The Author is Going to Regret This

Drink enough alcohol with me and I’ll let you know exactly how I feel about Goodreads Giveaways. How they cost too much. How they don’t result in reviews. How physical copies end up on Ebay the next week with the description brand new, never opened. It’s just not a good marketing strategy compared to everything else available to indie authors. Still, when you reach the end of the year with a surplus in your marketing budget, it’s easier to accept throwing money away on a giveaway. At least it pumps up those to-read numbers, right? Anyway, I listed a giveaway for Vise Manor.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Vise Manor by Daniel Verastiqui

Vise Manor

by Daniel Verastiqui

Giveaway ends January 09, 2023.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

It has been an interesting year since Vise Manor was published. Sales have been great, and feedback has been good, but reviews have been few and far between. There’s something about visiting my author page on Amazon and seeing the paltry numbers next to each book. What I wouldn’t give to see those numbers multiplied by a hundred or more. Speaking of reviews, here’s what Carl over at thought of Vise Manor

Daniel Verastiqui’s latest novel at once sticks with what he knows but then also strikes out in an interesting new direction.

Sure, we’re in the Vinestead Universe. Sure, there’s AI, hackers, and body modifications…but now we’re in a claustrophobic, classic locked manor house murder mystery – and the two genres blend together surprisingly well.

Verastiqui juggles multiple characters with apparent ease and keeps the pace moving through the set up, the shocking but inevitable violence, and then the desperate struggles each character has to survive to the end of the night (and the book).

Do I hate him for some of the things he put my favorites through? Yes, yes I do. And I can give no higher praise than that: I cared about these people. I wanted some to thrive and didn’t mind if the machinery of the story ground others to (metallic) dust.

If you like sci-fi, country house murder mysteries, or just want to care about authentic characters in near-constant peril, then I recommend this book.

Aside from the review, Carl sent me a private text with more thoughts on the book, which I really appreciated. While authors love a favorable public review, they always want to hear more in a more personal setting. I, myself, have a contact form you can use to tell me how you really feel about the Vinestead Universe books. All I want for Christmas is some feedback. And an Infiniti Q50 Red Sport.

There is no better Christmas treat than my mom’s pan de polvo

Anyway, I’ve got another book to write and diapers to change and chorin’ to do and Odins to murder and pan de polvo to binge eat. Oh, and my day job. I keep forgetting about that.

Conversations With My Wife: Donkey Hoe Tee

Have you ever wondered how they change lightbulbs at the Barnes & Noble? You think some guy is just walking around with a 20 foot ladder and a bag of bulbs? No–that would be too non-invasive. Instead, they drive a cherry picker into the store and let its constant beep-beep-beep echo throughout the store for what was probably the entire morning. I don’t know, because Matador and I couldn’t last more than ten minutes. We each grabbed a book and got the hell out of there before the murdering began. As usual, when we arrived home, my wife asked us both what we got. Here’s the conversation she had with me:

Her: What book did you buy?

Me: Don Quixote.

Her: Really? You know there’s a copy on the shelf right there, right?

Me: *looking over her shoulder* Oh, no, I didn’t realize. (In my defense, the books on our shelves are arranged with the spines facing the wall for reasons.)

Her: Have you read it already?

Me: No, but I’d like to have my own copy anyway.

Her: That’s fine. I don’t want you touching mine because it’s old.

Me: So…

Her: So…

Don’t get me wrong; my wife and I communicate just fine. For example, last night, we made plans to watch a movie after we put the kids to bed which we both understood to mean be in bed and asleep by 9pm.

We have fun.

Literary QOTD: The Innocent Table

Charlotte went up to a little table of imitation mahogany with a drawer. She put her hand upon it. The little table was ugly, no doubt, but it had done nothing to her.

Lolita, Chapter 21, Vladimir Nabokov

This has to be my favorite quote in the entire book. IMHO, it sums up how much HH hates Charlotte, how much disdain he has for her, that even an ugly little table doesn’t deserve to be mistreated with a simple touch by the Haze woman. How does an author even come up with something like this? How outside of the moment does HH have to be to even think this? What the hell is happening?

There is plenty of critique and meaning-assignment for Lolita out there in the world for you to read, but the more encounter, the less I think I enjoy the book. I read recently about how the flowery prose was the point of it, how it was a put-on to heighten the ridiculousness of the subject matter. So that’s Nabokov making a display for his readers? Because I’ve read other critique that says it’s HH making a display for his jurors.

Maybe we’re all just overthinking it. Maybe it’s just a good burn on Haze.

Welcome To The Shelf: Patterns, Phones, and Poems

Although I’m a big fan of You Need a Budget and everything they’re about, I’m equal parts proud and ashamed to say that I don’t have a budget line for books. No part of saying “this is how much I’ll spend on books each month” makes any sense to me. You don’t budget; you just buy. The more books the better! Fill up every bookshelf in the house and when you’re done, buy another bookshelf. Today, we welcome some impulse buys based on random posts I saw on Twitter.

The Black Phone, by Joe Hill. Joe has been blowing up Twitter with reactions to the new movie based off his short story of the same name. I can only vaguely remember reading any of his work before, perhaps Horns, but I’ve never really given him a chance. So what better place to start than a collection of short stories? The premise of the Black Phone movie sounds great, and with the knowledge that the book is always better than the movie, it only made sense to pick this one up. I’m hoping for an Asimov or PKD situation where Hill’s short stories are so good that they make me want to read the novels. (Honestly, I thought that’s why novelists wrote short stories in the first place, to drum up interest, but 🤷.)

Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson. Considering how much I love Neuromancer, I was a little ashamed that I had missed this one from the father of cyberspace. Gibson’s other novels have been kind of hit and miss for me, but I saw Pattern Recognition mentioned multiple times in a single day (though now that I think about it, those were probably Gibson’s retweets), so I decided to get myself a copy. It also didn’t hurt that a review of Vise Manor calls out a similarity between my book and the Blue Ant series that this book kicks off. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out I’ve ripped off Gibson yet again (see: Xronixle), but I would at least like to see the source material.

Collected Poems (1947 – 1997), by Allen Ginsberg. If you’re anything like me, and I know I am, then you remember exactly where you were sitting when Dade quoted Ginsberg’s Howl in English class. It’s just one of those poems that stick with you, that keep showing up in popular culture as each new generation discovers it. I saw Ginsberg mentioned on Twitter the other day and thought my shelf could use a collection of his poems. And that’s how books get purchased. I don’t have a strong intention of sitting down and reading this book cover to cover, but I want it on my shelf just in case.

That’s it for this week. In the mail as we speak are a handful of books that no shelf should be without. Hit that bell and like and subscribe and wupfh so you don’t miss it!

Literary QOTD: In that order

Presently, the lady herself–sandals, maroon slacks, yellow silk blouse, squarish face, in that order–came down the steps, her index finger still tapping upon her cigarette.

Lolita, Chapter 10, Vladimir Nabokov

There are plenty of books that might convince you of your mediocrity as a writer, but none so much as Lolita. Reading it is like taking a master class in flowery prose, a lengthy linguistic lesson in additive adjectives. Of all the quotes from this story, the above (emphasis mine) is the one that puzzles me the most. I cannot figure out why the words “in that order” are in this sentence. Is it a dig? Is it just how she appeared to him coming down the stairs?

If I were being tested on it, I’d say the latter–as in, he was describing each detail as he encountered it. But I prefer the dig interpretation–as in, these are the remarkable descriptions of Charlotte Haze in particular order, her face coming last.

I’m probably overthinking it, but I love this line.

Review: Project Hail Mary

I am not a fan of first person POV in the best of times, and the way Weir uses it is super choppy. I did this. I did that. Something happened. The closer I got to the end, the more I found myself skipping lines at a time.

That said… great book. Great premise along with an almost unbelievably intelligent and lucky protag. It follows the pattern set up in The Martian while also reminding me of Delta-V. Impossible mission with problem after problem solved by this super genius school teacher. Great stuff. And the ending was spot on. Probably not what you were expecting because, you know, reality has rules… but I enjoyed it.

Definitely recommend it for anyone into spaceships and space physics and space and feeling dumb. If you liked The Martian, Delta-V, or Providence, this book is for you.

Vise Manor: Review by Sarah Orren @ Reedsy Discovery

“Reminiscent of the movies Clue and House on Haunted Hill, Vise Manor is a clever sci-fi thriller that kept me up well into the night to see what happened next.”

This was my first year trying out Reedsy Discovery, and a week after the launch of Vise Manor, I’ll go ahead and give it a solid thumbs-up for ROI, both in sales and engagement. I was lucky enough to get my book picked up, and by release day, I had an insightful, well-written review I could bandy about the internet. Thus-reviewed, Vise Manor was then plugged into the larger Reedsy Discovery world, which sent a lot of clicks to this very website. So yeah, same time next year!

Here’s the full review from Sarah Orren:

“Reminiscent of the movies Clue and House on Haunted HillVise Manor is a clever sci-fi thriller that kept me up well into the night to see what happened next. Set in a far more technologically sophisticated world than our own, yet still in 2021, synthetics are all the rage. Though few companies have mastered the ability to craft completely human-like synthetic beings complete with intelligence, personality and mannerisms, Winston Vise is claiming to have produced the best synthetics out there. And he needs investors to continue on his path of success.

Vise is an almost unheard of tech billionaire, so when he invites eight carefully chosen members of relevant industries to his manor for dinner and an unveiling of his new products, they RSVP yes, if only to learn more about the elusive man. The disembodied synthetic hand that Vise sent with the invitation as proof of his advances certainly aided in their decision to attend.

But when the attendees show up to Vise Manor, they get more than they bargained for. Communications are jammed, Mother Nature is unleashing her fury, and not everyone is who they claim to be. Throw in a few unexpected brutal murders and the night quickly shifts into survival mode.

Though the story may not be entirely original, and a few parts were even a little predictable, Verastiqui does an amazing job of developing each and every character. I found myself rooting for Carter and Roma, Nancy and Misty (unexpectedly so), and actually shouted aloud during a pivotal character’s death just before sunrise. It became almost a game of trying to determine who would survive and who wouldn’t, and what paths each character would take along the way.

Once I got to the very end of the story and realized that it left open space for a sequel, I went to Verastiqui’s site and learned that this is actually a part of a 7-book anthology series. I will definitely be going back and reading these other stories. Overall, I loved it and recommend to any sci-fi readers interested in a book that walks the line between murder mystery and cyber thriller.”

Sarah Orren, Reedsy Discovery

Thanks for the awesome review, Sarah!

I’m Kinda Over Kindle

A couple years ago, I made the biggest mistake of my life: I got rid of all (most) of my print books in favor of Kindle. What can I say? I was taken in by that minimalism doc on Netflix. Fast forward to today, and I lament not having a bookshelf overflowing with science fiction and mysteries and light erotica–you know, all the genres my dad kept on his bookshelf when I was a wee little cyberpunk writer. Although we moved every 4-5 years, that bookshelf followed us from deployment to deployment, and always stood a post in a shared space like a hallway.

I loved that bookshelf. It’s where I discovered Replay by Ken Grimwood. Almost every book was beyond my comprehension, but I read them all the same. My son, El Matador, can read, and he’s not even five years old yet. He has tons of books in his room, but I can imagine him one day coming into my home office, standing in front of my bookshelf, and pulling out a copy of Neuromancer, The Martian Chronicles, or A Scanner Darkly. Sure, he might grab the Henny Millers or Anaïs Nins, but them’s the breaks. At least that’ll give him the foundation to grow up and write stories like his old man.

Anyway, I’m no longer buying any Kindle books, no matter how deeply Amazon discounts them. The irony is I still rely on Kindle sales and Kindle Unlimited reads for my books. In the long run, I want that bookshelf in my house full of awesome books that will inspire my children. As a kid, I dreamt of what my library would look like when I was older–some sprawling room with floor-to-ceiling shelves.

Instead, it’s just a thin plastic pad that shows me ads between the books I actually want to read.

We’ve strayed too far, my friends.

Book Marketing: Having Fun With Your Built-in Audience

I started self-publishing in 2004, and it took me a long, long time to figure out what most authors already knew: you don’t market to friends and family. For one, they’re often not your target cyberpunk-loving audience. Second, if they do buy your book, it will be because they either love you or genuinely enjoy your work. Either way, it’s a limited audience, and your efforts (and money) are better spent elsewhere. But… that doesn’t mean you can’t tell them you have a new book coming out. And since you’re just telling them, and not marketing, you can have a little fun with it.

Let’s Get Physical

I’ve tried and failed to build a newsletter following. My website is only popular with crawlers. And Twitter… well, I might as well be screaming into a Home Depot bucket. So what’s a guy to do if he wants to get his message in front of friends and family that are used to ignoring him on the world wide web? 😉 You’re damn right: give them something to hold in their hands. And not only that, but deliver it right to their home where they feel safe and secure.

Luckily, Vise Manor happens to be a book about ten strangers invited to a secluded mansion in the New York countryside, so it was pretty clear what I had to do: send friends and family and invitation to dinner, drinks, and a demonstration.

Designing the Invite

Since this isn’t marketing and we’re just having fun, I decided to make the invite purposefully confusing. That is, I wanted it to look like a real invitation and NOT be apparent that it was a piece of advertising until they turned the card over. I used the actual invitation in the book as a guide and whipped this up in Canva.

Canva has a ton of templates, so it was easy to simply choose one, plug in the info, and boom, a fancy invite that I could send to friends. I love how there’s no indication on the front that this invite is from me, Science Fiction Author Daniel Verastiqui. It actually doesn’t say who the invite is from (and I put no return address on the envelope), which would make any reasonable person flip the card around for answers.

Now, at this point, they would know it was from me, but it’s still not clear this invite is related to a book.

I have to admit, thinking about all of their confused faces made me laugh, probably too hard and for too long. Why do I get so much joy from messing with these wonderful people? Am I sick? Do I purposely push away the people I love?

Anyway, you can order printed invites directly from Canva. Just make sure you choose the thicker paper. The basic version is just too flimsy.

Bonus: Because Canva uses free Google Fonts, you can easily recreate the invite as a webpage. See:

The Reveal

I opted to spell out the website on the back of the invite instead of using a much cooler QR code. Asking people to blindly follow a QR code is probably just a step too far. But, if they see my name, maybe they’ll drop that URL into their browser and get this:

The body text makes it clear this is marketing for a book. But again, this is really just an FYI, so I’m not doing any real selling on this page. Just: here’s a book, if you want it, great, if not, no biggie. Throw in a couple buttons and it should be easy for the visitor to move forward.

Clicking the Vigorously Accept button takes you directly to Amazon where you can preorder the Kindle version of Vise Manor. And that’s what most people did. Only a few dared to click the With Sincere Regrets button, but I was ready for them. I let them click the button, but then:

Good UX means guiding the visitor to the desired conclusion. A friendly warning message makes it clear that declining is not an option, while visually, the With Sincere Regrets button is moved to the far right, like sliding a knife out of a child’s reach at the dinner table.

And if they click it again?

Honestly, they brought it on themselves. A small script notifies me that a visitor has declined twice, and I go out and steal a puppy from a child. I’ve had to do this three times so far, and though it hurts me as a decent human being, it’s what the visitor deserves for rejecting not just my book but me as an artist and unique individual.

The ReactionS

I could not have asked for better reactions from friends and family. I think the reason I play around with them is because they’re good sports, and so many of them were eager to share their stories of excitement, confusion, and disappointment.

Better still were the people I got to speak to in person who regaled me with stories of confusion and fist-shaking. Common to all these stories is the fun factor. It was something different, a brief respite from the horrific 24-hour news cycle and the impending stress of the holiday season. Compared to simply walking up to a friend and saying I have a new book out; buy it, this way was much more entertaining for all involved.

In fact, I’ve decided that this is how I will do all my fun marketing going forward. You never know when something is going to show up in the mail from your old pal Daniel. What will he send next?! You’ll just have to wait to find out.

And if I don’t have your address, and you love fun, feel free to opt-in to physical, privacy-invading mailings.

The Results

I sent out physical invitations to everyone I thought would appreciate them, and that was around seventy people. It would have been more, but it turns out I don’t know that many people, let alone have their physical mailing addresses.

The response rate (those who visited the website) was about 60%. They came in from all over the country, and it was pretty awesome to watch.

The preorder rate was about 50%. Now, thirty-five preorders is not going to land you on the Amazon Best Seller list on launch day, but it’s a good start. Remember, your friends and family are your built-in audience. So long as you don’t market to them (or worse, try to guilt them), they’re gonna help you out. So bank those built-in preorders and move on to your regular marketing.

I was expecting maybe a third of my recipients to bite, but I think a fun invite and a low price really helped convince some to buy. Add in the preorders generated by Amazon Advertising, and I’m extremely pleased with the results. Pre-sales marketing is moving along really well, and I have my friends and family to thank for this initial bump.

The Bottom Line

Writing is fun, but historically, marketing has not been. Well, there’s no reason it has to stay that way. From now on, we’ll find a way to have fun with our built-in audiences: family, friends, neighbors, fellow indie publishers, Door Dash drivers, landscapers, etc.

Life is too short for anything else.

Vise Manor hits shelves on March 1, 2022. If you haven’t preordered yet, well…

The Lifecycle of Independent Publishing as I Understand It (2021 Edition)

If there’s one thing in this world that I truly love, it’s process. Process is what gives life meaning. It tells me what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Unfortunately, process does not spring spontaneously from the ether (nor do you get it from a single blog post that claims to teach you How to Write a Novel in 5 Easy Steps); it must be refined over the years. After independently publishing NINE books since 2004, I’m still updating the way I put out books.

Here is my current process, pared down to the bare essentials.

Step 1: Write the Book

What fun! This step is full of late nights and endless glasses of alcohol. Creativity flows from your fingers like human waste from a broken sewer pipe. You create a world, populate it with flawed characters, and watch the chaos ensue. 150,000 words and many, many revisions later, you have yourself a book.

Cost: Time, blood, sweat, tears, proper liver function

Step 2: Pay Someone to Edit/Proof Your Book

You can’t trust yourself or your canine writing partner to edit your book, so you need to hire a professional to look over your work of art. Hope you had some money saved, because good editors and proofers cost a pretty penny.

Cost: $500 – $2,500

Step 3: Pay Someone to Design a Cover

The last thing you want is your book appearing on Amazon with a cover that looks like you designed it yourself. Don’t judge a book by its cover is terrible advice when it comes to marketing your book. Hire a pro. Just hire a pro.

Cost: $200 – $500

Step 4: Pay Amazon to Advertise It

I’ve only found one method of advertising that produces results, and that’s Amazon’s own advertising platform. Create your ads, set your keywords, and give it a healthy budget. Watch the sales and Kindle Unlimited reads come pouring in!

Cost: $300 – $1,000 monthly

Step 5: Use Royalties to Pay for Ongoing Advertising / PROMOTIONS

Did you earn less in royalties than you spent in advertising? If so, you’ll need to pay yourself back first. Isn’t that funny? You put a book on Amazon, pay Amazon to advertise it, and then give all the money you earn back to Amazon to continue advertising it! It’s a vicious cycle, but fingers crossed you can break out of it one day.

Cost: Everything you earned

Step 6: Go Back to Step 1

Now you’re done. Or at least, I am. As you can see, my process doesn’t include any extraneous steps like:

  • Querying the manuscript
  • Advertising on Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest / Tik-Tok / AppChat / Fartbook
  • Advertising on mailing lists or daily deals sites
  • Advertising on Bookbub
  • Running giveaways on Goodreads so winners can resell the books on eBay
  • Maintaining a social media presence of any kind

It’s a simple process.

  1. Create product
  2. Advertise product
  3. Sell product
  4. Repeat

For a Limited Time Only

I suppose it comes down to what you’re willing to do to make your dreams of becoming a best-selling Science Fiction author come true… and how much time you have to commit to it. I make time for writing. Before exercising, the full-time job, and sometimes even my family, I make time for writing. The actual putting of words on the page is #1, but everything else like marketing and social media are so low on the priority list that I’m surprised I even get to them.

After almost twenty years, I think I’ve reached the point where I’ve decided this is how much I’m going to do, and that’s it. In some ways, it’s freeing. I know exactly what I’m doing with my stories, which steps to follow, and when to start over again. My newsletter may not have thousands of subscribers, my blog millions of visitors, or my Facebook fan page billions of Likes… but there will be dozens of my novels out there by the time they put me in the dirt or transfer me to a synthetic body.

And that means I get to write those novels, which honestly, is the only part of this racket that I enjoy.