Couple of Quickies…

I’m back from vacation well-rested and ready to get cranking again. Today, however, is devoted to painting my sons’ bedrooms. I started one yesterday and will finish today. That Monday adrenaline rush never gets old, eh? 😉 GORUCK Challenge updates will return soon…

Joe Nassise and I have a brand new ebook bundle out called DOUBLE TROUBLE. It features two full-length novels. From Joe, you get the first book in his awesome Templar Chronicles, THE HERETIC. And from me, you get Lawson in THE FIXER. The bundle is just $8.95 for two incredible reads. You should buy it here for the Kindle and here for the Nook and here if you shop at Kobo.

ZOMBIE RYU Episode Two will be out later this month. Make sure you grab the first episode and if you love it, then leave a review on Amazon, B&N, and anywhere else people purchase fine ebooks. The second episode cranks things up even more. Zombie vs. samurai and ninja in feudal Japan is a winning combination! Again, KINDLE | NOOK | KOBO

Finally, while many of you were asleep last night, I got a phone call from NASA. Seems that Curiosity Lander touched down and its first picture caught a lot of folks by surprise. Who knew Martians had such good taste? Apparently not even the best minds at NASA knew, so I’m being flown down today on a private Gulfstream 5 (after painting) to discuss the inherent galactic implications this photograph entails. I have no idea if Lawson will be chosen for first contact or not, but all options are on the table. More news when I have it…


5 Quick Fixes for Indie Authors

By Jon F. Merz

As I mentioned in a previous post, the summer usually means less activity in publishing. I’ve been hearing that the same slowdown in sales that occurred last summer for indie authors is also occurring this summer. I talked about my some of own sales tactics for combating this before, but there are other things indie authors can do during this sales slowdown that will yield better sales as things pick up again in the Fall. Think of this as your summer check-up before school starts again. (Anyone else remember those trips to the pediatrician before school started? My old doctor was named Dr. Toch and he was a brilliant albeit scary dude with a thick German accent who had volunteered to help treat injured soldiers in Vietnam. Great guy, but man, I used to dread the prospect of getting a shot from him, lol)

1. Fix your website: I started doing this last night. I’ve had some outdated pages on here for a while as well as pages with no content. I updated some of the pages (I still have more to do) and ditched the pages that didn’t have content. When I’m ready to write those pages, they’ll come back. But for now, I don’t want them being dead ends on my website. I also added a new photo on the index page, changed the sidebar on certain pages from an Amazon widget to a “Latest Releases” column with buy links to every platform. I need to rebuild my storefront here and get all of my ebooks listed out here so people who visit can find them all. Keeping content fresh on your website is vitally important. Even if it’s just a new blog post every couple of days. People who visit want to see that you’re active. If they stumble in and your last blog post was about MySpace or Friendster, then chances are you need to get into a schedule of posting more often.

2. Fix your spreadsheet: How is your sales tracker looking? I use an Excel spreadsheet to track my sales, figure out daily averages, predict monthly and yearly revenues, track which products are delivering the best results, etc. The problem is, as I’ve written more books, I’m running out of room. Instead of being easy-to-read, my spreadsheet is looking mighty crowded. So it’s time to redo it and get it back to being easy on the eyes. If yours is the same or becoming so, now would be a good time to make some changes, make sure your formulas are correct for calculating royalties, etc. Even small fixes can make a big difference – and remember: those pennies add up.

3. Fix your ebooks: It may have been a year or more since you last uploaded that ebook file to various sales platforms. During that time, you’ve hopefully written more ebooks. So here’s the question: every time you publish something new, have you gone back and updated your other ebook files – specifically the section where you list your other works? (Don’t worry, I’ve got to do the same thing…) Have you heard from readers that there might be a gremlin or two in the ebook file? Try to set aside time every day to fix or update at least one of your ebook files and then re-upload that to the various platforms where it sells.

4. Fix your schedule: How’s your productivity doing? Been a little sluggish lately, what with summer being here? If you’ve got kids or grandkids out of school for the summer, then your work schedule might be suffering a little bit. But it should suffer, frankly, because spending time with kids is never wasted time as far as I’m concerned. That said, it’s not a bad idea to take a look at your schedule and see how you can improve it for maximum effectiveness when the kids go back to school. Take some time to look at when you work best, when you exercise, when you market, and see if you’re maximizing your time effectively. If not, work on the schedule until it’s something you can commit to and set some goals for getting those new ebooks finished and on-sale.

5. Fix your perspective: Yep, it might be summer and your sales might be down. But that’s no reason to start thinking the end of the world is coming. And honestly, there’s far too much pessimism, cynicism, and outright disgruntled hatred in the world right now. The last thing you want is to add fuel to any of those fires. Instead of thinking negatively – which takes almost no energy or discipline to engage in – spread some positivity. Look for another indie author you respect and promote them on your website for a change. Introduce your fans to this other author’s work (provided your genres are at least somewhat similar). Volunteer some advice to a new indie author just starting out. Look at your own goals and focus on completing at least one new ebook before the end of the summer – remember, every time you put something new on-sale, it’s like you’re giving yourself a raise. It’s a pretty great industry to be in where you can get multiple raises every year! The point is this: ebooks are forever and they’re increasingly popular. New stats released yesterday showed that ebooks are commanding greater numbers than ever before. With more people shifting to ebooks every day, it’s likely more people will find your work – just keep writing and publishing! Not only does your craft improve with every new ebook you write, but more ebooks means more virtual shelf space for you and that’s always a good thing.

Summer is a great time to look at how your systems are doing for maximizing your production and income. I hope these five quick fixes give you some ideas on how you can improve your bottom line and your outlook at the same time. Feel free to add your own ideas below in the comment area and I hope you’ll spread this post around to other indie authors.

Shameless plug time: my new episodic series ZOMBIE RYU just debuted – zombies vs. ninja & samurai in feudal Japan = maximum win. Read about it here & grab a copy! Thanks!


By Jon F. Merz

You might remember this project idea I had a while back. I created a Kickstarter campaign to try to fund it, but that didn’t work out too well, so I shelved it for a bit until I could figure out the right way to pursue it. About six weeks ago, I finally came up with how I wanted to present this series and now, the very first adventure is live!

Zombie Ryu takes you back in time to feudal Japan where a crazy monk has unleashed a zombie invasion upon the land. They stalk the countryside at night, killing innocents, destroying home and farms, and leaving a wave of paranoia building across the land. For eighteen year old Shigoko (“secret talk”) life has been largely frustrating. She wants nothing more than to become a mighty warrior, but she is stuck on her rundown farm with her father, their most prized possession being an old samurai sword. When Shigoko’s farm is attacked by zombies one night, she flees into the woods and stumbles into the camp of the gnarled ronin Fudo and his squire Nishi.

Shigoko’s life will never be the same.

Fudo is gathering the greatest warriors in Japan – samurai, ninja, ronin – to head north to the most remote places in Hokkaido in their search for the evil monk. Together, they will become known as the Zombie Ryu. Only time will tell if they are successful, and only time will tell if Shigoko has what it takes to become the warrior she has always dreamed of being.

ZOMBIE RYU is written like an episodic television series. Every month, a new 25,000-word episode will debut as the warriors of Zombie Ryu edge ever closer to their goal of ridding Japan of the zombies and the evil monk who created them. Zombie Ryu also features wonderful cover art from my good friend and amazingly talented artist Courtney Rose.

ZOMBIE RYU: Episode One “Torn Asunder” is now on-sale. Grab the first episode in an action-packed new series today!

Get ZOMBIE RYU at Amazon for Kindle
Get ZOMBIE RYU at Amazon UK for Kindle
Get ZOMBIE RYU at Amazon DE for Kindle
Get ZOMBIE RYU at Amazon FR for Kindle
Get ZOMBIE RYU at Kobo for all sorts of e-readers
Get ZOMBIE RYU at Barnes & Noble for Nook
Get ZOMBIE RYU at Smashwords

Since today is launch day, I hope you’ll share this news around to your friends and family. Thank you for your support! Enjoy the series!

Summer Sales Tactics for Indie Authors

By Jon F. Merz

So, it’s the summer (y’know, in case the scorching heat waves hadn’t made that obvious enough) and this is typically the time when the entire NYC traditional publishing beast slows waaaaaaay down. Summer hours mean most NYC publishing professionals leave work at about 3pm to start the weekend, traditional sales slow down as more editors and agents are off on vacations, and in general it’s a dead time. In the old days, if you were a writer, the summer could be a very frustrating time because you weren’t getting any sort of feedback from your agent or potential editors. It used to drive me nuts that months would pass without a peep.

Then along came the ebook revolution. No longer were you forced to bide your time while everyone jetted off to the Hamptons for a luxurious vacation or a weekend party at Diddy’s. Now, with the writers in control, you could sell your work year round. It was a great time of revelation.

But there’s something curious about the summer that still affects publishing: less sales.

See, not only does traditional publishing go off on vacation, but so do readers. Kids are out of school and people aren’t necessarily thinking about buying books during these months. They’re outside (as they should be) enjoying the weather and frolicking and getting their collective groove on. From one perspective, that’s awesome. Happy people is always a good thing, I think.

But from the perspective of a “company” engaged in selling product (namely, my ebooks) any sort of sales drop-off is bad for my business. Last year, my sales dropped in the summer and stayed depressed through the Autumn months. I was still selling well, but not nearly at the volume as last Spring. And it’s not just me this happens to. Ask most indie authors how their sales are right now and you’ll find that the majority of them report that sales have slowed – sometimes dramatically. The question then becomes: what can we do about a sales slowdown?

The popular tactic right now seems to be this idea that writers need to lower their prices. I know of a LOT of indie authors right now who have dropped their prices into the 99 cent cesspool in an attempt to gain exposure with increased sales that will position them on certain bestseller lists. Once that happens, they switch the price back to a higher point and hope to reap some extra sales that way.

I happen to think that’s rather dumb.

First of all, the price you set for your work tells potential customers a lot. There’s been significant talk in the indie author circles that readers equate lower prices with lower quality work. “99 cents for a novel? It can’t be that good.” Now, obviously, that’s not a fair assumption to make. There are plenty of great reads out there for 99 cents. But there are also awful books as well. Dropping your work into that swamp of 99 cent books could tarnish it instead of elevate it.

Second, I don’t like jerking price points around like marionette strings. Consumers aren’t stupid. If I bought something at $4.99 and the next day it dropped to 99 cents, I’d be pissed off. And I probably wouldn’t buy from that author again. I’m not looking to make a quick buck off of people; I’m looking to turn them into lifelong fans of mine. That means treating them with the respect they deserve. I set my prices at a point that I feel is fair to me – as the creator – and fair to them as the consumer.

So rather than going with the flow this summer, I’ve decided to be a bit of a contrarian. My price points will stay where they are right now and we’ll see how sales do. So far, this summer has been very good to me. And next week, I launch my brand new episodic series ZOMBIE RYU, about an 18-year-old girl in feudal Japan who teams up with a grizzled band of warriors to stop a zombie invasion unleashed by an evil sorcerer. A brand new 25,000-word episode debuts each month. It’s a big experiment for me, so it’s going to be very interesting to see how it pans out.

If you’re an indie author, my advice this summer is not to do what everyone else is doing. Be different; set yourself apart. Launch a new project at a time when most people aren’t. Keep your prices where they are. Do things no one else is doing and see what you can do to ensure this summer isn’t about slow sales, but rather about even greater success.

Best of luck!

Hardcover Darwinism

By Jon F. Merz

The latest news in the book trade is that for the first quarter of 2012, ebooks outperformed hardcovers. According to this article at Galleycat, ebooks sales were $282.3 million while hardcovers accounted for $229.6 million. That’s a difference of $52.7 million. That figure is compelling enough on its own, but now take a look at the incredible swing that happened over Q1 results from 2011: adult ebook sales a year ago were $220.4 million while hardcovers still held a commanding lead at $335 million. In one year, hardcovers saw their lead evaporate to the tune of over a hundred million dollars, while ebooks continued their steady march to dominance by posting a nearly 30% surge.

Additionally, while hardcovers still do well in the YA segment, ebooks are gaining ground there as well, shooting up 233% to sales of $64.3 million.

So what’s the takeaway from these figures? For one thing, it shows that there is still continued growth in ebook adoption by consumers everywhere. Despite the holdouts in the publishing industry claiming otherwise, ebooks are continuing to account for more and more market share, which means that more and more publishers will attempt to grab those digital rights in an attempt to prolong their own existence. After all, if they can tie up digital rights until the end of time (agents *should* be hard at work redefining what out-of-print means so that an author’s digital rights aren’t locked up forever, but…) then they’ve given themselves a stable income stream. Lock up enough ebooks and publishers can make money until the end of time, while still paying authors a crappy royalty.

Another thing these figure show is that Darwinism is at play here. Adapt or die. Publishers have long relied on hardcovers as the mainstay of their revenue, but hardcovers are expensive to produce, warehouse, and ship. That’s why they’re priced higher than any other version of a book (unless the publisher happens to be an idiot and price the ebook at the same price). Given both the economic conditions and the migration to ebooks, hardcovers are now in trouble. If less people are buying them than before (and again, hardcovers sold over one hundred million dollars LESS than they did a year ago) then publishers have yet another toll of the bell happening here.

Finally, one of the talking points traditional publishers have used to try to justify themselves and keep their appeal from eroding even further among authors is that a traditional publishing deal is valuable for the distribution in bookstores. Hardcovers and trade paperbacks on store shelves do indeed mean that you are reaching a larger potential audience than if you just publish ebooks. HOWEVER, the counter to this argument is fairly simple: there are now less bookstores than there have been in the past. Borders is gone. More indies are vanishing. And the numbers above show that less people are buying hardcovers. So if less people are buying hardcovers and more people are buying ebooks, that little nugget that traditional publishers like to dangle as an incentive for settling for crappy royalty rates, lower advances, and the myth of publisher marketing suddenly becomes less of a nugget and more of a “so what?”

If more people are buying ebooks and fewer people are buying printed books, then distribution is no longer about getting in bookstores. It becomes about putting your ebooks up at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords, Booktango, Overdrive, direct on your website, and any other ebook platform smart enough to offer indie authors a way to reach readers.

And guess what?

Authors don’t need a traditional publisher in New York City to do that. They can do it themselves. In about fifteen minutes.

I’m one of the beta users on Kobo’s new Writing Life platform and it’s one of the best I’ve used to-date. The interface is smooth, intuitive, and friendly. The sales data gives you geographical snapshots of where the majority of your purchases are coming from. Kobo’s done an excellent job delivering more intelligence to indie authors so we can best figure out how to market our works to various demographics. (I’ll be writing a full blog post on Kobo’s Writing Life at a later date, but for now rest assured I happen to think it’s great.)

And authors can now do this while earning 70% royalties on their work. You know, instead of that insulting 17.5% that NYC offers as “standard.”

Traditional publishing has ignored the pull of evolution to its own detriment. The industry has faltered due to its own massive ego and a steadfast refusal to embrace change. Some of them are now scrambling to catch up, and for those authors who don’t want to do anything business-related, they will still provide some level of service and benefit. But the times are changing. The bestseller lists that matter are no longer printed in the fading pages of a black-and-white anachronism, but rather in the pixelized world of instant reader interaction, virality, and global consumerism.

Traditional publishing now more then ever resembles that annoying pinky toe – you know, the one you just want to chop off as soon as you break it because you see how little value it truly has left.