Phil Villarreal is more than a valued behind-the-scenes cog in the KGUN-TV 9 news product, more than a multi-faceted reviewer of film and video games, and more than someone with a versatile media track record that included about every beat imaginable during his lengthy tenure with the Arizona Daily Star.
Villarreal is a writer. And a prolific one at that. But as is the case with countless struggling authors hoping to get noticed, Villarreal has run into roadblocks with the traditional publishing house approach. As such, he's opted for the new model: Amazon's ebook platform, where he released his latest product, Zeta Male, the story of a 17-year-old social outcast with the ability to travel back in time 15 minutes three times every day.
"I chose to put Zeta Male on Amazon first because it's a story I don't get tired of rereading," said Villarreal via email. "I can see it becoming a Disney movie someday. I set it at my alma mater, Mountain View High School, and tried to tell a John Hughes-style saga about a social misfit trying to climb to the top of the social ladder, adding the twist of limited time travel.
"Thinking back to my high school experience, there were embarrassing moments that stuck with me through the decades and missed opportunities that flitted by. Many people have longed for a do-over of their youth, but I wanted to explore that feeling when the moments were fresh. What if you could instantly right your wrongs, erase your regrets and improve your situation with more informed choices?
"To make it more precious and resonant than in say, Back to the Future or Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, when you can go back in time as often as you want and travel further and further back in time to mend your screw-ups, I decided the power could only be used three times a day, and would only take you back 15 minutes."
Zeta Male is Villarreal's third ebook on the Amazon platform, which he hopes leads to better results than his experience with a more traditional foray into publishing.
"Just before my 30th birthday I used this terrible self-publishing service to print my first novel, Stormin' Mormon, in 2008," Villarreal said. "A year later, I was able to fulfill a dream in 2009 by getting Skyhorse Publishing in New York to print Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, a nonfiction humor book of money-saving tips. They put it in bookstores nationwide and printed 6,000 copies, which I considered disappointingly small, but only 2,100 sold, and remainders are available online for a penny now."
A sales output like that isn't exactly going to put one on the fast track of promotional success as far as future publishing opportunities are concerned.
"The poor sales didn't help my cause to find a publisher for my two unpublished books, or for that matter, my five other nonfiction manuscripts I'd written in the years since," Villarreal said. "So as the years passed and the rejection emails piled up, it became clear that unless I took things into my own hands, all these projects that I had put so much work into would never be read."
So Villarreal took matters into his own hands. He has a catalog of material floating around on various word files. As such, the plan is to release two titles a year, one every June, another every December. Zeta Male is the first in that marketing approach.
"I figured there are some people out there, however few, that would like to read what I've written, so I made the decision to get it to those people," said Villarreal.
Reviews so far have been positive.
"The initial feedback has been pretty solid," Villarreal said. "My Amazon reviews have been strong, and I'm hoping that if I get enough of those I can get the company to promote it internally and select it as one of its picks of the month. Ideally I'll build enough of a foundation to publish my other books this way and grow my audience over time with regular releases.
"I'm not expecting to make a ton of money from my e-books, but there is potential there for lightning to strike and for my writing to grow in popularity and turn some heads. That potential is what excites me about my choice to go the Amazon route," he said.
But while that's the end game desire of every author, Villarreal is successful in the most important part of the process: maintaining the discipline necessary to get something done.
"In my downtime, I'm always writing something new," Villarreal said. "I outline a story, screenplay or nonfiction project, segmenting each project out into five-page blocks, then try to knock out at least one page every day. Some days it's a struggle to finish that one page, and others I blink and I'm 15 pages in. That technique lets me finish up a book in three months or less. It's liberating to be able to give my books a fighting chance and let them live or die on the open market."