Happy New Year everybody! Hope you all had your fill of holiday sweets and binging your favorite Netflix shows and video games. Nothing makes me feel like "new year new me" has to happen quite like devolving into a structureless animal during the week between Christmas and New Year's. You gotta tear down the old to build the new, right? No? Well, it's one approach anyway.
Maybe I'm just keeping a promise, because the last newsletter said "I'll be on (big air quotes now) 'break'". You may have noticed I sent no December 2023 newsletter. Turns out that "break" turned into a break. And sometimes those can be hard to break out of. Especially when seasonal depression takes its toll and you also get sick right before Christmas. (Darn you, Christmas parties!)
I wasn't entirely idle, though. (My mind might have turned into pudding had I been.) This newsletter will be a bit longwinded, I anticipate, to make up for missing the last one (for the first time in 26 months, what a streak!). Here's a little table of contents so you can skip around if you want.
- Site Upgrades
- Friendlier signup
- New content
- To Burn All Belief Update
- Grave of the Waiting Update
- Monthly Giveaway
Much of my time in the past two months was dedicated to upgrading the site, joshse.com. I'm no web developer, so perhaps it was foolish to set the lofty goal of having the best indie author website on the Internet. Ideals are nice. A boy can dream. And hey, I think I've made some pretty great progress toward that goal. Here's everything I've already implemented and some more that I've got planned.
The biggest change is the new homepage. This used to just show a title card with Felix Ortiz's art in the background then jump right into the blogposts. Now there's a carousel that cycles through featured content, all of my social links, and a mailing list signup. That signup box will eventually change for people already subscribed and signed in, but I haven't settled on what I'm going to put there yet. Any ideas?
Perhaps most exciting of all, I've got progress bars for all my projects right on the home page! I've wanted that for a while, mostly because I like updating them as often as I can. The things that motivate me in this life are strange, I tell you.
I implemented comments on the site years ago, but it's used a separate forum called TalkYard as a backend. That meant having to create a separate account to comment on the site. No longer! Now if you're signed up to the mailing list, you can leave a comment on any post (including this one).
Much easier, and it lets me interact with you all in some fun new ways! More on that later.
The old signup process for the site was pretty abysmal, and there were several ways to do it that all differed in small ways. Now it's all unified and uses the Ghost Portal, which makes it simpler on my end and yours (well, not yours since you're already subscribed). You'll also have more control over your newsletter subscriptions and account info.
I also beefed up the Thank You page to give more instructions on using the site and other useful info. Worth taking a look over if you've been around for a while!
This is just the beginning of the new content I've got planned for the site. Though don't expect a deluge of it since I want to make sure it's all valuable stuff with new art and original writing. That includes scenes that are canon for the Sibling Suns (and future) stories, a little bonus content for those of you who want a bit more from the series.
Meet Hand Sixty-Four
First up is a meet the characters page, featuring beautiful art by Joan Belda of all the members of Hand Sixty-Four. Joan's work is incredible, and she absolutely nailed these portraits. There's also a short scene from a character who plays a huge role in An Ocean of Others but whose POV is never shown on-page. Of course, there are also backstories of each character, which should be a good introduction for anyone who hasn't read the book.
Maps of the Sibling Suns
I've got plans to do a more in-depth world page to introduce you to the world of the Sibling Suns, but for now I've at least added all of the maps I've got, including those that will be published in To Burn All Belief. Those are the world map above done by Keir Scott-Schruder and a Liwokin city map drawn up by Dewi Hargreaves.
Updated 'An Ocean of Others - First Five Chapters'
Since the release of book two this year will hopefully bring in some new readership, I wanted to make sure the first five chapters of An Ocean of Others are easy to find in case anyone wants to sample the book before buying. Not a huge update here, just a new coat of paint for an old page.
I tend to be happiest with the reviews I write when I sit down and type them up shortly after finishing the book. For that reason, I've standardized my review format to make sure it's as frictionless as possible to publish them quickly. I recently sat down and worked partway through my backlog, publishing 5 reviews in the week before New Year's.
You can find a collection of all the reviews I've written at joshse.com/reviews – currently it's just a list of pages tagged as an indie review, but I'll be updating that to a more polished section of the site soon.
Return of the Store
I had to close the store temporarily because it was costing more money that it was making. Thankfully, I've found a more sustainable solution that doesn't cost anything to keep running! That's passive income, baby.
At joshse.com/store you can find prints and posters, including for the Joan Belda piece on the Meet Hand Sixty-Four page. I'm also offering signed copies of An Ocean of Others for the same cost as it's listed on Amazon (+ shipping). Since international shipping is ultra-expensive, I've designed a bookplate as a cheaper option.
If there's anything else you'd like to see on the store, let me know and I can probably whip it up for you relatively quickly. You want a mug with this guy's hand on it? It's yours!
How about a fanny pack with the Bright Empire sprawling across it? Easy peasy.
An organic cotton baby onesie with Lorelay's face on it?
Now you're speaking my language. The point is, I've got you covered. The zanier, the better, I say. More fun that way, but you can always get a sensible t-shirt too if that's more your style. I'll be adding things to the store as they're requested and just on my own from time to time.
We're not done with the site yet, not by a long shot! Plenty more work to do in the coming year if we're going to achieve the rank of Best Indie Author Site On The Internet. Here are some of my ideas, which are always subject to change depending on the constraints of time and my interest.
- Custom page for indie reviews, plus expanded content like interviews and author Q&As
- World of the Sibling Suns, an in depth guide to all the countries in the Bright Empire and beyond
- The Agency, an explainer for the mysterious organization's ranks and history
- Revamped Books page
- AAMA (Ask AI Me Anything), a page with a chatbot that you can ask anything about my books and other writing
- Guest posts?
- UX/Bug Fixes
- Better image galleries
- Site changes for signed in users
- Better mobile experience
- Various styling changes to make the site look nicer
I've got some more outlandish ideas that would really set the site apart, things you've probably never seen on an author's website, whether they're indie or traditionally published. (To be fair, a bunch of tradpub author sites look like they haven't been updated since 1999 so that's not a high bar.)
But I'll keep those close to the chest for now, as who knows when I'll get around to working on them.
To Burn All Belief Update
Not much movement on the TBAB front, as I'm still waiting for edits from Stacey. That's expected since it was the holidays, and I'm not rushing her. I'll start working on incorporating those revisions as soon as they come in, but in the meantime it's been gratifying seeing feedback come in from our alpha readers!
Of course there are critiques and edits, but for the most part the response has been quite favorable! Barring the editor ripping the story to shreds, things are looking good for publishing this in the Spring 2024. That's not far off! But I'll hold off on specifying a release date just yet. That'll come at the same time as the cover reveal and preorder goes live. Stay tuned!
Grave of the Waiting Update
Doth mine eyes deceive me? Nay! It really is an update for that long-hiatus'd sci-fi horror of mine. And do you know why? Because – bing! (Brandon Sanderson voice) – the revision guide for the book is complete!
It's been a while since Grave has been mentioned, so let me refresh your memory. The plan was to use the time that To Burn All Belief is in my editor's capable hands to create a full set of revisions for the sci-fi horror story. Once they're implemented, I'll start releasing chapters on a monthly cadence again. That'll be some time still – I have to edit about 50,000 words worth of chapters.
But this is a big milestone! It's the first time I've read the book all the way through, and it really clarified the themes and character arcs for me. Some of the bigger fixes will need to wait until the 3.0 draft that will go through an editor, but the 2.0 is still shaping up to be published sooner rather than later! Maybe even in time for this year's Self-Published Science Fiction Competition? 👀
Remember how I said native comments would open up some opportunities for us? Well, this is what I was talking about! For each newsletter sent out in 2024, I'm going to be doing a giveaway that you can enter just by leaving a comment here. All you have to do is answer the monthly question. This month's is an easy one:
What indie releases are you most looking forward to in 2024?
You don't have to say To Burn All Belief to win, promise 😉 I want to see what other books are being published that you're all excited about! Let me know, and you'll be entered into the running for a 12" x 18" print of the Hand Sixty-Four portrait by Joan Belda. I have a copy here, and the colors POP!
The winner will be chosen at random and announced in next month's newsletter. Good luck!
Of course, it wouldn't be a New Year newsletter without some resolutions. Actually, I don't think I've ever done that before, but I like the idea of it! Maybe I'm going to be like those people who go to Planet Fitness in January and are back to eating burritos and watching King of the Hill reruns by February (yeah, I see you). But I had a lot of time to reflect in the past month, so I've got some aspirations.
1) In the US, it's an election year – which means we're all about to collectively lose our minds for some time. My resolution is that I won't get mad at people saying stupid and wrong things. Virtually all of us will at some point, and wouldn't it be nicer if we all treated each other with some grace? Less as political enemies, more as good people with differences of opinion.
I know this isn't going to move the needle on the trends of increasing polarization, but it'll certainly keep my blood pressure in check not getting so outraged at whatever beyond-the-pale comment some politician makes. And if we all tried to fulfill this ideal, maybe we'd actually make some progress towards unity and I dunno, solve some problems? We've got so many, and they're pressing.
2) Do more to promote other indie authors. They say you gotta promote yourself because no one else will – and that's true to an extent. But I think we can make it slightly less true. Often my biggest hurdle in the marketing department is that I don't have enough content to continually promote, and repeating the same unsuccessful tactics shouting into the aether just feels bad.
I want to fill those empty airwaves with other authors whose work I admire. No paid content, just shouting the praises of people who've written excellent books. I'll be continuing to post indie reviews, which are more like recommendations than reviews, since I generally just don't finish books I'm not enjoying. I also want to host live interviews with those authors, give them more space to talk about their story and things that aren't usually discussed about their books. Maybe I'll even have some guest posts on the site this year?
3) Spend more time learning and practicing the art of writing. So much of 2023 was just Go! Go! Go! that I spent less time learning about writing and storytelling than in previous years. I want to get back to that.
I recently watched a video that made an element of writing really click for the first time. Reading my own work, it's clear I can make big improvements in that area. And there are an unknowable number of those eureka moments like that out there. The more I find, and the more I practice what I learn, the better my books will be.
Practice is the key word there. What I hope this looks like is that I publish a decent number of short stories and new content for the site this year. Not all of them will be successful, and I'll make mistakes. But if I don't, then I'll feel like I'm stagnating. I can make no promises how much I'll publish though. Already lots on the agenda! (Like writing exceedingly long newsletters. If you've stuck around and read all the way to this part, leave a comment!)
Our boy Naz just weighed in at 15 lbs today, meaning at 8 months he's just about fully grown! It was his first Christmas, and Santa Paws treated him well.
He did a lot of relaxing and cuddling on the couch, and even got let up on the bed a few times when he was feeling lonely.
But he also had to try on socks for the first time. It did not go well.
One last thing! I just made an appearance on the Speakeasy podcast by Offer Kuban, and it was a terrific time! E.L. Lyons guest hosted, and we talked about An Ocean of Others, her book Starlight Jewel, and lord knows how many other things over the course of 2+ hours. Give it a listen if you've got a mind to listen to these "dulcet tones" for a little while 😏
That does it for January 2024, the first month in what will surely be an exciting year in some form or another! I can't believe this newsletter turned out to be the longest...ever...written? Checking my numbers...
Nope, that title is still held by July 2021 Newsletter, my first ever newsletter, with a whopping 3,404 words. That was the one where I got engaged to Rachel 😁 At ~2900 this month's wins second prize. So thanks for sticking through it 'til the end 💚
Until next time, keep reading!