When Jake Biondi set out to begin writing Boystown in the summer of 2013, his intention was to make it an online serialthe continuing story of the exploits of his characters released chapter by chapter. However, given the immediate popularity of the series, Biondi has not only released Boystown as an online serial, but now has two print editions of his popular book, with more on the way.
Biondi noted, "The first book was published not long after the first article ran in Windy City back in September 2013. It was a huge hit, which I was not expecting. On Amazon, it has a five-star rating." He cited an expanded audience for part of the online serial's success. "Initially all of the promotion for Boystown, I had to do on my own. Later on, I had tremendous help from Michael Vargas who is the promotional director for the series."
Biondi has developed a number of unique approaches to lower budget marketing that have met with substantial success. He said of his advertising campaign, "We conducted a nationwide model search looking for the 'faces of Boystown.' We looked at models who submitted head and body shots from Chicago and beyond for the chance to appear either on the front of a book or in promotional literature. I've also had some very generous fans sponsor 'online book tours.' This allows me to comment and reach audiences beyond the Chicago market without leaving the city."
It is not just Boystown's unique approach to marketing that makes it a standout among self-published endeavors. Biondi actively seeks out the input of his readership and his fan base for where the serial and the novels will take their next sordid turns. "I started releasing a chapter a month but began getting emails from fans asking for more," he said. "So I started writing a chapter every few weeks. Eventually, I had requests to publish a book and I took the first 10 chapters and made them into the first Boystown book."
He admitted that he didn't rely solely on his audience for his creative gusto, like a choose-your-own-adventure book, from elementary school. "No, no," Biondi said with a laugh. "I have a main story line in mind with cliff hangers and story arcs but oftentimes I get great responses from the readers that help set those arcs in a slightly different direction. For example, I had introduced a police officer in one chapter, he wasn't intended to be a main character but people responded to him and he became someone important." Biondi acknowledged that his fans were surprised that he used their ideas, let alone responded to them. "Feedback I received from Soap Central Live said my fans were stunned that I responded in person at all. That I didn't use some sort of vaguely polite form letter."
But Boystown, the neighborhood is today, not the Boystown of even two or three years ago. There are more women living in proximity to the gay population, along with both racial and age diversity and noticeably more young families. Biondi had to respond to these cultural shifts too. "My readership was originally 90-percent women but has changed along with the neighborhood," he said. "I had to reach out to those who actually make up Boystown. It's now even more diverse than it was in the past. I had to base the story on that diversity. I started including both more racially and gender diverse characters in the books. Boystown, itself, is a character and that character should be reflected honestly."
Writing Boystown is not Biondi's number one gig, but is undeniably a side hustle. "It's a side gig that now takes up more than half of my time but I love it!" He originally found inspiration in the classic evening serial dramas of the '80slike Dynasty, Dallas and Knots Landing. But Biondi also found inspiration in Charles Dickens. "Dickens wrote a majority of his novels as cliffhanger serials published in the paper and in magazines. I wanted to reclaim that but for gay audiences." He finds his inspiration for the characters and the plot of the books in Boystown itself. "Of course there is some reality to the work, but yes, it is fiction."
As for the future of Boystown, as visibility of the series increases and both print and electronic books continue to circulate there has been some talk of the possibility of a television series. "I've been working on the screen plays using the first book as a guide. Writing for television is considerably different than writing for a prose audience." There are no confirmed plans for Boystown to appear on any network near you yet, but the possibility is one for which Biondi is hoping. In the meantime, he'll continue the continuing story and keep churning out more Boystown books as long as the demand for them is there.
For more information on Boystown, visit www.jakebiondi.com or stop by Unabridged Bookstore, 3251 N. Broadway .