TOUR 2011 – Laying The Foundation

So, we’re not too far away from January 2011 when THE KENSEI rolls off the presses from St. Martin’s and lands in bookstores everywhere. As such, I’m starting to put together a massive tour to promote the book.

And I need your help.

I’m looking to do actual signings, blog stops, podcasts, TV, radio, street corners, whatever. Seriously. It’s my intention to make sure THE KENSEI is absolutely everywhere and that’s why I’m starting the plans right now. Want to help? I’m glad you asked. Here’s what I need:

1. Bookstores – do you have a local chain or indie bookstore in your area that you would love to see swing by? Get their contact information (contact name, telephone, address, email) and fire it off to me via email: jonfmerz AT verizon DOT net & feel free to include multiple stops in your area. The more the merrier.

2. Blogs – Do you frequent writerly/bookish-type blogs? Do they do interviews with authors? Then I’m all over it. Same as above: drop me an email with all the contact deets to jonfmerz AT verizon DOT net

3. Podcasts & radio – Same as above. I’ve been on radio many, MANY times before and love talking to folks.

4. TV – Are you pals with Oprah? Let’s get her hooked on Lawson together! I’ve done several local TV spots, so I’m comfortable in front of a camera. And god knows I can talk for hours about any number of bizarre topics.

This tour is all about two things: getting THE KENSEI into readers’ hands and meeting all of you. Old readers, fans, new readers, doesn’t matter – I want to meet you guys and say thanks for your support. So, please drop me a line and let me know where you’d like me to go (um…”to Hell” is not an option, okay? thanks! lol)

Look forward to hearing from you all! Thanks!

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The Future for Writers (part 2)

So, in my last post we talked about how a lot of authors (myself included, briefly, when I started doing this full time about a decade back) have relied too much on only one source for their income over the years. And consequently, when that income source is threatened or dissolves in the fashion that Dorchester’s Leisure mass market paperback line is, then those authors are left without much. I recommended that all authors in the current market build multiple income streams to take into account fluctuations in demand, economic conditions, bad luck, what have you. When I was cast out by my first publisher Kensington back in ’04, I struggled for years to preserve and expand my writing career. The following list is just some of what I use on a daily basis – some are actual income streams and some are ways to enhance those streams.

(Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section.)

1. EBooks

I’m not crazy about reading books on a small screen. But a huge and ever-growing segment of the population really digs this. I’ve seen plenty of authors resist the ebook advance with as much obstinacy as traditional publishers. That’s stupid. Get out on Amazon through their DTP program and sell your backlist or any other projects that you haven’t found a traditional home for. Price your novels at $2.99, get a great cover, and bump your descriptions and tags up. 60 days from now, you’ll have your first royalty check direct deposited into your bank account. It’s faster and easier than traditional publishing, there’s very little overhead, you can do the formatting yourself (or hire someone for fairly cheap scratch) and get your work out in front of millions. And earning roughly $2.09 per book (the 70% royalty rate for an ebook priced between $2.99-$9.99) is pretty sweet.

Along those lines, get your work out on Smashwords. And Barnes & Noble is doing their own thing soon with Pub It!. You can already sell your ebooks through the Apple iBooks store, but you need an account and have to follow some extra guidelines to do it. Of course, you can always get your books made into iPhone apps as I did with several of mine. Each week, I sell a few copies out there that gets me a monthly PayPal payment from the guy I teamed up with to develop them.

Ebooks are an incredible boon to authors right now. If you’re not taking advantage of this, then fix it before you do anything else. Seriously. Literally every minute you delay, you’re losing out on sales.

2. Sell Direct

Middlemen can be helpful; middlemen can be a pain-in-the-ass. If you’ve got an established fan base, there’s no reason why you can’t sell directly to them – ebooks, print books, merchandise, etc. Set up a Paypal account or Google Checkout and start selling on your website. You can sell ebooks directly and pocket even more of the money. It’s a fairly easy matter to convert ebooks into various popular file formats like .epub, .mobi, and even Amazon’s .azw.

3. Print Your Own

Createspace and various other outfits can print your backlist on demand. I haven’t yet explored this option myself, although I intend to. You won’t make as much as you will selling ebooks, but it’s another way to help make sure your product finds its way into customer hands. Some people will always prefer print books to ebooks, so make sure you cater to them.

4. Serialize

Serialized fiction works for me. I’ve twice experimented with it, this year selling the exclusive early Lawson Vampire adventure THE MADAGASCAR MATTER direct to subscribers. Each week (barring a few delays that couldn’t be helped) they get a new chapter in their email in one of 3 formats: as a text within the body of the email, a .pdf file, or an .azw file they can read on their Kindle. The price was $7.95. I’ve had hundreds of people sign up for it and we’re still going strong, just past the midpoint of the novel. Just don’t make the mistake I made last year and announce the project around Christmas. I heard crickets for a while there, lol…

5. Embrace Social Media

Yeah, I know a lot of you don’t much care for promotion. Tough. Get used to doing it, because the rest of the world is out on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Linked In, Plaxo, and about a million other sites. Get a personal profile on Facebook and then set up a Page for yourself as an author. Here: use this handy ebook guide to help you set it up. I’ve heard the author is wicked cool. (If you need the book in another format other than Kindle, drop me a line) Social media sites are an integral part of interacting with your readers, developing your brand identity, expanding your audience, and attracting new readers and sales. You NEED to be on it, no matter how desperately you wish otherwise.

6. Hollywood

Writers normally look at an option or film rights deal as some type of ultimate pie-in-the-sky event. But the business model in Hollywood is changing as well. Not radically, but enough that you have a better chance now to make an impression out there provided you know how to do so. Start studying the business. Understand how studios make money and where they make it. Stop listening to halfwit idiots espousing box office takes and read THE BIG PICTURE: Money & Power in Hollywood by Edward Jay Epstein. Then read it again. Read it until you know how things have evolved from the start and why TV and feature films make money and yet they don’t make any money.

Then learn how to write a screenplay. Learn what a beat-sheet is. Learn what a scriptment is. Learn how to create a compelling B story within your screenplay.

And if you’re not satisfied with things in Hollywood, buy your own camera, like say the Canon EOS 5d MKII, which shoots glorious full 1080p HD for a measly $2500 for the body. My production company for THE FIXER (website’s being redesigned, come back in October for the trailer’s debut) has three of these cameras along with a bunch of lenses and rigs. They’re awesome. And the camera is revolutionizing Hollywood. SO go buy it for short change and start making your own content. No reason you can’t. You can take the LONG and hard path like my business partner and I did and find investors for your project (it’s only taken us about three years of constant frustration and heartache, but we’ve found some truly awesome folks) or you can raise funds through Kickstarter or from your reading public. Hire yourself top talent and crew and wow the world.

Who says you can’t?

7. Work-For-Hires

I write Rogue Angel novels for the Gold Eagle imprint of Harlequin. I started a few years back and have thus far penned eleven of those suckers. It’s a terrifically fun series and the books tend to write themselves. I earn no royalties from that work, but the pay I get (half on the signing of the contract and half when I turn it in) is pretty sweet change. I write about three each year. That’s a good chunk of money. It’s not easy to break-in, but if you can work your way into the business, it’s worth staying there until you can afford to get out of it for good.

8. Traditional Deals

A lot of ebook exponents are declaring the era of traditional publishing dead. It’s not dead yet. Until that final death knell comes, it’s still a good idea to have a traditional publisher backing you up. Here’s the thing: if you’re selling lots of ebooks, have a good social media presence, and more, you’re making yourself more attractive to a traditional publisher. The fact that I have over 13,000 followers on Twitter helped secure my deal St. Martin’s Press. Don’t discount anything these days.

9. Small Press

Until very recently, I haven’t had much luck with the small press. But I know others who have enjoyed great success there. My suggestion is to find one that likes your work and set yourself up as something of an exclusivity with them. If you’ve got a brand, then the publisher benefits and you benefit as well. Chapbooks, novellas, collections, novels, compilations, whatever. It’s yet another avenue to be explored and mined.

10. Develop a Brand

Yeah, I know what you’re saying: “But I’m a writer.” So are about a zillion other writers. What do you do that separates you from the crowd? Why should anyone care about what you write? Why should they pay $4.99 for your book when there’s someone else writing about ghouls on Amazon and is only charging $2.99 for their book. “But I’m the Ghoul Guy!” Okay, now why are YOU the ghoul guy? What makes your ghouls better than that guy’s?

My “brand” is this: writer, producer, ninja. I write books (and various other things); I produce my own TV show, THE FIXER; and I’m a 5th degree black belt in the last authentic lineage of Ninjutsu and have studied the art for over 20 years. Not too many (er, any as far as I can see) other authors can say the same thing.

Figure out who you are and you’ll be in a much better position to find new readers and fans, and thereby sell your work to them.

One final note: be honest. Don’t lie to your reading public. They’re smarter than that. I’ve read countless blogs where someone claims this movie deal or that they’re being actively pursued by multiple publishers, etc. etc. Please. It’s not THAT tough finding out if it’s true or not. We’re not in a giant, nameless industry. And a lot of us have extensive contacts that we can easily call and ask about things. I find it amusing that so many authors need to lie to make themselves seem more important than they are. Readers don’t care about that crap. They want a great burst of entertainment from you. And if you’re honest with them, they’ll reward you with their loyalty. Respect them accordingly.

All right, that’s enough from me. I’d love to hear from readers on other ways writers can flourish in these volatile times.

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The Future for Writers

Over at Robert J. Sawyer’s blog he muses about the future of full-time novelists. The comment section is filled with pessimistic anecdotes about the writing life and how hundreds of working writers will inevitably fade away when the world no longer buys books, or some such thing. Coupled with recent announcements like the fact that Dorchester Publishing’s Leisure books line is no longer going to print mass market paperbacks, and that Amazon is now selling more ebooks than hardcovers (apparently), the writing world is buzzing with, to paraphrase my friend and colleague Bob Freeman’s term, “Chicken Little-itis.”

I wrote a comment on Sawyer’s blog:

Actually, I’ve found some degree of success with the serialization model. In ‘06, I was the first author to partner with Myspace to do a month-long official serialized fiction piece that sent out a chapter each day. I did great netting new fans and subscribers – no money, but the experiment proved it could work given the right approach.

In 2010, I decided to try it myself and invited people to subscribe in order to get a chapter each week in their email for $7.95 for the entire year. That project will earn me roughly $4,000 this year. Not huge money, sure, but when combined with the work-for-hire novels I write for Harlequin/Gold Eagle, along with my “traditional” novel sales, and the ebooks I sell via Amazon and direct via my website, the money adds up.

Writers need to focus on establishing and then maintaining multiple income streams for their work; it’s simply not enough to hope that a traditional publishing deal will save the day. More so given the crazy contract clauses that seem to have found their way into the contracts of several friends – in particular one clause that states the writer can’t write anything else during the duration of the contract except for the 3 contracted books (and the advance for each? $10,000) So a traditional publisher now expects a writer to live on $30,000 – if they wrote them all within a year? Gimme a break.

As for Hollywood, don’t be so quick to think of it as only a pie-in-the-sky dream. The business model is changing out there as well. My business partner and I have raised private investment funds to turn a series of my books into a TV series. The technology now exists much cheaper than ever before to produce your own material and then sell it across a wide spectrum of potential platforms. Example: a few years back, the digital HD cameras ran about $20,000 for a RED ONE body (not including lenses or rigs, etc. etc.) Nowadays, you can get a a Canon EOS 5D mkII for a whopping $2500 and then outfit it with lenses and rigs for another few thousand.

In short, a writer looking to survive and survive well only needs to be open to seeing the possibilities of a future that can, and (I think) will be bright. Will everyone prosper? Hell, no. When I hear writers bemoaning the use of social networking and having no clue how to set up a Facebook Page for themselves, then it’s pretty obvious there will be some serious Darwinism at work. But for those who understand the new technology and the business behind entertainment, I expect they will be fine.

Different, yes. But still in the business of creating great content and being paid for it.

I’ve often compared the writing life to the martial arts world and the intersection of the two of them comes down to one point: an overall sense of awareness that enables a flexible response to the changing environment. Whether it’s combat or writing, the rules are the same in this case. If you remain fixed on one point and rely solely on that, then you’re doomed. I’ve known people who train only for one scenario in a fight. They obviously get really REALLY good at dealing with that scenario, but as is so often the case, when the situation actually manifests, it’s not what they trained to do and they get ripped apart.

The same goes for writing. I’ve known authors who (for example) viewed a contract with Leisure as the be-all-end-all of publishing. (And given the crappiness of a Leisure contract, all it really did was point out how little said writer knew about the business behind writing) Horror authors in particular have always had this special love for Leisure and now comes news of its paperback demise. They’re scrambling. “What do I do now? Who else publishes horror?”

The time to figure out a strategy is NOT when things are going bad. The time to lay out a strategy is when things are going WELL. As a warrior, you must be alert to changes in alliances, see the potential for friends to become enemies and vice versa, understand the effects of economy on threat conditions, be able to use shifting environments to their advantage, establish new sources of intelligence, mine already established contacts, and so on. As a writer, you must be alert for new technologies that can create new opportunities, understand the business behind entertainment, establish new contacts and friends already in those new markets, and look to establish a presence there, and so on.

A lot of writers will no doubt fade away. But the smart ones will figure out how to survive and indeed, prosper. In the same way, a smart warrior uses every tool at his disposal to survive – not just the business ends of his weapons. Those who failed to grasp that point, inevitably stayed on the battlefield long after the living already left.

Your mileage may vary…

Later this week I’ll offer up some suggestions for those “multiple income streams.” So please be sure to come on back!

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The Week Ahead…

Got a busy week ahead:

  • I’ll be sending out the next chapter of THE MADAGASCAR MATTER later today. This has been on-hold lately because of the other projects I’ve been involved in as well as some personal stuff that cropped up. In any event, we’ll be back on a regular schedule now, after leaving Lawson in a lurch (as I normally do, lol). So if you’ve subscribed to the ongoing serial, look for the next chapter coming your way soon!
  • Rewrites continue on the YA adventure series and I’ll be getting that back to my agent later this week. I’m excited about this one because it’s going to be big. Very big. More news when I can share it.
  • I need to rework a beat-sheet for the feature movie I’m working on.
  • Along those lines, I’m reading over a book my manager in LA wrote, so that should be fun as well.
  • I’m looking over website redesign plans for the new website for THE FIXER that will hopefully be unveiled this autumn. It will be the destination for all things Lawson. Stay tuned!
  • Got a few investor meetings lined up as well.
  • …and, of course, more training.