come to the Book Spy, I consider those 2 million friends that like the same stuff that I like, and I get to talk to about the stuff that I like with them. In a sense, we’re all fans together. So I think those are the things that for me make it worth it. I like a lot of the benefits too, working at home was not bad. This year has certainly been an adventure. I have six kids at home who are trying to figure out online school and everything else, and suddenly, it’s not the big private office that I’m used to, there’s a lot of commotion. But generally, I do like it, working from home is simple, it’s easy. The one thing I miss, being able to just punch a time clock and leave and go home. When you’re working from home, it’s tough to know when you’re done working, especially when the Book Spy launched and I was a one-man-band. Now I’m kind of spoiled, I have a little bit of staff around me and people help. But early on, I was editing, and then I was running Book Spy and I had to read a book a day. That was reading a book a day for the Book Spy, and then I’m editing on the side. So I tried to split my day, and I would literally go to bed anywhere from 1:30 to 2:00 in the morning and then get up at 6:00, every day. So it is work.
Yes, it’s fun, you’re reading books way before they come out, and being a critic has its advantages, no doubt. But not every book is the book that you’re dying to get your hands on, the same one that you might not be able to hardly stand the wait for might not be the same one that I’m dying to read. So I get my favorites, like Kyle Mills when he puts out a Mitch Rapp book, or C. J. Box puts out a Joe Pickett book, getting those early is a real treat. But there are other books where it absolutely feels like work. So when you’re getting up at 6 am, my mindset was, get this book read and done by lunch. If you do that, then you’ve got some time to get back to your other stuff. It’s just managing time, it’s getting through those things. I think you take the good with the bad and try to laugh and have fun along the way.
We’ve lost a lot of great writers over the years. The same year that Vince passed away, Tom Clancy passed away, this year we’ve already lost Clive. But anyway, I think there’s a difference between whether you’re reading a book for fun or you’re looking for this great piece of literature. For example, Tom Cruise is a great actor, no doubt, I’ll give him that. He’s got some real acting chops, but you don’t have to be a great actor to hang off the side of an airplane or jump out of the tallest building in the world.
So I get it from publishers all the time. I’ll get a note that says, this book is very beautifully written, and it just bores me to death. When you open up Clive Cussler, you kind of know what you’re getting, and there’s some comfort in that. Some authors sort of rely on the formulaic approach. I think Lee Child a little bit. If I said to you, the next Jack Reacher book is about Jack Reacher riding into a small town, and he’s going to get off, and there’s going to be some bad guys and he’s going to have a fight with them, and then there’s going to be a woman that he’s attracted to that helps him discover this big conspiracy. That could literally be any of his books, but that doesn’t make it bad. You kind of know what you’re getting. I’ve always said when you fall in love with a character or a series, the way I love Mitch Rapp. My youngest son is named Mitchell, Mitch Rapp is my favorite. So when I get the next Mitch Rapp book from Kyle Mills, I feel like my childhood best friend is back in town for a weekend. So you have a weekend with your oldest friend. It’s a good feeling, it’s sort of like comfort food on the page.
I can’t read it slowly on purpose so that my friend is in town for a whole month, that’s one of the problems is there’s a little pressure now. So when I get a book out for review, they’re called ARCs, advance reader copies or galley copies, there’s an expectation with that; you’re either giving a blurb to the publisher or you have to get a review out as a critic. So you don’t have a month really, you sort of have to do it quickly. I did this last time with Total Power, which comes out September 15th, I sort of read that one slow. I tried to drag it out, but my dragging it out was three days. I wanted Mitch Rapp to hang around longer than normal, and I accidentally blew right through it because I couldn’t put it down. But you know what, those are the best books. I talk to 2 million readers. I’m really active on Twitter, so if people are on Twitter, I hope they get on and find me @TheRealBookSpy. But I love to have these conversations.
If I say to you, what’s your favorite book ever written, a lot of people point to the one that kept them up all night, that all-night one-sit reading experience. I think that’s when we love it, when you’re in bed and you’re tired, and you’re reading and you go “Just one more chapter, this is it really, just one more.” Then by the time you realize that you’ve read another 18 chapters, it’s four o’clock in the morning and you realize you stayed up all night reading this book. Those are the ones I love. So I actually wanted to drag out Total Power and could not, that was more of a testament to Kyle Mills and the terrific book that he wrote. I fully intended to read that one over at least a week, and three days in, couldn’t put it down. I had to know what happened next and I blew right through it.
So finally, I want to talk about the monetization of the website. So we do advertising with the publishers and authors, but we also use Amazon affiliate links. So if you buy books through us, that really helps. But certainly, that’s not like a requirement. Mostly, I just want people when they come to the Book Spy to find good books that they’re excited about, that they’ll be excited to talk about with their friends. That’s really what it’s all about to me. It’s not so much about the money, it is but the money takes care of itself. I want people to find really good books and be as excited about those books as I am about Mitch Rapp.
You can find me online at RealBookSpy.com and then I’m on Twitter @TheRealBookSpy and we have a Facebook page. So we’re all over.