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aforementioned novel did not actually project me into said world of traditional publishing, and S.O.S. still remains unpublished, unrepresented, and largely unread, except for a select few test readers.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...