“I had absolutely no knowledge of self-publishing,” says James Bannon. A few years ago, not many people did. Now, Bannon has the hang of it: His Kirkus-starred debut novel, I2, made it to the top of the Amazon Best Sellers chart as the Kindle Store’s most downloaded free e-book.

“When I started the book four years ago, self-publishing was equal in my mind to a vanity press,” Bannon says. Like many writers, he thought he’d write a book, congratulate himself and store it in a drawer—the hard drive being the modern drawer. “But by the time I was finished with the book, the whole game had changed.”

That game was made a little easier with a stellar review from Kirkus. “Powered by relentless pacing and jaw-dropping plot twists throughout, Bannon’s debut novel is a science-fiction thriller of the highest order,” the review said. In the story, after brilliant biosoftware engineer Edward Frame discovers that terminal cancer will soon end his corporeal existence, he makes drastic plans to upload his mind into the brain of an unborn baby.

Frame and his research colleagues aren’t yet sure of the science: “Can you program a brain from scratch if you start with a blank state?” The tantalizing prospect would redefine what it means to live and die—reincarnation for the Facebook generation. Whether or not it will work for humans is unclear; downloading and transferring the minds of mice didn’t work out so well in the lab. But Frame has no other choice: He becomes the experiment. Narrative side effects include sex, violence and a thrilling existential crisis.

“One of the comments I hear most is ‘I don’t like science fiction, but I really loved this book,’ ” Bannon says. “The truth is, the premise [of I2] is sci-fi, but the rest of the book is not.” The allure for readers less interested in sci-fi may be the book’s surprisingly deep psychological rift as it explores the “inheritance of experience”—now young again, what can and will Edward do differently? His new circumstances are muddled by a complicated romance and the fact that he’s born into his rival’s family. The result, as the Kirkus review says, is “an utterly readable novel that’s almost impossible to put down.”

To help I2 find a better orbit in the supermassive sci-fi genre, Bannon also wrote and directed a dramatic, live-action book trailer—a welcome change of pace from flat book-jacket synopses. The fact that he’s an in-demand voice artist made the cinematic approach a natural extension. He even has a few screenplays under his belt.

With his audience growing, a free giveaway of the I2 e-book, as featured in several newsletters and websites that specialize in Kindle promotions, helped build a loyal audience, which grew exponentially even after the promotion ended. Bannon says there were more sales four days following the promotion than in the 16 months preceding it. Being featured in Kirkus’ Best Indie Books of 2012 didn’t hurt sales, either.

And Bannon’s not done yet. He’s working on another screenplay and a sequel to I2, which was planned from the outset. Sounds like the experiment was a success.

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