Zombie Walk Recap

So last Friday, I took off for Asbury park, New Jersey to attend the Zombie Walk – a gathering of zombie enthusiasts from all over as they attempted to break the Guiness World Record for most zombies participating in a walk. Baen Books, my publisher of THE UNDEAD HORDES OF KAN-GUL, brought me down there on their dime to be the featured author at the event.

I shot down on the Acela to NYC and then switched trains, getting into New Jersey shortly before 5pm. My agent, Joe Monti, met me at the train station and we drove over to the shore together, catching up on business and the like. Joe’s an awesome guy and he’s always been very supportive of my work.

Jim Minz, my editor over at Baen, met us at the hotel and got me checked in. After a quick change and freshening up, we headed out to dinner for some Cuban food and live Calypso music. We had an awesome meal, and Baen’s Sales & Marketing rep Corinda met us at the restaurant. Great conversation was had and by the time dinner was over, I was ready to crash. Jim was suffering from a cold all weekend, so he was all for calling it quits as well – especially since we had an early day on Saturday.

Saturday morning we met downstairs and headed out to breakfast. Frank’s Diner was recommended by the front desk and it didn’t disappoint. Huge piles of great food served cheap. (I love me a good greasy spoon!) I had my first donut in years and man, it was delicious.

After breakfast, we headed back to the Stone Pony and started setting up the booth. The day was gray and cloudy and humid. I hadn’t brought any shorts with me, figuring that it would be cooler on the water. As the sun broke through the haze, it got much, much warmer. But by that point, we had thousands of zombies filing past our booth and the fun didn’t stop.

Jim, Corinda, and I manned the booth all day long and we got hundreds of dollars in donations for the Wounded Warrior Project in exchange for signed copies of THE UNDEAD HORDES. Felt great moving so many books, but also knowing that proceeds were going to a great cause. At one point, I took the hand cart Jim had brought along over to the boardwalk and moved hundreds of copies of the book after basically being mobbed by zombies. It was pretty awesome. Young kids and adults alike seemed to be really excited about the book and the event itself.

Exhausted, Jim and I closed the booth shortly before 6pm, headed back to the hotel and crashed for a bit before meeting back downstairs in the lobby for dinner. We enjoyed a good meal, talked about a huge variety of topics – family, politics, publishing, books, and much more. Definitely awesome getting to talk with him so much. Jim’s a great guy and I’m happy he digs my writing.

Sunday we headed over to Princeton to meet back up with Joe and his family for brunch. It was fantastic getting to meet his family for the first time and brunch was spectacular. Jim and I debriefed him on how Saturday went and then we took a stroll around Princeton before Jim drove me into the train station at Trenton for my journey home.

The train was delayed and I ended up getting home an hour later than expected, but after such an amazing weekend, it was hard to be disappointed with Amtrak. A lot of things were discussed over the course of the weekend – one of which is the fact that we will be doing more books in the Shadow Warrior Saga. On the way down, I sketched out details for books 4, 5, and 6, and once book 2 is in the production pipeline, Jim and I will try to finalize that deal (provided sales are strong for the first book.)

With that said, if you haven’t grabbed a copy of THE UNDEAD HORDES already, you really should do so now. And if you have a copy, have read it and enjoyed it, please PLEASE head over to Amazon and write up a review for me. I found out this weekend that reviews on Amazon factor critically into which books Amazon promotes. I could use some Amazonian promotion behind THE UNDEAD HORDES right now, so please get a review posted on the main site and any international sites you might have access to. THANK YOU!

Grab a print copy of THE UNDEAD HORDES by going here.
You can also get a copy for the Kindle here.
And if you have a Nook, you can get a copy here.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to get caught up on all the Lawson Vampire adventures. THE CRUCIBLE hits before the holidays!

5 Key Tips for Indie Authors in 2013

By Jon F. Merz

I had a great year of sales in 2012. As detailed in my previous post, I did quite well selling ebooks that I released independently. But I try to never rest on my laurels – because, frankly, laurels aren’t all that comfortable.

So what am I doing now that I hope to see bear fruit in 2013 and push my ebook sales goals even higher? Let’s take a look at some of the things indie authors can do to improve their sales over the next twelve months.

1. Invest in Your Business

This may sound more like something “regular companies” do, but if you’re an indie author, you’d better be treating your writing like it IS a business if you have any hope of sustaining or improving sales. To that end, you need to take some of your profits and reinvest them back into your company. How? Here are a few things you could be improving:

  • Website: is it professional enough? Are there any pages that need tweaking? Any that need completing? I’m still trying to get this site completely functional, myself!
  • Book Covers: are all of your books selling enough? Are they meeting your goals? If not, maybe you should try a different cover.
  • Analytics: see below

2. Newsletter

You do have a newsletter, right? It is the single most important piece of marketing you have access to: people who have given you permission to market to them directly by virtue of them signing up for it. Your email list is far more important than most realize and it’s the one source of data you have that isn’t reliant on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites. If all of those go away overnight, you’ll still have that list. Make sure you pack it full of good stuff – news, free fiction, and more. Get a reliable email service provider that offers detailed stats on click rates, open rates, etc. This is data you need that will tell you whether you’re doing it right.

3. Analytics

Speaking of stats, do you have Google Analytics installed on your website? Do you know where your traffic is coming from? Do you know which of your site’s pages are the most heavily trafficked or how long surfers are staying on your site? Analytics are a vital tool that will help you refine your marketing efforts. If your landing page isn’t capturing the attention of surfers, then change the landing page until it does. Is your sales funnel channeling prospects to key pages and then getting them sign up for your newsletter or purchase your ebooks? Analytics will help you determine all of this and more. I know next to nothing about analytics and how to make it hum, so I’ve brought in a real pro to help me. This is another investment in my business. Yes, it costs money upfront, but I fully expect to make back many times the amount I’m spending now once I can look at the reports and see how I can improve. If you don’t know much about analytics, find someone who does who can help you figure this out.

4. Read More

You’re shaking your head at this one saying, “Yeah, Jon, we’re writers. We know we need to read more. We do anyway.” Great. Happy to hear it. Are you reading Fortune Magazine? What about free articles on Stratfor? Are you tuned in to key development continents like Africa? Are you thinking ahead enough to see where sales will be coming from in the future? There will be thousands of opportunities in the near future, but only for those who know they exist. Don’t shortchange your future by failing to read about coming waves of business opportunities now. There are a LOT of things happening across the world that indie authors can position themselves to take advantage of. Free ebook programs for disadvantaged youths in the rain forests might not sound like it will add to your bottom line, but in ten years when those kids are grateful your work and have elevated themselves out of poverty, they might just become your biggest evangelicals.

5. Help Others

Again, a lot of you are probably saying that you do this anyway, but do you? It’s not enough to simply retweet another author every week or so. You have to look for ways to positively impact the lives of other people – not just those you’re attempting to sell to. Look at your Facebook newsfeed and find someone you might only “kinda sorta” know. Take a day or so and learn as much as you can about them. Drop them a note. Say hi. Appreciate them. Nothing is cooler than getting a pleasant note out of the blue from someone. They might be having a bad day and your message is just the thing that helps them get through it. It doesn’t take money; it just takes effort and sincerity. Given the pace of our world and the level of insincerity that exists in so many areas, the gift of genuine attention is precious and rare. Even if it doesn’t translate into money in your pocket, it definitely generates good karma. And we can all use a little more of that!

Thanks for reading!

Did you enjoy this post? You’ll love my ebooks then! Available on Kindle here. | Available on Nook here. | Available on Kobo here.

EBook Sales: 2012 Round-Up

By Jon F. Merz

This post is probably a little late by comparison to other yearly round-up posts, but so be it. I thought it would be interesting to run down some of my numbers from the year 2012, now that the year is officially in the books.

As I posted on facebook the other night, my ebook sales for 2012 were approximately 40,000. This number includes only my independently published work sold primarily across three platforms: Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. This figure does not take into account any traditional deals, other publishing projects I was a part of, etc.

So, let’s break it down a bit…

The Kindle remained the dominant sales platform for me by a nearly 4-to-1 margin. But my sales last year were actually not helped by the other Kindle global platforms, aside from the UK. I sell fairly decently on the UK Kindle site, but the US side outsells the UK by at least 5-to-1. I sell a few copies each month on the German Kindle site, and a scattered 1-10 copies across all others.

The Barnes & Noble Nook site is a consistent earner for me, but again, it pales in comparison to Kindle sales. That said, I like the Nook platform a lot because it’s very reliable. Whereas Amazon had several peaks and valleys over the course of the year for one reason or another, B&N stayed very consistent with marginal fluctuation – sometimes a hundred bucks extra sometimes a hundred bucks less – but always within a comfortable range.

Kobo became a new force to be reckoned with in the summer. But Kobo’s search engine leaves a lot to be desired. Trying to search for my own titles after they’ve gone live on Kobo is frustrating and they sometimes don’t show up for 24 hours in the search results, despite the title being live and on-sale. Kobo’s writer platform is one of the best, if not my favorite, for its ease of use and intuitive design. They get extremely high marks on trying to get things right and they’re incredibly responsive to feedback and criticism. My sales for the last five months of the year on Kobo have been “okay.” I’m not yet blown away by a rush on my titles and one of the reasons may be due to the fact that their search engine still needs fixing. That said, I have no doubt Kobo can become a huge force in ebook sales and look forward to putting more of my titles out on it.

My standout title for 2012 was, without a doubt, THE NINJA APPRENTICE. This is the book that my agent loved and wished he’d had come across his desk when he was in acquisitions. This is the book that also languished for eighteen months while morons in New York cast dispersions on it and said remarkably boneheaded things like “boys don’t read,” and “little commercial appeal.” This, as proven by the thousands of copies that I’ve sold since it debuted in May, is complete and total bullshit. To date, The Ninja Apprentice has sold over 10,000 copies and shows no signs of slowing down. It is consistently one of my bestsellers and was chosen for several summer reading lists last year. I’ll be releasing the second book in this series in mid-2013 and have high hopes for that one as well.

My Lawson Vampire series continues to be a major seller. With seven novels (including the traditionally-published book THE KENSEI), five novellas, and now nine short stories, the series is a consistent money-maker for me. Not everyone digs Lawson (I know, hard to believe, lol) but those who do have plenty of adventures to get lost in with more coming out all of the time. THE CRUCIBLE debuts next month and my freebie Christmas story I write for fans each year, THE SNITCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS was downloaded thousands of times – more than four times as much as last year’s story! Many of those who downloaded the story will be new readers and hopefully new fans who will get lost in more of Lawson’s adventures.

In 2012, I also had The Fixer translated into Spanish along with one short story, Interludio. So far, sales on the translations have not performed as I expected. This is one area I’ll be concentrating on in 2013 – publicizing the translation. I have a global audience and the need for translations of my work is growing. In 2013, I will be exploring bringing out other language editions of my Lawson series.

For 2013, my goals are to double my ebook sales to 80,000 sold. I’ll be bringing out a bunch of new stuff: new Lawson adventures, new Zombie Ryu installments, the next Ninja Apprentice novel, and a standalone thriller I’ve been working on. I’m also investing back into my business by setting up some serious analytics on my website and sales drives. I know next to nothing about analytics, so I’m bringing in a professional to set me up. She’s awesome and I’m looking forward to implementing her suggestions for maximizing my sales initiatives. My newsletter has been migrated over to a new email service provider, which gives me fantastic data reports. I’ve launched a new Birthday Club for my fans and will be unveiling some new stuff out here on the website.

2013 will also see a brand new project from me that I will not be revealing any details about just yet. It’s “related” to writing and will be of massive help (I hope) to both aspiring and veteran writers. Look for that a few months from now.

Overall, 2012 was a great year for EBook Sales. A lot of thinking right now says that ebook sales will slow. I think that’s hogwash. Any good writer will always sell if the book they write is good. And a savvy writer who gets invested in making his business the best it can be will sell much, much more. I intend to sell close to six-figures of ebook units in 2013 – if not more. Let’s see how it goes! And my best to all of you who are doing the same!

Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Writers

Over the last seven/eight days, I wrote just shy of 70,000 words. The schedule and word count per day broke down like this:

  • Monday: 10,000
  • Tuesday: 12,500
  • Wednesday: 12,500
  • Thursday: 7500
  • Friday: 7500
  • Saturday: 5000
  • Sunday: 5000
  • Monday: 8500

For me, this was a good haul. I’m in first draft mode, which (as some of you may remember) is what I affectionately call my “puke it out” phase. This is where I don’t give a crap about the quality of what I write; I just want the basic storyline down so I can then go back and rewrite, edit, tweak, ad infinitum until I’m satisfied with the quality of it. My method for writing during this phase looks pretty much like this:

  • Each chapter is roughly 2,000-2,500 words.
  • It takes me approximately one hour to write each chapter (sometimes less, sometimes more)
  • After each chapter, I take a nice break (Facebook, exercise, talk to friends, whatever)
  • Repeat

Depending on my pace and how fast the ideas are rolling, it’s possible that I will top out around 16,000 words each day – which is my personal best. More often, my comfortable daily range is 10,000-12,500 thereabouts. That’s comparable to the time a lot of people spend working each day in an office. By and large, this daily rate is unsustainable for much more than a week. And if I wrote like that each day, every day, I’d burn out in no time. But when everything is firing on all cylinders, yes, this is the rate I can churn out words at.

And you know what? Big deal.

Seriously. Big fucking deal.

Should you be impressed? I don’t know. I don’t much care. I don’t post word counts to brag or gloat. I post them because it’s a good day’s work FOR ME and I’m satisfied with what I accomplished. And therein lies the rub: as you progress as a writer, you will inevitably find a system that works for you. I discovered mine writing eleven installments of the Rogue Angel series for Harlequin’s Gold Eagle imprint. I had seriously short deadlines and as a result, found that I work very well doing first drafts in very little time. It’s intense and requires a lot of Twix candy bars and Pepsi, but it works for me quite well. So that’s how I write first drafts these days.

Last night I posted about sending off the first book in the Shadow Warrior series to my editor at Baen Books (while I’d been working on the first draft of this new novel, I’d also been editing Shadow Warrior.) and combined with the fact that I finished the first draft, I was enjoying basking in the afterglow of a job well done. A friend of mine reposted about me writing 70k words in 7 days on her status and that then opened up the floodgates of nonsense:

So here you’ve got a whole group of supposedly professional writers taking issue with what I’ve accomplished. Sarah Pinborough wins the award for “So Obvious, It’s Too Stupid To Post It But I Will Anyway” comment. Suw Charman-Anderson thinks that it takes some insane amount of pre-planning before anyone is capable of doing what I did. (In reality I worked from 3-page synopsis). Vincent Holland-Keen arrives on-scene to gladhand himself about how awesome he is for not writing as fast. Later on this same tosser brings up my character Jake Thunder (obviously without seeing the bit about Jake’s Native American past) and then claims he’s not judging, when in reality, he’s doing exactly that – equating hardboiled PI genre work as being lowbrow. Steve Mosby offers up his assessment that all I really did was “type” and later on agrees that my level of output is “misleading” because I might have spent months planning it out. Keith Walters offers up his assertion that he feels his quality is better when he writes 1500 words as opposed to anything more. Tom Wood trots out the belief that by me working so hard, I must have no time for anything else – he should probably take a gander at my biography and then spend a day with me doing everything I do (on second thought, he’d probably tap out before we even got to breakfast) prior to imagining me as some recluse without a life.

THANKFULLY, James Oswald shows up with a bit of reason.

The rest of that is pretty pathetic – a bunch of supposedly professional writers calling my work into question because they compared themselves to what I do. Had I posted a status update along these lines: “Yeah, just cranked 70,000 words in one week. What’s up other bitch writers? You guys suck for not being able to match my pace. Slackers. Doesn’t anyone have the power to go toe-to-toe with me?” then their little bitchfest would have been understandable.

But I don’t do that. I don’t compare myself to other writers. As far as I’m concerned, the only person I’m competing against is myself. Did I write this book better than the last? Did it take me longer to do so? Will this one sell better than the last book I wrote? Can I tell the story even better the next time? That’s what matters. Not what some other writer is doing. I don’t care what other writers do in the course of their work. If they’re bringing out one book a year – good for them. If they manage ten books a year – good for them. All I care about is what I do.

And all you should care about is what YOU do. When you write, there’s no one else involved. So why should it matter how other writers do their work?

It shouldn’t.

But writers tend, by and large, to have massive insecurities and massive egos. They like to think their way is the best and everyone else sucks anyway. This is why writers invent awards that no one has ever heard of, let alone cares about. This is why you get little bitchfests like the above. A lot of writers cut down other writers – and especially aspiring writers – because it makes them feel better about their place in the mud puddle. But none of that matters.

Time was, there used to be only so many books published each year, only so many editors, only so many contracts. Competition was tough. Nowadays, anyone can write and publish. Unfortunately, that makes the old “pros” mad. It upsets them that people didn’t have to slog it out in the trenches and accumulate tons of rejections. To most of these veteran writers, the new upstarts represent a direct threat to their livelihood.

That’s ridiculous, short-sighted, and frankly, stupid. But there you go.

When you make the decision to write, do it for yourself. Find your own path. Find what works for you. Don’t waste your time henpecking the techniques of other writers; they ain’t you. I can’t stand outlining, but I know writers who swear by it and it works for them. Awesome. I know writers who can churn out double the words I just did and do so consistently. Awesome. I know writers who can only manage 1,000 words each week. Awesome.

At the end of the day, what you accomplish is up to you – it’s not up to the whims of someone else. If you want to get something done, do it. Whining about quality or quantity or any of the other idiocy exhibited in the screencap above is wasted time.

Listen to your gut and do what works for you.