I just wanted to give a quick thanks to Maureen H for her recent review of Veneer. I tend to look at my books as always increasing in quality, and yet it’s Veneer, my second book, that continues to outsell the others. I don’t know why that is. From the reviews, it seems people really enjoy the concept of augmented reality, while others like the characters themselves. Some people don’t like the book at all, but who has time to think about that?
Whether or not Maureen’s review is 5 stars or 1 star, I’m just glad someone is still reading a book from 2011. I’m glad they liked it enough to review it. It makes sitting here morning after morning, slogging through Draft 3 of Hybrid Mechanics just a little more bearable.
I don’t use the highlight feature on my Kindle very often, and when I do it’s usually for something funny or interesting I want to remember. Sometimes, it’s for a sentence or paragraph I find particularly literary and beautiful and poetic, though that is rare when reading contemporary works. Last night, after a shitty day to end all shitty days, I opened my Kindle to continue reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and stumbled upon the most arrestingly beautiful line I think I’ve ever read.
Today, I’m trying to understand what psychology of the series tag. You know, that whole template every budding indie writer seems to be following these days: The Novel Title (The Series Name, Book X). I understand why people who write series would want to tag their books so readers get them in the right order, but what if you write interconnected books that don’t go in any order? Can you still use the series tag? Does it add value, or will it ultimately hurt more than it helps?
Consider the change I made yesterday to the listing of Por Vida on Amazon:
Say you’re a new reader to my books (fat chance, I know you’ve got ’em all on your Kindle), if you saw the above on Amazon, would you:
See the word anthology and think unordered series of books taking place in the same universe?
Feel like you should seek out Book 1 and start there? (assuming the other books were properly labeled)
Not want to get invested because the series is already four books long (I felt this with the Dark Tower series)
Close the tab and go browse Reddit for a while
I’m torn between wanting to let people know these books are all connected (based on how excited I get when Stephen King mentions Derry in one of his books) and not wanting them to think its a true series that never finds an ending or that it needs to be read in a certain order.
So I ask you, fellow authors: If you were trying to market standalone novels that shared the same universe, would you use the series tag? Why / why not?
I’d ask my agent, but she lives in Canada. You wouldn’t know her.
I do a lot of silly things to encourage people to write reviews of my books, but this whole get your name in the next book tactic seems to work the best. You know, aside from cold hard cash, which, by the way, should not be delivered as an Amazon Gift Card unless you want to get 20-30 reviews deleted in a single afternoon. I don’t know why it’s such a struggle to get reviews (even bad ones), especially when the book is selling and plenty of people seem to be reading it. I used to think I could impress upon people the importance of leaving reviews, but no. Bribery is pretty much the only thing that works.
Last time’s winner was Curtis, and since it’ll be a while, here’s a preview of where he ended up in the zero draft:
“Identify yourself,” said Jake.
The man stepped back and looked up.
“Ho there,” he called. “Don’t see many people up this way. What brings you to Challis?”
“Identify yourself!” Jake stepped to the railing and pointed the rifle over it.
The man’s hands went up. “Easy, stranger. My name is Curtis.”
“Curtis what?” asked Jake. “What’s your revision?”
“My revision? What do you take me for, some kind of Lassiter drone?”
“You’re not organic,” said Jake.
“Now that is true. I am not an organic human. But I am a person, just like you.”
“I am a sixth generation Vinestead synthetic,” said Jake. “You’re nothing like me.”
“They’re up to Six now? Interesting.” Curtis stepped back several feet so he wouldn’t have to crane his neck. “Well, Mr. Six. Seeing how you’re hunting organics and I’m not an organic, I don’t see that we have any quarrel.”
Jake considered the offer, shook his head. There weren’t supposed to be any other synthetics. If there were, who did they follow? What was their purpose?
“What are you doing here?” asked Jake.
“We have some monitoring equipment up there,” Curtis replied, gesturing with an outstretched arm. “Helps us keep tabs on who comes and goes in the valley. We picked up a whole mess of activity in Arco day before last, so I came down to make sure everything’s in good working order here.”
“You’re tracking our movements?” His finger trembled on the trigger.
“Yours. Humans. Animals. Anything that moves. Gotta know who’s walking in your backyard, am I right?”
“This isn’t your backyard,” said Jake. “This is Lassiter’s domain.”
That made Curtis chuckle. “Lassiter doesn’t exist in this world, pal. He may reach out to you from VNet, but he can’t walk here. Funny how that works, huh?” He adjusted his jacket. “Look, I’m on a schedule here, so if you’re not gonna come down, I’ll just come back another day. Safe travels, Mr. Six.”
He turned to leave. Jake raised the gun.
“I’m not done with you,” he warned. “This gun will tear you in half.”
Curtis shrugged, didn’t look back. “You’d be doing me a favor. I was never a fan of this sleeve anyhow.”
If you’d like to join Curtis in Hybrid Mechanics, you can buy / review my most recent book, Por Vida, here.
When it comes to reading reviews, I only ever check my author page at Amazon. How many times a day I check that page for new reviews isn’t relevant. It’s the only place I really want reviews–good and bad–because that’s where people are making the decision to buy, and for some reason, the reviews tend to be… better (?)… than the ones at Goodreads. Maybe there’s something about Goodreads that brings out the vitriol more easily than at Amazon. There are a lot of good reasons to avoid the site altogether, but we don’t have the time today.
Still, every once in a while, I’ll head over there and see if there has been any movement. Typically, there hasn’t, but today I noticed a couple of new reviews for Veneer that I hadn’t seen before. Here is my favorite:
This might be the first time someone has described one of my books as a “novel of ideas,” which I like to think is true for all of them. It’s easy to get over-excited about technology, to want to describe a future so advanced and awesome that you forget to include characters and actual conflict.
I’m not sure if I accomplished what I set out to do with Veneer, but I enjoy the book for its themes, specifically the idea that we don’t need augmented reality to hide our true motives and true selves. Take away the tech and the story could have just as easily happened in our time.
Lastly, for most of the writers I know, writing is a passion that exists outside the scope of sales, reviews, and acclaim. Not that they’re better than that, but the passion is going to be there whether the book is #10 or #100000 on Amazon’s best seller list. So when you get a favorable review on Goodreads or Amazon, take a moment to enjoy the abstract emotional connection you made with another human and then move on, the same way you’d do with a negative review.
In my novel Veneer, residents of Easton live with a shared layer of augmented reality that covers almost every imaginable surface. To change the color or design of an object, they simply have to reach out, touch it, and imagine something different, a process I named reconciliation. I find it fitting that a reader looked at the cover of Veneer, imagined something different, and decided to reconcile something new. Sure, the technology is vastly different, but the result is the same.
I stumbled upon the website of Justin Pérez, a graphic designer and fellow University of Texas at Austin grad (hook ‘em!), during the third hour of my daily Google search for mentions of my books. Imagine my surprise when I discovered he had redesigned the cover for Veneer.
I reached out to Justin to let him know how much I liked the new cover and to ask about the circumstances surrounding the redesign.
The prompt for the project in my graphic design class instructed us to redesign an album or book cover. I chose Veneer for several reasons. The main reason being that I found the book interesting. Secondly, because the book was relevant […] to today’s discussions regarding emerging technologies and their societal affects.
When I went to UT, I remember sitting in 20th Century Short Stories thinking about whether my stories would ever be discussed the same way we were discussing The Yellow Wallpaper. Since I don’t write short stories anymore, and since UT is not likely to add a 21st Century Erotic Dystopian Cyber-Thriller Novels class anytime soon, I guess I’ll have to settle for Veneer showing up in a graphic design class elsewhere on campus.
What are the odds that a UT grad writes a novel that a UT student discovers years later and uses for a class project? You see, Professor Ghose? My stories did go somewhere.
I am and will likely always be hopeless when it comes to cover design. Using Jonathan Foerster’s Sonnet artwork as the cover for Veneer seemed like a great idea at the time. The imagery matched up well with the scene where Rosalia describes her nightmare to Deron. But all I did was slap a title and a name on pre-existing artwork. Despite how awesome Sonnet looks as a standalone piece, the final product didn’t feel like a real cover. Later, when I hired Lauren Ellis to do the Perion Synthetics cover, I realized that this kind of thing is better left to the professionals.
If you’re wondering what goes on in the mind of a designer:
I wanted to incorporate several elements from the book’s plot, but also keep the cover as minimal as possible. For the redesign, I decided to include a piece of fabric as the main backdrop for the cover. It is meant to represent the veil/veneer AR technology can create. The fabric slowly transitions from red (representing Rosalia) to black & white (alluding to Deron’s inability to perceive the veneer). The fonts are sans serif to echo the futuristic tone of the book.
Naturally, I had to share the redesign with my friends.
Sunshine said, ooh! That cover makes it look like “adult” reading.
Elizabeth added, That was my first thought too. Veneer meets 50 shades, coming to a book store near you. Lol.
LOL indeed, Elizabeth. Though, according to some reviews, Veneer is already 50 Shades. So I guess Justin’s cover does indeed, as he puts it on his website, “more accurately represent the book’s plot.”
It turns out that Justin and I share the same trepidation about the potential downsides of augmented reality. Veneer takes it to an extreme, but in the next five to ten years, we’re likely going to see advances in AR that have significant impact on how we interact. You thought people got lost in Second Life or World of Warcraft? Imagine how bad it will be when they’re actually there. Or at least, when they think they are.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Big thanks to Justin for choosing my book for his project. Authors are often crippled by self-doubt, so it’s refreshing to see someone discover my book and enjoy it enough to want to make new art with it.
Head over to Justin’s website at justinperezdesign.com and check out his other work. If you decide to hire him for a project, just make sure it’s done by the end of the year. I’m gonna need him for the cover of my next book!
Then maybe, just maybe, another UT student will redesign it five or six years from now.