THE CONTAINED: A New Digital Series Created by Jon F. Merz

By Jon F. Merz

It’s been a while since I last posted (mostly due to the fact that my hard drive crashed and that kept me away for about a week and a half). But the larger reason is that I’ve been incredibly busy preparing this amazing new project for its debut.

And today…we launch!

I’m proud to announce that THE CONTAINED is officially live! Based on the my first piece of published fiction (way back in 1996!), “I, the Courier,” THE CONTAINED is the story of one man’s journey to rediscover his forgotten past and battle against his nearly inevitable future. Along the way, he trips and stumbles down a winding road of conspiracy, corruption, and the very fate of mankind itself.

Imagine a world where people transport deadly diseases in their bodies for pharmaceutical companies. They easily travel across international borders, bypass national health laws, and help big pharma reap enormous profits. Hunted by assassins from rival pharmaceutical companies and always at risk from being killed by the very diseases they transport in their bodies, the life of a COURIER is high-risk and high-reward. For those that succeed, they become incredibly wealthy. For those that fail – a quick death is a merciful one.

THE CONTAINED is a brand new digital series from bestselling author Jon F. Merz, New Ronin Entertainment, and Human Punch Bowl featuring a cast of both fresh faces and veteran talent brought together in a maelstrom of high-octane adventure.

But here’s the thing: we need YOUR help to make this possible! Your donations – in whatever amount you can afford – will go directly toward the production of this incredibly exciting new series. You can help right now by going to the Indiegogo page and donating – we’ve got some very cool perks for those who do support us. And be sure to watch our exclusive awesome teaser trailer! It’s guaranteed to knock some awesome into your day!

Why I Love Failure

By Jon F. Merz

When most people talk about career goals, dreams, wishes, etc., they only talk about success. “Won’t it be great when I finally achieve this goal?” Or “won’t it be wonderful when I finally meet my perfect soul mate?” Our society is fixated on the idea of achieving success – so much so that kids who play sports are routinely rewarded with trophies and ribbons and medals even when they lose. “That’s okay, hon, even though you lost, you’re still a winner.”

Well, no. They’re not. At least not yet.

Part of the problem when we discuss the notion of success is that it immediately puts the notion of failure in a horrible light – as if failure is to be avoided at all costs, shut away in some dark closet and never spoken about in public. After all, if we’re focused on success, why would we talk about failure?

Here’s the thing: failure is actually awesome. It is by failing that we achieve our greatest successes – provided we have the endurance to weather the failure itself. If we fail and then get depressed and stuck in a rut of self-doubt, then failure can be truly debilitating. But if we embrace the failure for what it is: a sign that we have not yet reached our goal or performed up to standard and that we have a ways to go before we can stand triumphant, then failure is a fantastic motivator and an excellent waypoint indicator on our path to success.

I’ve made some of my greatest breakthroughs in life by failing – repeatedly. In recent years, my big breakthrough with ebooks came as a direct result of failing at selling any of them. I heard all about Joe Konrath selling thousands of copies each month, got annoyed and jealous and called him out on his blog. After talking and asking him to critique my efforts, things came up and delayed the critique so instead of waiting, I went back and looked at what I was doing wrong – where I was failing – and what Joe was doing right – where he was succeeding, made the changes and the rest has been history. I now sell thousands of copies of my ebooks each month as well. (Joe (and others) now sells tens of thousands of his ebooks, which only acts as a motivator for me to do even better…)

My business partner Jaime Hassett and I are still dealing with failures when it comes to getting THE FIXER TV series off the ground. We started this project in November of 2007 and have met with tons of people to back the project. Some of those meetings have yielded fruit, and others have been outright failures. Some of the more exasperating failures come as a result of dealing with idiots who say they want to get involved and then either back out or create some sort of insane drama to extricate themselves from the commitment. You honestly would not believe the stories we have to tell about our meetings; one day they’ll make for some fantastic entertainment. In the meantime, every new failure brings us right back to an intense appraisal about what we’re doing and our goals, as well as where we might have screwed up along the way. But as many times as we’ve failed so far, it only drives us even harder to be successful. And we will be very soon (news on that front is coming up, so stay tuned!)

The point is that failure shouldn’t be stigmatized as much as it has been. Failure is a fantastic generator of ideas and creativity. Okay, so we failed here, how do we make sure we don’t make those mistakes again? How do we get around this problem and achieve what we set out to do? I love talking to people who have repeatedly failed throughout their lives and not given into the temptation to quit and settle for less than what they dream is possible. Their stories are incredibly inspirational and motivating. And failure for them is something they wear as a badge of honor rather than as a scarlet letter of shame.

Nowadays, kids are routinely rewarded for failing, which I think is a dangerous trend. I understand the idea behind it, certainly, that it’s tough on a kid to lose and well-meaning parents want to cushion the blow to the ego, stem the insecurity, etc. But it sets a unrealistic expectation that will plague them as they grow older. And that is they will naturally expect everything they do, every activity they undertake, or every dream they have to be a walk in the park. We’ve all heard the stories of the college grad who didn’t get the job he applied for and had his mommy call up the employer and bitch them out. This is the notion of entitlement that arises when failure is improperly framed within a child’s mind at an early age.

The better technique for introducing failure to a child is to take them aside when they do fail, or lose a game, or perform to a lower standard, and teach them how they can look at the experience and take away from it the lesson on how to do better. Instead of slapping a trophy in their hand and telling them how great they are for losing, there’s nothing wrong with telling them the truth: “You didn’t do so well today. Why do you think that happened? What can you do to be better the next time?” You can cushion this talk by pointing out things they did well even though they did fail.

Our nation – indeed, our world – needs to produce a generation of kids that grow up understanding the critical role that failure plays in moving society forward. Failure isn’t an end point; it’s a new opportunity to get it right the next time through. Success only comes about as a direct result of failing – often many, many times (paging Thomas Edison…) – but not giving up. Failure, when coupled with an enduring spirit, is the surest route to achieving the success we all crave.

GORUCK CHALLENGE UPDATE

The daily runs are back on. I’m also doing the 60-day Insanity workout and Crossfit WODs. Today’s run was an exercise in pain and dealing with intense humidity. Good livin’!

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!

The Greatest Fans In The World…

By Jon F. Merz

Last night I had the opportunity to interact with my fans on a whole new level – a virtual author event that brought video conferencing to a whole new level. Shindig, a company based in New York City, hosted me on its incredible platform that can handle thousands of guests in multiple rooms, as well as show video clips, pictures, and more all during the event. It’s a fantastic way for authors, musicians, TV folks, and producers to get in touch with fans and drive interest and buzz around their projects. After trying it last night for the first time, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s easy-to-use and the learning curve is remarkably slight.

I’ve been pushing this event for about a month now and really cranked it up these last few days. We had a ton of RSVPs and around 50 people showed up for the actual event. I spoke for about 25 minutes on where Lawson came from, the evolution of the series, the trials and tribulations of publishing, and then into the production of THE FIXER TV series. And then I hit the audience with a never-before-seen clip from the show itself. 54 seconds of the flavor, feel, and look of the show and the whole cast. It was awesome seeing the reactions on the faces of the attendees as they watched and the feedback was immediate and intense. I’m still getting emails about it. Suffice it to say, THE FIXER is really going to blow socks off when we debut the pilot.

After the clip, I had a Q&A session and fielded questions on everything from cover art to ebooks to the cast from THE FIXER to my latest project THE NINJA APPRENTICE. And when folks had a question, the Shindig platform allowed them to “come up on stage” with me if they had a web camera operational and actually share the cyber spotlight. Otherwise, folks could type in questions and the moderator Eric would relay them to me.

This was new ground, but if you read yesterday’s post on creating your own opportunities, you’d see how this all dovetails together. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to hold this event if I hadn’t heard about it from my good friend who is very much in the same mindset as me about exploring new avenues and chances for exposure and success. Shindig is new technology and I think it’s incredible stuff.

The best part of last night was getting the chance to meet some of my many fans. And seeing the folks who showed up really made it clear just how lucky I am to be able to do this for a living. The time slot was tough on some folks’ schedules and a lot of my fans couldn’t make it. But despite the fact that they missed the event, they still wrote and told me how much they wished they could have been there. And that means the world to me.

I’ve often said that my fans are truly the greatest people in the world. I mean that. Some attendees last night were actually at work; some were in other parts of the world where it was either late at night or in the very wee hours of the morning; and still others had rushed home from work to attend. We had media in attendance as well as one or two high-level executives in some very interesting companies. It was a very impressive array of people in the audience and being able to speak to them was an honor and a privilege.

So thank you to everyone – ALL of my fans – whether you made it last night or not. I know you’re out there and I want you to know that I sincerely appreciate you counting yourself among my readers, fans, and friends. You’re the best. Absolutely, unequivocally the best.

We’ll do more of these events in the future and I can’t wait to meet even more of you face-to-face. Have a fantastic weekend and thank you again!

🙂

A Writer’s Best Defense

There’s an inherent problem with being an aspiring writer: you’re not all that sure of yourself yet. You have this “Go get ’em” attitude and you want your stories to be read by the public and you hope way down deep inside for that validation that comes with publishing and seeing your name in print. Every writer remembers what it’s like to finish a story you know is good, but then to have niggling doubts nibble at the fringes of your consciousness. “Maybe it’s not THAT good.” That’s when you seek out the approval of others. Sometimes, it’s family. But most times, writers put their faith in the expertise of an editor – be it a book editor or a story editor. If you submit that story enough, you just might get the validation you seek through a contract to publish it. And it feels good.

It feels REALLY good.

The first time I sold a short story was way back in 1996 to Rictus Magazine. It was for my story “I, the Courier,” and it earned me a whopping $5 bucks. It could have been a million. Or it could have been a penny. It wouldn’t have mattered; what counted was that someone had finally read something I wrote and judged it worthy enough of being published. It was a high I’ll never forget. And the Peking Duck my wife and I had that night at our favorite Chinese restaurant was one helluva meal. I never cashed that check, either. I framed it and it hangs on the wall in my office.

So, much like baby turtles squirming through the sands on their way into the ocean for the first time, aspiring writers are somewhat clumsy, mostly insecure, and vulnerable to the sharks cruising just beyond the beach anxiously awaiting an easy meal. Except the predators awaiting aspiring writers aren’t really sharks at all – that would be an insult to sharks – they’re scumbags and sleazeballs and pretty much every other degrading insult you could come up with. Mostly, they’re insecure wanna-be writers themselves who couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag, so they open up fly-by-night sham operations and publish themselves. Maybe they make a little money. They get a taste of power. Perhaps they decide to publish an anthology and put out submission guidelines, and then they sit back and wait for aspiring writers to send them stories. Having been rejected themselves, they enjoy the power they have over those aspiring writers. That’s when the nightmares start for the aspiring writers. Maybe they get scammed out of money. Maybe they get treated like dirt. Or maybe, just maybe, they get their story “edited” but it’s not really an edit – it’s a completely different story.

Such was the case with Mandy DeGeit and her story, which was accepted into an anthology by some pathetic schmoe named Anthony Giangregorio. In short, Giangregorio runs an outfit called Undead Press, which was previously Open Casket press, and at least one other name, which is never a good sign. In Mandy’s case, Giangregorio (who is himself also a writer – although probably only in the least complimentary terms possible, as in “learning my letters” given his various responses online) changed whole parts of Mandy’s story without telling her about it and when she cried foul, he proceeded to dump all over her and strut about in full peacock douchebaggery mode. Mandy’s account is well worth reading although I won’t even dream of linking to Giangregorio’s effluence here.

Suffice it to say, I think this guy is utter scum. But therein lies the problem: people like this fermented dung stain exist, and they’re all too eager to take advantage of the desire of aspiring writers to be validated and vindicated for their efforts. It’s tragic, but it’s also part of the world that exists in writing & publishing. So how do you protect yourself?

1. Google: it’s quick and it’s easy. And if you’re going to do business with someone, Google them. Then don’t just quickly scan the first page of results, but get deeper in. This is your hard work we’re talking about. Treat it like it’s got some worth. Go at least ten pages into search results and learn about your potential business partner.

2. The obvious: look at the website of the publisher you’re going to deal with. A quick glance at the Undead Press website shows it’s a mess of cover art that would be better if it had been done by a blind, rabbit ferret with a crystal meth addiction. That alone should be enough to make you steer clear: who wants horrible cover art on their work? If the publisher was making a serious, honest attempt, they’d be willing to invest in superior packaging for their books. It’s that simple.

3. Terms: contributor copies – uh uh. No way. Sorry, I know there are a lot of good people out there trying to be publishers (I tried myself at one point and failed miserably) but if all you can offer is contributor copies then no dice. At least offer twenty bucks – give the author you’re publishing enough to pick up a pizza for the family and celebrate their accomplishment, for crying out loud. Twenty bucks against royalties isn’t that much of a stretch and if you can’t afford to do even that, then you shouldn’t be in business in the first place.

4. Communication: if you communicate with an editor and the editor’s email is chock full of typos like “alot” and “its” when they mean “it’s,” then I’d run. They may not be writers, but they still need to be able to use the English language.

5. Study the business! I can’t say this enough. If you are a writer, it is NOT enough to simply write. It’s not. Those days of being groomed for superstardom by some wizened editor in NYC are gone. Seriously. Stop living in that fantasy world because it simply does not exist anymore. These days, you need to know what is happening in the business itself and then all the other businesses that are tangential to it. How are people making money with content? As writers, we are part of an industry that generates trillions of dollars in revenue. Seriously. The film/TV industry could not exist without writers. Neither could the video game industry. Nor could a host of other industries that rely on content and writers to generate story ideas, news reports, etc. Treat your work with the respect it deserves – and if you hone your craft enough, then your writing will have value to it.

While validation feels great – it is not worth the anguish you’ll feel after being screwed over by someone like a Giangregorio. So do your homework. And only do business with people who are reputable and show some measure of business savvy.