Thursday, August 1, 2019

He's here. Everyone, meet Sam.

Earlier this year I mentioned that I was launching a pen name. Well, blast off. That pen name is here.

Everyone, meet Sam Renner.

Sam is in his mid 40s, just like me

Sam is married to a wonderful woman and has three kids, just like me.

Sam has been writing for years, just like me.

The truth is, Sam's a brand. Sam's space opera. Sam's serials. Sam's special.

Is he completely necessary? Maybe not. The stuff I write under my real name is definitely scifi/speculative fiction, and so is the stuff I write under Sam's name. So why launch him at all?

First, I'm not going to tell him you asked that question. But the real reason I started writing under his name is that his stuff is just different enough from what I do under Jarrett Rush that I wasn't sure the audiences would cross over naturally.

Under Jarrett, I write nearer future scifi/cyberpunk and dystopian fiction. Under Sam, it's space opera and it's much more heavily serialized (yes, light cliffhangers). That's like two different flavors of ice cream. Yes, all ice cream is good, and I'll likely try whatever flavor you put in front of me (Within reason, of course. You can keep your vegetable flavored mess to yourself.)

But if I'm a fan of chocolate and you give me a choice between that and vanilla I'm not going to stray from what I love. That's how space opera readers are. They like what they like. So, instead of confusing my already somewhat slightly split audience who knows me as Jarrett Rush, it made more sense to launch a new name. The people who liked the space opera weren't likely to cross over to the cyberpunk stuff anyway, so there was no harm.

Plus, this gave me a chance to do things the right way. Self-publishing has changed quite a bit over the last few years. There are some best practices now that weren't around when I started doing this so many years ago. I'd like to give those a shot and see if I can't find a real audience this time. So, Sam gives me a shot at doing that.

Sam's first book is up on Amazon for pre-order now. It goes live on Aug. 12. I'm super proud of it, and I'm excited about where this series is going. I'll tell you more about that in a post early next week. In the meantime, go take a look at the new book. Read the blurb. Pre-order your copy.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Creating the Lazarus Moment

Recently, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with this song:

Without saying the name in the lyrics, it’s the story of Lazarus, the man Christ raised from the dead. The Bible story comes from the book of John, something I recently read through and a book that Gina went through as part of an organized Bible study. 

For those unfamiliar: John 11:1-44 

Jarrett’s condensed summary: Lazarus gets sick. Mary and Martha send word to Jesus. He waits where he is two days. Lazarus dies. Jesus goes to Judea and comforts Mary and Martha then raises Lazarus from the dead. 

So, when I listen to this song, I try to imagine Lazarus in those final days, and here’s what I picture. He knows he’s sick. He knows that he’s probably not going to make it. He and his sisters send for Jesus. Lazarus believes that Jesus is the promised messiah, so he’s probably comfortable with his eternity. Still, like most of us, he probably wants a little more time. He’s obviously close to his family. We don’t know how old he is. We know that his sisters are roughly the same age as Jesus, so he’s not old. He’s probably OK with dying, but not ready to do it yet. So he’s hoping for his miracle. But as he doesn’t hear from Jesus and knows that things are looking more and more grim, he says to himself, “It’s OK. I know what’s next for me.” And then he dies. 

Here’s where the song comes in. It’s written from Lazarus’s point of view, and he starts saying “You came! I knew that you would come!” (I’m an advocate for proper exclamation point usage, and they feel totally appropriate here.) This is a man who thought he was dead. He thought he was destined for Heaven. Instead, he’s up and walking out of a tomb, alive again.

He was literally at his lowest point, but now he’s not. He’s experienced a literal 180 degree change.

Like a lot of things, this gets me thinking about my fiction and starts me asking questions about my writing.

Are you giving the characters in your story that kind of 180 degree change? Are you allowing them to hit the bottom so they can then rise again? Are you putting their backs flat to the wall, trapping them in a corner, giving them long odds (or no odds at all)?

Characters need that kind of change so they can grow as people. Readers need that kind of virtual hopelessness so they have a reason to root for the character. 

Now, you can’t let your characters live in a perpetual state of back-to-the-wall. Their lives can’t be all dark. No one wants to spend all of their reading time with characters who are constantly being thrown to the ground and stepped upon.

In the same way, though, they don’t want to read about people who have no real victory. If someone wins all the time, or is dealt a hand that’s all aces you don’t have a story. Stories are about change--changes in situations, yes, but most of us read because we want to see changes in characters. We want to see growth in the fictional people we care about. That’s story, and if we don’t put our characters in situations where they can learn and grow then we don’t have a tale to tell.

Are you creating that Lazarus Moment for your characters? Are you knocking them down so they can have their miracle and get back up again?

Sunday, January 27, 2019

2019: Let's launch a pen name

Every year I sit down and make some goals for this whole publishing thing. Each year they involve some level of increased production and better marketing. This year's no different. I have some pretty aggressive publishing goals, and I have some marketing goals that will keep me busy. But the biggest thing that's going to change in 2019 is that not everything written by me is going to have my name on it, because I'm launching a pen name. 

There are a couple reasons for this. Part of it comes down to marketing. I have built the Jarrett Rush brand around near-future, on-Earth speculative fiction. The sci-fi I write under my real name isn't happening millennia from now. It doesn't have space ships or alien overlords. I write monster stories under my own name. I write zombie stories under my own name. The people who red those stories don't necessarily read this new stuff I'm writing. This stuff is all spaceships and blasters. It's fun, and I love it. But promoting it to the people who read the stuff I write as Jarrett isn't going to drive sales and could confuse the book store algorithms that help sell books for you. So, to avoid that unhelpful cross pollination of audiences, I'm going to publish this new stuff under a new name.

Second reason: I started this publishing journey eight years ago this coming September. It's been fun, but it hasn't been profitable. I make a few bucks a month from my stories, but I'm not by any reasonable measure successful with it. But, I think I could be. The problem has been that I've sort of done everything wrong. When I started years ago, there weren't a lot of best practices. It was still a little bit the wild west, and I missed all of the tricks then that people did to make their books successful. And they really were tricks, most of them. They were exploiting loop holes in the algorithms that Amazon and other stores quickly closed.

From that, some best practices emerged, those things that didn't exploit any funny way that books rankings or promotions were handled. These were just solid ways to run a business. None of them are overly genius, but I haven't ever implemented them fully. I feel like, and this is going to sound fairly cocky, that if I did those things, I could be successful doing that. And launching a pen name is a chance for me to test that. Things like writing in clearly defined markets (RIP, cyberpunk), establishing a newsletter early, launching books quickly, running ads properly. All of this is stuff I see other authors doing and finding.

I haven't decided whether or not to keep the name secret. Right now, I'm leaning that way, just for the sake of purity. The whole cross pollination thing I mentioned earlier. My plans for him (There's your one hint, the pen name is still male) are pretty aggressive. I want to write five serial novellas, three short stories that introduce the world, and one standalone story. That's nine pieces of fiction for this new name. 

It's kind of exciting for me personally. Like most writers, I have a lot of half started things on my hard drives. I didn't know where some of it was going. They were just stories that came to me, and I ran with them. Going back now, I see how they easily fit into the plans I have for this name. So, I'm not starting those none pieces from scratch. I actually have the first novella finished and am a good way into the second right now. I've also got a start on one of the stand alone shorts. It's kind of like God knew what he was doing when He gave me those stories when he did.

That doesn't mean I'm ignoring the series I've started under my Jarrett Rush name. I am planning on finishing the Rubble & Ruin series this year. There's one more book planned to wrap up that story. I also have more Jackson Cane stories planned. I think I can get those stories to start moving with a finished series and some smart advertising. And those stories are pretty short. I can write them quickly. 

I also want to write that third New Eden book to wrap up the main series. 

So, that's it. We'll say happy birthday to a new pen name in 2019. You'll also see me more here and on social media a bit more, specifically Facebook. I've got some ideas there too. I'm excited about this year, I think it has the potential to be a good one.