Updates from Author Jon F. Merz

Just a quick round-up of things going on in the week ahead:

  1. Next Saturday, October 5th, I will be appearing at the Zombie Walk in Asbury Park, New Jersey. From 10am until whenever, I will be at the Baen Books booth in the parking lot of the Stone Pony. Come on by and say hello. Grab a picture and hang out. More info on the event can be found here.
  2. Baryon Online has a new review of THE UNDEAD HORDES OF KAN-GUL up as of this morning. Barry Hunter, who runs the mag, has been a supporter of my work for a while and I’m pleased to see he enjoyed my latest. Thanks Barry!
  3. I don’t write a lot of horror novels, despite having written a lot of horror short stories when I was starting out as a writer. VICARIOUS is my one “legit” horror novel (although PREY could be called SF horror, I suppose) that I had a blast writing. Every once in a while, though, I get that urge to write something scary. I’ve had an idea percolating for some time now. This morning I started writing chapter one. Given what else is on my plate and commitments for other writing projects, it will probably be about a year before it sees the light of day, but I am looking forward to working on it when time permits. It’s definitely going to be a guilty pleasure, but oh so fun…especially since I’m setting the book in the town I live in.
  4. Last week, I asked my fans and friends to push sales of my latest novel THE UNDEAD HORDES OF KAN-GUL and in exchange, I sent out a 3-chapter excerpt from the forthcoming new Lawson Vampire novel, THE CRUCIBLE. If you missed it, you can check it out here, unedited.
  5. October will see the release of a new installment in my feudal Japan zombie series, ZOMBIE RYU. This has been a long time coming, so make sure you’ve got episode one and episode two already!

Don’t forget, you can 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!

Who Do You Learn From?

2013 has been an interesting year of exploration so far. It marks my 22nd year of training in Togakure-ryu Ninjutsu under Mark Davis at the Boston Martial Arts Center, and my roughly 30th year of training in martial arts in general. In January, I also embarked on a new adventure: CrossFit. To say I am enjoying myself would be a severe understatement. CrossFit – especially for someone like me who has never enjoyed working out in a gym – is a perfect vehicle for challenge. It manages to be both humbling and empowering at the same time. Humbling because the workouts can be intimidating and seriously challenging. Empowering because once you complete the workout, you realize that you’ve gone further than you thought you were capable of going. Fantastic stuff.

In the course of this new exploration, I realized that I really enjoy learning. (This might sound like one of those “Well, duh…” moments until you stop to realize that many people choose to shut off their learning.) And I also realized that I’ve set up my life in such a way that I learn from numerous sources every single day. The benefit, to me at least, is that I go to sleep each night full of new adventures, experiences, questions, answers, and many new things to ponder. As a writer, this is extremely beneficial as it keeps my mind filled with new avenues to explore in my work. But I also have come to more deeply appreciate the life I have and the moments that go into making each day worthwhile and fun.

I am truly fortunate that I have a wonderful role model in my martial arts training. My teacher Mark Davis has always led by example and routinely exposes himself to new ideas and new avenues in life that I think make him a better teacher and practitioner. Mark has never been content to rest on his laurels. His trains with his teachers frequently – having his experiences and skills challenged. He sits down with people from different walks of life – from auto mechanics to physicists – and learns from them over coffee or lunch. He isn’t afraid to go out of his comfort zone and be a beginner again. It’s pretty refreshing to find someone like that, and I’m thankful to have him as an example I can follow.

Each day, I also make sure that I read posts by my friend and fellow Ninjutsu practitioner, Christopher Penn. Chris is, frankly, a near genius in social media, marketing, and all sorts of tech. Each day he posts five key bits of news and information that I always make a point to read, even if I don’t think it will directly benefit me. I’ve been amazed at what he posts and the points he brings up often illuminate things for me in another area. I am very much a beginner in the field of social media and other areas Chris specializes in, but I’m also extremely fortunate to be able to learn from him.

I’ve also made a point lately of visiting my good friend Barry Meklir at Muscular Solutions. Barry has been teaching me a lot about how to take care of my various injuries (and after so many years in martial arts, you can bet I’ve got a slew of ’em…) Barry is brilliant at his work as a healer and I’ve learned a ton from him so far. And he’s helped me extensively with a number of muscular issues – one of which had been plaguing me for about twenty years! Getting regular “tune-ups” is going to be a fixture in my life. At this point, I’m not getting any younger and I need to make sure the ol’ bod can keep up with all the crazy stuff I want to do.

Every Friday night, Mark Davis holds advanced black belt training at the Boston Martial Arts Center. I’ve been going to this class as much as possible for many years. And despite the 22 years I’ve been studying, each class I attend always presents something new – even if it is hidden in the guise of a technique we’ve worked on before. Because Mark is never content to settle for what he learned yesterday, he brings that same attitude into the classes he teaches and ensures that we learn something new every time we train. It’s weird how much more I’ve come to appreciate this after stepping outside of my comfort zone and getting involved with CrossFit. Sometimes you have to get away from something very close to your heart to better appreciate it.

In addition to classes with Mark, we spend a great deal of time talking on the telephone. Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from him have taken place over the phone as we discuss strategy, combat, mind sciences, and much more.

These days, I’m busy setting up my life to ensure that I always continue to learn. Martial arts, CrossFit, social media, body tune-ups, endurance racing, and many more things besides. Yes, life is busy, but I find myself truly valuing what I learn from others even more now. And I’ve found the best teachers set their lives up this way as well. Other don’t. Others are so keen to be seen as an authority figure that they box themselves into a corner and can never again embrace that “beginner’s mind” that the 34th Grandmaster of Ninjutsu says it so crucial to training.

Embracing the beginner’s mind isn’t easy. It requires the confidence to accept being a nobody again. It requires effort to keep the ego in check and not dismiss the prospect of learning from those who are younger than you or who you might be senior in rank to. But the payoff, for me anyway, is a life far richer than what I had yesterday. For that, I am grateful.

So…who do you learn from?

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!

Get a Free Christmas Card from Jon!

Lots of stuff happening this month. In case you haven’t seen it, the production company I run with my good friend Jaime Hassett – New Ronin Entertainment – is ramping up for 2013. Come like us over on Facebook and check out our projects.

In a few weeks you’ll be able to download a FREE copy of my annual Lawson Christmas story for fans. This year, I’m pleased to bring you THE SNITCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS. Look for that around the 21st or so.

Also, this year I’m doing something fun: Christmas cards for my fans. Want one? They’re easy to get, but the number I’m doing is limited, so DON’T WAIT! Here’s what you need to do:

1. You MUST be subscribed to my newsletter BOSTON NOCTURNE – if you’re not, look over on the right side at the top and you’ll see the subscribe form. Drop your email in that and you’re good to go.
2. Send me an email to JONFMERZ at GMAIL dot COM (remove the “at” and “dot”)
3. Include the following: You full name, complete mailing address, zip/postal code
4. Tell me which books/ebooks you’ve enjoyed recently or what your favorites are.

I’ll fill out each card I send, so you’ll be sure to receive something unique and special. I should be sending these out within the next few weeks.

Additionally, if you buy some of my ebooks today and send me a copy of the receipt, I’ll include a little something special in your stocking this year. No purchase is required to get the Christmas card, but if you do pick up some of my work today or whenever you send me your information for the card, I’ll send you a little gift. It’s my way of saying thanks for being such awesome fans.

Time is short and so is the number of cards I’m sending, so don’t wait! Drop me a line right now!

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.