The Vinestead Anthology

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Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

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:

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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.

In It For The Money

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I’ve never paid much attention to the financial profit/loss aspect of independent publishing. I just don’t see the point. I know, generally, how much the royalty checks will be each month, and I know it doesn’t compare to the marketing and materials spend. One of the supposed advantages of indie publishing and print-on-demand was that it required very little in terms of upfront money. But what they didn’t tell me when I started in 2004 (because nobody knew) was that it does cost money to self-publish. A lot of money, it turns out. Sadly, for myself and a lot of writers, the dream isn’t to get rich on my novels; I just want to break even.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I use Intuit’s TurboTax to do my taxes. I used to love their Quicken product, but gave it up years ago in favor of Mint. And when they bought that, I gave up Mint in favor of You Need A Budget. All that is to say that I’m not familiar with Intuit’s other financial planning offerings. So, I was surprised to see them advertising a self-employed version of their QuickBooks product while I was doing my taxes. As it turns out, it’s possible to deduct some of your writing expenses when you file. I had never given that much thought before.

One of TurboTax’s features that I really like is the live “refund” counter. But this year, it really turned my crank when I put in my royalties and saw that refund crater. Damn you, IRS! TurboTax tried to lessen the blow by asking if I’ve spent any money in pursuit of my “small business,” but alas, I had not kept track, so it would have all been guesses.

Well, 2018 is the year that all changes. From now on, I’m keeping track of everything I buy that is related to indie publishing. I don’t know if it will be all deductible, but if it saves some money, then maybe the experiment is worth it.

Think about all the money you spend to fuel your writing habit:

  • Editorial services
  • Graphic design (covers, marketing, etc)
  • Webhosting, domain names, email addresses
  • Word, Scrivener, Scapple
  • Laptop, computer, keyboard, mouse
  • Printer, paper, pens, highlighters, staples
  • Envelopes, postage
  • Advertising on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, Goodreads, Google
  • Gas mileage to the bar, drink purchased, sorrows drowned
  • Red Bull, candy corn, whiskey, aspirin
  • Intuit Quickbooks Self-Employed ($10/mo)
  • Bribes for Positive Reviews

If that number is higher than your writing income, well, my friend, you’re operating your small business at a loss, and in addition to my condolences, you deserve a tax break*.

*The asterisk means I’m not a tax lawyer and I have no idea if that is true or not. I don’t even know if tax lawyers are a thing.

Anyway, if you haven’t started doing your taxes this year, you can get Intuit’s QuickBooks Self-Employed for free for a year by filing with TurboTax (always check with your bank or credit union to see if they have a coupon). If you’ve never tracked your profit/loss before, it might be an interesting experiment to see how it all stacks up at the end of the year.

I’ll let you know how my experiment turns out… if it’s not too embarrassing.

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Fingers crossed, am I right?

Prepare Your Cortical Stack

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It’s finally here. Netflix’s adaptation of Richard K. Morgan’s mind-blowing sci-fi novel Altered Carbon is now live, and though I’ll never forgive Joel Kinnaman for his part in the Robocop Reboot That Shall Never Be Mentioned Again, I can’t wait to binge the entire season this weekend. It’s hard to describe how awesome Altered Carbon is–if you’re into technology, explosions, and some of the l33t-est buzzwords you’ll ever read, this is the story for you.

The show has a Facebook page (because it’s 2018 and everything does) where you can watch trailers and behind the scenes, but since you’re reading this here on deadlineavoidance.com, there’s a possibility that you dabble in the writing. You, my fellow fiction monger, should check out this video where Richard K. Morgan sits down to watch the first episode.

Link to Facebook that I can’t iframe for some reason.

All I can think is how fucking amazing it must be to watch your story come to life. Back in my early days of writing, I wanted nothing more than to see the words A Short Story by Daniel Verastiqui in print. Then it was A Novel by Daniel Verastiqui that I wanted to see. The current dream I’m chasing (well, I mean, it’s possible) is seeing Based on the novel by Daniel Verastiqui flashing across a movie theater screen. Thankfully, people who make movies and TV shows have good taste, and so long as they’re making Altered Carbon and not Toaster Tingles (Book #1 in the Kitchen Appliance Romance Series), then I’m okay with my novels languishing on the Amazon charts.

I love Altered Carbon.

I love cortical stack.

I love needlecast.

I love neurochem.

And I love, love evercrete. So much so that I straight-up stole it and started putting in my stories just to get them more of a Science Fiction feel. I still do. Here’s a passage from my current WIP:

The Provo Temple hadn’t stood at full height in over a decade; twisted rebar grew like weeds from uneven piles of gray evercrete. The thick white monoliths that used to circle the building had been crushed under the feet of mechanical giants, and doors that had once welcomed worshipers had shed their glass and twisted into barely passable openings.

If you write Science Fiction and haven’t read Altered Carbon, I advise you to put down that Red Bull, cork that bottle of wine, close out your Scrivener windows, and fire up your Kindle. Here’s the link to the first book, because yes, it’s a trilogy, and I recommend all three: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan.

Time After Time

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Photo by Uroš Jovičić on Unsplash

I’ve really taken a liking to non-linear narratives. When you think of all the ways you can mess with a reader, there’s nothing quite like the confusion you can create by having multiples stories operating on multiple timelines. Did A happen before B? Are they happening at the same time? And then later, when everything becomes clear, the reader is incented to re-read the entire book, because now it has taken on different meaning. Today, I was trying to figure out what had sparked this interest in time-confusion, and I realized it started long ago with movies like Pulp Fiction, but it wasn’t until I read Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines that I was compelled to try it myself.

Warning: Spoilers for Wayward Pines below. If you haven’t read it and you like so-called “good books,” do yourself a favor and go buy it now. Don’t watch the TV series; buy the book.

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I read all three of the Wayward Pines books on a trip to Punta Cana, finishing up the third as we landed back in Austin. While the second and third books were good, it was the first that really punched me in the gut. You start the book thinking both story lines are happening at the same time, but how can that be? Then there’s the way people are behaving. And some of them having different memories of different times?

When the helicopter landed and the truth came out, I was absolutely blown away. I loved it. The mystery. The clues. Everything about the twist was perfect for me.

I immediately started working on a new book, Por Vida, with the intention of having story lines that would intersect with hopefully the same punch as Pines. The feedback has been good; I don’t think people saw it coming, but more than that, it was fun to write.

I get bogged down when writing linear stories. That’s why I have to have multiple characters/POVS in my books; otherwise, I won’t get anywhere. It’s not exciting for me to describe Character A going from here to there, doing this and that, and finally something. There has to be more to a story than simple plot points, and multiple timelines ups the complexity big time. Sure, there’s more to keep track of, but if you can do it right, it makes for an exciting read (and write).

Ultimately, you have to write something that excites you as an author. Weaving two timelines together in a way that will surprise and delight a reader truly excites me. Having that power over a reader excites me. I want them to get to the end and say I should have seen that coming! I want them to go back and read the story again and say Look at all these clues!

My upcoming book, Hybrid Mechanics, implements multiple timelines as well, with some extra twists thrown in. Beyond the “didn’t see it coming” twists of Pines, there’s also the “I know it’s coming, I just don’t know how.” That’s where I want to be. I want the reader to know I’m gonna mess with their heads. I want them turning each page in the hopes of finding another clue that will let them unravel the mystery before I reveal it to them at the end.

If they beat me, fine… I’d love to hear about it in their review. But if I beat them, awesome… I’d love to hear about it in their review.

Anyway, those are today’s thoughts on multiple timelines. Love ’em or hate ’em, they can add spice to an otherwise pedestrian narrative about synthetic killing machines hunting the last of the organics in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.