In Which I Post a Civil Blood Sequel FAQ

Well, the Kindle promo giveaway of Civil Blood: The Vampire Rights Case that Changed a Nation has come to an end, and now it’s back up at the not-so-tyrannical price of $2.99. Some very nice folks on Goodreads are inquiring about a sequel, so I thought I’d better explain my thought process.

1: Was the promo successful?

Considering my average sales of the novel… holy cow, yes. I ran the promo for five days, and if you add up all the copies I gave away, I moved 44 times my best month of normal sales. It sounds like a lot, but to be honest, my average sales per month are miniscule. There’s definitely people out there who like the idea of the book enough to download it when it’s offered. The question, of course, is “are they just jumping at a chance to nab something for free, or do they actually intend to read the book/buy the book/buy a sequel?” It’ll take a little while to gather data on those questions — I’ve got to allow the readers a few weeks to read 398 pages before I can expect any word of mouth to spread.

2: Do you want to write a sequel?

Yes. Without getting into spoilers, it doesn’t take a genius to read the end of Civil Blood and see that I want to publish volume 2 of the Skia Project. I want to revisit the main characters and have them front and center in another adventure that combines vampirism and politics.

3: Can you sell a sequel?

This is a much thornier question. Civil Blood was self-published. I fronted all the costs myself for the editors, the cover art, ISBNs, and advertising. If I want to do that again, I need a certain amount of disposable income that I have earmarked for that purpose only. Sales of Civil Blood count toward that amount. So in theory, when the book makes back its costs, I could take that money and publish a sequel.

The reality is that may take years, and it may never happen at all. The book has garnered a bit of good press from blogs, but they have not translated into financial success. As of this writing, five days after the promo has ended, there are no signs of increased sales. I’m willing to be patient, but I’m also looking at a variety of options.

Option 1: Sell a direct sequel novel to a traditional publisher.

The most obvious pie-in-the-sky fantasy of mine is to write a sequel that’s so good and so high-concept that when I submit it to a traditional publisher, they want to print it themselves. Poof, I don’t have to front any money and they pay me to boot. They get me a cover, they advertise for me, the book shows up in bookstores and libraries everywhere. I appear at conventions and do dramatic readings of the book while standing on one leg, and legions of Infinity cosplayers create a path for me by throwing rose petals and marshmallows. (I’m pretty sure that’s how signing parties work, anyway. There’s always a few grand set aside for the marshmallow budget.)

That scenario is unlikely to happen. First, the sequel would have to stand on its own merits and not require any experience with the previous installment. That sounds feasible in practice, but Civil Blood created a ton of backstory for its surviving characters. If the protagonists and antagonists run into each other again (and I’d want them to), I’d have to communicate their history without delving into giant paragraphs explaining what happened the last time they met. Even recapping the main romantic arc without making it sound like a sequel’s summary would require a lot of fine-tuning. This is to say nothing of the wall-to-wall news that would be breathlessly covering the events of the first book’s climax. Add the cherry on top — the magic system and how vampires work. It would be tricky, and if I couldn’t sell it, I’d be left with a big, fat manuscript that I’d have spent several years of my life on.

Second, if the traditional publisher found out that I self-published the prequel, the first thing they would ask is, “How many copies has it sold?” One look at its Amazon ranking would be all it takes to pass on it. Self-published books get traditional deals when they do so well they don’t need it. Nothing succeeds like success.

Third, I’d be giving up some creative control, and if the editor and I got into a kerfluffle over some detail in which I would be invalidating a decision made in Civil Blood, I would not be able to argue for keeping it consistent. Given how often I’ve experienced situations like that in other media, I’m not sure I want to do that here.

This leaves me with less-thrilling but potentially more-workable options.

Option 2: Sell other stories in the universe to a traditional publisher.

The quickest and most feasible option for me, and the one I am currently pursuing, is to write short stories in Civil Blood’s universe and try to sell them to magazines. I’ve got one in submissions about a new character (“Stopping the Bleeding”) and a second in the works with Infinity as the protagonist (working title “Infection in Everything”).

Short fiction in magazines would theoretically provide a little extra visibility as well as income that would go towards funding a self-published sequel. Of course, I have to get that most elusive “yes” for this plan to work… and I have to do it several times. Short stories pay more than they used to, but I’d still have to do perhaps 5-7 of them to cover a novel’s costs.

Were I to go for a novel, the easiest long-form approach would be a prequel, because it would require none of the exposition juggling act that a sequel would. Jessica’s discovery of the principles of qi, her fraying relationship with Ranath and Kern, and Ranath’s eventual slide into vipe hunting could fill up their own story. However, it’d need some special sauce, otherwise it’d just be another “viral vampires in a big evil corporation” story that doesn’t have a unique hook.

Option 3: Take out a loan and hope the sequel pays for itself.

Yeah, you can explain that one to my wife. No way.

Option 4: Run a Kickstarter or other crowdfunding campaign.

This doesn’t work well for me. It’s not that I don’t like Kickstarters, but backers are pretty sophisticated now. Not only would I have to write a good 30% of the book or so to show off some product for the campaign, make a video, come up with rewards that aren’t the book, and then I’d have to face an uncomfortable reality:

I’m a slow writer.

A good Kickstarter keeps backers interested until the product comes out. Who wants me to blitz people with a 30-day Kickstarter campaign and then force them to wait on a sequel that could be years in the making? There is also the serious possibility of failure. If the KS doesn’t meet its goal, I’m back at square one.

How can I help?

If you’re a fan burning to read the sequel, there are lots of ways to pitch in.

  1. Tell people about the book. Because there are many books with the title “Civil Blood,” be sure to use my name or the subtitle “The Vampire Rights Case That Changed a Nation.” That’ll help narrow down any search engine searches.
  2. Leave a Goodreads and/or Amazon review. Supposedly, if I get 50 of these, the algorithm for advertising the book shows the book more often to strangers. They don’t need to be long at all: “I dug it,” and some stars is all that’s necessary. The most successful viral campaigns have people who enthusiastically tell their friends they just rated a book, encouraging them to do the same.
  3. Friend has a birthday/housewarming/deployment coming up? Give the book as a gift.
  4. Tell your Goodreads group or book club about it (I’m a member of a few such as “Horror Aficionados,” “Vampires, Weres and Fae,” “Castle Dracula” and “My Vampire Book Obsession.”) Getting a big pack of people to read it as a book of the month would be super.
  5. Put your favorite quotes from the novel into Goodreads’ Quotes page. Authors are forbidden from doing this for their own books. Quotable lines can sometimes grab a reader’s interest where an excerpt might seem too long.

Conclusion

So when people ask “Are you working on a sequel?” my answer is “not yet,” but the more proper question is “Are you trying to get us more Infinity, Ranath, and Morgan?” And the answer to that is, “Yes, with some obstacles.” Trust me, if I manage to sell something, I’ll be all over the Internet trying to let people know.

Thanks for reading this far and bearing with me.

In Which I Give You My Book for Free

Who needs to pirate books? Not you!

“Civil Blood: The Vampire Rights Case that Changed a Nation” is free to download on Kindles from March 18th to March 22nd, 2019. You don’t get a free 400-page novel every day, so check it out and tell a friend. The link’s right here.

Because of the way Kindle Direct Publishing works, the novel will also be exclusive to Kindles at that time. I will re-list it for other e-reader platforms once this offer has completed.

Dig in!

In Which I Shut Up and Wrote

As the little date indicates, it’s been about three months since the last post. New Year’s Day seems like an apropos time to let you all know what I’ve been doing instead of blogging.

In late September, I flew to Shenzhen for business reasons associated with my day job (i.e. the Pirates of the Caribbean project). Shenzhen is a lovely tropical metropolis on the Chinese coast. Basically, if you go to the island of Hong Kong and then take a bridge to the mainland, you’re in Shenzhen. It’s full of Times-Square-style glitz, but with lots of trees and green spaces.

I came away from the trip with squid-flavored potato chips and red tea, brought my daughter a silk scarf embroidered with skulls (she’s writing horror interactive fiction these days) and swore I would never again be on a plane trying to outrun a typhoon.

Around that time, I finished my burst of reading and reviewing urban fantasy books. Since publishing Civil Blood, I’ve joined a bunch of UF readers’ groups, and posted my reviews to Amazon, Goodreads and Booklikes (the links here are to my rec lists). If you are looking for some new reads, or some old ones, feel free to check out my short list of long reviews. When I wasn’t doing that, I was chugging away in the Critters Writer’s Workshop, critiquing short stories and the first chapters of a lot of novels. The break that let me read instead of write gave me some necessary perspective and a few new online friends.

Then I did a numbers game with Civil Blood: it got a few kind reviews and a few mediocre ones, but neither seemed to drive any sales (literally, zero — I have metrics). Then I hit the extreme down-side of self-publishing: I had cordoned off a specific budget for the novel and, by extension, any sequels. No profit, no sequel, that’s the rule. As an additional stab to the liver, no traditional publisher will touch a self-published series unless it is raking in the readers by the cathedral-full. So any chance of writing a sequel and submitting it would be a nearly-impossible needle to thread.

So I took a break from sequel planning and told myself I should do some short stories — one in the Civil Blood universe and one in the climate fiction genre, something I’ve been meaning to try. I composed the first CB-universe short story, “Stopping the Bleeding,” and got it reviewed in a workshop, because I needed a lot of fresh eyes that hadn’t lived in the novel’s world for the past year. The critiques came in throughout November, interrupting my cli-fi attempt. National Novel Writing Month for me was more like National Kinda Write Um Some Short Story Drafts This Year.

On top of that, a colleague and friend, Chris L’Etoile and his wife Jamie, were hit with what’s politely called a “life event.” Jamie got seriously ill. Complications from the illness led to a stroke that paralyzed her right side. At the time, Chris was on the other side of the continent. My wife and I (and a *ton* of other friends) jumped in to help. So November and December had a lot of online searches for resources, phone calls, and late-night discussions of WTF Will They Do To Get Through The Week. (My explanatory Facebook post that got retweeted all over the place is here and the GoFundMe is here. We raised a lot, but their expenditures are *insane*, so rest assured that any contributions will not be wasted.

So you better believe I wasn’t paying attention to blogging, right?

In late December, things calmed down a little. I did some short story revisions, so I’m going into the new year with the following goals:

  • Extend Civil Blood’s readership (I have additional plans not specified here).
  • Get “Stopping the Bleeding” and possibly additional CB-universe material out to readers.
  • Finish and submit a cli-fi story to a magazine or anthology.
  • Announce and launch a new intellectual property that is currently secret.
  • Attend conventions to meet new people — announcements will be posted here and on Twitter.
  • Do 30 minutes of cardio a day, 6 days a week — I’m on Week 3 at the moment!
  • Stick it to The Man.

Thanks for sticking with this ginormous update to the end. May you smooch a replicant in 2019, and may the old gods bless your new beginnings.

In Which Underdog Vampires Defeat the Amazon Overlord

Okay, okay, this post isn’t about a  battle between vampires and a mind-controlled Queen Wonder Woman. It’s just a colorful way to announce that my vampire rights novel Civil Blood is now available in non-Amazon stores.

Thanks to the lovely people and hard-working computer code at Draft2Digital, Civil Blood is now available on Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Kobo, and Apple’s iTunes. It will also be purchaseable through Bibliotheca if you want to include it in a library collection.

It’s $2.99 on these e-reader platforms, and I’m lowering the Kindle price down permanently to match it.

The books are available to be delivered September 21st, 2018. They also feature a few typo corrections and formatting changes that I did while reviewing the manuscript. Anyway, on to the links!

Nook Link

Kobo Link

iTunes/Apple iBooks Link

And don’t forget the Kindle Link for those still reading at the behest of the behemoth. (It’s okay, I own one, too.)

Happy reading!

In Which Parallel Evolution Rears Its Head

One of the things the late, great, and very angry Harlan Ellison was good at was titles. He had stories with names like:

  • “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman
  • The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World
  • I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
  • Paladin of the Last Hour
  • and of course, his Star Trek episode City on the Edge of Forever

The titles put a question in the reader’s mind, namely, “What the hell does that mean?” Pretty soon, they’d read to find out what’s going on, just to erase the dissonance in their heads. But there’s another, more practical reason to have unusual titles and unusual subject matter to go with them, and it’s to avoid problems like mine.

Civil Blood is a very thematic title for my vampire rights novel. It comes from the opening lines of Romeo and Juliet, making it a little apropos just because there is a conflict between vampires and vampire hunters, and a little romance across those lines. But it also works in a second dimension, using the exact wording of the source material (quoted to the reader in Chapter 2 of the novel):

Two houses, both alike in dignity/In fair Verona, where we lay our scene/Where ancient grudge break to new mutiny/And civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

So the novel is not simply “Romeo and Juliet with vampires,” it has a theme of violence polluting the political process in the place where the story is set (Washington, D.C.). On top of that, there’s another meaning to the “civil” part, since the class-action lawsuit at the centerpiece of the book is a civil trial rather than a criminal one.

All this hopefully adds up to some unique layers, which is a really good thing, because not only are there a number of books out there with star-crossed vampires, there is now another one called Civil Blood.

Author V. Renae has written a young adult novel for New Traditions Publishing, and here’s the spiffy cover.

It’s coming out October 1st, 2018. The back cover copy is here.  I haven’t read it yet, but I wish the author well. If you ever tried to Google my novel title, you know that both of us will be fighting for space with several other books called Civil Blood.

First, there’s Ann McMillan’s 2001 Civil War mystery about  a smallpox outbreak in Richmond that may be deliberately caused.

And then there’s Civil Bloods, another Civil War-era story by Steve Nelson. Two brothers fighting for the South in the Civil War are captured and make their way to Wisconsin, in what sounds kind of like a Western.

But surely I’m safe if I tell everybody I have the world’s only vampire legal thriller, right?

I thought so, too, for all the years I worked on it. And then, this summer, just as I was polishing an ad that might use that phrase, I Googled it just to make sure. That led me to this article: “It’s Time to Look at the Vampire Novel as Legal Thriller.”

This is about when my heart stopped. Hearing that another author, who is an actual lawyer, was publishing a book about vampire Supreme Court cases and had the backing of a mainstream publishing house was so specific that it made me wonder if there was plagiarism going on. Of course, there wasn’t. I ordered the book straight away, and found it and Civil Blood were completely unrelated.

The book, A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising, is a lot more closely related to World War Z than Civil Blood. I wouldn’t call it a legal thriller at all, honestly. Most of the action takes place from the points of view of an FBI agent, a CDC doctor, and a Catholic priest. It winds up more Dan Brown than John Grisham.

The legal and supernatural differences of the vampires are significant, but what matters most is that the novels evoke different feels. A People’s History devotes two to three chapters to the Supreme Court decision, mostly from a law school perspective reviewing the documents years after the fact.

Now, while I really admired the world-building in A People’s History, I’m of course partial to my own approach. I put protagonists on the stand, with their fate resting on the verdict. I wrote the chants of the mobs on the National Mall. And, of course, since I can’t write a court document like a legal scholar, I just grabbed the most stirring parts of Law & Order as an inspiration and wrote a transcript of the closing arguments of each side.

There’s a lesson here, I think, that I have heard from authors before. When they say write the book only you could write, it’s for times like these. A People’s History has scenes set in Washington, D.C., but its action keeps coming back to the American Southwest and the Vatican, where the author knows his stuff. Similarly, had I written a YA Civil Blood instead of the R-rated gritty material I love so much, I’d be fighting with V. Renae rather than smiling and giving her book the shout-outs it needs. Because as Juliet might say, a name really isn’t as important as the love you put behind it.

Okay, she says that in iambic pentameter, but that’s the gist.

V. Renae’s Facebook page is here and Tumblr here. Her Civil Blood comes out October 1st, 2018.

Raymond A. Villareal’s A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising is on Amazon here. It’s available now.

And if you’re searching for my Civil Blood, use its subtitle, Civil Blood: The Vampire Rights Case that Changed a Nation. It’ll get you to the pages that matter much faster than just “Civil Blood,” which will take you to pages of Shakespearean analysis.

 

In Which I Promo “Salem’s Lot Meets Law & Order”

The life of an author post-launch is a world of promotion. The life of a self-published author post-launch is a world of degrading promotion.

My consolation at the moment is that every author I’ve ever read says something along the lines of “I didn’t expect reviews as good as I got, or sales as poor as I got.” I’m right there with you. This week, I’m throwing around a few bucks for Facebook ads, experimenting with what works and what doesn’t.

I find Kindle sales vastly easier than lowering the price on my Amazon paperback, due to Amazon’s strange rules. So for all this week (8/20-8/26) Civil Blood is available on Kindle for $2.99. Yep. I spent years on this thing, and it’s available for the price of a soda at a restaurant.

Would you like Civil Blood? Here’s my short pitch in quiz form:

You’ve just been infected with a vampire virus. Your first question is:
A) “Can I get laid and high on blood whenever I want?”
B)
 “What idiot is criminally liable for letting loose a biohazard?”
C) “Am I still legally human, or is some suit in Washington going to pass a law?”
D) “W
ho’s the richest motherf***er I can sue over this?”
E) “I never really thought about it, but I should ask all of these questions in rapid succession.”

If you answered A, B, C or D, you might like Civil Blood. If you answered E, you’d definitely like Civil Blood. 

That’s it. That’s my promo for now, as I try to scare up some Amazon, Goodreads, and Booklikes reviewers. I’m lacking in that department — my friends help retweet and do Facebook posts, but reviews are as rare as Sam Kinison pantomime routines. I actually went so far as to post a review of my own book where it was allowed.

Do I feel shame in giving myself a five-star review? Yes. I wish I didn’t have to, and I delayed about a month before I did it. My reasoning is this:

1) I didn’t try to hide it. I straight-up said I don’t think the book is flawless, but I want to advocate for its strengths.

2) As Louis Armstrong once said, “you got to toot your own horn, because nobody else is gonna toot it for you.”

3) Nobody says a politician can’t vote for themselves. They’re citizens, too.

4) If I’m getting so few reviews that one 5-star review is going to blow the curve, that book needs all the help it can get.

That’s all. Now back to your regularly scheduled urban fantasies with their teenage angst and Byronic heroes and small-town witch heroines solving mysteries. I like those books, too… I just didn’t write one.

In Which “Salem’s Lot” Meets “Law and Order”

[Want the “too long, didn’t read” version? My novel’s now available here.]

Once upon a time at a university, I took a class called “Making Monsters.” It was about teratology, the study of monsters and the history of medical aberrations. We read about hoaxes where women supposedly gave birth to rabbits, documents about feral children like the Wild Boy of Aveyron, and read the diary of Hercule Barbin, a French hermaphrodite.

The class’s focus was on medical cases, but I managed to persuade my professor that I could do a term paper on the myth of the vampire. After all, I nerdily pointed out, the word “monster” is from the same Latin root as “demonstrate,” monstrare or “to show.” And in my paper, I was going to show off the societal uses of whipping up fear and exorcising it to reassure the citizens that monsters will be slain.

Fun fact, vampires as a myth evolve with what the audience has historically feared. Originally, they were ruddy-faced, bloated corpses like a peasant might find in a coffin that was being exhumed. Along the way, they gained powers and limitations here and there until we ended up with the pale, misunderstood superheroes we have today. In the 1990s, vampirism was being written about like it was a disease, and the AIDS crisis was never far from any reader’s mind when reading about a sexy lover who you want so badly, but oh, they might just kill you.

That’s when I got the idea for a novel. Because my experience was just slightly different than the fiction I was reading and the games I was playing.

This is because while I was taking that course, my wife was in another one on constitutional law. And it detailed a case of a woman who was clinically diagnosed with sex addiction. She had been involuntarily confined in a mental ward for treatment. The doctors wanted to hold her there indefinitely. She was suing for her release.

Why hold her over that? Well, she was HIV-positive. There was no doubt in the doctors’ minds that if they let her out, she’d infect people, probably without telling them of her condition. That qualified as a “danger to herself and others,” enabling them to keep her imprisoned as long as they wanted.

So my wife and I debated this scenario. Was it violating this woman’s civil rights to keep her locked up? Or should she be, for public safety? Is her addiction voluntary enough that she can be trusted to manage it?

Naturally, in the United States, we have a presumption of innocence until a person is proven guilty, but once they’ve infected once, and *are* guilty, where do you draw the line when trying to reform them? Do we make laws and policies expecting the worst of people, or the best?

I think you’re guessing where I’m going with this. Because those questions never really left my mind. Whenever I was frustrated at my day job, I went home and scratched away at the keyboard, working on a novel. It’s a story about vampires and what we fear in the modern day, and the dominant fear I see is of becoming a permanent political underclass.

And now, after many years, that novel, Civil Blood, is finished and available for you to read.

It’s a cross between a legal thriller and an urban fantasy, a little bit Salem’s Lot, a little bit Law and Order and a little Shadowrun. It’s set in Washington, D.C., where you can’t do anything without a doctor or a lawyer present, vampire hunting included.

The back cover copy and first two chapters are on the Civil Blood page here.  You can pre-order the Kindle version now — it will be delivered on the official book birthday of June 21. I intend to hype the book regularly until then and have a little launch event on Twitter the day it arrives. However, due to a quirk of Amazon’s Createspace publishing, you can order the print version right now (no pre-order, just plain order) and get it as soon as it can be shipped.

I’ve been fleshing out the book’s universe on this site, visible on the “propaganda” page. Reading the page isn’t necessary to read the book, but if you’re going to make a world, you should really show it off a little bit.

It’s what the word “monster” is all about.

Showtime.

Let’s Get You Started

I’ve been building the Writing Tour section of the site with links to Mass Effect, Shadowrun, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars, and the rest. However, due to a quirk of WordPress, it’s easier to put tags on posts than it is on pages. So this post is a sort of welcome mat with long data-driven tentacles, trailing the Internet like a jellyfish.

If you’re looking for the content, start here.