2012/2013 Publication Schedule (partial)

By Jon F. Merz Since we're heading into the end of the year, I thought I'd draw up a list of coming attractions of SOME of the stuff I'll be publishing soon. So here ya go! DECEMBER 2012
  • Zombie Ryu Episode 3
  • Untitled Lawson Christmas Story
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2013
  • THE CRUCIBLE: A Lawson Vampire Novel
  • Zombie Ryu Episode 4
MARCH 2013
  • Zombie Ryu Episode 5
APRIL 2013
  • Zombie Ryu Episode 6
MAY 2013
  • THE NINJA APPRENTICE: The Tsuba of Kotogawa (book 2)
  • Zombie Ryu Episode 7
JUNE/JULY 2013
  • Lawson Novella
  • Zombie Ryu Episode 8
AUGUST 2013
  • Zombie Ryu Episode 9
SEPTEMBER 2013
  • Zombie Ryu Episode 10
OCTOBER 2013
  • Zombie Ryu Episode 11
NOVEMBER 2013
  • Zombie Ryu Episode 12 (season finale)
ALSO IN FALL 2013 SHADOW WARRIOR: Undead Hordes of Kan-Gul (this is book 1 in my new fantasy series from Baen Books) There's more than this, but this is enough to make my head explode (in a good way!) I hope you're as excited as I am! And by the way, my awesome offer still stands for those of you who want to give my ebooks as gifts this holiday season. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of it since you get something as well. And please share this with your friends and family. There's nothing like the gift of some adrenalized mayhem courtesy of your crazy author pal to make the holidays into a thing of beauty!

Black Friday & Cyber Monday: A Special Offer from Author Jon F. Merz

By Jon F. Merz This week is, of course, Thanksgiving. On that day, millions upon millions of Americans will devour many, many turkeys and enjoy a tryptophan-induced coma while watching football and spending time with family and relatives. In recent years, this formerly luxuriously-relaxing day has been invaded by the retail giants as they try to get you to leave the comfort of home and family in order to head out at night in the freezing cold to spend your money in their stores. In order to do this, they have lured you with promises of amazing deals. Many of you have done this and will do so again this year as you search for gifts for family and friends. But there's another way to enjoy Black Friday & Cyber Monday without leaving home: you can do it from the comfort of your laptop or wireless device. And you do it by gifting ebooks. You may not have known that you could gift ebooks. Many people don't. But on each of the three major platforms that I sell on, the option to gift any of my ebooks is there. Here's where the gift option is on Amazon.com - and here is a link to all of my ebooks on Amazon. Now, here's the gift option on Barnes & Noble, which they make pretty small and hard-to-find. And here is a link to all of my ebooks on Barnes & Noble.com Finally, here's the gift option over on Kobo - very easy-to-see. And here's a list of all of my ebooks on Kobo. Now at this point, you're probably wondering, "Well big deal - I don't see any specials or discounts or stuff that would normally make me forego sleep in order to drive in the wee hours of the frigid morning the day of or after a major holiday. What gives, Merz?" Here's the deal: gift at least three of MY ebooks on Black Friday or Cyber Monday this year, send me the receipt at jonfmerz AT gmail DOT com, and I will do a couple of things, depending on the amount of the gift.
  1. Gifts of at least $10 will receive a personalized post card from me to both the recipient and the gift giver. For the recipient, I'll put a nice "welcome to my fiction world" message, customized for them. The gift giver also gets a nice thank you post card from me.
  2. Gifts of at least $20 will get the above added extra, along with a select cover flat from one of the first four Lawson Vampire novels for both the recipient and gift giver.
  3. Gifts of at least $50 will get the post card AND a signed copy of THE KENSEI - again for both the recipient and gift giver.
  4. Gifts of at least $100 will get the BIG GIFT OF MERZ: a special personalized letter from me to both the recipient and gift giver, a signed copy of THE KENSEI, a box of author copies from my Rogue Angel writing years, cover flats, and Advanced Reader Copies of the NEW Shadow Warrior series coming in 2013 from Baen Books. (NOTE: the ARCs will ship when I get them, since I won't receive them for a while yet).
Remember: not only is it TOTALLY cool to gift my ebooks, but in doing so, you - the gift giver - also gets a nice something special. This is a win-win and you don't even have to deal with the insane crowds, mace incidents (remember last year), and early alarm clocks on a day when you should be sleeping. In fact, I'll go ONE STEP BEYOND all reason and sanity: I'm opening this up to anyone who gifts my ebooks between NOW and December 18th. Forget Black Friday and Cyber Monday - you can SHOP NOW and get it done! With more people getting e-readers for gifts this year, the gift of ebooks to read on those e-readers makes incredible sense. And since I'm an indie, you can get MY ebooks for cheaper than those traditional BIG CONGLOMERATE publishers who price-gouge you like there's no tomorrow. Your ten dollars goes a lot further with me than it does in a store and you get HOURS upon HOURS of entertainment. Ebooks are the perfect gift for anyone - if they at least have a smart phone, they can read ebooks! So here are the links again to my ebooks on Amazon (KINDLE), Barnes & Noble.com (NOOK), and KOBO (other e-readers and computers). One final note: this offer is open to anyone from around the world! Send me your gift receipt to JONFMERZ at GMAIL dot COM once you've gifted the ebooks and I'll get right to work creating your perfect present. (Please note: I'm unable to ensure that my part of your gift will reach them at the same time the ebooks do, but it will still rock their world to get a personalized gift from an actual author!) One final thing: if you feel like doing so, please SHARE this post with your friends who might not know about "gifting" ebooks. I'd also appreciate Facebook LIKES, retweets on Twitter, and re-pins on Pinterest. Thank you! Have fun & Happy Holidays!

8 Awesome Novels for Halloween!

By Jon F. Merz Imagine being able to get EIGHT amazing novels that are all just perfect for the Halloween season and pay what you want to own them. That's the idea behind Storybundle.com and I'm very proud to be a part of their current offering. My novel VICARIOUS along with great reads from bestselling authors like Douglas Clegg, Kevin J. Anderson, Joe Nassise, Patricia Fulton, and Annie Walls are all available for any e-reader or computer right now just by clicking here! You get to choose how much of what you pay goes to the authors and how much goes to Storybundle.com (typically, the split is 70/30) and you can even choose to allot a certain percentage to some very fine charity groups! Storybundle is a fantastic way to support indie authors and feel great about participating at the same time. So I encourage you all to go to Storybundle.com and purchase this exciting Halloween bundle right now! Don't miss your chance to truly immerse yourself in some incredibly fine writing from some truly talented folks. And please be sure to spread the word - the more folks who know about this, the better! Have a great weekend!

Vook vs. Kobo

By Jon F. Merz There are two new platforms for indie authors to potentially sell their ebooks on that have come out in recent months: Kobo and Vook. I've been experimenting with both platforms and thought it might be helpful to let you know what I've experienced. Let's look at Vook first. When Vook first appeared on the radar screen, it seemed as though its main focus was on selling authors and publishers on their ebook conversion service. In other words, you pay them a certain amount of money and they take your files and turn them into a completed ebook. Vook has said it can enhance ebooks published through them with multimedia content, etc. Obviously, as an indie author, I didn't need to pay them to do the conversion for me - especially considering their prices at the time were rather expensive. And then Vook also said that it welcomed indie authors who wanted to publish on their Vookstore without distributing to their other content partners. (Vook has a wholesale relationship with Amazon) Anyone choosing to do so would earn 85% royalties per sale. Attractive, yes, since those are the highest in the industry right now. But let's look at the process before we jump to the conclusion that Vook is the new powerhouse to publish with. I had registered with the Vook system months back when I first heard about them. However, despite putting my email into the login section and trying to access my account, Vook repeatedly claimed i had the wrong password. When I went to reset my password, Vook told me that my email - the very email they've been sending updates to - wasn't in their system. Grumble grumble. So I registered with another email account and finally got access to the system. I'm going to hazard a guess and say that whoever designed the Vook interface was an engineer and not an author. In fact, I'd wager that no authors were even consulted during the design process of this interface. Because, frankly, it's incredibly awkward and not user friendly. The first thing that happens is a pop-up box that asks the title of your ebook. Once you enter this, a whole new screen comes up that looks more like a WYSIWYG editor than a platform to upload your ebook. And this is important because Vook's primary focus is NOT (it seems) on servicing experienced indie authors. An experienced indie author will hit Vook's site and already have good-to-go epub files and cover art images that they simply want to upload, put in the basic info, and then publish. Unfortunately, Vook wants you to use their services - which cost money - and so, you have to navigate through accordingly. Ignore the first tab and click on the "Upload + File Manager" since that is what indie authors will want. (I'm walking through the process as I write this, and right now, Vook's site is lagging horribly. >whistling< So, how 'bout the Patriots this season, eh?) Okay, it's back. You'll see the "upload files" icon so click on that and you can upload your epub file. Vook doesn't say if they want you to also upload your cover art at this point or not, but underneath the "upload files" icon they list the supported file types which include .jpg and .png, so I (incorrectly) assumed this was also where I was supposed to upload the cover art. Uh uh. So just upload your .epub file and move on. Click on "Details" and Vook takes you to a new page that asks how you want to distribute your ebook. You can either publish to Vook for free and earn 85% royalties. Or you can pay $99 bucks and have Vook distribute your ebook to Amazon, B&N, and iTunes. Here's where I frowned and gave myself some more wrinkles in my forehead. This is the exact language under the $99 option: "Vook pays you 100% of the royalties the distributors pay to us. We take no cut off your sales in Amazon, BN, and iBooks." Well, not exactly. As I mentioned earlier, Vook has a "wholesale relationship" with Amazon and your cut at other vendors gets a bit "weird." Here's how they break it down: Amazon: You keep 43.2% of royalties of the list price you set Amazon takes 56.8% Barnes & Noble: You keep 50% of royalties, Barnes & Noble takes 50% Apple: You keep 70% of royalties, Apple takes 30% Now, the obvious question is why would you pay Vook to do this for you when you can do it yourself and keep more money? And as an experienced indie author, the fact is, you shouldn't. Vook is focusing itself as an answer to those authors/publishers/media companies who don't want to hassle with preparing files. This seems to be where Vook expects to make its money. Pricing for its services - aside from the $99 distribution - are not available that I could find without contacting Vook and requesting a free evaluation of what you need them to do. I don't know about you, but a lack of transparency always makes me suspicious as to how much Vook charges. Once you get past the distribution pricing screen, you're back to filling out the basic info about your ebook. This section has three more tabs to jump through. This is also where you'll finally upload your cover art. But wait - they only accept .png files for cover art. Mine was in .jpg so that was an extra step I had to go through. The other tabs are fairly basic stuff. Once you've gotten everything filled in, they run your ebook through epubcheck and make sure it's up to snuff. They have terms & agreements you have to agree to and then you publish it. My ebook was supposedly live within about a half hour, but doing a search for "merz" and "ninja" - both keywords I used in the keyword section they asked me to fill out failed to produce results. So I have no clue if the thing is actually on-sale or not. It probably takes a fair amount of time for the info to migrate through their systems. My big problems with Vook come down to this: 1. Interface = clunky. Seriously. It's not pretty or intuitive. It's also clearly geared toward the inexperienced and getting them to pay for services. I would have liked to see two options upon logging in to create a new ebook. One for folks who already have their stuff good-to-go and one for those who might actually want to use Vook's services. 2. Too many steps to go through to publish. Much of it could be accomplished on one screen instead of breaking it up as they have done so. Again, this feels like a serious design problem. 3. Payments - can you say "ugh?" I knew you could. They're quarterly, within sixty days of the end of the quarter. Yuck. Not only that but they only seem to pay by check. And they charge you $5 bucks to process the check. Dear Vook, it's the 21st century. Get with the rest of the innovators and offer net 60 days terms along with the option to direct deposit or Paypal the money over. Check? That feels like a throwback to the publishing dinosaurs of yesteryear. No thanks. Also, I haven't yet seen where I can enter my mailing address for this check to be sent to. It's like Vook forgot that not everyone will be paying them money, so they ignored that option on where to capture that info from. >sigh< As may be obvious by now, my experience with Vook was not the best. I'm not impressed by the platform design, the payment process, the amount of time it took me to get the ebook uploaded (about forty minutes-one hour because Vook also kicked me off and I had to re-login after being idle for a few minutes), or the transparency issue. Vook is new, so I hope they fix a lot of the issues they have right now. Let's move on... I was fortunate enough to be one of Kobo's beta testers for its Writing Life platform. And again, not to harp on this, but Vook should have gotten beta testers that were actually indie authors to help streamline their own platform. I'm sure the results would have been much, MUCH better. Kobo's platform from the outset, is incredibly easy-to-use. There are two screens of information to fill out. The layout is simple and friendly. The information needed is the same as any other publishing platform, and I found Writing Life a very relaxing and simple experience. Exactly what an indie author would want. I had ebooks uploaded within ten minutes. Remarkably fast. Since Kobo is a Canadian company, they require a Swift code and mailing address for US banks for direct deposit payments. In talking with Mark Lefebvre who is the director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations at Kobo, they have plans to begin using routing numbers and the like in the future. That was about the only hiccup I had to jump through initially because I had to find out what my bank branch mailing address was. UPDATE: After reading this post, Mark contacted me to let me know they have since changed that field to now accept routing numbers as well - further evidence of how committed Kobo is to providing excellent service to indie authors! Once you get your material uploaded, Writing Life takes approximately 30 minutes to bring a title out for sale. That's pretty fast considering both Amazon and Barnes & Noble can be anywhere from a few hours to days. During the beta testing phase, there were a few delays, but that has been cleared up now and my recent uploads have all been processed extremely fast. Kobo is also incredibly author-friendly. Any questions or problems I had with the process during the beta-test phase were immediately addressed. Ideas and suggestions were incorporated and Kobo's focus seems to be really on capturing a segment of the indie publishing movement. They've done an incredible job of starting to achieve that goal by making things as easy and simple-to-use as possible. There's nothing confusing about the process. There are no fees or extra gimmicks. You can choose to have your prices set automatically for foreign countries or override them yourself and set the price point where you want it. Kobo's Writing Life platform is, frankly, awesome. They obviously took a great deal of time learning what worked for Amazon and Barnes & Noble and then spent an equal amount of time refining the process. Not only that, they went out and recruited Mark Lefebvre, who happens to be an incredible resource for indie authors. Mark is a pleasure to work with - a dedicated writer himself - and clearly knows what indie authors are looking for because Writing Life has everything they need. Now, I think it's fair to say that the goals of these two companies are clearly different. Vook is aiming at the inexperienced or the lazy media conglomerate looking to outsource the job of producing ebooks. They're looking to make their money on their services. Experienced indie authors are a sort-of "extra" bit for them. At least that's how it felt after using their system. Kobo's Writing Life, on the other hand, is clearly aimed at indie authors. And while it's nice for experienced indies, it is also incredibly easy-to-use for the inexperienced. Aimed as it is at the indie publishing community, I expect Writing Life will easily assume a very powerful position within the industry. They've done things in their design than both Amazon and B&N can actually learn from. That's powerful stuff. At the end of the day, I'm not convinced that Vook is worthwhile for experienced indies. I've got one book up there right now and that's probably all I'll do at this point. By contrast, I'm getting all of my 40+ titles up onto Kobo's Writing Life as soon as possible (I'm under deadlines right now, so the process is on-going.) Your own mileage may, of course, vary if you choose to publish with either platform so as always, experience them for yourself. Here's to your success in publishing!

Indie Authors & Business Sense

By Jon F. Merz The summer doldrums have set in. Each year around this time, I get tired of the blanket of humidity that threatens to suffocate and I dream about crisp autumn days and cool nights that warrant good jazz on the stereo, a stiff drink, and a blazing fire in the hearth. But we've still got a way to go before those days are here, so it's time to make the best of the situation by checking out how my business is doing during these hot months. I know a lot of indie authors. Blog posts like these tend to bump up friend requests on Facebook, Twitter, etc., which is always cool. One of the things I've noticed, though, is how few indie authors treat their career like the business it is. On one hand, it's understandable. Never before have writers been able to actually create a career for themselves without needing to rely on New York City publishing. And when new authors figure out they can make a living doing this, they often spend the first year or so amazed at the success they're enjoying and lose focus on the business side of things. Because what writers now are is most definitely a business. As such, it's critical that you keep checking out your various systems to make sure your success continues. Look at last summer, for example. It was my first real summer doing the indie thing and around the end of June, the bottom fell out on the strong sales I'd been enjoying during the Spring. I was still selling well, but not nearly what I had been. With that in mind, I was determined not to see a repeat of the sales slump this year. How have I done so far? Excellently. My sales have actually gone up each month this summer. Needless to say, I'm very pleased about that. Here are some of the steps I took to combat the summer sales slump: 1. New work: my philosophy now is that it is absolutely critical that indie writers increase their output as much as they are capable of doing. If you can successfully write something and get it out every month, then I think that goes a long way toward ensuring continued success. Not only does new work increase your virtual shelf space, it also spreads the heavy lifting across multiple titles (meaning that no one title has to sell a whole lot of copies in order for your income to remain steady or increase. The more titles you have, the fewer copies you need to sell of each in order to reach your income goals.) 2. Series: I've said this before, but I really believe that authors need to create a series. Having a series that sells well virtually guarantees that you have a ready audience for the next adventure you release in that series. And once you have one series, you can experiment and start new ones. Zombie Ryu is my latest series - and it's episodic with a new adventure out each month. 3. Top sellers: I hope that you're using a spreadsheet to track your sales (if not, for crying out loud develop one and use it religiously) and that you have access to previous month's numbers. Over time, you'll naturally see what titles sell better than others. If it happens to be a series, then it's obviously a good idea to plan new releases for that series. You want to keep adding fuel to that fire that's burning. More sales in that series are always important. My Lawson Vampire series is one of the primary income generators for me, so you can bet that I have new releases mapped out well ahead of time. I shoot to release four new Lawson adventures each year: one new novel, at least one novella, and at least two short stories. If you don't have a series but a single standalone title that makes the most for you, is there any way to write a sequel or turn it into a series? If so, you can capitalize on the popularity of that title. 4. New stories: throughout the summer, there have been lots of topical news stories that savvy authors can use to help promote themselves - especially on Twitter, and especially without being blatant about it. What do I mean? Here's one example I used recently: two weeks or so ago, the Olympics opened. NBC did a horrible job of covering it and then populated the broadcast with moronic commentary from Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera who seemed incapable of simply shutting their mouths. I took to Twitter and posted several tweets expressing my frustration with the broadcast. Tons of people re-tweeted my posts. And many more wandered over to my Twitter profile page. Guess what? Sales went up that night and for that entire weekend. As I've written previously, it's vital that you maximize your selling power by creating your own Twitter background. That way, when people wander over to see who you are they see the book covers and you might just entice them to pick up some of your books. My Twitter profile background shows the first four books in my Lawson series - the same books that sold more that weekend. Coincidence? Maybe, but I don't think so. And I was able to generate sales passively - that is to say I didn't have to hit them over the head with a tweet pushing my latest book. I picked up a whole lot of new followers as well that weekend - and everyone who follows me gets a nice message inviting them to sign up for my free newsletter. And wouldn't you know it, my newsletter subscription numbers went up that weekend as well. The point here is that there are new stories happening all the time that you can take advantage of to introduce yourself to new readers. 5. Holiday Season: We might still be in the midst of summer, but you'd better already be developing a plan to take advantage of the Christmas shopping season. E-readers will no doubt be the hot gift item this year, so what are you doing now to make sure your brand gets noticed by eager new readers? How will you interact with your new readers? Do you have a newsletter yet? How is your Facebook Fan Page? Your personal website? Take advantage of the lazy days of summer to get your entire business in shape now so that come the chaos of the holiday season, you'll know all of your systems are firing exactly as they should be. Like this post? Share it around with other indie authors! GORUCK CHALLENGE UPDATE: I've spent the last two weeks on vacation and then redecorating my sons' bedrooms, so my regimen has been off slightly. That said, I did the first Insanity workout today (and it kicked my ass).