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5 Things You Should Know About Self-Publishing

This Saturday, 11/15/14, marks the six-month anniversary of the release of Unlucky Seven.

I figured I would give you, my loyal readers, a progress report along with some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

If you follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter, you know that I’ve been doing quite a bit of advertising. Probably too much for most tastes. It feels like the only things I’ve been posting have been links to my Amazon site and my GoFundMe campaign (shameless plug).

Can you blame me? I finally finished a novel that was many years in the making and was able to scrape together enough self-confidence to put it out there for public consumption. Suddenly, when you see people buying your stuff and you get cases of your own book in the mail, the classic trope of “someday finishing your novel” isn’t as much of a pipe dream anymore.

I am proud of what I’ve done and I want to get the word out about it. I have it on fairly reliable authority that my book has memorable characters, a fast-paced witty style, and is a very fun and fast read. I find myself going back and re-reading posted reviews and comments confessed to me in text messages and over Facebook frequently to keep my spirits up whenever I feel I’m starting to lose faith in what this book can accomplish.

I’m doing everything grassroots, too. Grassroots is tricky because, aside from yourself, you have to rely on friends to spread the word. Friends of mine in the local music industry know this part all too well. It’s a bit different trying to hock books than it is getting people to go to shows and buy albums but we find ourselves in the same sort of situation: attempting to sell our art when no one knows who the hell we are. The main advantage music has over literature is that it is much easier to stumble upon music. Since I’m not reading my book out live anywhere, I can’t be randomly heard or discovered. I do have a sample track in my first few chapters available for preview at Amazon, however, people have to be brave and/or engaged with reading enough to give it a shot. Instead, I rely on the kindness of friends to repost my links (most of them have), however, it’s tough to get people to read. Much tougher than getting them to look or listen.

I was lucky enough to find a partner in another local published author who also happened to be a good friend of mine, Spike Bowan. We teamed-up for a local toy collectors show where we shared a table and sold our books. We thought we did pretty well and I already had aspirations of taking the book to a bigger convention, namely, Steel City Con here in Pittsburgh this December. Spike and I agreed to an alliance which made things like Steel City Con more affordable at a split-price. We formed IAM – Indie Authors of the Mon-Valley – a writer’s group. Though it’s still in its infancy, our ambition is to give a home to genre fiction writers whose body of work doesn’t really fit well with the many lit-fic and poetry writer’s groups in the area. We don’t think there’s enough encouragement for genre writing and wanted to give the rest of the misfits, like us, a home. I’ll let you know as this develops. It’s kinda still in the chrysalis stage, but we’ll get there.

Some of my friends tell me that writing a book is a big deal. That I’ve accomplished something. Yeah, I suppose I have and, as I mentioned, I’m proud of that fact. It still makes me feel pretentious and icky to run around touting myself as an author or a writer. I’ve never been one to brag (I just wasn’t raised that way) and it feels too much like bragging to admit to people that I have faith and confidence that the words I’ve put down in that book are, briefly, good. I am not good at schmoozing and I am absolutely awful at self-promotion (see above: annoying). I keep getting told that it’s all just grist for the mill; that I’ve got to buck-up some more confidence and really sell my book. This is true. Right now, I’m just sitting here waiting for word of mouth. Let me tell you how quickly that ocean dried up.

It also makes me feel pretentious and icky when people ask me questions about writing. I don’t know that I’m one to be giving advice. Yeah, I’ve been putting words to paper in one manner or another for many years of my life (rants, blogs, Fights of the Week, etc) but, somehow, I don’t feel like one self-published book suddenly makes me qualified to speak as any sort of expert. People have asked for advice on their writing based on their appreciation of mine and I’m not really sure I should be answering. I’m not Dickens or Twain – I’m just a thirty-something from Munhall who sacked up and put a story out there, for better or worse.

Thinking on it for some time, I came up with a few points of advice for the aspiring, speaking only six months out from me being one of them. If anything, take this as preparation for when you finally decide to give the bird finger to all those publishers who rejected you and do it on your own. Learn from this, my friends. Please.

1. If you are a genre fiction writer, publishers and agents will absolutely deny you 99% of the time.

Too pessimistic? Too bad. No one – not anyone ever ever – will tell you this painful truth. Except Stephen King, he mentions his consistant rejections in “On Writing” (a fabulous and inspirational book, btw). The difference between now and when our good Mr. King was trying to break into the industry is the internet. More specifically, there was no Kindle, no Nook, no smartphones, and no apps. All of these wonderful solutions for modern living have taken the traditional idea of publishing and thrown them entirely out the window.

I’m not going to go too far and say that eBooks are putting paper under because that would be a lie. Paper books are still very much a thing in the same manner that, in an electronic world, paper cards for every occasion still greatly outnumber eCards. In fact, after my initial eBook only release, there were many people asking me where the paper copies were. Even though some of them were pretty avid device-users, they wanted it in print. Not just because they wanted it signed by yours truly (which most of them received) but because they were objectionable to the eBook medium in one way or another.

Don’t let that little bit discourage you. There are plenty of people out there buying eBooks, some of them are dragging a net into the deep waters that are the new independent books. These intrepid deep-sea fishermen are looking for your genre fiction. They want something that caters to their niche. They will find you.

The point of this first entry on the list is that, unlike Mr. King whose crazy horror stories finally found a mainstream home after a good number of years, when you get to the end of your rope and stop believing that The Powers That Be in writing are the end-all-be-all of getting your book out there, you can stop writing letters and just do it yourself. The Gatekeepers of the Industry are still present, but there’s a small hole in the fence. Squeeze on through as soon as you feel you’re ready.

2. There are people who will tell you that you achieved nothing because your book wasn’t REALLY published.

Your reaction to this should be a prompt, sturdy, and constant middle finger. These people are defined in the dictionary as assholes and are not worth your time.

You did not get a major publishing house to back your efforts. This in no way invalidates what you have accomplished. If you have completed a novel or a book or a volume or whatever you want to call it and have moved forward with publication, self or otherwise, you have done something that many people only aspire to do. Think about every person you’ve ever known who has alluded to or outright announced the fact that they’re working on a novel. Some people do it just to sound intelligent, some people are legitimate about it. Whatever the case, once it’s actually out there, you’re part of a different club. The important thing isn’t that your book is available (e- or print) but that YOU HAVE FINISHED YOUR NOVEL. Not only have you finished your novel, you’ve done so in a manner that makes you comfortable having other people read it, rate it, and respond to it. Those last parts are the hardest to get over. More on that later.

You have accomplished something that many deign to do but never complete. You’re at the end of the marathon, looking back on all the people behind you, able to marvel at this thing you’ve just done while others may stumble, stop, or quit altogether.

There is absolutely no shame in self-publishing. If anything, going this route makes it more of a challenge. You could send out queries for years and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a result. If you get in with a house or an agent, you’ll have a much easier time with things. On the other hand, if you’re like me, out on the streets essentially putting feet-to-pavement to get word out about your stuff and you do become a success, it will be much more rewarding than going the traditional old-boys-club route.

So, you can tell those assholes who heckle you for self-publishing exactly where they can shove it.

3. You will be criticized and you may not like it.

You’ve put your book out there. If you’re like me, you’re probably using Amazon to do it which means that, as soon as Kindle Direct Publishing clears your product page for publication, the dreaded stars become a major focus of your life. There are five of them. If you’re lucky, most of them will be red all the time.

I have been fortunate so far that people reading my book have liked my book and told me so via the precious Amazon stars. While I’ve only got six ratings and I know I’ve sold more copies of my book than just that, a 4.8/5 rating on my page makes me feel good. People who read it like it enough to say positive things about it, which really gives me a boost. As you may or may not know, most people who rate things online either love it to death or hate it with passion. Not many people are going to rate your stuff three-stars. The internet is not a place of equity and reason, it is a place of extremes.

Although my Amazon rating might be intact, putting the book out there has exposed me to criticism in real life. People reading have told me about characters they love (which I hate) or characters they hate (which I love). I’ve been presented at least once with a sheet of minor grammatical errors (along with some perceived syntax errors, both very short lists) and told by that person that they “hope the second edition addresses these issues”. Bro, there probably won’t be a second edition for a while, fyi.

Still, the criticism is valid. All of it. You have to take it in stride and remember that you’ve put your book out there. There aren’t any real takebacks. Could you pull your book from Amazon, rewrite, and pretend it never happened? Sure. Don’t, though. You had confidence in your work enough to put it up for public consumption. Remain confident in yourself even if someone doesn’t like it. If you’re writing genre fic, like me, your particular niche might not be someone’s bag. Unless they have a solid argument, citing the source material, just consider it that someone doesn’t like your style, let it roll off your shoulders, and move on. Keep your head up. Remember, the person who criticized you probably didn’t write their own novel and throw it out there. You are braver than they’ll ever be. Keep your head high and march on.

4. Do not concern yourself with how many units you move or you’ll go crazy.

Your first experience in sales will be extremely rewarding. When you first announce that you have a book available, your friends will swarm like piranha to snatch up their copies. Within the first twenty-four hours with Unlucky Seven, I sold fourteen units. While that may not sound like much, I have yet to beat that one day total. In fact, I have yet to beat that one day total in a week’s worth of time. Maybe a month’s worth of time.

The first few days of your release will have you obsessively checking your sales statistics (which KDP handily provides). You’ll squeal with glee every time the line bumps up another unit. Then, inevitably, things will go flat. And, they WILL GO FLAT. There’s no real avoiding this. Do not let this affect you. This will happen often.

You’re obviously trying to monetize your work. You wouldn’t have put it up if this wasn’t the case. Amazon, as it states very clearly in the ePub contract you signed in the terms and conditions, is not responsible for the marketing of your book. You will not get any direct help from them unless your book starts to do exceedingly well, at which point they reserve the right to put you up on Kindle’s front page. This will not happen immediately because your name is not John Green. The only thing you can do to up your book’s views is to put it on sale. Amazon allows you to do countdown deals (selling your book at a discount from what you state as your list price) and book giveaways (offering your stuff up for free for a limited time). These options, per the terms, increase the visibility of your book while the discount/giveaway is on. I’ve done a countdown deal and I can tell you that it spiked sales pretty good. I’m contemplating a giveaway just to get the book out there.

Remember that this isn’t a race, but also remember that promotion is key to moving more units. Which brings me to my final point…

5. Marketing is a bitch.

I mentioned this in the above but I don’t know if I can mention it enough. The biggest challenge with self-publishing is self-marketing.

If you’re like me – a self-deprecating humorist with an anti-social streak a mile wide and perhaps (only perhaps) a dozen actual go-over-their-house-for-dinner hang-out-on-a-regular-basis friends – then you’re going to have as much trouble as I do moving units.

Social media is going to be your primary outlet for advertising because it’s free. I’m going to give you some advice that you see in every “how-to self-publish right” type of guide right here, but I’m going to add a bit of marketing advice given to me by my wife as well. This will be a small sub-list.

1. Start an author page on Facebook. Do not make a page for the book itself. You’re going to be writing more things than just the first book, right? Or you hope to, at least? Then you want a centralized author page. Do not make friends and fans follow more than one thing and do not put it on yourself to try to keep up with posting on more than one group page about your writing. Keep it simple. One page means one update reaches your audience. Plus, new friends/fans will be able to easily find your official stuff.

2. Twitter. Make your current account known. Update your fans regularly. Throw them little bonus bones like lesser-known (or unknown) facts about characters and locations in your book. Give them a reason to follow you.

3. Pony up and buy a domain name. While WordPress and services like it are a wonderful thing, people will take you much more seriously if you’ve got your own domain. I purchased jpbidula.com which, come to think of it, you should know already because that’s probably where you’re reading this very listicle. Make sure you’re keeping a blog. Your fans will likely want to hear what you have to say even if it’s usually bitching about a TV show that looks to crush the early origin of one of your favorite superhero franchises. Your fanbase will get to know you as a person from this place and it can be a platform for links – your Amazon page, an etsy or cafepress page for merch, your social media, deviantart if you’ve got any – just to name a few. Your domain should be the hub of your publicity efforts.

4. Goodreads. I got turned on to this site thanks to another good friend of mine. As a Goodreads author, you can really connect to your readers. I recommend checking it out. It comes highly regarded by many many self-published authors. Beware of the fan fiction there, it runs pretty thick.

5. Take some freaking pictures of yourself, you hermit. Better yet, get someone experienced to take them for you. You know people in the art community, I’m sure, and at least one of those people has to be a decent photographer. Go out in the world with them and get some good shots of yourself for promotional purposes. That Facebook page? Twitter? Your domain? Goodreads? All of them look better when your profile picture isn’t a blank outline of a person with a question mark over their face. Putting your face out there, even if you have low self-esteem like yours truly, makes you a real human being and can help your readers relate better to you.

6. Make yourself some business cards. When you do, list most of this stuff on it. When you give someone your card, it should allow them to connect to you on at least the major social platforms (FB, Twitter, your site). People WILL NOT remember who you are if you meet them and tell them you’re an author. They will, however, find your card when cleaning out their pockets/purse/wallet and maybe remember.

Use whatever tools you can for marketing. As I mentioned, I’m taking my book to a Comic Con along with my friend Spike. We’re going to be in the trenches with real copies, pressing flesh and meeting new people. We considered this a prime option for publicity. This does require an amount of capital (hence my GoFundMe site) but, as my boss at my day-job put it, it’s making an investment in yourself and, in the end, it will be worth it.

In conclusion, there will be ups and downs. The ups will feel incredible, the downs will be horrible. Remember that it’s not a race nor is it a competition. You will move units eventually but you have to put the work in to selling them. You have to be relentless with your promotion as much as you may hate it. You will come off to your friends as annoying after a while but they’re not the ones you’re marketing to after the first few weeks.

Above all things, keep your head up and remember that regardless of your sales numbers or reviews you have still accomplished a phenomenal thing. You are brave. You have done well. You will succeed if you put enough time and effort into it.

When we all get to the finish line, I’ll buy the first round.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Completion: An Unlucky Seven Update

(note: this is a bit more personal an entry than I’m used to, so bear with it. –B)

I never thought I’d be able to say I actually finished a novel. Now, bear in mind, I don’t mean finished-finished, but the writing is all done.

Of all the stories I’ve ever started, this is the first one I’ve completed and been able to say, “Yes, this is an actual novel. This grouping of chapters is it. Here’s the beginning, here’s the end.”

This may not seem a very monumental occasion to some of my fellow writers in the audience, but you have to understand that, when it comes to projects like this, I am extremely scatterbrained.

Over the course of the last ten years, I’ve been writing Unlucky Seven.
During the first run, I would churn out chapter after chapter of argument and rhetoric between the main characters, much of it rehashed due to my snail’s pace of production (a chapter every two weeks to a month). I did it so slowly that I didn’t remember what I’d done three chapters ago and wound up reusing the same lines. I would create a conversation involving one set of characters, then the same conversation would occur later in the story involving an entirely different set of characters or even the same characters taking on opposing viewpoints to what I had already written.

Sixty-five chapters and nine or so years later, I took a look back at the long trail of destruction I’d wrought. I realized that I had allowed things to grow out of control like ivy and the house of the original idea had been engulfed in unrelenting vines of side-plots and foreshadowing which would never come to fruition.
It wasn’t until this past summer that I came in with some weed killer, one of those chainsaws on a pole, and a two-gallon container of kerosene. Every vine I cut, no matter how thick or how thin, seemed to regrow and assert its place in the storyline.
I thought, maybe if I tackled the roots; kill the plots where they started before they had a chance to anchor themselves to the main story. What weed killer I sprayed on the roots of one seemed to cause the others to grow larger and consume even more space.
The more I tried to fight, the worse things became. The vines had become the walls of the house and the more I removed, the more the house would grow unstable. So, I took the kerosene, splashed it around, and burned the whole house to the ground.

When the fire burned itself out, I started rebuilding from the very beginning.

On one hand, it felt terrible to trash something on which I had spent so much time. Droughts of writer’s block, forcing things to happen, trying to find a way to write my characters out of the moral corners into which they’d painted themselves… the last thing I did in the previous version was a three-chapter story where the characters time traveled. TIME TRAVELED for God’s sake. Time travel is where stories go to die (unless it’s a story about time travel from the beginning). Ask Voyager. Ask Lost. Ask any major label comic book ever.
Everything in the old one took so much time to accomplish. It’s a superhero-ish story and the “heroes” didn’t reach any sort of conflict with the “villains” until somewhere in the high-chapter-forties. Eff that. Too much QQ not enough pew-pew, as the gamers say. And, I know it doesn’t really matter how much action is packed into a story as long as it’s a compelling story. I’ve been writing and reading long enough to know that the body count isn’t what truly matters.

Believe me when I tell you that the original became very tedious very quickly.

What was once supposed to be a story which would be infinitely relatable (20-somethings get superpowers, have intense realistic and moral reservations about using them to fight crime, before being pressed into the whole hero vs. villain gig against their will) became less about the fun and more about the whining (20-somethings get superpowers and spend chapter after chapter debating and hemming and hawing over every little freaking detail before, somewhere around 300 or so pages in to the story, they actually do something vaguely entertaining, then they go back to sulking again).

I couldn’t bear what it became.

As I mentioned before, I’m scatterbrained. I always have new ideas for stories or characters. My problem was that I kept working them in to Unlucky Seven as if they were always there. The whole thing was getting too meta as I started writing stories within the story. Whenever I was blocked in one plot but still felt the need to continue the story, I would use every distractionary tactic in the old bag of tricks; flashbacks, side-plots, new characters, new situations, foreshadowing, hidden agendas… I would stop one story and continue the other, sometimes going three chapters or more before returning to the core story. Even when I finally made it back, I would only take a half-step forward before getting distracted by one of the other plots and thinking that I should go in that direction instead.

Were any of these rivers going to converge? Maybe, but probably not for at least another hundred or so chapters at the rate I was going. Things had exploded into too many different directions and it was extremely difficult to control. I was getting far too attached to characters who had absolutely nothing to do with the central plot. I fell out of love with the original idea because I’d become tired of listening to my characters whine and bitch and moan. I knew if I went back to them, there would be no action, just more complaining and debating. As much as I loved them, I just couldn’t abide what they were doing with themselves.
Yeah, I realize they’re not real people. But, in my head they were. Every time I went back to visit them, it was nothing but wah, wah, wah. I even tried slapping them around and getting them to pep up and do something, but they just wanted to whine. A bunch of other characters were ready for action, though, so I’d run off and play with them instead.

It’s crowded inside my head.

After burning down the house, I had a chance to remold them all, and I did so. I think they’re much better now. And, after twenty-six focused chapters and only two (maybe two-and-a-half, technically) parallel plot lines in the first book (there will be more Unlucky Seven stories than this one), I think I’m finally happy with where they are and where I am.

With that, the offers I’ve made on facebook remain firm to my loyal readers. Contact me there or through e-mail (link’s on the side bar) if you’d like to read through the rough-cut of the story or even if you’d like to take a swing at editing me. I’m up for constructive criticism. This is my baby and I want it to come up right and I’m finally, after ten years of labor, pushing this bastard out into the world. Painful though it may be for me to part with it, I think it’s time I cut the cord.

Drop me a line and let me know and I’ll be in contact. Thanks in advance if you want to look.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Out With the Old: A Call to the Readers

It used to be so easy.

The formula was simple. Scan the headlines, open my eyes, look around, observe people, write a blog about it. Done. Lately, writer’s block has been coming in giant crashing waves which leave me feeling like I’m lying on the shore, beaten down and washed up.
Of course, I’ve been writing while I’ve not been blogging. The Fight of the Week is my public testament to that, although it skirts the edges of fan-fic, which I would prefer not to delve into. I write them out because I feel every fight needs a scenario. Surroundings are half the battle and combat can be very situational.
I have been working hard at the Unlucky 7 Rewrite. I have been putting pen to paper and fingers to keyboard more often than evidenced by the dates on my entries. Once upon a time, someone told me that my problem was that I would come up with great ideas but I would never see them through. I chose Unlucky 7 as my main focus and years after it started and snowballed out of control into a story that had completely lost touch with its purpose and its roots, I’m finally bringing it into focus and telling the story as it was meant to be told. I had over 350 pages of 10pt. Arial, single-spaced, normal-margin Unlucky 7 written. Now, the numbers are much more humbling, but much more satisfying.

Just as I’m coming back to the roots of Unlucky 7, I feel like I’ve lost touch with my own roots as a writer. I’ve always plugged at fiction but I feel like I didn’t really start writing until I started blogging. It was a way for me to feel like a sort of journalist. I even preached the merits of Gonzo. I’ve lost that outlet. I’ve lost that ability to vent everything I’m thinking to my readers and I feel like it’s doing my loyalists a complete disservice.
I remember when I was originally stationed at LiveJournal. I remember when a blog was a new thing to me. I wrote every night. Essays and entries about everything and anything; screaming my opinion off the walls of the internet. Some of the writing was solid but, looking back on it, there was as much crap as there was gold.

Look at me, talking like some kind of old man. Though, seven years ago, when this whole blog thing started for me, life was different. I was working retail. I was in college. There was no nine-to-five grind, so there were my most productive writing hours: extreme late night. If you take a look at my LiveJournal archives, you’ll see that a good percentage of my writing was published near or after 1AM. Ever since I started working an office job, my night owl tendencies have gone far out the window, unless it’s the weekend.
I used to rail about everything. It was very freeing. Whatever I was pissed off about, I would just vomit into my blog in the quickest way possible. I didn’t care about word count or page count or how long the thing went on or how many times I repeated myself. Sometimes, it actually worked out. Sometimes I had an actual, readable product that was of reasonable quality.
Around 2004, things started to get more political. I was still ranting about pop-culture and sociological observations, but things definitely took a slightly serious turn. For a brief moment, I thought myself a pundit. I made a few passionate speeches about the necessity of voting and even got a few people out to register (one of which wasn’t even from this country, but they still did it based on what I said). I felt like I could accomplish something.
After the election, my political rants seemed to be the same bitching and wailing about the Bush Administration as everyone else, in retrospect. Of course, there was my distinct flavor to it: pepper with a few shits and fucks, make sure to reference at least five movies, be sure to say damn the man, rinse, repeat.
By the time the Bush Administration was in its twilight, I had become tired of writing about politics. I got sick of writing about the government and my throat was sore from screaming conspiracy theories at the top of my lungs. The horse was dead and, unlike most pundits and political bloggers, I felt like it was best to take my bat and go home rather than stand in line to keep beating it. My supervillian was gone and I would have to either go back to fighting street crime or retire altogether.

Now that I’ve set up a more public and (only slightly) more professional blog than LiveJournal, I find myself thinking before I write. What will have public appeal? Is it too late to write about certain headlines because, two weeks later, I finally felt motivated to put something down on paper? What do people want to read about? What should I be writing about?
I see successful blogs everywhere. I know there are people in the (and I hate to use this word) blogosphere who are commanding hundreds of hits per day while this humble blog brings in the loyal dozen or so readers who happen to click a link on Facebook.
I suppose the frequency is partially to blame. Out of sight, out of mind. If I had more entries, I’d have more things to promote and I’d generate more hits. Staying fresh in the public eye is important.
Promotion is part of it, too. I’ve never been good at shameless self-promotion because I’m innately humble and still have some self-confidence issues when it comes to my writing. I always worry that people won’t like it. I know, I should be over that type of thing by now. I won’t make any excuses. I need to hire a street crew or something. If anyone digs my writing and wants to help me promote the site, let me know, because I know I’m not doing a good enough job of it.

Looking around the net, my main problem is thus: I do not have a theme.

There are tons of successful blogs out there, but none are as scatterbrained as this one. I know I have a loose theme which is pop-culture. This isn’t enough, though. The only people who are reading this blog are people who know me in one way or another. I have to find some way to reach more of the masses and I think the best way to do that would be to insert myself into some sort of niche. I would want to keep this blog open, for the occasional destructive ramblings I find myself taking, but I think it’s time that I gave my efforts more of a focus.

Focus is what brought me to the point I am with Unlucky 7. I like that point. I’m much more confident in that point because of my focused effort. Now, it’s time to work on the blog. But, I need opinions.

If I were to open a new, more focused, more consistently updated blog, what should it be about? I would say I’ll do a hockey blog, but there are too many of those out there already. I would do a minutia of Pittsburgh blog, but there are a fair amount of those as well. I would put together a reviews-only blog, but I’m not sure how much or how often I’ll be able to afford the cost of reviewing new products/video-games/music/movies.

I would choose a theme, but I keep coming up with reasons I shouldn’t. This is all stream of consciousness right now, so you can see how my semi-defeatist attitude is keeping me from making any kind of move away from an area where I’m comfortable. If the blog stays ambiguous, then I don’t have to change anything and I don’t have to work on anything if I don’t want to. But, I want a reason to write. I want motivation. I want to do something that’s going to generate some kind of public response and feedback. I just need help with finding a direction.

I need help finding a way to put my skills to good use.

I need your help.

Please, send some feedback. Throw me a lifeline. Where do I go from here, my loyal few?

Oh, and I’m also thinking about parting the Fight of the Week out to its own blog rather than a supplement to this page. Any thoughts on that?

Thanks for your continued support. No matter what happens, if you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

—end transmission—

Decayed

Recently, I was contacted by a webzine to which I have been a rather infrequent contributor as of late regarding any “decade lists” I would wish to post.
I have to admit, at first the concept interested me. I started to think about all the rankings I could give things. Top ten movies, top ten albums, top ten TV shows, concerts, moments, newsbytes, socio-political or scientific breakthroughs. Anything.

I gave it some long hard thought. I sat with an open word document for a few hours pondering what I should rank. Being something of a purveyor of pop-culture, the idea should be an incredible opportunity for me. Here we sit, perched on the edge of another epoch and I’m caught speechless.
Of course, heading on a brief outing to Barnes and Noble and merely looking at the magazine rack, many powerful and name brand publications seem to think that their opinion is the end-all-be-all of the first decade of this fledgling millennium. Entertainment Weekly, for instance, published their top 100 in entertainment (obviously) for the decade. This ranked everything in one large bundle. I suppose this is the easy way out of the problem. Put everything into one place in a sort of loose yet obvious numbered system and make your readers debate amongst each other as to which particular thing should have been placed where in their opinion.
This is the coward’s way out. I could probably tell you a hundred things in pop-culture within the 20-ought years that would rank up there for me. Shit, I practically have. I’ve been blogging (and some of you have been reading) for eight of those ten. I guarantee that there were more than 100 rants in my catalogue over that time, most of them about pop-culture. So, there we have it. I’ve already done what Entertainment Weekly did, though in no particular ranking or order.
I’ve probably recommended ten albums. I’ve probably reviewed ten movies with a 5/10 or higher on the Bidula’s Last Word scale. I’ve probably told you about 10 or more video games which rocked me. I’ve definitely told you of more than ten socio-political moments that moved me. I have, more than anything else, told you of more than ten personal moments when I was particularly moved, overjoyed, saddened, awakened, broken, reassembled, stripped for parts, reconditioned, and resold.
Ten years ago today, I was a first quarter art school student with a head full of ideas as to where I would be by the end of the decade – I thought I would be doing something incredible, creating for a living. Ten years later, here I am, with the same hopes for the end of the next decade but with a much more realistic perspective on what it takes to obtain that goal.
Ten years ago, the computer I used to connect to “the internet”, not much more than a collection of lists of other sites and moving .gifs of construction people eternally shoveling in their little yellow triangles, was a horrible mess of a machine compared to the fine laptop on which I am now writing. Ten years ago, there was no real blogging. Hell, ten years ago, there were barely frames and flash. Ten years ago, there was no Xbox. Ten years later, life seems so much different when we look back.

Ten years in the eyes of pop-culture is much more than a decade. It’s almost two lifetimes when you think about it. The very nature of the “pop” aspect limits things to their run of mainstream glory. Judging simply by the events involved, thinking back to where we were when this or that happened, it doesn’t seem like that far back. Take a moment to think about where exactly you were ten years ago. Think about where you were, what you were doing, and what you were anticipating in the terms of what came next. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

See what I’m talking about? Mindblowing, isn’t it. Top ten movies in the ought-decade? How does one really put that down on paper? I mean, look at 2000 alone: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Chocolat, Finding Forrester, Almost Famous, Battle Royale, Gladiator, High Fidelity, The Perfect Storm, O Brother Where Art Thou, Snatch, X-Men… And that’s just a few. Granted, not all of them would be in my personal top ten, but still, right there, you have 11 movies I think are awesome out of one freaking year. Don’t even get me started on music or anything else, we’ll be here all night.
Great movies come out every year. To limit the field to so few would be ridiculous. Why do you think that IMDb has a “Top 250 of all time”? Sure, they narrow it down to a top ten at the end, but there are still 240 other movies that get props because they’re awesome.
For the decade, I would probably be able to do a top 25 for things. Hell, I might just do a top 25, maybe even a top 50, maybe even a ranking in no particular order, but it’s going to have to come with massive amounts of research.

I could never classify an entire decade worth of entertainment within 10 anything without giving respect to the tons of decent efforts that may have come up short of the elusive 10th slot. We won’t do that here. Within the next few weeks look for the best dozen or more of the decade. Originally, I had set out to make this a rant about how decade lists would be nearly impossible. The more I sit here in my late night mind set, the more I think it can be accomplished as long as you don’t limit a number and you don’t lump everything together.

Sure, I’ll do the decade lists. Just don’t hold me down to a number. 10 for 10 just ain’t enough. There’s a lot of stuff out there, and I’m just now scratching the surface. Expect updates.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

An Unlucky Seven Update

For those of you who may be wondering (probably about a dozen or so, maybe less) whatever happened to Unlucky Seven, my comic-book style serial, I wanted to give you an update, as well as a bit of a blog entry.

A few weeks ago, I took a look at some of the earlier chapters of Unlucky Seven. Actually, I read the whole thing. Most of you never got to see the thing in its entirety, but it’s massive. We’re talking 364 pages, 10 pt. Arial, single spaced, standard margins. That gives us 230,650 words, 1,048,581 characters (not counting spaces), and 64 chapters of total story. I have a printed copy somewhere. It’s an absolute beast.
A good chunk of those chapters were never posted to the Unlucky Seven LiveJournal page. Those latter chapters were written for and read by only one person (who I consider the first and only person in Unlucky Seven fandom). They jive with the story as it went but, towards the end, I started reaching.

I realized that I had lost my way somewhere along the line. There were many pitfalls and perils along the path which threw my attention in a million different directions. Chapters 1-18 were written in fair succession (about one chapter a week), but even they were spaced out. Then, there was a year or so of downtime while I concentrated on other things because I thought Unlucky Seven was too hard to write. That was the first of about 6 incidents over the six or so years I’d been writing the damned thing.
The fact that I’d drifted in and out of the story made it tough to follow. I would come up with new ideas and forget about old ideas. I would set entire plans in motion, forget what the objective was, and leave them hanging like a chad on a Florida ballot and with the same indeterminable significance.
I injected new characters into the story whose roles were built to be significant from so much earlier in the story. I would try to backtrack and retcon and make it so that it looked like they were significant and that their significance was happening completely “off-camera”, away from the sight of the reader and without any previous reference. A terrible crime of the writing world, in my opinion, and a horrifying faux-pas to assume that knowledge on the part of the reader.
Not only did I assume knowledge of these relationships, but of those of the core characters. I took for granted that everyone could visualize the story the same way that I could. I looked at these characters, most of who are based on real people, and ignored the fact that no one knew them outside of my real life circle, thereby giving the reader no chance to develop as personal a relationship as I had with those characters.

I realized I made some unforgivable mistakes, including spending entire chapters with the main characters just plodding around and wondering what to do. I spent too much time explaining certain parts of the story by falling victim to the classic movie/comic-book practice of monologueing. People became uncharacteristically long-winded in spots when I needed a bit of plot exposition. Sometimes they gave things away before I wanted them to, sometimes they would force a bit of hard-to-get information into the ether. I know this is supposed to happen from time to time, but this was too much and it was too forced.

Also, the story went in a different direction than what I had originally intended. Things started to evolve in a way that I liked, but the lapses in writing left me needing to constantly re-read previous chapters to see if everything would match up in the end. The puzzle pieces fit, but they were custom cut on the spot when I couldn’t figure out which one went where. I was forcing them to fit together.
I was constantly hinting at something bigger and nastier in the works and, while I had an idea of what that could be, I never figured a way to get my characters to be strong enough or prepared enough to unleash it upon them with a chance that they would defeat it.
In the end, I guess things kinda fell apart.

It’s not really the end, though. It’s more of a rebirth.

When you’re lost, the best thing to do is to retrace your steps or, sometimes, go all the way back to the beginning. I did the latter.
I started a wholesale re-write of Unlucky Seven, starting with chapter I.

Taking that long of a journey with the characters, watching them develop, seeing what they would become just due to the natural progression of the original story, allowed me to step back and see what exactly I should do when I started over.
Now, I have the chance to integrate things earlier. I can foreshadow more efficiently. I can adjust attitudes and views and change entire situations to better fit things. I’m building a better story from the ground up rather than trying to chisel at the existing work to improve it.

So far, the first five chapters of the re-write are complete and they are based on (but not verbatim) the original first 5 chapters. If any of you old U7 heads out there are interested in checking it out, I’ll e-mail you a copy, just drop me a line.

I think the fresh start was all I needed. I’m charged up and ready to take on U7 on a more full-time basis now. Things will change soon. I can’t see much being based off of the originals past chapter 8. There will be some brand new twists and turns and, most importantly, character development.
It seems kind of a shame to have to go so far only to realize that I should start over, but it’ll be better in the long run. It took far too long to reach where I was when I put down the original. This one, I’m hoping, will be more concurrent and congruent.

Thinking of setting up a U7 WordPress account. Anyone interested? Any thoughts? Suggestions on what you’d like to see in the new U7 universe? Let me know.

The reconstruction has begun.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

The Fight of the Week Page!!!

Ok, so I’ve always been obsessed with playing “who would win in a fight” and the debates which come along with it.

As an extension of this obsession, I’ve created a page off of the main blog, to be updated once a week, which will ask the question: Who would win in a fight?
I will include a scenario and some details where necessary. It’s not going to be limited to fist-fights, either. I’m sure things will get interesting.

If you have suggestions for future fights, send them to me via e-mail and I’ll do my best to schedule them.

Answer the poll question, put up a reason for your selection, and we will announce three winners: Who won the voting, who won the debate, and who won the overall fight based on the two results.
Feel free to debate the answers of others. I’d like to encourage some arguments here.

Enjoy.
Vote and stay tuned for the debate. Check back daily to see who’s perspective you agree with and to participate in the discussion. If you like what’s going on here, GET THE WORD OUT ABOUT THE BLOG!!!

—end transmission—

The Suggestion Box

This is actually the first time I’ve had any sort of website, besides social networking pages, where I am actually going to make an honest effort to do something worthwhile.

I’ve had websites in the past. Poorly assembled relics from another era, back when the web was just starting to gain popularity.
With my first site, I could barely code HTML and had one eye in a book with the other on a screen. I raided other sites for .gifs that moved, making little icons appear on the page next to different links, crowding the site with garbage. I thought it looked cool. I was excited it even existed.
Websites during the early days were all pretty crude, though. Coding a site was kinda like being a little kid who’s really proud of the macaroni picture he made in art class; jumbled with pasta of all shapes and sizes, globs of white Elmer’s slovenly smacked all around a green piece of construction paper along side some crude crayon or scented marker drawings and stickers. Your mom felt obligated to put it up on the fridge, no matter how ugly she thought it was, because you were so damn proud of it. Even though the world thought it was ugly, you thought it was the best thing ever. Ah, the infancy of the internet…

The second site I created was much later in my career. I was now schooled in Photoshop enough to make my own cool graphics. I had a copy of Adobe GoLive, which was supposed to make the whole idea of site construction simple. I think I did a pretty good job, all things considered. The problem was that, even though I had designed it for a singular purpose – as an informational page for my ongoing serial, Unlucky Seven – I never added any actual meat and potatoes. There was just a contact page and a bunch of promises in the form of an ambiguous “Coming Soon…” page.
The design was cooler and sleeker and, graphically, fairly awesome. In the end, it was like storefront on a studio lot: it looks like it serves its purpose in the most grand fashion from the outside, as if it had always been there and it was a reliable and wonderful building for a decade or so. Inside, however, it’s hollow and empty and you realize that it’s just a façade.
Unlucky Seven is, of course, a very real project. Don’t get that part wrong. I just couldn’t think of what sort of information to put on that site before I was frightened off of it totally by someone reminded me that this was, after all, the internet and I had no way to prevent idea theft beyond simply stamping a copyright on the site without any proper documentation. Not sure how well that would hold up in court, but I didn’t want to take the chance.

This is the third actual site I’ve done. Of course, I didn’t do it, this whole thing is just a style sheet available for free from WordPress. And, I know, it’s not its own actual site yet, but I’m working on it. Once I get some scratch together, I plan on buying my own domain. The advantage of this gigantic blogging conglomerate over others is that I can very easily plug exactly what you’re seeing here into another domain without a problem. Justinbidula.com may not be very far away. I may have to think of something better than that, though.

The reason I’m here and not anywhere else is that this place is a little more mature, slightly more professional looking, and definitely a better address than the one I used to have. Kinda like how people want to live in Beverly Hills because it makes them feel more important. Better address, better contacts, better exposure, and less association with teenage angst. After all, this is adult angst, now.

My question to you, dear reader, is this: Looking at the site so far, what do you think? Do you like this layout? Do you have any suggestions for what I should do with it? Is there anything you think I should add? Do you not like the colors? I mean it, folks. I’m here to make this a good-looking thing to showcase my writing. Any suggestions in this the opening week would be much appreciated.
Hell, suggestions any time would be much appreciated. That’s one thing I should do. Open a suggestion box here. I think I’ll get to that right now, actually…

The real writing will be here soon, I promise, just as soon as I get this house in order.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

A Welcome and a Welcome Back

For those of you who know me, this is probably my third blog.

You might be asking why I’ve decided to take up another residence.  Honestly?  Because it’s much better to direct someone to a domain name like this when you’re trying to show other professionals your writing style.  Rather than asking them to “check out your livejournal” or “hit me up on Facebook or MySpace”, you can give them a simple domain with one specific purpose rather than forcing people to sift through the detritus which tends to pollute places like that.

I am fairly sure that anyone interested in my writing for professional purposes could give two shits less about what I need for my collections in Mafia Wars and don’t really need to know that I found a lost cow in FarmVille.

For those of you who have been following me from my blogging infancy on LiveJournal, pushing up on a decade ago (believe it or not), I welcome you back.  I can’t promise that I’m going to start posting with the regularity and vigor with which I once had.  Things have changed since then.

When I was updating on a daily basis back in ought-one, for instance, I was busier, but could still make time at the end of the day.  One of the few advantages of part-time retail employment is not working every day from nine-to-five.  This allowed me the luxury of glorious insomnia; the ability to stay up far beyond the wee hours if I so chose due to the sheer lack of anything to do the next day, besides maybe go to a class or two and fucking around at my college radio station.  Nothing that required the devotion of being fully awake and nothing that couldn’t be sat through without the promise of an early afternoon nap upon completion.

I can promise that, when I post here, it will be of the quality which has been demonstrated throughout my career.  I can promise that I will make an effort to update this place as much as possible, maybe even dredge up some classic entries in a vain effort to archive some of my better attempts at social commentary in a more professional environment.

To those of you picking me up for the first time, welcome.  I hope you’ll stick around.  You will find my opinions honest and, usually, wordy.  Don’t let this discourage you, however.  The vocabulary only looks intimidating.  Keep reading and you might find something entertaining.

Everything from everyday happenings to social observations to reviews of music, movies, and video games will appear here.  It may not be as regular and consistent as you like, but it will be interesting when it happens.  I don’t expect you to always agree with me, but, that’s what the comment field is for.  I love comments.  I welcome debate.  I have no problem answering to any of my opinions or listening to any of yours.  You may even change my mind, though you’ll find it a tough task, as I’m rather bull-headed and tend to stick to my guns.  I’m sure, in the end, we’ll be great friends.  If not, the hell with you, stop reading my blog.

In any case, welcome to the latest iteration.  This will be my new home.  I can only hope that my baggage fits in here with everyone else’s.

Fight the good fight.

In the words of one of my writing idols:

“Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

Mahalo.

—end transmission—