My new Darknet novel not just fiction…

While my new novel Darknet is a work of fiction, on Feb.26th 2015, just when Darknet was being published, the real-life world’s largest hedge fund Bridgewater announced that it was pursuing its own artificial intelligence program. This was an absolutely stunning revelation as I’d spent three years researching and coming up with the idea behind Darknet, only to find that it seemed to be actually happening in real life. Words can’t describe how spooky this was to me when I found out, and turned this book from a work of pure fiction into something more scary.

In addition to the Bridgewater revelation, many of the plot devices I use in Darknet, like murder-for-hire on darknets and the Assassination Market, autonomous corporations, cryptocurrencies, darknet marketplaces, and chatbots—that can fool you into thinking they are people—are all real and operating right now. I have a list of links to articles below if you’d like to read more.

And, a machine beat the Turing test for the first time in 2014, forever changing the world that we live in. From now on, it will be increasingly difficult—if not impossible—to tell if we are talking to humans or machines when we get on the phone.

My first job, over twenty years ago now, was working as a research assistant at the McGill Center for Intelligent Machines. It was there that I first studied artificial intelligence and conducted my own research into machine vision. After McGill, I went on to pursue several other technical fields before becoming a writer of fiction, but my fascination with the idea of intelligent machines never left me. You could say that Darknet was a novel twenty years in the making.

One issue that I always had with book and film portrayals of the ‘rise of intelligent machines’ was that they always seemed to create these ‘superhuman’ entities that were like human beings in a box, just much smarter and faster than we were (and inevitably seemed to want to destroy the human race). I didn’t see it happening like that, not the ‘first’ time, anyway. The desire to see a novel that explored the rise of the first intelligent machine network, but not characterizing it as a human-like entity, was my inspiration for writing Darknet.

The process of writing Darknet opened my eyes to many corners of the new informational world that surrounds us—these things like the Assassination Market and autonomous corporations. I invite you to go on the web and research these for yourself. I have included a list of links below:

Feel free to email me with any questions or comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts or share in things that you find out there!


As a teaser, here’s the first two chapters to my new novel, DARKNET, available now for pre-order on Amazon (will be released March 11th):



Wednesday, August 10th

Central London, England

12 pm

One hour until the next assassin deadline. Dead-line. An appropriate word. Sean Womack checked his wind-up wristwatch.

Tried to steady his shaking hand.

It was noon.

Clang. Clang…

The clocks of central London chimed their consensus. Sixty minutes until the next assassin’s bet, but he only needed half that. Time was on his side, if barely. The Assassin Market—a crypto-based, crowd-funded murder site—was on the hunt for him.

Sean sat on a granite bench beside a statue of Queen Anne, balancing a thick manila envelope on his knees while he stopped and rolled up his sleeves to relieve the sweltering July heat. My God, he didn’t know England could be this hot.

Buses and cars rumbling past, tourists staring at maps, children on summer outings squealing with excitement—the noise of the city surrounded him. Next to Sean, a man in a tailored suit had his brown-bagged lunch spread out on his lap. He chewed thoughtfully on a whole grain sandwich while staring at a flock of pigeons that scratched and cooed in front of them. Glancing at the man—perfect silk tie, coiffed hair, polished brown shoes—Sean wondered if he was the one. The man didn’t look the part, but then it was impossible to tell anymore.

Sean’s stomach growled. He hadn’t eaten in a day—maybe two—but he had no appetite. Wiping the sweat off his forehead, he adjusted his sunglasses.

Staring at the immense face of St. Paul’s cathedral in front of him, Sean wondered why there was only one clock, or at least, only one clock face, located on the right side. On the left, there was an empty space where a clock face should have been. Had it been designed like that? He didn’t think so. As scared as he was, the inconsistency of it annoyed him. He reached for his phone—to do a web search and find out why—before stopping himself.

He didn’t have one.

No cell phone, no computer. No electronics of any kind.

Sean glanced back up at St. Paul’s. His mind deconstructed it, visualizing where the flying buttresses, hidden behind the towering walls, lined up to support the dome in the middle. In his mind’s eye, the stones of the cathedral hovered in space, great wooden arches coming up around them, his brain recreating the systems and sequences of events needed to build it hundreds of years ago.

He couldn’t help himself.

His mind never stopped planning, creating systems, imagining possibilities.

He checked his watch again.

Fifty-six minutes.

Looking at the envelope sitting on his knees, he pulled a pen from his pocket and scrawled an address on it. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he scratched out the address and wrote a different one, then pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and scribbled something else on this and inserted it into the envelope. Satisfied, he rocked to his feet and pocketed the envelope, then walked forward to join the line of tourists going into St. Paul’s.

At the entrance there was a stone box: a suggested donation of five pounds. Sean fished in his back pocket and stuffed his last twenties into the box. Walking inside, he followed the tourist flow and gawked up at the marble arches, the gilt frescos of gold and blue lining the cavernous main dome, the wrought-iron chandeliers dangling from vaulted ceilings. Jake would love this. They never would have dreamed of visiting a place like this when they were kids.

Every few feet, Sean stopped to glance back at the entrance.

Reaching the back of the cathedral, Sean stepped over the cordon rope into a corridor. Melting into the shadows, he turned and ran down the passageway. The sound of his footfalls echoed off the stone walls. Reaching the end, he banged on the lever of an emergency exit.

No alarm sounded.

Back outside, he squinted in the sunshine. A helicopter hovered overhead, chop-chopping in the clear blue sky. A red double-decker bus growled past, belching fumes as the driver changed gears. Green trees swayed in the breeze. Has the story already broken? He looked at the helicopter. Another had joined it. Keeping his head low, he continued down the street, glancing back at the emergency exit.

Nobody followed.

Blue glass-and-steel skyscrapers rose past the dome of St. Paul’s on his left, construction cranes balanced between them like insects atop termite mounds; building, building. He glanced at the helicopters again, then took a sharp right turn to duck down an alleyway, colliding with someone coming from the opposite direction.

“Can you help me?” the man asked.

Sean grabbed him. “Who are you?”

“Dave,” the man squeaked, trying to step back. “I wanted to know if you’d take a picture of me and my family.” He pulled free.

Sean looked up. The man’s wife and kids were huddled behind him. Sean glanced up higher, at a CCTV camera on the corner of a building. London had the highest concentration of surveillance cameras in the world. It was a risk Sean was well aware of, but one he needed to take.

“Sorry,” Sean said to the man. “Sorry, I was just…” but he didn’t finish his sentence as he jogged away from them, down the last steps of the alleyway.

He stopped at the corner.

Looked in all directions.

Glanced at his watch again.

Forty-four minutes.

Turning left onto Queen Victoria Street, Sean started back toward the center of the City of London. People thought that London was this huge city, but the City of London, proper, was contained in one single square mile. One of the smallest cities in Europe, in fact, but it was also probably the highest concentration of financial firepower on the planet—and the money laundering capital of the world.

More helicopters assembled overhead.

After three more blocks, Sean found what he was looking for. A Royal Mail box, bright red, with the Queen’s ER insignia emblazoned in gold on the front, standing at attention next to the entrance to the Bank tube station. It was in the middle of a roundabout in a five-way intersection of streets—Victoria, Cheapside, William, Threadneedle, Prince—and in the shadow of the imposing Bank of England building. Next to the post box stood an equally red and iconic English telephone booth.

Sean slipped the envelope into the post box, double-checking to ensure it slid all the way in, then opened the door to the telephone booth while searching his pockets for change. No credit or debit cards, not since Amsterdam. Even if he didn’t use them, he wasn’t sure if someone could track their RFID tags. It was best not to take chances. Sean leaned against the inside wall of the booth and dialed a number he’d committed to memory.

Glanced at his wrist.

Thirty-eight minutes.

More than enough time.

The entrance to the Bank of England building was directly across from him, the Governor’s limousine parked in front, waiting. The quarterly Bankers’ Assembly meeting had started inside. Across the street was as far as he needed to get to finish what he’d started.

As he cupped the receiver to his ear, the line started ringing, and not the long muted tones of a UK or European number, but the short, familiar jingling of a North American one. He stared at the Bank of England across the street.

Three rings.

Then four.

Nobody answered.

Then an answering machine picked up.

“You have forty seconds,” announced an automated voice before connecting him, telling him how much time he’d paid for. He only heard the tail end of an answering machine message on the other end, “…the O’Connell residence, please leave a message.”

Sean took a deep breath. “Jake, hi, it’s me.”

How to put this?

“Listen, I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch for so long, but there’s something I need to tell you…”

Behind him, a growling roar erupted, and Sean turned in time to see the front of a double-decker bus bearing down on him. It crashed into the telephone booth, crushing and dragging him across the center of the square.





Thursday, August 11th

Atlas Capital Offices, Long Island, New York

4:54 pm


“I like the ring of it—blood diamonds.” Danny Donovan, the CEO of Atlas Capital, held up his arms to show off his new cuff links. Diamonds the size of gumdrops glistened on them.

Jake O’Connell held his gaze steady on his boss. “Nice,” he replied.

They sat across from each other in the main conference room of Atlas Capital, at a mahogany table that stretched the length of the thirty-foot space, the room separated from the rest of the office by a glass wall. Nice, but not too nice. The table was scuffed in places; the chairs bought from a bankruptcy auction. Donovan liked to keep up appearances, but only to the outside. Few people, except those who worked here, ever came to Atlas’s offices.

Atlas liked to say it was a Wall Street firm, but in reality, it was far from it—at least physically. Like the legendary garage start-ups of Silicon Valley, Long Island now housed more financial upstarts in abandoned shopping malls and reconverted warehouses than all of Manhattan combined.

“I didn’t defraud them,” Donovan added, getting back to their discussion. He maintained persistent two-day-old stubble below thick eyebrows that looked plucked and arranged, his black hair parted and slicked back to one side, his three-thousand dollar bespoke suit immaculate.

Donovan’s father had been a school teacher in the Bronx, and he fought his way up on scholarship at Harvard before making a rapid ascent through the ranks of JP Morgan, the largest investment bank on Wall Street. These were the things Jake genuinely respected him for—hard work, coming up from the bottom, working class roots. After only three years at JP Morgan, Donovan led a rebellion in the high frequency trading group and dragged some of their best minds out to Long Island for his own start-up. A risky move that paid off. Rumor had it that Donovan cleared two hundred million the year before.

“I’ll admit to bending a few rules,” Donovan continued, “but I didn’t steal from those pensioners’ accounts. I would never do something like that.”

Jake watched a veil pull over Donovan’s eyes like a translucent third eyelid to obscure the reptilian depths below. Probing. Searching for weakness. The edges of Donovan’s words were all too familiar to Jake.

“I know,” Jake replied, the same way he’d always acknowledged his own father’s lies. “I believe you,” he added.

But he didn’t.

If there was anything Jake knew about, it was psychopaths. His experience was as personal as it could get: his own father was one.

It was something that took Jake a long time to see for what it was. Growing up, Jake had assumed that every father treated his children as possessions. But one day in middle school, a kid taunted Jake, saying his dad thought Jake’s was a psycho. Jake beat the crap out of the kid, but afterward he looked up the word in an encyclopedia. A great truth was revealed. Many things came into focus.

And a life-long obsession with psychopaths was born.

The popular media vilified ‘psychos,’ made them out to be ogres, but they possessed the exact qualities celebrated by Wall Street and the modern world: charm, ruthlessness, and a win-at-all-costs mentality. Psychopathy wasn’t black or white, but more a multi-colored rainbow from Ted Bundy to the Dalai Lama, with everyone else fitting somewhere in between.

Jake often wondered why psychos seemed to surround him.

Did he search them out?

Or did he notice them more than most?

It was hard to tell.

Jake rated everyone he met on his psychopath scale, from full-Ted to deep-Dalai, even himself. He stared into the mirror sometimes, deep into the depths of his own eyes. Did a full-Ted psychopath know what he was? How? Everyone thought they were good people—even Hitler imagined himself a savior, bearing his cross for the greater good.

It was all a matter of perspective.

Jake spent his life trying to hide the void inside. He used to rely on anger and violence to do the job, but now his family and work fulfilled that role. Still, his life often felt like a show, a collection of learned behaviors.

Donovan pulled back from Jake and smiled. “I don’t know which one of us is the better liar.”

Jake forced a smile in return. “Do I have to answer that?”

“Not yet.” Donovan grabbed his coffee cup from the table. “But soon you’ll be answering questions. The Securities and Exchange Commission’s lawyers are getting ready. It’s not just my neck on the line, you understand?” Donovan pointed his cup at Jake. “Who would have imagined that an ex-con like you would end up a Wall Street trader? You want to keep it that way, you play ball.”

Jake nodded. “Understood.” It was a point Donovan never let him forget. Ever.

Five years ago, Sean Womack, his childhood friend, started bringing Donovan into the bar Jake managed in the Meatpacking district, one of the hottest late-night party corners of Manhattan. Soaked in tequila and high on cocaine, night after night Donovan had promised to bring Jake into his new financial start-up.

Jake never believed it would happen, but he took to treating the guy with a few shots whenever he showed up. Then one day Donovan made good on his word.

Almost inexplicably.

Donovan flashed his cufflinks again. “Three carats. Not bad, huh?”

“They are nice.” Jake couldn’t care less about the cufflinks. He leaned forward, elbows on the table, and steepled his fingers together. “Listen, I need to know what to do with this Joseph Barbara guy. Who is he?”

Donovan smiled. “Who is he? You don’t know?”

“I put a meeting on our schedule with him tonight, down at Johnny Utah’s.”

“Cancel it. Doesn’t matter anymore.”

“This guy sounded pretty upset.” Jake needed some resolution. “His name’s not on our official list of customers, so I don’t know how—”

“I gave him your name.” Donovan held his cufflinks up at a new angle.

“You gave him my name?” What was Donovan up to?

“Don’t worry about it.”

This set alarms jangling. Donovan might have taken Jake in under his wing, but he had the uncomfortable feeling of a big brother, like the one that used to hold Jake’s head underwater in the bathtub when he was little. For the hundredth time he felt the impulse to quit, but there was no way he could get this kind of money elsewhere.

“Okay,” Jake replied, unconvinced, “if you say so.” He could do his own research. Just then he saw someone he wanted to talk to walking by outside. Jake excused himself to Donovan, “Just a second,” as he jumped up and opened the conference room door. He stretched his hand out. “Mr. Viegas,” Jake said, projecting his voice.

Vidal Viegas, the chief operating officer of Bluebridge Capital, turned to Jake and blinked, his watery left eye drooping from some long-ago illness. Bluebridge was doing an audit on Atlas’s accounts today. Viegas looked more clean-cut than Jake remembered, his hair thicker. They’d met a few times over the years, but Viegas was a financial superstar now—no longer the obscure university professor he used to be. Maybe he didn’t remember Jake.

They stared at each other. Jake’s hand hovered in space between them. He was about to pull it back when Viegas finally took his hand.

“Ah, yes, Mr. O’Connell. How are you?”

“Good.” Jake gave two firm shakes, then Viegas’s hand slithered out of his. “Have you heard from Sean lately?” Jake asked.

Another pause. “No, I haven’t.” Viegas flashed a weak smile. “Please, excuse me.” He turned and started for the front. Another man, limping, walked beside and behind Viegas, following him.

Jake watched them go. On the wall of plasma TVs lining the front of the office, Senator Russ talked on CNN. It was coverage of the presidential debate on the conflict in the Middle East. Eleven weeks to go until the election, and Russ was twenty points ahead. Jake closed the door and sat back down with Donovan.

“It’s those bastards at Bluebridge who are setting me up.” Donovan thrust his chin at the disappearing silhouette of Viegas. “They’re paying big money to back Russ in the elections. Something weird is going on there. How do you know Viegas?”

“Through Sean. You remember Sean Womack?”

Donovan scowled. “Of course.”

“Viegas was his thesis advisor at MIT.” Jake turned his Silver Eagle dollar coin over and over in his pocket. An old habit.

“Viegas was Sean’s thesis advisor?” Donovan hissed. “He never told me that—”

“You still talk to Sean?” Jake asked. He hadn’t talked to his old friend himself in months, but there were more pressing issues. Jake took a deep breath. “Look, we need to talk about this SEC investigation. I want to know what I should do if they come for you. I’m worried.”

“Me too,” Donovan sympathized.

But Jake knew he wasn’t. Not really.

Jake had ranked Donovan a half-Ted psycho the moment he walked into Jake’s bar for the first time; his well-oiled smile and piercing eyes were dead giveaways. Right now, Donovan’s eyes did their best to project concern and sympathy, but Jake imagined what was going on behind them.

To a psychopath, there were no dark clouds, only silver linings. There were no moral hazards, only opportunities. Even with an impending arrest and possible jail time, Donovan was probably thinking he’d get a movie deal when he got out in a few years, cement his fame as the Lion of Long Island. People saw Wall Street executives being dragged away in handcuffs after stealing the life savings of millions of retirees and asked, “How could someone do something like that?” when the real question was, “How couldn’t they?”

Donovan’s phone buzzed. He looked at the message on it. Jake watched him clench his jaw, a vein popping out in his neck. He was only a half-Ted. He felt some stress.

Jake stared at Donovan for a long second. “Anything I should be worried about?”

Donovan paused, then looked Jake in the eye. “This is going to sound nuts, but they have audio recordings, even video, of me saying and doing things that I…didn’t…do.”

It was odd that Donovan kept insisting he was innocent. The lies were usually casual—obvious, even. So why keep up the pretense? Most of the time Jake could parse what Donovan was up to, but not now.

“Between you and me, I’m no angel,” Donovan added. “I’ve done some stuff that’s a little off the books to get this place where it is.” His pasted-on prep school accent was sliding into his old Bronx slang, a sure sign of agitation. “I’ll admit to that, but not this stuff they’re trying to stick on me.” He slid a memory key across the table to Jake. “Put this in your pocket.”

Jake picked it up, held it between his fingers like it was radioactive. “What the hell is it?”

“We ain’t got much time. That text I just got? They’re on their way.”

“I can’t have anything to do with this.” Jake put the memory key down, pushed it back across the table. “I’ve got a family to protect.”

Donovan laughed. “How do you think you got this job?”

An ominous current slid down Jake’s back.

“Your friend, Sean, he helped me out. So I helped him out. Hired you.” Donovan pushed the memory key back to Jake. “There are encryption keys on there for some locked accounts. You keep that safe. We’re in this together.”

A commotion erupted in the front of the office. Through the smoky glass walls of the conference room, Jake saw a group of men massing at the front, one of them holding a piece of paper above his head. They wore bulletproof vests and spoke in loud voices. After more angry shouting, the secretary at the front pointed toward the conference room. The men in vests advanced toward Jake and Donovan, handcuffs out. Jake looked Donovan in the eye and grabbed the memory key, stuffing it into his suit vest pocket.

Donovan straightened his sleeves and admired his diamond cufflinks again, nonplussed. “You take care of that, Jakey.”

The Birth of the New Book Market

Yesterday, I watched a documentary about the rise and fall of Napster, and it made me think. It made me think of how good things are for indie writers in the new digital book world. If we didn’t have Amazon leading this switch to digital, we might have had some Napster-for-books start-up with free sharing, ripping of books, a hot race to the bottom in terms of pricing and structure. I say this, because over this past weekend weekend, I had an interesting reaction to seeing part of my (per unit) revenue from Amazon drop due to the new Kindle Unlimited subscription model.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, Amazon unveiled a new “Netflix for books” called Kindle Unlimited that lets readers access an unlimited number of about 600,000 books (about 25% of all 2.4 million books on Amazon) for $9.99 a month. This isn’t the first subscription model, there are others from Oyster and Scribd, of course each with their own licensing deals, but Kindle Unlimited is the first from Amazon, and a potential game-changer (to use that over used word).

What gets writers (like me) concerned, is the per-unit revenue that Amazon shares with writers when they let someone read a book through Kindle Unlimited. In the music business, subscription models like Pandora and Spotify need to have an artist’s song played about 10,000 times (I’m averaging, their actual payments vary, but this is a good order of magnitude) to generate revenue to the artist equivalent to one CD’s worth of revenue. Amazon does much better than this. Through their “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library” program, they pay about $2 per book that is read “for free” by Amazon Prime members. This payment is now extended to anyone who reads a book “for free” under Kindle Unlimited.

The issue is that, doing a quick calculation on the per-unit royalty Amazon started paying since the new Kindle Unlimited program started, it dropped from about $2.24 in June of 2014, to about $1.14 from July 18-31 when Kindle Unlimited started.

My initial reaction was a knee jerk, “hey, Amazon is going to screw us” response…but on further reflection, that was the wrong reaction. The new subscription model does throw a wrench into things, forcing me to think of maybe changing the way I write, what titles I put out. This felt uncertain and made me want to say, “Just leave things the way they were, I was doing good the way they were.”

The point that many other writers have made is that this will skew writers to start producing more short stories and short content so that they can live with about $1 per copy…and will push people away from producing full-length novels. That might happen, but honestly, writers will just have to adjust if this is the case.

After my initial reaction, the further reflection part that made me laugh was that my reaction was the same one that established publishers, authors, etc–anyone in the business already making a business of it–is feeling about this whole switch to digital, the churn in the market and so on. The whole fight between Hachette and Amazon, and all the other struggles in birthing this new book market came into focus.

Everyone has a different perspective, an entrenched interest, careers in the balance and families to provide for. In that context, I have a lot more sympathy for everyone involved. This personal reflection generated a wave of outward sympathy in me for everyone involved—for publishers, established writers, up-and-coming writers–we’re all in this together, we’re all trying to make a living from it, and right now a lot of it is up in the air. Then again, as a writer, everything is ALWAYS up in the air.

I have to remind myself that this is just business, and that Amazon has been awfully good to me–and for me–in the past year, so I should give it time to see how things turn out before complaining about anything. We’re upset that we might be getting only a $1 to $2 for a “free” book read on their platform, but if Amazon hadn’t been there, we might have been getting close to nothing. Either that, or the big publishers might have controlled the digital platforms, in which case it would have been business-as-usual with little chance for indie writers (which would have spurred on the copyright infringing free sites).

The switch to digital was inevitable. Amazon is just an agent of the change, not the change itself. On the balance, Amazon has been good to us writers. So I, for one, am going to roll with the punches and see what they come up with. We’re probably all going to have to roll with the market a few more times before things settle down. In fact, it’s a certainty.

The Third Way of Book Publishing

Is the future of book publishing with the Big Five or with the self-published author/marketer?

When it comes to book publishing, traditionally published authors, as John Green has said, tend to favor the Big Five. Self-published authors pull for their side, as Brenna Aubrey convincingly illustrated in her article. There has been a lot said on the topic in the past year or two, but I’m going to throw my hat in the ring and propose that an important mode may end up being “The Third Way”, a path that winds between these two.

So who am I?

To start with, I’m very much a newbie to the publishing business, but one with recent success, and that affords me an interesting (if limited) view into this world.

In 2011, the year before I self-published my first novel, I was turned down by over a hundred publishers and agents who told me—in a nutshell—that my book, Atopia Chronicles, wouldn’t sell (Atopia has now sold over 70,000 copies, and my second novel, CyberStorm, nearly 120,000).

Now, by self-publishing and without any help from the Big Five, I’ve gathered nearly 200,000 readers in under two years. This was only possible because of the new platforms and outlets that became available to authors in the past few years. Without them, I wouldn’t be an author, or at least, not a “published author”. And, because of my self-publishing success, 20th Century Fox purchased the film rights to my second novel, CyberStorm.

In 2013, I turned down several six-figure offers from most of the Big Five for publishing my second novel, CyberStorm, choosing instead to continue self-publishing—at least in the domestic US market. Now I do have publishing contracts with several of the Big Five, but for foreign markets—I have about a dozen foreign country deals, and these make up a good chunk of my revenue.

The Harper Collins (Canada) version of my CyberStorm book just came out, and I have to admit having a big publisher name on the cover made me feel special. I’m not being sarcastic. It’s an accomplishment I’m very proud of, and I look forward to working closely with Harper Collins and other publishers in the future. Working with them has helped improve my end product dramatically.

So—and now we’ll get to the financial part—when all is said and done, in the 18 months since I self-published my first novel in August of 2012, I’ve earned an average of into-the-tens-of-thousands a month…which even I am dumbfounded at. Almost unbelievable.

But the real point I’m trying to make is this: half of my writing revenue has come from self-publishing, and the other half from working with the “publishing establishment”. This is The Third Way that I think may become more accessible and more important for authors in the future.

I fully realize that my kind of outcome is rare and unlikely (and very, very lucky), and yet, there it is. I’m going to draw a few conclusions from my experiences, with the full acknowledgement that I’m just one (quite rare) data point. And I’m going to say, up front, that I’m no expert…if you want an expert opinion and view into the book business of 2014 I recommend having a look at Mike Shatzkin’s excellent article on the topic.

My first conclusion is this: Not only do I see electronic self-publishing as a new way to get into the writing game, I see it as just about the only way in for new authors. My perspective is colored by my own entryway, but after watching a string of self-published authors (in my circle of contacts this includes Andy Weir, A.G. Riddle, G. Michael Hopf, the Wearmouth brothers and more) get courted by “the establishment” it makes more and more sense.

(Ed. Note: Yes, I know some of you are screaming that self-publishing has a long and storied history, but I’d be careful of some claims that writers like Twain, Clancy, or Stephen King were self-published as detailed in this Huffington Post article. More to my point, by “new way” I mean using the electronic self-publishing platforms that have only become available in the past few years.)

As I see it, the route now is that a new writer self-publishes, works to generate an audience, and in the process creates a “virtual team” of people who are enthusiastic about their writing and helps them hone their craft. Once they pop up onto the Amazon charts, writing agents take notice and start contacting them. When an agent gets involved, they can start selling to the establishment (Ed. Note: getting an agent involved was the best thing I ever did as a writer—a little shout out to Paul Lucas at Janklow & Nesbit!!—but it’s a very personal and difficult process…this will be the subject of a different article).

I’ve watched this process happen time and time again in the past year, myself included.

Let me get back to that “virtual team” idea. One of the most amazing things I’ve discovered is the enthusiasm that readers now have for self-published authors. I have a database of nearly a thousand readers who’ve volunteered to help beta read, proof read, and even let me interview them about their lives and work. Doing an initial crowd-sourced content edit has now become a standard part of my process.


(And if you’re an aspiring author, make sure to tap into this as much as you can.)

The second conclusion that I’m going to draw is that to maximize the revenue a writer can generate from their work—if they can get a self-published e-book success on their hands—it’s possible to work both the self-publishing and traditional publishing angles at the same time. Hugh Howey famously managed to retain his electronic publishing rights while doing print deals, but there are more options that are more accessible.

If a writer manages to get out a self-published book that is successful, they can separate out rights for: domestic US, Canada, UK, rest of world country by country, audio rights, film and TV rights and so on. As I did, they could keep self-publishing in the US domestic market (both print and electronic), but sell off rights for each of these separate parts individually through an agent. With enough volume in e-book sales, this becomes possible.

All I’m saying is that it’s possible, and that working with the “publishing establishment” doesn’t need to be antithetical to self-publishing at the same time. Of course I realize that I’m not the first person to think of mixing self-publishing with book publisher contracts, but I’m saying that the new electronic platforms have created a dynamic that makes it more possible (and for a wider audience) than before. I think some other commentators have called writers who employ both self-publishing and publisher contracts “hybrids” which makes sense.

I’m going to make a guess that as a new generation of writers rises up through the ranks, often coming through the self-publishing route (as illustrated in a great article from Hugh Howey), many are going to remain “hybrids” and keep at least one foot in the self-published world and push to create better deals for themselves and everyone else.

That’s The Third Way that I see coming.

ps. feel free to ask questions–the best place to do this would be on my author Facebook page at on the posting linking to this article

SHAKESPEARE system for helping authors figure out self-publishing

I get a lot of requests from new authors looking for tips and advice on how to navigate the self-publishing book market. I created this document to summarize the approach that worked for me in getting started.

Exactly one year after publishing my first novel, Atopia Chronicles, a science fiction epic (followed a half a year later by CyberStorm, a present day tech-thriller in the vein of Crichton) I’ve managed to achieve some impressive success: 20th Century Fox purchased the film rights to CyberStorm, over 120,000 books sold, and ten foreign language publishing deals…tooting my own horn a bit :) but just trying to illustrate what’s possible.

My background as an entrepreneur shaped my thinking in approaching self-publishing. In the past I’ve managed my own successful start-ups, as well as helping start many other companies get started–handling everything from writing business plans to raising venture capital. I applied that same structured way of think about starting a new business to the business of marketing a book, and below I am sharing my SHAKESPEARE system for helping new authors reach their own self-publishing success.

I’d like to stress, however, that success comes by many routes, and luck is often a major contributing factor (whether people admit it or not!) But, in many ways, we tend to “make” our own luck, just by getting out and trying enough things, so I encourage everyone to try anything and everything they can!

A special thanks goes out to Hugh Howey (of Wool fame), who after reviewing my plan, added the final “E” for “Engaging with your readers”, something Hugh is absolutely the master at!

If you have any questions, suggestions, comments, feel free to email me!

So here it is: SHAKESPEARE

(This is written for writers producing fictional works, but most of the same principles should work for non-fiction as well)

NOTE: Feel free to reprint or copy this as you wish, but if possible, please reference me, Matthew Mather, as the author and include a link to my CyberStorm novel  Chronicles


As attention spans shorten in the online (and real) world, readers don’t trust a new author enough to read 400 pages to get the point. For a new author, a winning approach is to serialize, to create your work as a set of progressively longer stories that connect together through cliffhangers to get a reader hooked. And speaking of that…


The first short story needs to be punchy and tell a complete story in itself while leaving the reader wanting to know more. Even more than that, you need to hook the reader on the first page somehow, create a mystery, a reason and need to keep reading.


To start, focus only on Amazon. I’m not here to promote Amazon, but the first rule of entrepreneurism is to focus, focus, focus. The large majority of revenue in digital books comes from Amazon, with a small minority coming from all of the other players combined. So when you start, focus on Amazon by itself; getting reviews, getting up in the ranking. By only going on Amazon, you force people to buy from one place and thus drive up your rankings in this one spot. Once you have achieved some success there, expand to other platforms (FYI the easiest way to get on other platforms is just to use Smashwords).

Key networks

Make sure to use your personal social networks to maximum effect. Post on Facebook and ask people to re-post your postings for free book offers. Make sure to email everyone at work on the “internal” email (ask your boss first, of course!) Use your LinkedIn network to mention that you have a book out. What other networks are you a part of?

Try emailing top-selling authors in your category when you release the first installments of your work. Ask them to read the first one (by starting with serialized shorts, it makes it easier for other authors to try reading your work), or just ask them to post on their blog or Facebook. When I released Atopia, I had about five or six top-selling authors who posted to their readers for me!


It is critical to create a character that you introduce readers to right away that they can empathize with. People read still primarily because they want to feel an emotional involvement with a character they meet in your writing. Keep this front and center of your mind when writing.

Select Program on Amazon

Use the Amazon Select Program: You can offer your book for $0 (free) for 5 days each 3 months. Used effectively, this is an extremely potent tool for reaching an audience. There are at least 40 websites I use to promote a “free weekend” for my books (email me for a list) – these sites are mostly specific to books that go free on Amazon Select and are mostly free to use for promotion.

If you can plan it ahead of time, write out all of the parts of your serialized work ahead of time, and then each two weeks release one of them, promoting it on Amazon select for free and on the promotional websites. I can usually get 4000+ downloads of a free book when I do this.

Perceived Value

Create perceived value by offering a deal. For instance, try and divide your ‘whole’ work into 6 parts, and sell each for $0.99, and then offer the whole ‘collection’ at half price, e.g. $2.99 for all six. This creates perceived value on the part of the buyer when you start to sell the whole collection


If your work is not edited well, you will get killed in the reviews and in word of mouth. As a first pass, make sure to find some friends or family to have a look. If you can’t afford a professional editor, trying going on Craigslist and find some just-graduated English lit major to edit your book on the cheap. A “real” editor can be quite expensive, but there is no excuse to not get an external editor of some kind, and not getting one will kill your chances of success.

All free posting websites

Craigslist and other free online classified ads are the secret weapon for a new authors. It is incredibly difficult to get outside feedback when you are a new writer. My solution? Post an ad saying you’ll pay someone $10 or $20 to read your book and give you honest feedback. Note that this is not for line editing, but for high level feedback to make your story more engaging in an iterative process.

Bonus: Get 20 people to read your book like this; these people will probably become your biggest promoters and will be happy to write reviews and Facebook and tweet your book when released.

Free PR – When you release your book, create several press releases about different aspects of the book, what it is about, why people would like it. When you release each of the story segments, put these press releases up on the free press release websites. There are about a dozen high quality free release sites out there. Highlight that the short story that is free that week.


It is critical to get reviews as this has a direct impact on the Amazon ranking and recommendation system. YOU CANNOT do fake reviews. Apart from the ethical issues, Amazon has an impressive array of technical tools to make this very difficult. Instead, be honest and creative; use friends, family, co-workers; and see my point regarding Craigslist and getting people ready to punt for your project.


Find any and all ways to engage with your audience once you start to get readers. Do a video blog on YouTube about the process, do a regular blog showing progress on next books and stories, get people to your Facebook page. Just get engaged with them somehow!

CyberStorm acquired by 20th Century Fox

Wow. That’s about what comes to mind, I am still slightly in shock. Yesterday my agents (I still like saying that :) ) closed a deal for 20th Century Fox to acquire CyberStorm for turning it into a film–the only details of which I can reveal are that it’s a “major” deal.

This caps quite the amazing adventure since I first self-published CyberStorm a little over three and a half months ago. It has steadily climbed in sales, now at #1 in the sci-fi and tech-thriller categories, outselling even World War Z and Ender’s Game despite their marketing budgets – amazing what word-of-mouth can do!

Of course, this may just be the start. Now I’m getting inundated by waves of emails…so we’ll have to see where this leads! Will just have to sit back and take it all in…

Thank you to everyone who helped me along on this journey!!

How fear creates beauty

Been reading some very interesting stuff on “fear landscapes”…

Basic idea is that the classic concept of a predator changing the ecosystem by culling prey isn’t really correct – the much more significant factor is just the *idea* of a predator being nearby changes the behavior of potential prey. They don’t go and graze in the open etc…

The interesting result is that many of the things we think of as beautiful in nature – a beautiful green field of grass, fields of flowers – much of it is only there because of fear. If not, then grazing animals would have come and eaten a lot of it. So fear creates many of the things we think of as beautiful in nature.

The extension of this I’m interested in exploring is the impact of the ultimate predator – death itself. Because in the end, what the animals are afraid of, or what their biological systems have told them to be afraid of predators in response to, is death. The end of their existence. Humans are the only animals that have a chance, perhaps, to remove death as the ultimate predator in some ways. We’ve already largely removed any other animal (apart from ourselves) as potential predator of humans, and we’ve dramatically extended lifespans – and will continue to do so. What happens if we’re able to infinitely extend our lives by uploading or merging with machines, etc…

I wonder what the green fields of life are, the things that we perceive as beautiful that are only there because of our own fear landscape in response to the predator of death. And I wonder how removing or delaying that ultimate predator will change our fear landscape, and what beautiful things in life will die out as a result…

How Space and Cyberspace are Merging to Become the Primary Battlefield of the 21st Century

(Originally appearing in Space Quarterly Magazine, Mar.15th, 2013)

(click here for PDF version)

CYBERSPACE AND OUTER space are merging to become the primary battlefield for global power in the 21st century. Both space and cyberspace systems are critical in enabling modern warfare—for strike precision, navigation, communication, information gathering—and it therefore makes sense to speak of a new, combined space-cyberspace military high-ground. This article will discuss the similarities, key differences, and potential consequences of this.

From the moment Sputnik was launched in 1957, and everyone’s head turned skyward, space has occupied the military high-ground, defining much of the next fifty years of global geopolitics. Space-based systems, for the first time, broke the link between a nation’s physical territory and its global ability to gather information, communicate, navigate, and project power.

In the 1980’s, the rise of advanced ICT—information and communications technology—enabled the creation of the internet and what we’ve come to call cyberspace, a loosely-defined term that encompasses the global patchwork collection of civilian, government and military computer systems and networks. For the same reasons that space came to occupy the military high-ground—information gathering, navigation, communication—cyberspace is now taking center stage.

From a terrestrial point of view, space-based systems operate in a distant realm, but from a cyber point of view, space systems are no different than terrestrial ones. In the last decade, there has been a seamless integration of the internet into space systems, and communications satellites are increasingly internet-based. One can make the case that that space systems are now a part of cyberspace, and thus that space doctrine in the future will be heavily dependent upon cyber doctrine.

The argument can also be made, however, that cyberspace, in part, exists and rests upon space-based systems. Cyberspace is still based in the physical world, in the data processing and communications systems that make it possible. In the military domain, cyberspace is heavily reliant on the physical infrastructure of space-based systems, and is therefore subject to some of the same threats.

Space and cyberspace have several similarities. Both are entirely technological domains that only exist due to advanced technology. They are new domains of human activity created by, and uniquely accessible through, sophisticated technology. Both are vigorous arenas for international competition, the outcomes of which will affect the global distribution of power. It is no coincidence that aspiring powers are building space programs at the same time as they are building advanced cyber programs.

Space and cyberspace are both seen as a global commons, domains that are shared between all nations. For most of human history, the ability of one group of humans to influence another was largely tied to control of physical territory. Space and cyberspace both break this constraint, and while there is a general common interest to work cooperatively in peace, there has inevitably been a militarization in both domains. As with any commons, over time they will become congested, and new rules will have to be implemented to deal with this.

Congestion and disruption are problems in both space and cyberspace. Ninety percent of email is spam, and a large proportion of traffic over any network is from malware, which clogs up and endangers cyberspace. Cyberattacks are now moving from email as the primary vector, to using customized web applications using tools such as the Blackhole automated attack toolkit. Cyberattack by nation-states is now joining the criminal use of spam, viruses, Trojans and worms as deliberate attempts to attack and disrupt cyberspace.

The congestion analogy in space is that entire orbital regions can become clogged with debris. Tens of thousands of objects, from satellites and booster rockets to smaller items as nuts and bolts, now clog the orbital space around Earth. The danger of this was dramatically illustrated when an Iridium satellite was destroyed when it was hit by a discarded Russian booster in February of 2009. The situation can be made dramatically worse by purposely creating debris fields, as the Chinese did when they conducted an anti-satellite test in 2007 using a kinetic kill. Over time, entire orbital regions could become unusable.

Another similarity is that while traditional the air-sea-land domains are covered under the UN—Law of the Sea, Arctic, Climate Change, Biodiversity—outer space and cyberspace still operate under ad-hoc agreements mostly outside of UN frameworks. They both expand the range of human activity far in advance of laws and rules to cover the new areas being used and explored. Because space can be viewed as a sub-domain of cyberspace, any new rules brought into effect to govern cyberspace, will also affect outer space.

If there are many similarities between space and cyberspace, there are some critical differences, the most important being that space-based systems require massive capital outlays, while in comparison, cyberspace requires very little. As James Oberg points out in his book Space Power Theory, the most obvious limitation on the exercise of space power is cost, with the astronomical cost of launch first among these.

Cyberspace, on the other hand, has a low threshold for entry, giving rise to the reality that governance of an extremely high-cost domain, space systems, will be dictated by rules derived from the comparatively low-cost domain of cyberspace. Space power resides on assumption of exceptionalism, that it is difficult to achieve, giving nations possessing it a privileged role in determining the balance of global power. In contrast, cyberspace, and the ability to conduct cyberwar, is accessible to any nation, or even private organizations or individuals, which have the intent.

Another important defining characteristic of cyberwarfare is the difficulty with attribution. Deterrence is only effective as a military strategy if you can know, with certainty, who it was that attacked you, but in a cyberattack, there is purposeful obfuscation that makes attribution very difficult.

To most people, the term cyberwar still has a metaphorical quality, like the War on Obesity, probably because there hasn’t yet been a cyberattack that directly resulted in a large loss of life. In many analysts’ opinions, this is just a matter of time, especially given internet-centric reliance of a modern nations’ critical infrastructure. Cyberwar has already started, and is beginning to gain in frequency and intensity.

The first cyberattack can be traced back to the alleged 1982 sabotage of the Soviet Urengoy–Surgut–Chelyabinsk natural gas pipeline by the CIA—as a part of a policy to counter Soviet theft of Canadian technology—that resulted in a three-kiloton explosion, comparable to a small nuclear device. Titan Rain is the name the US government gave a series of coordinated cyberattacks against it over a three-year period from 2003 to 2006, and in 2007 Estonia was subject to an intense cyberattack that swamped the information systems of its parliament, banks, ministries, newspapers and broadcasters.

In 2011, the McAfee security company revealed a series of cyberattacks, that it dubbed Night Dragon, against Western critical infrastructure companies, most specifically against the energy grid. This is significant because of the Aurora Test conducted by Idaho National Laboratory in conjunction with the Department of Energy in early 2007. In this test, a 21-line package of software code, delivered remotely, caused a large commercial electrical generator to self-destruct by rapidly recycling its circuit breakers, demonstrating that cyberattack can destroy physical infrastructure.

A new breed of sophisticated cyberweapon was revealed when the Stuxnet worm attacked Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facilities in June of 2010. It was not the first time that hackers targeted industrial systems, but it was the first discovered malware that subverted industrial systems. A recent game-changer was the August, 2012 Shamoon virus that knocked out 50,000 computers at Saudi Aramco, forcing that company to spend a week restoring global services. Shamoon was significant because it was specifically design to inflict damage, and was one of the first examples of a military cyberweapon being used against a civilian target. It is only a matter of time before a cyberweapon targeting space-based systems is unleashed, if it already hasn’t happened.

It is worth it to back up and explore the core issues surrounding internet security. The internet was originally designed as a redundant, self-healing network, the sort of thing that is purposely hard to centrally control. In the late 80’s it evolved into an information-sharing tool for universities and researchers, and in the 90’s it morphed into America’s shopping mall. Now it has become something that is hard, even impossible, to define—so we just call it cyberspace, and leave it at that.

First and foremost, there is the issue that while everyone runs the internet, nobody is really in charge of it. ICANN— The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers—exerts some control, but the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), convened by UN in 2001, was created because nations around world have become increasingly uneasy that their critical infrastructures, and economies, are dependent on the internet, a medium that they had little control over and no governance oversight. The issue has still not been resolved. To the libertarian-minded creators of the internet, decentralized control is a feature, but to governments trying to secure nuclear power stations and space-based assets, it is a serious flaw.

A large part of the problem is that we are trying to use the same internet-based technology for social networking and digital scrap-booking, and use this same technology to control power stations and satellites. Not that long ago, critical systems—space systems, power grid, water systems, nuclear power plants, dams—had their own proprietary technologies that were used to control them, but many of these have been replaced these with internet-based technologies as a cost-savings measure. The consequence is that as a result, now nearly everything can be attacked via the internet.

Another problem is that a truly secure internet is not in the common interest of freedom, nor in the interest of software producers—a curious statement, but one that is true. As more of our lives move into the cyber realm, for everything from banking to dating, a truly secure internet would be the same as installing CCTV cameras on every street and inside every home. Privacy is one of the cornerstones of freedom and civil liberty, and a truly secure internet would bring about an end to privacy, and thus an end to freedom—at least in the sense that we understand it today.

When it comes to software producers, while they would like their products to be secure from hackers, they have a competing interest in wanting to able to access their software installed on customers’ machines. They want to be able to collect as much information as possible, to sell to third parties or use in their own marketing, and also to want to update new features into their software remotely. Often, this is to install patches to discovered security vulnerabilities, precisely because code is poorly written to begin with, because they realize they can update it later. This backdoor into software is a huge security flaw—one that companies purposely build into their products—and is one that has been regularly exploited by hackers.

There are many consequences to all this.

The first is that, because we use the same internet-based technology to support both the private lives of individuals and operate critical infrastructure, there will be a perpetual balancing act between these two competing interests when it comes to security. Another is that until the general public really sees cybersecurity as a threat, many of the fixable problems will not be addressed, such as setting international prohibitions on cyberespionage—making them comparable in severity to physical incursions into the physical sovereign space of a nation-state—or forcing software companies to get serious about secure coding practices and eliminating backdoors into their products.

Because of the extremely high value of space-based assets, and because they are already a seamless part of cyberspace, when a major cyber conflict does emerge, space systems will be primary targets for cyberattack. Even if space systems are not directly attacked, they may be affected. There can be no known blast radius to a cyberweapon when it is unleashed. Even the Stuxnet worm, which was highly targeted in several ways, still infected other industrial control systems around the world, causing untold collateral damage.

A more difficult threat to consider than simply denying access or service to a space system through cyberattack is the problem of integrity. In the cybersecurity world, the three things to protect are confidentiality (keeping something secret, and being able to verify this), availability, and integrity of data. Integrity is by far the hardest to protect and ensure. If a cyberattacker, for example, decided on a slow (over time) modification of data in a critical space junk database, they could influence moving satellites into harm’s way.

Over the last fifty years, a comprehensive strategy based around deterrence was developed in conjunction with the idea of space power theory. In the future, a comparable framework and space-cyberspace power theory will need to be developed. Many questions need to be answered, most especially regarding how the international community will establish rules for cyberspace, the definition of rules for cyberwar, proportionality of response, and how to deal with the problem of attribution. Exactly how the developing cyberwar doctrine will affect the way outer space is governed remains to be seen.

About the author

Matthew Mather is the best-selling author of the new cyberwar techno-thriller CyberStorm, and has been a leading member of the international cybersecurity community for many years as the Director of Security Strategies for SecureOps.

CyberStorm is released!

CyberStorm is now live and available for download!

If you want to follow all the release action, watch my Facebook page -

The book is already getting rave reviews!

“Wow! Entralling! CyberStorm is a must read…this book is such a page turner. I couldn’t wait to see what happened next!” – Adria Fraser, book reviewer for Amazing Stories

“A chilling prophecy…well written, and provides a great pacing, a must-read for…any fan of good fiction.” – Ian Peterson, book reviewer for Sci-Fi Readers

“Terrifyingly realistic…this book has kept me up late saying, ‘Just one more chapter…’” – Mercedes Meyer, Amazon Vine Voice top 500 Reviewer

“The plausible nightmare scenario in this story absolutely terrifies me.” – Jeremey Bray, book reviewer for Global Geek News

“A riveting account of the (potentially) devastating impact of cyber attacks on ordinary citizens.” – Merv Benson, book reviewer for Prairie Pundit

“…horrifyingly plausible detail, the total breakdown of our society’s frail physical and psychic infrastructure. Caution: may drive you to stock up on canned food and sacks of rice.” -  Dr. Redfern Jon Barrett, author


Join an inside, hour-by-hour view into the launch of a new indie book…

For any of you that might be interested, in the next week you can witness, hour-by-hour, the launch of a new indie book by a best-selling, self-pubbed author – and by that, I mean me! I am launching my newest novel, CyberStorm, next Friday, March.15th, and you’re all invited for a personal seat at the party!

I just created a new author Facebook page,

In the next six days, leading up to the launch on Mar.15th, I have a series of promotional and PR activities planned with a small PR firm I hired to help me with the launch, as well as talking and working with over 100 beta readers who helped me to get the book out and over 50 media and bloggers who received advance copies of the book.

I will provide an unflinching look into the tools, tricks, things that work and don’t, and will provide an hour-by-hour sales update as I do the launch over the weekend.

Just “like” the Facebook author page, and you’ll get a front row seat…