GORUCK Challenge

By Jon F. Merz

Yesterday, I registered for something I’ve had my eye on for a while: the GORUCK Challenge. This is something different from races like Tough Mudder and others. According to the GORUCK website, “The GORUCK Challenge is a team event, never a race. Think of it as a slice of reality found in the most elite schools in Special Operations. Leadership is taught, teamwork is demanded.”

How do they accomplish this? Simple. You give yourself over to the Cadre – all of whom are drawn from the ranks of US Special Operations units – for “8-10 hours, 15-20 miles, Good Livin'” Spread out over this fun little jaunt, you are required to wear a ruck filled with six bricks (four if you’re under 150 pounds) that weigh about 24 pounds, along with a hydration bladder, a bit of food and other gear. Your ruck ends up weighing probably around 40-45 pounds when all is said and done. Additionally, you have a “team weight” of at least 25 pounds that gets handed around throughout the night.

Oh, and then there’s a log. A big log. And not a Robert Plant Big Log, either.

Push-ups, flutter kicks, buddy carries, bear crawls, crab crawls, and much more fun are to be found as you progress through the event. Rucksacks are never taken off unless the Cadre tells you. They also can’t touch the ground at any time unless permitted by Cadre. Both times and distances have been known to exceed the advertised length.

I signed up for the event happening on October 27th in Salem, MA. Start time: 0100 hours.

And I can’t freakin’ wait. Here’s a slight preview of what I can expect:

When I posted that I’d registered yesterday, I got several emails from folks asking: “Why?”

My simple answer is: “Why not?”

I’ll be doing the Challenge a few days past my 43rd birthday. At the time of the Challenge, it will have been about a year since I started dealing with a bunch of medical issues that fortunately turned out to be nothing serious. But at the time, I thought they were. Being 42 and forced to go through a battery of tests is not fun when every thought happens to be of the fact that your father passed when he was 48. Fortunately, I don’t smoke and don’t seem to have the cardiac issues my late father did. But it still made me think. A lot.

If you read my previous post on Complacency, then you’ll also understand why I want to do this. And if you know about the various aspects of my life – including martial arts – then you know that I take very seriously this concept of warriorship. Herein lies the longer answer to why I’m doing GORUCK. For me, walking the warrior path means that I set challenges for myself – big challenges that force me well out of my comfort zone. GORUCK type training is not something I’ve done in nearly twenty years. I want to see if I can still hack it, quite frankly. It’s not ego, but a genuine curiosity to see whether I can endure a situation like what GORUCK offers and emerge in decent shape on the other side.

On the GORUCK website, they urge participants not to attempt to “overgame” the event through intense training or running themselves into the ground. I happen to dig that attitude since it falls in line with my own thinking and brings up another point about warriorship: you can’t pick the time and place of an emergency situation. They happen whenever, wherever, to whomever. Therefore, you need a general baseline of physical aptitude to work with. The rest, as they say, is all mental.

With that in mind, I’ll be ramping my own physical baseline up but I’m not going crazy-go-nuts trying to ingest all sorts of supplements (which I don’t usually handle well anyway) or somehow turn myself into a superhuman specimen. I’ll be doing my usual walk-runs, mixing in Crossfit WODs, and some endurance marches of my own with the fully-weighted ruck to get myself ready. For those who are interested and want to follow my training, each new blog post out here will feature a rundown of what I’ve been doing. Then on October 27th, we’ll see if the preparation was enough.

I hope it is, because GORUCK also offers some other very cool events. But you’ve got to get through the Challenge first in order to qualify.

So, we’ll see. I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of my GORUCK GR1 gear bag, and I’m starting to see a few of the other folks signed up for the event. I’m hoping it’s an absolute blast. If you’ve done the GORUCK Challenge before, I hope you’ll say hi!


Note: I’ve been doing walk-runs for about a month now – focusing mainly on time and not distance. Even still, I feel they’ve given me a decent base to build from.

24 July 2012: Registered for GORUCK Challenge. Crossfit Workout for time: 3 sets x 20 reps each push-ups, flutter kicks, overhead press, back-ups, medicine ball throw & catch (20#), flyes (10# & 25# kettlebells) Total time: 18:39

25 July 2012: 44 minute walk-run for 3.75 miles (average pace was 4.7mph)

Nothing too elaborate or particularly challenging yet, but we’ll see how things progress.

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!

Diversity of Thought

By Jon F. Merz

Three things have happened this week that have led me to write this blog post. On Monday, I was honored to once again be a guest on the Provocative Thoughts and Positive Vibes radio show hosted by my friends Tommy and Lois. Tuesday, we got some new neighbors. And last night, I started reading the book “Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. These three things might seem to have nothing in common, but, in fact, they do.

And the thread that binds them all together is this notion of diversity.

On the radio show Monday, Tommy, Lois, and I were discussing how with the advent of ebooks and technology, the world is inherently much more connected – things that were once only local are now global. Each day, the opportunity exists to reach out and connect with someone clear across the world via Facebook, Twitter, a blog post, etc. In my industry – entertainment – this means I can reach new audiences with my work. But this global environment isn’t just a one-way street; it’s an every-way street. And as much as I am able to spread my “ideas,” so too am I able to receive new ideas from other people, places, and cultures.

Tuesday, we found out that we have new neighbors. The suburban town I live in currently is largely white. We’re about twenty miles outside of Boston and while there are minority groups represented here, the town is overwhelming Caucasian. When we moved here in 2004, my wife was one of the few Asians in town. We now enjoy a greater mix of races and ethnicity, but the town is still easily 80% white. So whenever we find out that there’s a bit more range to the spectrum, we get excited. Such was the case with our new neighbors, who happen to be two lesbians and their three children. More range to the spectrum!

Finally, in reading Abundance (and I’ve only just started it) last night, the overriding theme of the book – at least at this point – seems to be that the future can be incredible, but only if we embrace diversity. The way kids are taught these days is somewhat backward in that math and science are given utmost importance while creativity and critical thought are not. This needs to change because the planet faces some very serious problems that will only be solved by people who have the ability to critically examine problems and creatively come up with solutions that benefit us all.

Diversity scares a lot of people, though. And given that we’re in the midst of another presidential election process here in the United States, the two parties at play are hard at work drumming up the most base instincts of potential voters with fear of one kind or another. I always find it interesting to see how people react to such tactics and what their reactions tell me about who they are as people – and in the case of those who study martial ways, who they are as warriors.

There’s an admonition in the martial art lineage I study called “Banpen Fugyo,” and it means “Ten thousand changes, no surprises.” There are many who think that the meaning behind the admonition is enough to understand: that you should always expect things to change and therefore not be surprised when change occurs. But like so many other aspects of Japanese culture, there is both an omote (outer) meaning and an ura (inner) meaning and only thinking about the obvious meaning of Banpen Fugyo cuts the lesson short and deprives the practitioner of a chance to expand their comprehension of it.

To me, the ura meaning behind Banpen Fugyo isn’t that the practitioner be alert to changes in the midst of combat; it’s that the practitioner understand that diversity in combat is nothing to be scared of, provided they are secure enough in who they are as warriors. Does it really matter if your opponent punches or kicks you? Or swings a baseball at your head or stabs at you with a knife? If you’ve trained long enough and hard enough, it won’t matter. You’ll respond with the appropriate technique and end the conflict. As a result of first opening yourself up to the range of technical tools available in the martial lineage you might study, you have an endless variety to choose from. Experience and personal evolution will help teach you how to properly respond at the right moment.

Can you imagine entering a dojo and telling the instructor you only want to learn how to defend yourself against a roundhouse kick? And then you only want to learn a single technique for doing so? Why wold you limit yourself in that way? Why would you set your life up so that it’s only possible to be successful if a strict set of parameters are met?

But there are plenty of examples of martial artists who do just that. They espouse their style as the only “true” way to deal with attackers. They insult other styles, other techniques. They claim they train harder than everyone else. Or that this technique is the only way to properly defend against this particular attack. Most, if not all, of these claims stem from insecurity.

Conversely, the practitioners who are secure in their abilities – they know what they can do and (equally important) what they cannot do – are often the most open to diversity of technique. They are open to discussing new ideas on how to handle new threats to security. They don’t insult other styles. They freely exchange ideas with others. As a result, they are better martial artists.

Extrapolate that further and the true meaning of Banpen Fugyo might just be that practitioners walking the path need to be open to diversity not only in martial arts, but also in life.

But that’s difficult.

In the political arena especially, candidates and their surrogates take great pains to divide and conquer. They paint their opponent as the guy who wants to come in and do all sorts of horrible nasty things to the country, the belief system the party espouses, and the voters themselves. They do so by crafting their messages and advertisements with trigger points that are carefully calculated to cause fear. Fear is obviously one of our most primal base emotions. Everyone has been scared before. Fear takes no thought. It’s easy. And in the crowded media world where messages and sound bites have scant time to register before the next message comes hurtling in, fear is the one thing that works better than others.

Political parties don’t want you to embrace diversity because it makes you harder to effectively cajole into voting for their candidate. Political parties want you to avoid diversity and confine yourself and your thoughts to a very strict set of parameters. Once they pigeonhole you, they can effectively market to you because they know exactly how you’ll react if they hit this or that trigger point. Then they just repeat the message over and over and over and over and over again until you adopt that talking point as one of your own.

There are no parameters in combat. Anything can happen. Anything will happen. There is so much diversity in combat that it’s impossible to account for it all. A true warrior understands this and takes pains to learn as many techniques as possible from as many sources as possible and temper those lessons with as many experiences as possible. The more expansive a spectrum of martial skill a warrior has, the better chance they have of coming out of a hostile encounter alive. That guy who only wanted to learn one technique for defending against a roundhouse kick back up there in paragraph 9? He’s already dead by now.

In the same way, life does not confine itself to a narrow set of parameters, either. Life exists everywhere on this planet and presumably beyond. Life exists in environments never thought capable of sustaining it previously. Given the opportunity – any opportunity – life flourishes and the ecosystem is richer for it. Why would you choose to live your life constrained by a narrow set of guidelines or parameters or a belief system?

The time we exist in now – the day before you now – is filled with incredible potential from an infinite number of sources, people, cultures, and experiences. The number of opportunities – the chances to flourish – before each of us is infinite.

But you’ll only see them if you embrace diversity.