ramblings

Marketing Failures

A little while ago, I offered a short story ebook for free to anyone signing up for my mailing list. No one signed up. Not one person. I didn’t understand. I had people who view the post and even the mailing list page. Heck, the post that I announced I was giving away a free short story had numerous likes, yet no one signed up to the mailing list. Not a single person. Every time I would check to see if anyone signed up, there would be a this feeling in my stomach over overwhelming dread. And for good reason.

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Failing is horrifying. It reminded me of when I used to make animated shorts. I would spend months animating a little 4-7 minute animation, and I was lucky if I could get 50 views after a couple of months. What’s worst of all is seeing horrendous books and youtube videos that are way worse than mine, yet get more views or sell better. But every time, I lift myself up. And her I am again. Last week I released my first novel. Will it sell? I don’t know. It hasn’t been selling as well as I’d hoped up until now. I do have other marketing plans though, which I have not yet put into effect. Additionally, I’m still working on the second book, and they say the more books in your backlog, the better the series as a whole does. Here’s hoping there’s some truth to that. Unlike the mailing list idea, I’m not ready to write my book off as a failure. Not yet. But regardless, my failures will not define me, and I genuinely believe that with enough work and effort, I can make A Spark Ignites a success. I’m putting myself out there. Because I’m a creator, and that’s what creative people do. Failures be damned.

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Description:  Matt was just a regular teenager, dealing with homework, hormones, high school drama, and an obnoxious older brother. He found his life complicated, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle. Then, when Spark, the city’s greatest superhero unexpectedly dies, Matt finds himself in possession of the hero’s costume and gadgets, with a note asking him to carry on the legacy. Finding himself unable to refuse, he reluctantly begins his superhero career, hoping he can live up to the name of his predecessor. Not knowing the first thing about being a superhero, Matt soon finds himself overwhelmed. Will he find himself in an early grave, just like his hero?

Meanwhile, an aging supervillain, the Inventor, creates a powerful device capable of killing thousands. An elaborate plan is put in motion that could lead to the destruction of everything Matt holds dear. Will he be able to figure out the how to stop him in time? And when evidence arises which indicates that Spark’s death may not be the accident everyone believes it is, Matt finds himself consumed with trying to uncover the truth. Will he be able to get to the bottom of this mystery? And if so, will he be able to handle the dark reality behind it?

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My Favorite Comics (Part 2): Batman Edition

Continuing from my previous post, I will be looking at my favorite Batman comics, in preparation for Batman 5 Superman.

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Batman: Year One
A classic origin tale. Yes, it’s a story you already know (unless you’re my wife, who thought Batman was raised by bats), but it’s still a Batman must-read. There was an animated movie of the same name made, which was a shot-for-shot recreation of the comic.

Batman: The Long Halloween and Dark Victory
Two great mystery stories that are best read together, and pick up on threads from Batman: Year One, as well as including the origin of Two-Face and Robin.

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Batman: Under the Red Hood
A great story about the return of an old Batman character  though it’s much better to read this after reading Batman: A Death in the Family, as it builds directly off that. There’s also a PG-13 animated movie version that’s arguably better than the comic, and incorporates the relevant parts of Death in the Family.

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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
A classic Batman story set in the future with Bruce as an old man. This redefined Batman, making him dark and serous at a time he was associated with campiness. There’s a PG-13 animated movie of the same name that is basically a shot for recreation of the comic, and runs at over two hours long. The Dark Knight Returns and Batman 5 Superman also seem to be based loosely on this comic.

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Paul Dini’s Batman

Paul Dini was a writer for the brilliant Batman: The Animated Series. He wrote a number of amazing issues of Detective Comics, with most of the stories being really enjoyable one-and-done stories that can easily be enjoyed by first time readers and fans alike. His short stories are collected in Batman: Detective,Batman: Death and the City, and Batman: Private Casebook. He also wrote the fantastic Batman: Mad Love, Batman: Harley Quinn, and Batman: Harley and Ivy. A number of his stories (although not even close to half) have been adapted into episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, often with the adaptations being just as good, if not better.

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Grant Morrison’s Batman

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This is the most confusing comic on the list. You’ve got to have intimate knowledge of the DC Universe to enjoy this one, and it’ll require lots of flipping back to earlier stories as his entire 7-year story. It introduces a new Robin, two new Batmen (including one of my favorite), and draws from every era of Batman. The story starts off in ‘Batman and Son’ and continues into ‘Batman: The Black Glove’ (both of which are included together in Batman and Son: New Edition for a significantly cheaper price) Then there’s Batman RIP, the admittedly very confusing Final Crisis, Batman and Robin Volume 1 and Volume 2, Time and the Batman, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, Batman and Robin Volume 3Batman Inc. volume 1, then another volume 1 (confusing, isn’t it?) and finally volume 2, to finish off the story. Some of this story have been adapted into various animated movies, but they range from awful to merely mediocre. Stick to the comics for this one.

This is far from a completed list, but it’s enough for now. Do you have any favorite Batman or Superman comics?

My Favorite Comics (Part One): Superman Edition

In honor of Batman 5 Superman coming out this month (which, if Man of Steel is any indication, will be awful), I’ve decided to share my favorite Batman and Superman comics with you. This list will cover my favorite Superman comics, with my favorite Batman comics coming in another post.

41hajjckawl-_sx311_bo1204203200_Superman: Secret Identity
This is one of my favorite comics ever. It’s a comic anyone can pick up with no knowledge of Superman at all. It’s technically not even about Superman, but rather some guy named Clark Kent living in a world where Superman comics exist, and he’s often mocked for his name. The twist is, he actually has super-powers. This is not a superhero story, however. There’s no villain. It’s simply a story about life and growing up. The story starts with young Clark still in high school, and goes through romance, marriage  kids, and eventually grandkids  Its a beautiful, touching story. If you’ll only read one Superman comic book, this should be it.

“Maybe I had a ‘secret identity,’ but then when you think about it, don’t we all? A part of ourselves very few people ever get to see. The part we think of as ‘me.’ The part that deals with the big stuff. Makes the real choices. The part everything else is a reflection of.” — Clark Kent

51kvincrz9l-_sx325_bo1204203200_Superman: Red Sun
An Elseworlds tale, asking what if Superman had landed in Soviet Russia instead of Kansas. It’s a fun story with an amazingly clever ending. Its interesting to see Superman as the villain, plus Russian Batman is totally awesome. Oh, and commie Superman is STILL a better Superman than Man of Steel’s.

51og2bkd9kkl-_sx301_bo1204203200_Superman: Birthright
My favorite re-telling of the origin of Superman. This is everything Man of Steel should have been. Instead we got a murderous Superman who didn’t care about saving lives, ruined someone’s livelihood for insulting him, and likes to make out with women he just met when human ash is raining down all around him. Idiots.

51aj58tawbl-_sx318_bo1204203200_All-Star Superman
This comic by Grant Morrison is about Superman’s end. It’s something of a possible ending to the pre-Crisis Superman comics (the more outlandish Superman comics that came out pre-1985). It’s a touching story about Superman being tricked by Lex Luthor and succumbing to what’s basically some sort of ‘super-cancer’ and follows the last few months of Superman’s life, and how he lives knowing his end is near. An animated movie of the same name exists as well. It it’s good, but not as good as the comic.

61o7orlbv3l-_sx353_bo1204203200_The Death/Funeral/Return of Superman
These were some of the first comics I read, and its responsible for getting me into comics. While continuity heavy, it’s definitely worth a read. It’s about the time Superman died (as opposed to the time he made us all feel dead inside *coughmanofsteelcough*). An animated version of this movie exists as well, titled Superman: Doomsday. It isn’t as good, but still watchable. About halfway through it goes off in a totally different direction.

51uhk9qemll-_sx323_bo1204203200_Superman/Batman: Volume 1: Public Enemies & Supergirl
A fun couple of stories where Batman and Superman team up, one of which is also the origin of Supergirl. It’s really enjoyable because of the contrast in the two characters personalities. (How they’ll pull off a cross-over in Batman 5 Superman, with both of them being brooding, dark, angst-machines and still make it compelling, I don’t know.) Both Public Enemies and Supergirl have been turned into animated movies, titles Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, and Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. Public Enemies is actually slightly better than the comic it’s adapted from, but Apocalypse pales in comparison.

 

This is far from a completed list, but it’s enough for now. Do you have any favorite Superman comics?

Endings and Non-Endings

cliffhangerHow do you end a story? Coming up with a good ending is probably the second hardest part of writing (the first is getting started). It’s important to end the story. It doesn’t have to tie up all loose ends, but it has to be satisfying if the reader stopped right there. Now, this is obvious when it comes to a stand alone novel. But what about a book series? A trend I’ve noticed in book series lately (and later series movies, where the last book is split into 2 parts) was to end on a cliffhanger. I understand the reasoning behind it- you want to force the reader to pick up the next one. Personally though, I usually end up feeling cheated. Now, it’s ok to have a slight cliffhanger tacked on at the end (like the reveal of Thanos and the end of the Avengers, or the reveal that Magneto still has his powers at the end of X-Men 3), because the reader still got a satisfying, full story. The lest few seconds can easily be ignored, and is more of a trailer or preview for the next movie/volume. Some cliffhangers though, make you feel as though you’re missing half the story. The second Hobbit movie, for example, has such a sudden and jarring ending,  I sat in the theater wondering if the projectionist messed up. I don’t want to be force to buy the next book. If you write a good story, with a good ending, then I’ll buy the follow up. You don’t have to try and trick people into doing.

Book Update and Request for Advice

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My upcoming book, A Spark Ignites, is finally edited. The paperback version is formatted, and I am currently waiting for the proof copy to arrive while I work on formatting the digital version. I’m new to publishing and I’m not entirely clear as to what goes into releasing a book, so I’ve been doing some research for the marketing. I’m thinking some paid advertising (though I don’t have much of a budget), maybe some guest posts on other’s blogs, and possibly a review or two from other bloggers. Any advice from those with experience would be helpful.

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A glimpse at the upcoming book trailer.

Your One Good Idea

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(Not representative of A Spark Ignites. At all. You can tell this was written by a teenager.)

“Everyone has at least one good story in them.” I don’t remember who it was who said that to me (and no, I’m not talking about the Hitchens quote, who might I add was not actually the first person to use it), but I remember I thought about it a lot in high school. I had been working on a webcomic which would eventually become A Spark Ignites, and I was beginning to worry that Spark was my only idea, my only story. Allow me to explain.

003PromoWhen I was seven years old, I created my own comic book character, and began writing and drawing my old comic books. Every year until I was thirteen, through one thing or another, all my comics would get destroyed or go missing. And so, I’d start it all over again every year, promising myself to outdo the years previous. Mind you, I didn’t just try comics. I wrote scripts, animated cartoons, and even programmed video games, all about Spark. By the time I was halfway through high school, I began to wonder if that one lone idea was all I had.

002PromoPieceSo I stopped. For a couple of months, I didn’t work on Spark at all. I just let my mind wander. I kept a small journal where I’d jot down whatever popped into my head. And by the end of those two months, I’d had ideas for a book, a television show, and another comic book (and not one of them involved superheroes). That’s why every year I’d allow myself a break from whatever it was I was working on, just to think. Sometimes I would revisit the journal and play with those ideas (I’ve taken the old tv series idea and used it to outline six books, which will be my next project after the third book in the Spark series), and other times I’d come up with entirely new ones, like the animated short below:

The trick is to just stop working on what you’re working on. Think about another genre. Something totally out there. Brainstorm. Read. Watch. Listen. Daydream. Just get your head out of you “one good idea.” Focusing on the one thing can be stifling to your creativity. You shouldn’t be afraid to let yourself get out there, out of your comfort zone. You cant worry about failure. Ultimately, while I decided to write my first novel based off what evolved out of what I considered my first good idea, I know it wasn’t my last, and that there will be many more to come.

The thing is, no one is uncreative. Everyone has an original thought. An original story to tell. And who knows, if you just push yourself away from your first idea, maybe you’ll find you have more. You won’t know until you try.

Religion in Books

Putting religion in a novel is always a tricky thing. Unless you’re specifically writing Christian fiction, it can be easy to turn some people off. That’s probably why most fiction tries to avoid the topic of religion, other than the odd mention of a holiday or whatever. More often then not, especially in fantasy, if religion is mentioned, it’s just a product of the author’s imagination.

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Numerous books use fake religions, such as a Song of Ice and Fire, Forgotten Realms, The Stormlight Archives, etc. Some of the religions are completely alien, while others are thinly veiled copies of actual religions, and are used to deliver commentary. I feel using a fake religion is often best if you want to avoid offending anyone.

Mentioning Christianity is something that should be avoided in most cases. Either you’ll get a lot of eye rolling or angry folks, depending on what your write and who’s reading it. Now, if it is essential to the story  or the character (like Matt Murdock, for instance), then by all means, go ahead, but remember to tread lightly. Most of the Western world is Christian, or at least familiar with Christianity. As such, it’s ok to be vague. It can be easy to say the wrong thing and offend your audience (unless that’s part of the point, like The DaVinci Code). I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t make a character religious, I’m just saying you should try to avoid going into detail about it if you can. (Just look at Harry Potter. They celebrate Christmas, but Jesus is never mentioned.)

When it comes to other, less popular religions, such a Islam, Hinduism, or Judaism, you can afford to go more into detail. Chances are, most of your audience isn’t so familiar with it, and will find it interesting without being offended or the like. After all, much like fantasy religions, they don’t have a horse in the race. Friday the Rabbi Slept Late or the new Ms. Marvel aren’t just interesting because they’re good stories that are well written, but also because you feel like you’re exploring a new religion. It gives you a bit more leeway.

Personally, other than the odd throwaway comment, I try to avoid mentioning religion in my writing for very much the same reason I avoid language. The less people you upset, the wider audience you have.

Writing What You Don’t Know

write-what-you-knowThey say write what you know. Sounds simple enough. But when writing fiction, you’ll inevitably have to write about things you’ve never experienced. What do you do then?

You can always do research, and read about other people’s personal experiences. It can be helpful, but often it can come across as just spitting back something you heard or read, not something you experienced, and sometimes the reader will be able to tell that the feeling behind it is hollow.

Your own personal experiences are the best wells to draw from. Just because you didn’t experience something exactly doesn’t mean that you can’t approximate your experiences and adapt them to suit the story. For example, I did not go to a public high school. I went to a private religious boys-only school. As such, I never experienced a high school romance. In fact, teenage dating is alien to me. However, my high school experience was not without drama, and my college experience was not without dating. By drawing from my high school and college experiences, I was able to write scenes taking place in a public school that felt grounded and real, even if I did not have those exact experiences myself.

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When it comes the the more fantastical elements to a story, one can still draw from personal experiences. It just requires a little exaggeration. I may not know what it’s like to turn into a seven-foot-tall green rage-monster, but I know what it’s like to be angry. I know what it feels like to have that power and adrenaline coursing through me, and how easy it can be to lose oneself to the blinding rage, doing as one pleases without thought of consequence. I don’t know what it feels like to fly, but I know the feeling of exhilaration when the roller coaster drops, leaving my stomach behind as the ground rushes by me, my face fighting against the wind. Just take what you experienced and exaggerate it, and it will read better than simply imagining it and writing that down.

Whenever able, write what you know, even if you don’t know it.

They Stole My Idea!

You’re sitting there, reading a book or watching a movie or TV show, when something happens that is eerily similar to something you’d thought of ages ago, perhaps even written down. So naturally you exclaim, “Hey, they stole my idea!”

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Not exactly what I’m talking about.

I must’ve heard this line dozens of times. Heck, I’ve used it myself one more than one occasion. The truth is, of course, that nothing is original. As King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Chances are, no one stole your idea. You and whoever wrote the other work were likely influenced by the same thing, and as a result came up with a similar concept. The question then is what do you do next?

There’s an aspect of the story in my book, A Spark Ignites, which was done to similar effect in a film that came out last year. When I saw it, I was quite disheartened, especially as I had written the outline that included that very plot point well over half a decade prior. What I ended up doing was keeping the plot point, but downplayed it. It no longer played as big of a roll as it did before, and I figure by the time people read it, enough time will have passed, and the story is different enough, that no one will notice the similarities. That isn’t the only option though.

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It isn’t unusual for two movies with the same plot to come out around the same time, such as Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, Deep Impact and Armageddon, or Madagascar and The Wild. But why is it that only one of those movies are remembered, while the other is often forgotten? And notice that it isn’t always the movie that comes out first that’s remembered. What will stick in people’s mind is what was executed better. So just because someone ‘stole’ your idea is no reason to throw it out. Come out with it anyway. Just make sure you do it better.

Making a Difference: The Reason We Write

I used to enjoy Taylor Swift. I loved how Norman Rockwellesque her early music felt. The innocence. It brought forth images of a simpler life in a small town, where every love is your first love, true love, where every kiss is your first, where life was ideal, simple, beautiful. Perfect. Of course, life is not like that, I know. It never was. Not for us, not for our parents, and not for Taylor Swift. But still, I liked it anyway. Call it nostalgia for a time that never existed. There’s a song though, from her relatively more recent years, that is probably my favorite of hers.*

“All Too Well” by Taylor Swift

There’s a reason why this is probably my favorite Taylor Swift song. Its because it touches a primal desire. Throughout our life, all of us meet people only to fade out of their life after a time, and its nice to imagine you had some sort of impact, that they haven’t forgotten you, that it wasn’t all for nothing.

Its nice to imagine you mattered.

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
-Shelley’s “Ozymandias”

The reason we write, the reason we become writers, is very much the same reason we have children. We do it to leave something behind. Not fame or fortune. Rather, a legacy. When all is said and done, when we’re lying there on our deathbed, we want to know we made a difference. We want to be remembered. Because as long as we leave something behind, we can rest knowing that in some way, however small, we mattered.

Our legacy is our immortality.

 

*I should note that her recent single, Wildest Dreams, deals with similar subject matter, but does it in a more shallow way, not to mention the music video, although gorgeously shot, seems to be advocating adultery, which is as unNorman Rockwellesque as you can get.