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.

The Summer of Heat and Despair

Central Texas has been under an Excessive Heat Warning for what feels like months now, and I can’t remember a time in my 42 years when I’ve seen a more pointless advisory from the National Weather Service. What exactly are you expecting us to do, NWS? Get under our desks? Put wet paper bags over our heads? We know it’s hot; we’ve been outside, trying to live our lives. Oh no but it’s like, really hot. No doy. That’s why we’re dropping our kid off at school at 5:30 a.m. even though they don’t open ’til 8. Gotta be smarter than the climate change, as my dad would always say.

In other news, someone asked me the other day how my writing was going, and I can hardly describe the deftness with which I changed the subject. Everything about writing and publishing and marketing is annoying me right now. No, annoying is not the right word. Discouraging. Everything about writing and publishing and marketing is discouraging right now. Nine to midnight used to be my prime writing time, but these days the only thing I want to do after the kids are asleep is put myself to sleep. Netflix still hasn’t called about turning Vise Manor into a limited series, probably because Vise Manor has an actual ending.

I’m so mad at Brand New Cherry Flavor right now. It is such a refreshing blend of humor and darkness and the 90s and Hollywood and revenge and horror, and though it builds to an incredible crescendo, it ends so abruptly. So many people die, nothing is resolved, and Lisa Nova just throws up her hands and says welp, I guess my work here is done. Worse, I can’t seem to find the book the show is based on on Amazon. That at least would have given me some hope of maybe finding an actual ending to this story. Boo, Brand New Cherry Flavor. Boo, Severance. Boo, God’s Favorite Idiot. I’m tired of shows that don’t provide any closure.

Not you though, Midnight Mass. You cool.

(Also, a body hopper named Boro? Where did you get that idea?)

Speaking of body manipulation, Rainbow learned how to roll over a few days ago. Unlike our first child, Matador, we aren’t obsessing as much about her development. She’ll roll over when she rolls over. She’ll walk when she walks. She’ll add, subtract, multiply, and divide when she’s five like her brother. This was one of those milestones where I was alone with her, so I made sure to capture the moment in photos and save the relevant surveillance footage from our Nest camera. It’s funny how we spend so much time waiting for something like this, only to remember a few nights later that now she can roll over in her crib and forget how to roll back and cry, cry, cry.

To our credit, we didn’t go rescue her when she rolled over around 11:30 p.m. last night. She eventually found a comfortable way to sleep, and then at 5:30 a.m., figured out how to roll onto her back again. Never seen someone so happy.

Speaking of being happy, I was able to do a marketing thing this week without feeling the immense guilt every self-pub feels when they desperately beg for reviews. Since my first marketing stunt was basically an invitation, I decided to follow it up with a thanks for staying with us type card. Sometimes you get these from hotels as a way to remind you of your vacation and subtly drive you towards leaving a review (for a free upgrade during your next stay!). In addition to subtly threatening that I know where they live, my goals were to thank them for buying my book, remind them to review, and get them to sign up for my newsletter.

As with my first mailing, I got a lot of text responses from people who had received the reminder who were digging into the book now or moving it to the top of their TBR pile or not what they would call a ‘reader.’ Regardless of the outcome of these mailers, I do enjoy the little chats that come from them. And honestly, sometimes people do need a little reminder. If you do it in a fun and infrequent way, I don’t see a downside. Well, yeah, sure, the money you spend on the printing and mailing, but if you were worried about money, you wouldn’t be a self-pub in the first place, now would you?

I honestly did have a friend tell me, “I’m not much of a reader.” To which I replied, “As a writer, I hear that a lot.

Speaking of readers, Matador is burning through books these days. The above photo is him at school delving into some light erotica. As someone who was exposed to Delta of Venus at a very young age, I’m still not sure when would be the appropriate time for him to start reading more adult titles (as in, Young Adult or Replay or Neuromancer). I remember a point in my own childhood where librarians were stopping me from checking out titles they thought too mature for me, which may or may not have led me to a life of crime. I don’t want that for him. No More Verastiquis in Jail–that’s our family motto.

For now, I suppose I’ll just keep all of Anais Nin’s books high up on the shelf. I mean, if you’re not pushing huge decisions off to some indeterminate date in the future, are you even really parenting?

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!

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…