Intelligence Gathering 101: Making Contact

I’ve been out running each morning this week, and as so often happens when I’m a sweaty bag of mess, my thoughts have tended to drift on to a wide variety of topics that I write about. I haven’t written about intelligence gathering in a while, so I’ve wanted to do another blog post. And as so often happens, the perfect opportunity presented itself earlier this week and each day since.

During the morning, very few people are out and about. But each morning for this entire week, I’ve seen one guy on his bike pedaling furiously as he gets a good workout in. It prompted me to talk about how intelligence operatives sometimes cultivate an asset. But cultivation of an asset – that is, turning someone into a useful source of information or material – doesn’t happen without first making contact.

Depending on the target, there are multiple methods used. The one I’ll talk about this morning is the casual approach, sometimes called the “brush by.” The brush by is different from a “brush pass,” which is used to make an actual exchange in public. If you’ve ever seen a movie or TV show where two operatives walk toward each other – each usually has something identical like a briefcase or a newspaper – pass close by or make actual contact via a staged bump and then continue on their separate ways, then you’ve seen a brush pass in action.

The brush by, on the other hand, is used to make a target comfortable with the idea of your presence. There’s nothing aggressive about this approach; it’s organic in its execution so as not to trigger any alarm bells in the target. The easiest way to explain it is to use my runs as a good example.

Let’s suppose that I’m looking to cultivate a particular target who happens to hold some sort of position I need information from, access to, etc. From studying the target via any available information I can find about them, I know that he’s an avid bike enthusiast. Further, from conducting surveillance on the target (this will normally be done by other officers and not the one who makes contact) I know he starts his day earlier than most other people. He’s a dedicated early riser who gets his workout in, drives into the city to his job, and accomplishes a great deal. He’s also savvy and knows that his job might possibly expose him to recruitment attempts by intelligence professionals.

The brush by is employed in this case because it’s non-aggressive and non-threatening. Here’s how it works:

The officer making contact begins to show up in the target’s world. Just on the periphery of it, barely even registering on the radar. Given that the target is a big bicycle fan and gets his workout in early, the officer starts running at a time when he is certain to pass by the target. As the target bikes past, he notices the officer doing his morning jog. The first few times this happens, the target doesn’t necessarily even acknowledge the officer. But gradually, as the officer becomes part of the target’s world, a certain degree of familiarity breeds a rising comfort level. In other words, the first time the target notices the officer running, it’s a bit of an anomaly. The target might be used to doing his workout without seeing anyone. So it’s unusual and therefore uncomfortable. But the more the officer becomes part of the routine of the target’s workout, the more comfortable the target becomes with seeing him each and every morning. In fact, the target might become so comfortable that he almost begins to expect the officer to be there each day.

As the comfort level of the target grows, the officer or the target himself might initiate a quick greeting in passing. “‘Morning.” “How ya doing?” Something that simple and quick because neither of these guys has any time to stop and engage in discussion; after all, they’re both focused and dedicated men who are working out. (Don’t discount the psychological leverage at work here; that concept of a shared struggle tends to bond people whether we consciously realize it or not. It’s powerful stuff.) It’s that simple. Nothing too elaborate, nothing forced. Just an easy greeting any friendly person might make. This is the essence of the brush by; casual contact that is completely non-threatening.

As the days and weeks progress, the target and the officer are now familiar with each other. They expect to see each other every day. They exchange a greeting. For the target, this is the extent of the interaction, but the officer now takes the lead and initiates a way to change the relationship into something more substantial. After all, the goal of this is to actually cultivate the target and turn them into an asset.

So the officer might do something like this: the next time the target approaches on his bike, the officer might be stooped over breathing hard, showing how exhausted he is. At this point, the target might stop and offer him water from his bottle (unlikely, but it could happen). Or the officer might progressively act more and more tired each day, perhaps rubbing his shin splints out or otherwise seem to be in pain and finally wave the target over and ask him about the quality of workout that bike riding gives him. The target might be more willing to stop and give him useful information about bikes.

Now the relationship is moving into the next level. The officer might run a few more times and try to fit a few more words in when he sees the target. “I really need to start cycling.” Or something like that. “I don’t think my knees can take this anymore.” Any of these are effective at planting the idea in the target’s mind that the officer might be looking for more advice.

Finally, the officer might wave over the target and say something like, “I know you’re busy, but is there any way I could give you a call and ask you some questions about cycling?” Or maybe it’s meet for a beer. Maybe it’s an email. Any option is fine from this point, because it now grants the officer a higher level of access to the target and from there, the officer can start turning him into an asset.

All of that from a simple “brush by.”

This technique works and it works incredibly well. As I mentioned earlier on, I used the example of my own runs to illustrate this point. On Monday, I saw the cyclist and we passed each other by without saying a word. Tuesday, he nodded at me as he flew past. I said “‘Morning.” Yesterday, he called out the greeting first. And today, we both said it at the same time leading to a quick laugh as we went our separate ways.

Now I’m certainly not interested in cultivating this guy as an asset, but the technique is so subtle that if I was, I’d already be well on my way to doing so. This is just one of the ways officers make contact, but it’s definitely one of the more subtle and undetectable techniques. When done well, the target doesn’t even notice. Think back in your own life to times when you’ve met someone new. Did you see the precursors of eventual friendship or relationship? A lot of times we don’t, and this is just one area that makes us vulnerable to recruitment.


By Jon F. Merz

Let’s talk about complacency.

I found a definition online that I particularly like: “A feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger, trouble, or controversy.” This one, for me, really hits home about how dangerous complacency can be. Complacency isn’t something that jumps out of the closet and shouts, “Boo!” and scares the crap out of you. Complacency is subtle. It’s covert. And it’s highly infectious. Think of a creeping vine that slowly and inexorably wraps itself around you, slowly suffocating you until you’re dead. Everything you’ve been working toward, every dream you’ve had, every wish you have yet to fulfill – all of that is destroyed by complacency.

I should know; I’ve been there.

Starting last Fall, I had a series of medical “issues,” that mandated me being scrutinized more rigorously than I had been so far in my life. As a result of the stress and testing, I let my exercise regimen fall by the wayside. Yeah, I was still in the dojo training, but that was about all I was doing. I did this partly because I didn’t know what the hell was happening with my body and didn’t want to exacerbate any issues until I got the all-clear. And the stress of uncertainty weighed heavily on my mind. So I let things slip.

A lot.

By the end of March, I was free and clear. But instead of picking up my exercise regimen again, I continued to let it lapse. And I now had results to show off for my lack of exercise in that I had a few extra pounds around my midsection. (And if you know me, then you know that I gain weight at about the same speed as a glacier moves – so for me to say I put on a few pounds is saying a lot, lol)

I’d grown complacent.

I certainly wasn’t self-satisfied with my level of fitness; and it wasn’t a conscious decision that I made to simply stop exercising. It was complacency’s sneaky, slow march toward shattering all of the self-discipline I’d worked so hard to build and maintain for so many years. That’s why complacency is so dangerous. You don’t often realize you’re in trouble until it’s too late.

Or nearly so.

I’ve done extremely well with my ebook sales since going the indie route in January 2011. Each month I sell thousands upon thousands of ebooks to new readers and established fans. And I’ve been incredibly grateful for that success. But when I started doing the indie thing, I had a goal in mind that I wanted to reach: a certain income level derived passively from sales of my ebooks each and every month. Now, granted, trying to establish analytics and stats on such a new market is daunting, to say the least. And it wasn’t all that possible to know about the ups-and-downs of the market until after I’d been in it for a while.

But I did have a goal.

And here’s where complacency gets even more dangerous. Having infected one area of your life, complacency will then infect other areas as well. The cumulative effect of complacency is simply going through the motions. You might say the right things, you might do the right things, you might play the script, but if you’re not reaching forward and challenging yourself every moment of every day, then you’re inviting complacency to come set up shop. And once there, it can be tough to get rid of.

This past Saturday, I was taking an afternoon nap, as I like to do each and every day. But I was unable to sleep. I kept thinking about that goal I’d had with my ebook sales, I kept drumming over and over in my mind how great it would be to reach that goal and then set an even loftier goal after that. I started taking a long, hard, and honest look back at the preceding ten months.

And what I saw wasn’t all that appealing. I was still writing, I was still selling, and I was still doing well with ebook sales. But I wasn’t trying to break new ground. I wasn’t actively trying to reach that goal.

Then I looked at my overall state of being and realized that as my exercise regimen had fallen into non-existence, so too, had my drive in certain other areas of my life. I was still powering forward in some very important areas, like the development of THE FIXER TV series, but I was really dropping the ball in other areas. And if I wasn’t careful – if I didn’t take immediate steps to remedy my condition – I was in danger of losing all of it.

It’s a hard lesson. There’s no easy way around it. Ego aids and abets the stalking onslaught of complacency by whispering sweet nothings in your ear about how you’re still in shape, or you’re still doing great sales wise, or you still look like you did when you were twenty years old, or that you can still train for six hours, go drink your ass off, and then bounce out of bed the next morning ready to train again.

But the reality of the situation is far different. The mirror that I held up to myself showed the truth as opposed to the soothing falsehood that ego and complacency have tried so hard to drape over me.

So, today started the remedy. I was up at 0500 and went for a run/walk. This is the first time in a long time I’ve gone running.

Have I mentioned before how much I loathe running? I do. I seriously hate it. About the only time I ever loved running was back in the first grade, when right before recess, my buddy Robbie Murphy and I would try to be the first at the door and upon hearing the bell we would blow the doors open, spill out into the recess yard, and zoom around shouting “Moose Cycle!” I have no idea, to this day, what a Moose Cycle is, or if it even exists. But we would tear ass all around that recess yard and laugh every single second of the time we did it.

That was the last time I enjoyed running. In recent years, I usually tell people I only run when I am being chased by overwhelming numbers of foes. But walk/runs have always been part of my routine. So today, I got back out there. It hurt and it sucked and it was a sweaty, steaming pile of goopy mess that finally made it back home here about an hour later. My cats greeted me with a meow that said, “Oh great, you’re home. Feed us, you sweaty bastard and don’t drip in our food bowl.” They’re cats. If nothing else, they can be counted on to not stroke your ego.

I’m also on a new schedule in terms of productivity. I’ve got a plan to reach that ebook sales goal I set for myself nearly eighteen months ago.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog post. We’ve talked about complacency and how dastardly it can be. Now, let’s talk about a possible solution.

Having recognized that I had grown complacent, I had two choices. One was to continue being complacent. I could conceivably continue to not work out and possibly live pretty long life. I could probably continue to sell ebooks as well as I have, bringing out one or two new titles every year. And things would probably be…okay.

The second choice was to take immediate action.

Immediate Action is a term hostage rescue units use to denote the plan they put into effect as soon as they arrive on-scene and have gotten the first briefing of information about what is going on. IAs are usually not perfect; they are rapidly conceived to bring about a fast resolution in case things suddenly go to hell and the bad guys start executing hostages. Immediate Action plans are in effect until the team has had a chance to get better information, set up their own observations posts (usually manned by the sniper teams), and get to grips with every possible variable and plan out a better course of action.

Sometimes, however, the situation demands the IA be implemented; there’s no time to plan things out better. That’s how I was feeling upon realizing what I was letting complacency do to my life. I wanted to take drastic, immediate steps to shake off the yoke of complacency and get back on track.

So I wrote out a new schedule. And now I’ve got my basic route for getting to my goals. I’m looking at it right now – and if I stick to it, my daily output of writing should be around 8,000-10,000 words. I know I can do it, since I’ve done upwards of 16,000 words in a day before. But that level of output wasn’t healthy, frankly, and I burned out after a week. 8k-10k is doable and a good solid output level for me. My day is now highly regimented and I’m channeling my military days to get this thing cranking.

It would have been nice to sleep in this morning. Especially since I only had five hours of sleep last night. And when my alarm went off, I groaned and thought about snoozing for a little while longer. That’s complacency for you. Sneaky. Subtle. Soothing.

Kill it. Kill it dead.

If you’ve been allowing complacency into your life, draw up a plan and execute it. It doesn’t mean you have to suddenly get up and run five miles on a Monday. It might just mean that you have to choose to get up in the first place. Take that first step toward ridding yourself of settling for how things have been. Go outside and walk two hundred yards and then run one hundred yards. Repeat. Make a deal with yourself: for every hill you run down going in one direction, one the way back, you have to run UP those same hills. Use landmarks on the side of the road to measure distance – reach the fire hydrant and then you can walk again. Or maybe push it a little further than that. If it took you twenty minutes to reach the midway point, try to finish in a shorter time. And keep track of what you’re doing so you can see tangible evidence of how you’re moving forward and progressing toward your goals. Keep a journal. I started a new one this morning with my distance, times, speed, and any extra thoughts I had while doing it. Today’s extra thought was this: “God, I hate running.” But the side benefit was that that I wanted to write this blog post and hopefully, you might find it useful.

A lot of people talk about setting goals and how to reach them. The reality of the situation is that there are no short-cuts to doing it. And any journey to reach a goal must inevitably start first with an honest assessment of where you are prior to starting the journey. You’ve gotta be honest, though. Lose the ego and the accolades of past accomplishments. They’re in the past for a reason; they don’t matter in your pursuit of a progressively awesome future. You’ve already reached those waypoints, so instead of looking back, move forward.


Hollywood likes to show hostage rescue units storming a room while the commander is shouting “Go-go-go!” over their communications headsets. In reality, the word “go” isn’t used. It sounds too much like “no,” or “hold,” and can lead to confusion at a moment when the last thing you want is any confusion. You want a clear, crisp command that your instincts and skills have been taught to recognize as the cue to do what you have been trained to do. “Execute!” is the phrase that is used more often than not. In the same way, make sure your own plan has no room for confusion, no room for maybe, no room for “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

No room for complacency.

Take a few minutes today and think about your own goals. Are you marching ahead to reach them or have you allowed complacency to enter your life like I did? If so, draw up an immediate action plan. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be a plan that you can refine as you get further into it. Once you have your IA, get yourself into position, feel your heart rate increase, hear the sound of your own breathing, the drumming of your pulse, and then…


Have a great week everyone!

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.

La Serie del Vampiro Lawson (an interview with my translator)

By Jon F. Merz

I’ve often said that I have the most incredible fans in the world and I truly believe that. For proof, you need look no further than the wonderful Virginia Truett, who has just finished translating THE FIXER and INTERLUDE into Spanish for me. As a big fan of the series, Virginia was the perfect pick for me to hire to do the translation work. She knows the series, she knows Lawson. And since this will be my first foray into the Spanish market, I had to make sure I had the best. With Virginia, I got it. So I thought it only right that I bother her with a few questions about the great work she did for me.

1. You’ve been a fan of the Lawson Vampire series for awhile now. What is it about the series that you enjoy so much?

There are a number of things I enjoy about Lawson. The action and humor are the first that come to mind. I’ve always liked action films. Especially those with the most amount of sword fights, hand to hand combat, and intrigue. So, I was totally hooked by the second chapter of the first book I read. It was The Invoker, I hadn’t realized it was part of a series and I had to back track a tad.

Another aspect that caught my attention was how well developed and strong the characters were; mainly those who would have normally been placed in a less empowered positions. Talya and Jack (a woman and a child) are very strong and memorable characters who wield true, yet subtle, power throughout the stories. I find that to be very good.

Overall, I had such a good time reading that Lawson quickly became a favorite. I had started reading the series with no expectations and I got a ton of fun instead. Can’t complain about that.

1. Has sido fan de Lawson por un tiempo ¿Qué te llama la atención acerca de la serie? ¿Y por qué la disfrutas tanto?

Hay un número de cosas que me gusta acerca de Lawson. La acción y el humor son lo primero que viene a la mente. Siempre me han gustado películas de acción. Especialmente aquellos con más cantidad de peleas de espada, combate mano a mano e intriga. Por lo tanto, no fue sorprendente quedar totalmente embebida en la historia desde el comienzo del primer libro que leí. Era The Invoker, no sabía que era parte de una serie y tuve que tomar un par de pasos hacia atrás para continua la seria desde un principio.

Otro aspecto que me llamó la atención fue lo bien desarrollado que estaban los personajes; principalmente aquellos que normalmente se encuentran en una posición más débil. Talya y Jack (una mujer y un niño) son personajes muy fuertes y memorables que ostentan el poder verdadero, pero sutil, a lo largo de las historias. Me parece muy bueno.

En general, pasé tan buen rato con la lectura que Lawson se convirtió rápidamente en una de mis series favoritas. Había iniciado de la serie sin expectativa alguna y me divertí mucho. No me puedo quejar.

2. I think it’s great that one of my biggest fans also happens to be the translator, rather than someone who has never read the books. What were some of the challenges you faced bringing The Fixer to the Spanish-speaking world?

It has been an interesting experience to say the least. Was it challenging? Definitely. Translating a book is more like rewriting the story in a different language. It takes a lot conceptualization work because language and culture are intimately linked, and what works in one language (expressions, etc.) might not work in another. So, one has to convey the same point or idea but may not be able to use the exact same words to get the specific point across.

In order to do this I had to ask myself “how would a man like Lawson say that in Spanish?” Basically, I had to understand him well. And that has a lot to do with understanding the author.

Writers mostly write about what they know. It is obvious that you have given Lawson a part of you. His training (Ninjutsu and military experience) and various specific tastes (Bombay Sapphire, etc.) clearly come across as the author’s personal facets. This challenged me to make sure the moral essence of the character and the story were kept intact and followed the path you wanted it to take. But, I had to do it in Spanish.

Though the story takes place in Boston, Lawson needed to sound like Spanish was his first language. A Spanish speaking man of Lawson’s caliber, background and personality would express himself a certain way. They do so in English too. And this is where it got tricky. Spanish is the same throughout, but colloquial phrases can be very regional. I had to make sure to use expressions that would be easy to grasp by anyone from Mexico to Argentina and across to Spain, and still convey the same feeling and point you wanted the reader to get. Also avoiding sounding forced or sterilized.

It was quite a trip and I had some funny moments. I remember voicing out certain expressions while I typed, as my husband calls it, with “purpose”, and he gives a funny, puzzled look ‘cause I’m saying it with a smirk on my face. Let’s just say that I now have an extensive list from which I can draw Lawson’s repertoire for “choice” words.

2. Creo que es genial que una de mis mayores fans también sea la traductora, en vez de alguien que nunca ha leído los libros. ¿Cuáles fueron algunos de los desafíos que u enfrentaste al traducir The Fixer al español?

Definitivamente que ha sido una experiencia verdaderamente interesante. Definitivamente que no fue fácil. Traducir un libro es más bien reescribir la historia en un idioma diferente. Toma mucho trabajo de conceptualización porque la lengua y cultura están íntimamente vinculadas, y lo que funciona en un idioma (expresiones, etc.) podría no funcionar en otro. Así que uno tiene que transmitir la misma idea pero si utilizar las mismas palabras exactas para expresar el la idea específica.

Para ello tuve que preguntarme “¿cómo un hombre como Lawson se expresaría en español?” Básicamente, conocer a Lawson muy bien y tener una buena comprensión del personaje. Para esto uno tiene que conocer y tener un buen entendimiento del autor.
Los autores escriben sobre lo que conocen. Es evidente que le has dado a Lawson una parte de ti. Su formación (Ninjitsu y experiencia militar) y diversos gustos específicos (Bombay Sapphire, etc.) claramente provienen de las facetas personales del autor. Mi desafió fue el asegurarme de que la esencia moral del personaje y la historia se mantuvieran intactas y fueran las mismas que tú querías tomaran. Pero tenía que hacerlo en español.

Aunque la historia toma lugar en Boston, era necesario que Lawson se expresara como si el español fuera su lengua materna. Un hombre con el calibre, los antecedentes y la personalidad de Lawson, se expresa en cierta forma en español. De la misma forma lo hacen en inglés también.

Y es aquí donde se complican las cosas. Aunque el español es el mismo en todo el mundo, las frases coloquiales pueden ser muy regionales. Tenía que asegurarme de utilizar expresiones que serían fáciles de comprender por cualquier persona desde México a Argentina y España, y aún transmitir el mismo sentimiento e idea que el autor desea que el lector capte. Al mismo tiempo tenía que evitar que la historia sonara forzada o esterilizada.

Tuve algunos momentos divertidos. Recuerdo en ciertas ocasiones cuando me decía a mi misma en voz alta algunas expresiones interesantes mientras escribía con “propósito”, como dice mi esposo, y él me mira con una mirada curiosa y perpleja porque lo estoy diciendo que con una sonrisita en la cara. Podemos decir que ahora tengo una lista muy extensa de la que puedo sacar un buen repertorio para uso como palabras predilectas de Lawson.

3. EBooks are a fairly new thing for a lot of countries outside the US. Do you expect the Spanish market for ebooks to take off as it has in the English-speaking markets like the US and UK?

Though it is true that Ebooks as an industry are somewhat new outside the US, the concept of downloading a book and reading it on the laptop or tablet isn’t at all new. In Latin America, books that are traditionally published (in print) in Europe or the US are expensive (at least double the price) and can be difficult to get because bookstores can run out quickly. With the advantages of Internet access, people have been able to search for EBook versions to fulfill their needs. I believe that having more Ebooks easily available in the market will certainly be welcome.

Yes, there are potential customers who are still attached to the idea of a “real book”, but I see many more that are happy with Ebooks.

3. Ebooks o libros digitales son algo bastante nuevo para muchos países fuera de Estados Unidos. ¿Crees que el mercado ebooks en español despegará como lo ha hecho en los mercados de habla inglesa como el Reino Unido y Estados Unidos?

Si bien es verdad que la industria de libros digitales es algo nueva fuera de Estados Unidos, el concepto de descargar un libro y la lectura en el portátil o Tablet PC no es nada nuevo. En América Latina, libros que son publicados tradicionalmente (impresos) en Europa o Estados Unidos son costosos (al menos el doble del precio) y pueden ser difícil de conseguir ya qué pueden agotarse rápidamente. Con las ventajas de acceso a Internet, las personas han podido buscar versiones de EBook para satisfacer sus necesidades. Creo que el tener más Ebooks disponibles en el mercado será bienvenido.

Sí, hay clientes potenciales que todavía están aferrados a la idea de un “libro verdadero”, pero veo muchas más que están contentos con libros digitales.

4. What is it about Lawson that you think will appeal to Spanish readers who might not have ever read about him before?

First of all, let’s face it, vampires are popular right now. And they’re popular in the Spanish speaking market too. That is definitely good for Lawson. Just like in the US, there are many readers who do not favor the “sparkly kind” and prefer an edgier character and story. That is also good for Lawson.

There also seems to be a trend among the twenty-something crowd to like Japanese television, music and culture. Although Lawson is not precisely in that category, there is a definite influence there. The main character’s love and knowledge of Japan and his Ninjutsu background are hard to miss. Especially throughout The Kensei.

The entire concept of a Vampire Ninja, commando-spy and close range action is very entertaining and appealing; no matter what language you speak.

4. ¿Qué aspectos de Lawson crees que atraerán a los lectores de habla hispana que no han leído nunca la serie?

En primer lugar, seamos realistas, los vampiros son populares hoy día. Y también son populares en español. Eso es definitivamente bueno para Lawson. Al igual que en Estados Unidos, hay muchos lectores que no les interesa mucho un “vampiro que brilla” y prefieren un personaje e historia de carácter más amenazante. Eso también es bueno para Lawson.

También he notado una tendencia entre jóvenes de unos veinte y tantos años a los cuales les gusta la televisión, la música y la cultura japonesa. Aunque Lawson no está precisamente dentro de esa categoría, existe una clara influencia. Amor del personaje principal y su conocimiento de Japón, con su entrenamiento en Ninjitsu no pueden pasar desapercibidos. Especialmente a lo largo de The Kensei.

El concepto de un Ninja vampiro, comando-espía y combate mano a mano es muy entretenido y atractivo; sin importar el idioma.

5. Your own background in the military and living in Panama as you do gives you great insight into Lawson’s character. Did you have any interesting thoughts about the character as you worked on the translation? Is he ready for a global audience?

I must admit that I was able to sympathize with Lawson a lot. I understood his sarcasm, frustration, commitment, and conflicting emotions. I really wanted to highlight that. There is a certain attitude found in military, and former military, men and women throughout the world; regardless of the country. A certain approach to things, a marked intolerance for ignorance and idiocy. That observation made it easier for me to think of Lawson as primarily Spanish speaking and have a better idea how a man like him would express himself in Spanish.

I can’t say if Lawson is ready for a global audience, but he has many likeable aspects that make him appealing to many different people in any market. As I mentioned before, the Vampire Ninja and commando-spy concept is very enticing. Also, Lawson and Talya’s relationship adds a touch of “humanity” to Lawson. It is very romantic, and women love a man who is willing to sacrifice for them, so that’s another point to widen the market.

5. Tu propia experiencia en las fuerzas armadas y el residir en Panamá te dan una perspectiva detallada con relación al personaje de Lawson. ¿Tienes algunas reflexiones interesantes sobre el personaje que tradujiste? ¿Crees que Lawson está listo para una audiencia global?

Debo admitir que pude simpatizar mucho con Lawson. Comprendí su sarcasmo, frustración, compromiso y emociones contradictorias. Realmente quería resaltarlo. Hay una cierta actitud en militares y ex militares, hombres y mujeres en todo el mundo; independientemente del país. Un cierto enfoque a las cosas, una marcada intolerancia a la ignorancia y la idiotez. Esta observación hizo más fácil para mí pensar en Lawson hablando español y tener una mejor idea de cómo un hombre como él podría expresarse en el idioma.

No puedo decir si Lawson está listo para una audiencia global, pero tiene muchos aspectos simpáticos que le hacen atractivo a muchas personas diferentes en cualquier mercado. Como he mencionado antes, el concepto de vampiro Ninja y comando-espía es muy tentador. También, la relación Lawson y Talya añade un toque de “humanidad” a Lawson. Es muy romántico, y las mujeres aman a un hombre que está dispuesto a sacrificarse por ellas, eso es otro punto para ampliar el mercado.

6. You did an amazing job on the translation of The Fixer. What’s up next for you and the Lawson Vampire series?

Thanks Jon! It has been an amazing experience. What’s next? Well, can you guess what El Evocador means?

6. Has hecho un trabajo increíble en la traducción de The Fixer. ¿Qué es lo siguiente para ti y la serie de Lawson?

¡Gracias Jon! Ha sido una experiencia verdaderamente increíble. ¿Qué es lo siguiente? ¿Bueno, adivina lo que significa El Evocador?

Kindle US | Kindle España
Nook | Kobo

Kindle US | Kindle España
Nook | Kobo

Rise of the Authorpreneur

By Jon F. Merz

The big news this morning from Publishers Weekly is that bestselling author Terry Goodkind is going to self-publish his next novel. This is yet another indicator that there are seismic shifts happening and the ground beneath the feet of traditional (or legacy) publishing is cracking open and threatening to swallow a whole industry that has grown complacent thanks to its massive ego and basic business incompetence. I’ve talked about this for awhile now. Publishers still do not get it. As recently as last week, Stephen Zacharius of Kensington Publications Corp. (yes, the very folks who published my first four novels) commented on another blog about the “benefits” that traditional publishers offer authors – in other words, he trotted out the same tired bullshit lines about marketing, editing, ad infinitum. I responded on the blog, but my comment was never approved due to the proclivities of the blog author himself, but regardless – Zacharius’ claims are still a heaping, steaming pile of BS.

Marketing? Of the novels I’ve had traditionally published, not one got any sort of marketing push behind it. And Kensington’s own marketing plans for the first four novels of the Lawson series were supposed to include “National TV, radio, and print campaign” as was written on the cover flats they sent me. Yeah, right. Those plans never amounted to anything and I was forced to send out my author copies just to try to drum up reviews in major trades at that time.

Editing? Of all my traditionally published novels, exactly ONE has ever gotten editing done on it. Editors don’t edit any longer; they spend their time trying to acquire products and then have to pitch them to rooms filled with so-called professionals who claim to know what the reading public wants, but are, in reality utterly clueless about that very thing. (Exhibit A: my YA novel THE NINJA APPRENTICE was rejected everywhere with comments like “boys don’t read,” and “no commercial appeal” – since its debut as an ebook on May 8th, it has sold more than 1500 copies, garnered seven 5-star reviews, and is on the summer reading list at North Providence High School)

The fact is we are seeing a fundamental change in the entertainment industry. For far too long, writers have been marginalized by the industries they support. Look at the film/TV industry – if you don’t have writers, you don’t have any of the other industries that rely on those writers. No actors, no editors, no VFX, no nothing. Without writers, the industry has squat. The same for publishing. Without writers, you don’t have agents, editors, copyeditors, cover artists, sales reps, etc. etc. You would think that because writers are so important to so many people, they’d be willing to give us a decent share of the profits. You would, of course, be wrong. Writers have always settled for pennies. No doubt this is partly due to the insecurity that plagues the profession. “Oh, you think my story is good? Really? Wow. Cool.” Writers – especially new writers – lack confidence in what they produce. This has enabled the other industries to undermine their worth and get away with paying us far less than we deserve.

Right up until a few years back when the Kindle debuted.

And now, look where we stand – at the door to a whole new world of opportunity. Writers, for the first time, have control. We can publish our work independent of the massive, bloated conglomerations that dominate NYC publishing and we can do so while earning a 70% royalty on our work instead of the 17.5% that NYC wants to pay. We can set our own prices and then test those prices to see what the market will bear. We can change cover art if it’s not drawing consumers. We can tweak product descriptions. We can even go back to our backlist and re-edit the books if they don’t read well enough. We can respond to market changes faster than ever before. We can interact with readers, build our audiences, and enjoy a richer future than we dreamed possible before. In the past, the only way to assure our financially secure future was to hope and pray that one day the gods of NYC publishing would look down and bestow upon us a gifted position on the NY Times bestseller list along with six and seven-figure advances. It happened for a tiny minority of writers. The rest had to be content to scrimp and save and work-for-hire on jobs that paid them just enough to stay above the poverty line. Some of these writers had no health insurance; some saw their savings vanish in the economic crisis.

No longer.

This is the time of the AUTHORPRENEUR – an author unafraid to step boldly into the future and embrace the technology that puts them in charge of their own destiny. Authorpreneurs are business-savvy: they study the industry and learn what is working, what is changing, and how they can position themselves to take advantage of it. Authorpreneurs are never complacent: they continuously work on their craft and goal of becoming better writers and they never settle for what worked yesterday. Authorpreneurs wear many hats: in the beginning, they do it all – editing, rewrites, cover artist hiring, formatting, marketing – and they study the business world constantly for new ideas and innovations that can help them reach their audience.

Most importantly, authorpreneurs remember the importance of their readers. Our lifeline is the people who read our work. Without them, we have nothing. But unlike NYC publishers, who have tried to price-gouge consumers with ridiculously high ebook prices and attempted to wave off complaints by insulting the intelligence of those readers with comments like “it costs a lot to make an ebook,” authorpreneurs will never take readers for granted. We will always appreciate readers and give them their esteemed position within the equation. Writers and readers are the two most important parts. Everyone else is just in the middle…or in the way, if you prefer.

The rise of the authorpreneur is at hand.

And it’s about time!