Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sequelus Maximus

Ever heard the phrase, "You can't have just one"?

It implies that the first "one" was so good that another is desired, if not at least warranted.

However, in regards to our entertainment world and the sheer volume of sequels that abound within, that isn't always the case. Often the deciding factor of whether a second (or third, or fourth, or ninth...) installment will go into production relies entirely upon the success of the previous. It doesn't matter how crappy it was, or if no one with any discerning tastes liked it. The question is usually: Did it bring in the big bucks?

This is never more true than in the world of film. I can't tell you how many times I groaned and rolled my eyes when I heard that yet another Transformers: Age of the Moon Revenge was greenlit. It doesn't matter that the critical reception of the franchise has consistently dropped since its inception. People are willing to pay, and Michael Bay and the studio are willing to oblige.

It's not exactly the case when it comes to novels, though. I myself have no publishing deal, and by no means am I an expert on the field, so take what I say with a skeptical grain of "Well-what-do-you-know?" salt. But from what I've read, book sequels are often outlined at the beginning. The publishing company has a certain amount of faith in an author's ability to deliver on a series, a contract is drawn out, and the subsequent books come out on schedule, regardless of the first one's critical or commercial success. However, if your first one was a disappointment, a certain amount of marketing power may be withheld from the sequels (like, all of it).

So, why am I talking about this? What does this have to do with Josiah Upton's diminutive catalogue of literary endeavors? In case you're wondering, I am not producing a Hollywood blockbuster, nor am in contract with a publisher.

It's because I'm writing the second installment in my Sons of Sludge series, tentatively titled DAUGHTERS OF DECAY.

And in regards to a sequel, the above rules don't apply to me. I am just another one of thousands of independent authors - some successful, many more who aren't - that get to make up my own rules. My decision to write a sequel isn't based off what my contract requires (I don't have one), or whether my first one was successful (it really hasn't been). I do it because I want to. I do it because I feel I need to.

I can't have just one.

A few years ago, I was all but certain I would write a sequel to Float. I had preliminary plot points set up, I had an overall direction I wanted the series to go. But then the book went nowhere on Amazon, and I abandoned that idea to take another stab at getting an agent, using a different manuscript, Sons of Sludge. That didn't work either.

Around this time I realized that Float was a starter novel, a valiant effort with good intentions, fueled by a passion for telling (what I still believe to be) a unique story. Any thoughts of writing a sequel for it were scrapped, and the overall concept was to be reborn into a new young adult fantasy manuscript, The Singing Stones.

Yet another attempt at snagging that elusive agent and publishing contract, I went to work crafting my own fantasy world. I filled it with all sorts of characters, both brave and despicable. I drew up a basic outline for the whole series. I wrote about 20,000 words of a first draft.

And then I watched Lord of the Rings again.

By far my favorite work of fantasy, I found too many parallels between that epic story and mine, too many common themes and elements. I almost felt like I was ripping off the master, J.R.R. Tolkien. I had to stop. It wasn't going to work.

All the while, my thoughts and heart kept going back to Zaul. His story felt full and real and solid. It was molded over two years of writes, re-writes, rejection and doubt. And while no book is without flaw - and obviously I'm biased to my own work - it seemed like my best story, the one most worthy to be read. That story isn't finished.

There is no guarantee that completing the series will pay off on Amazon, and it almost certainly won't get me an agent or publishing contract. But there was never a guarantee in the first place. There never will be. And if I must write, I'd rather do it with a story and characters I believe in. Something I believe others can believe in.

And I can't have just one.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Paperbacks and Promos!

It's been a little longer than I originally anticipated (by about 2 months), but I finally got around to putting Sons of Sludge into paperback, utilizing Createspace's print-on-demand format. I got the proof copy last week, and I must say, physically holding your own book in your own hand is a powerful thing. It's something that I wondered whether I would ever experience.

But to be honest, it doesn't quite fulfill the usual author's dream of seeing their work in print. There was no literary agent deal, no publishing contract. No advance on royalties, or promises of marketing, or scheduled interviews with magazine editors. This was a completely independent venture.

In fact, I could have alternated between the words "boner" and "fart" for a few hundred pages and Createspace still would have made it available, as long as they get their money. In other words, anyone that calls themself an author can do what I did. Furthermore, if I had to pick between paperback sales and Kindle sales of S.O.S., I'd pick Kindle, because I get back a MUCH higher royalty per sale, even though its paperback counterpart is more than double the price.

So why did I do it? Channels. I'm trying to open as many channels as I can for people to find my work. E-book, paperback, blog... I'll even come over to your house and read you my book at bedtime (Okay, maybe that's going too far).

And in this world of increasing digitization, where the purchases of independent novels on Amazon are overwhelmingly the Kindle versions, many people still like to flip the paper pages of a book with their own fingers, just like nearly all of us did for the better part of our lives. I know... what a bunch of weirdos, right?

Anyway, the Sons of Sludge paperback is available now at Createspace (LINK), but if you're planning on getting it, I suggest waiting a few days until it's available on Amazon (LINK), that way it can boost my sales ranking, which is muy bueno.

And if you're one of those people that don't mind reading a great zombie book on a screen, this next part is for you:

Just in time for Halloween, the Kindle version of S.O.S. will be available for FREE download, starting Thursday October 30th through Saturday November 1st!

The first time I did a free promo for Float, I experienced a bounty of downloads, and I suspect this time around will be even bigger. Make sure you take advantage of this promo, and tell all your reading friends to as well. If they come up with an excuse, slap them, and tell them that it is a FREE Kindle book. Repeat the slapping, if necessary.

On my next post I'll be filling you in on what I'm currently writing, and how it will most certainly affect your marriage/socio-economic status/very soul. Don't be a stranger.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Sending Out An S.O.S.

Wipe the blood off your phone or iPad, and get your undead fingers ready for screen tapping, because the Summer of Sludge is about to begin. In just a few days (on 06/05/14) Sons of Sludge will be launching on Amazon.

But what does it mean for a book to "launch"? Simply put, it is a release, just like the opening night for a movie or the grand opening of a new store. But the reason I use the term launch instead of release is because it is a more active word. I don't just want to release this story, I want to propel it forward past the millions of books already available. I don't just want to "put it out there", I want it to explode in the faces of potential readers.

With the way Amazon works, every author wants their title to be in the top 20... or even top 100. When you're there, browsing readers who aren't exactly sure what they want to try out can see your book, possibly click on it, and maybe even choose it.

And there's more than just the Top 100 list of every Amazon book available. There's Top lists for sci-fi, romance, political, self-help, horror (that's me!), young adult (me again!), etc. Find yourself in any one of those lists, and your chances of gaining new readers dramatically increases. But being absent from them, however, might ensure your book is never found.

More sales leads to more exposure, which leads to more sales, which leads to... You get the idea.

So how does one land a coveted spot in the Top 100 of anything? It's not so much the total number of sales over the entire time your book is available, but rather a healthy spike within a concentrated amount of time, particularly in a day. Between selling 5 everyday over a month (total 150), or only 100 for the whole month, but all on a single day, you'll want to get that single day pop.

That's what a launch day is all about, and that's where you come in.

If you have zero interest in getting your hands on this book, fine. Not everyone likes the same kind of book, not everyone has enough free time to read, and not everyone likes to read books from a screen. I get that, and I'm not trying to pitch to uninterested readers.

But if you are planning on reading Sons of Sludge, I humbly suggest/recommend/insist/demand (don't make me make you!) downloading it on the launch date, 06/05/14. This increases the chances of putting it in any one of those Top lists, and kicking off the Summer of Sludge with a bang.

If you don't own a Kindle, and you've never downloaded an ebook from the Amazon Kindle store, the steps to getting S.O.S. are as easy as human-brains pie:

1. Get an Amazon account. It's free and only takes a few minutes to set up.

2. Get a Kindle Reading App. There's one for nearly every device imaginable (smartphone, tablet, Mac or PC), and it's also free and only takes a few minutes to set up. Here's a link: CLICK THIS. Then you just sign in using your Amazon account (see Step #1).

3. Get Sons of Sludge. It'll be $3.99, it's a great summer zombie read, and you'll be helping out your favorite indie author (me again!).

I'll see you on 06/05/14!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Summer of Sludge

The wait is almost over, and then the Sludge will be upon us. After more than two years of writing, re-writing, editing, querying, agent-talking, more re-writing and more querying, SONS OF SLUDGE will finally be available on June 5th, 2014.

It's about damn time.

For too long I've been aching to let people get their hands on this young adult zombie book, because I am so proud of it, and I believe in the story and characters so strongly. I held off in hopes of getting that elusive literary agent, of landing that publishing contract, and at certain times it almost felt like that could happen. Unfortunately that wasn't in the cards for Sons of Sludge, but thanks to the current tools at the fingertips of today's independent author, this story that I love won't suffer a quiet, anonymous end at the bottom of a drawer (or on my hard drive).

And with the current state of publishing and literature, who knows? More and more writers are releasing their work independently, retaining all rights and creative control, and some are even making more money than if they had a traditional publishing contract. Will that be my reality? Hard to say. To be honest, Float came to a rather early dead-end.

To ensure a successful launch for Sons of Sludge, I employed the work of a professional designer for the cover artwork, and I must say I am rather pleased with the results. There's a few websites that I will be sending this book to, looking to see if they can drop a review for me (and when the book launches, you can leave one too *wink wink*).  I also plan to make this book available in print through Amazon, though this might not come to reality on June 5th.

So mark your calendars (for June 5th), and stay tuned for more updates, up until the SONS OF SLUDGE launch date (which is June 5th), and prepare for a Summer of Sludge (starting June 5th). I can't wait to let you read it!


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Contests and Self-Evaluations

"Good evening, and welcome to Josiah Upton's first blog post in 2014. For more, we go to Josiah."

Thanks, Josiah.

Looking back on 2013, it was both exciting and depressing. Exciting, because of the acceptance of Time Stops in an online journal, and also the slightest taste Sons of Sludge gave me of the world of traditional publishing, from actually being in talks with a real literary agent. It's the farthest I've made it to date.

And depressing, because the aforementioned novel did not actually project me into said world of traditional publishing, and S.O.S. still remains unpublished, unrepresented, and largely unread, except for a select few test readers. Also, I didn't actually write a new novel in 2013. Yes, considerable work was put into rewriting S.O.S.'s ending, resulting in what I believe to be a better, stronger story. But no new projects were started.

So what's on the menu for 2014? I'm glad I asked.

I sent a few updated queries out for S.O.S. back in November, which so far have yielded nothing, so my attention for this novel has turned to the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The contest itself has yet to be announced (stirring up much anxiety on the message boards, since last year's contest was announced the December before), but I have my pitch, excerpt and manuscript ready to go when it does. Wish me luck!

Another thing on my mind is my first novel, Float. I started reading it again, and have made a startling discovery: It's not as good as I remember.

*gasps from the studio audience*

When I started writing, I heard people talk about the "starter novel", the first manuscript from a new author that, in almost all cases, finds zero success. I resolved myself that I wouldn't fall prey to this statistic, that Float was incredible and worthy of best-seller status, and any agent or publisher who passed on it was a fool.

I guess my eyes have changed. Maybe it's from the process of writing and rewriting S.O.S. to appeal to a specific agent, or perhaps having a better sense of what readers want out of a book, having read many more books myself than before I started. But I can now see its flaws more clearly, and realize the difficulty of finding an audience for this type of story. I understand how readers might not feel engaged, if they aren't musicians themselves.

Do I still think it's good? Of course I do, I wrote the damn thing. And I believe the support and enthusiasm that my friends and family offered was genuine. I still believe the premise is rather original (as original as anything can be nowadays). I still love the characters, and the journey that it takes the reader on. And I still think it's better than some terrible books I've had the displeasure of reading, ones that somehow made onto the shelves.

I'm less biased though, now. I can see it for what it is... *sigh* A starter novel.

But that makes me worried. What if the same is true about Sons of Sludge? What if, a few years from now, I feel the same way about that? What if I enter it into the ABNA contest, and it doesn't even make it past the first cut? I can't answer that question right now. I'm too close, too invested in this story at the moment. I guess time will tell.

But what of the future of the Float series? I said before, I still think the premise is unique, but perhaps my execution was at fault. It seems the vast majority of young adult readers are female, and therefore the genre has much more female protagonists than male. This puts Float (and even S.O.S.) at a disadvantage. The first change is to create a female hero, one I hope my maleness won't taint. (Note to self: Don't immediately describe the character's boobs.)

Also, setting Paranormal Music in a modern setting, with electric guitars and rock/metal bands, is exciting (especially for a guitar-playing, rock/metal fan like myself), but that admittedly limits the readership appeal. For a new setting, I turn to my undying love for the fantasy works of J.R.R. Tolkien, and am putting the Paranormal Stones in a different world, wielded by skilled singers. Swords, horses, monsters, evil kings... all that jazz.

So if the hero is now female, and is on a completely different fantasy world, and all other characters have been removed, is it still Float? For the most part, no. The only thing remaining is the Stones, and even their number and properties have been altered. In most ways, it will be a brand-new book, with a brand-new name.

Much of 2014 will be devoted to building this world, its characters, their quests, and the relationships between them. I've already laid out a very basic outline, and have all of the Stones, and many of the characters, identified. How long until the first book is written? I don't know. I'd like to say before the end of the year, but I'm not sure. Especially since I'll be having a new and utterly adorable baby boy arriving in April, in addition to the two wild ones already under my charge. The life of this author will be just that much more hectic.

So I say again, wish me luck...