New Business Cards, Part I

I accompanied Denise on a business trip recently, and was embarrassed to find that my stash of business cards was woefully out of date. I ordered two new batches as soon as I got back home. I used, whose Printfinity option that allows you to print as many as 50 different images on the backs of your cards. Which is a great opportunity to showcase book covers!

I don't know about other authors, but when I meet strangers the conversation usually goes like this:

"So what do you do?"

"I'm a writer."

"What kinds of things do you write?"

"Well...uh, um—"

And that's where it breaks down. I typically end up verbally describingthe types of books I've done, and if they ask for a card, I end up giving them my old outdated card, and a few other old, publisher-printed cards depicting the covers of one or two of the books we discussed. (Denise sidesteps this issue by merely giving them a bookmark for The Girls of Atomic City.)

The new cards allow me to show them them the covers, describe the books if we have time, and then say, "Here—take your pick."

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For Your Bouchercon Consideration

The Bouchercon ballots went out Saturday, and it occurs to me that I ought to mention which works of mine are eligible for the Anthony Awards. And yes, I feel icky announcing this to the world, but I’ve seen other authors do it, so why not work with me here for a sec?

Three of my 2014 pieces are eligible for the short story category:

  • "Harm and Hammer," October 2014, Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine - This is the crime story of a lonely young woman who obsessively teaches herself how to play a blacksmith's anvil as a musical instrument, with tragic results.
  • "How Lil’ Jimmie Beat the Big C," May 12, 2014, Shotgun Honey - This is the piece about the incarcerated cancer patient that was just chosen as a Derringer finalist this past weekend. Profanity alert.
  • “Nighthawks,"  April 2014, Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine - My crime story that tries to explain what’s going on in the classic Edward Hopper painting of the same same.

You’ll find free PDFs of all these stories at this link.

Theoretically my novel, THE MARSHAL OF THE BORGO, should be eligible for the novel or paperback original categories because it pubbed in 2014, but it’s self-pubbed; Anthony Award rules are vague on the matter. If anyone knows for certain if it’s eligible, kindly let me know.

For that matter, if you have a story, book, nonfiction/critical work that is elegible this year, kindly leave a comment below or shoot me a note via my contact page, if you prefer to be more discreet. A handful of us authors from the Asheville area are all going to the conference, and we’re looking for great books and stories to nominate. Help us do our job.

There. I’m done. That wasn’t so bad, now, was it?

Amazon's emailing my friends and readers

The Mesmerist by Joseph D'Agnese

This week I got four emails from readers and friends who reported that they’d gotten an email from Amazon alerting them that I had a new book coming out. This is the first time I’ve ever experienced this from Amazon, so I thought it was worth trying to analyze what’s going on.

First, the book in question is a small, stocking-stuffer-sized book published by Quirk Books, entitled Stuff Every American Should Know.

The Stuff Every…Should Know series sells well for Quirk, and they asked my wife/co-author and me to contribute a book of U.S. history trivia, as a result of our series for Quirk on the signers of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration. The signers books sell well in historic site gift shops, and Quirk thought it might be smart to do a “Stuff” history title. The book is really short—10,000 words—and lists for $9.99. The print edition is out June 5; the Kindle edition is already out. 

But look at what Amazon’s been sending to my readers. All of these emails were sent between 6:30 AM and 7:00 AM of the days in question.

On May 22, Reader #1, who has only bought my (traditionally published) children’s book—in other words, none of my history titles are in this person’s purchasing history—received this:

Amazon promo for Stuff Every American Should Know

Notice that the ad features the new book but also has room for four more titles, in this case my book for freelancers (Random House); a history title (Quirk); my children’s history title (Scholastic); and my weeks-old, self-published novel, The Mesmerist. (Bang drums, blow trumpets here.)

On May 24, Reader #2, who has only ever bought one of my self-published books, The Scientist and the Sociopath, reported receiving this email:

Amazon promo for Stuff Every American Should Know

In this case, Amazon dropped The Mesmerist and added my children’s book about the mathematician Fibonacci, traditionally published by Holt.

On May 25, Reader #3, who has bought my signer titles in the past as gifts, reported receiving this ad. Notice that it displays yet a different permutation of my titles. Clearly, the system omits from the ad any book which it knows the person has already has bought.

Amazon promo for Stuff Every American Should Know

My wife heard from a fourth reader who has only bought our freelancer title. Reader #4’s ad promotes the same Stuff title but touts it as my wife’s book. This makes sense; my wife’s byline comes first on our freelancer title in Amazon’s system. 

I have no idea how many of these ads went out this week. My contact at the publisher confirms that this is a “new” thing Amazon is trying, but she didn’t know if it’s only for certain titles or authors. It’s also not clear if this ad went out to people who had bought books similar to the Stuff” title.

I was excited to get some attention for not one, but two of my most recent books. The big question here is what impact have all these ads had on sales of all of my titles? I’d say, Meh. Judging from the ranks of the “older” books that have appeared in the ad, I’d say not much. I can tell you that the ads had virtually no impact on The Mesmerist, which is the title I was most curious about. 

For about two seconds I wondered if they’d ever send out something like this to announce the arrival of one of my self-pubbed titles, but I think it’s clear that this is aimed at drumming up pre-orders and self-pubbed titles don’t get logged into the system the same way as traditionally published titles, which have on-sale dates. But the system does use sales data from self-pubbed books and isn’t above promoting self-pubbed books in the “more” section.

As for Stuff Americans Should Know, it is now solidly in the five-figure rank range, a far cry from the deep six-figures it was a week ago. In fact, on May 23, when I checked the hardcover book’s rank, I saw that it had hit three lists:

Screen Shot 2012-05-23 at 7.08.33 PM.jpg

I just checked the title and the rank is slightly better and it’s still on the same three lists—all without racking up any reviews. I don’t expect this bounce to last long without the reviews.

So I guess we can say that the ad did its intended job, which was to drive sales and pre-orders for Stuff. I intend to check the sales figures of all the books that have appeared in this ad this week and report back if/when I learn anything interesting.

Some other news:

I’m looking into some other blog options because it’s becoming apparent that people actually do stop by to read this and I’d like the chance to interact with you in a manner better than this iWeb blog will allow. More on that as soon as I make a decision on platform.

I was surprised/delighted that The Mesmerist has picked up some reviews already from people I don’t actually know, which is gratifying. The most substantive review is here.

Both of my novels could still use some reviews, so I’m continuing my offer: If you’d like a free copy of either Jersey Heat or The Mesmerist in exchange for your honest review on Amazon and anywhere else you’d like to post, kindly contact me via my contact page and I’ll send you a file for your device. If you want to participate but don’t “do” devices, write me anyway and I’ll hook you up with a tidy PDF version. (Paperbacks coming soon; I promise.) And no, I’m not afraid that you might hate the books. I need reviews of all kinds, good and bad.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your collection of free ebooks, go here. Thanks!

The Mesmerist is live! (Sort of.)

The Mesmerist by Joseph D'Agnese

My new e-book, The Mesmerist, is live on Amazon. It’s been published to B&N and Smashwords as well, but will take a while to filter through to those stores. 

Both of my novels could use some reviews, so I’m making a limited-time offer: If you’d like a free copy of either Jersey Heat or The Mesmerist in exchange for your honest review on Amazon and Goodreads, kindly contact me via my contact page and I’ll send you a file for your device. If you want to participate but don’t “do” devices, write me anyway and I’ll hook you with a tidy PDF version. (Paperbacks coming soon; I promise.) And no, I’m not afraid that you might hate the books. I need reviews of all kinds, good and bad.

Here’s the pitch:

Are you a think—or an unthink?

On the streets of New York City in the 1970s, this is the only question that matters.

In the age of disco, the city has become home to an underground culture of gifted individuals who can kill with a glance or heal with a touch.

A vicious madman is sucking the life out of his victims—crushing their hearts, withering their bodies, and leaving their corpses old before their time.

All with the power of his mind.

Now a skeptical young cop and a federal agent obsessed with the occult must run the killer to ground before they find themselves facing the unthinkable.

An 85,000-word urban fantasy noir by the author of the eco-thriller, Jersey Heat.

This full-length novel is intended for mature audiences.

If you’re looking for more discussion on this, I can tell you that the book is set in New York, 1979, which was an interesting time in the city’s history. It’s the age of disco, the age of the city’s most famous serial killer (Son of Sam), and the time of America’s first great oil crisis. (A gallon of gasoline hit $1 for the first time that year, which had devastating knock-on affects for the American psyche.) 

New York City was in a fiscal nightmare. Trash littered the streets; graffiti was rampant. Most of the parks New Yorkers treasure today crawled with drug dealers. The city was a crime-ridden dump because the middle class was fleeing the island for the suburbs, taking their tax dollars with them. The disaster of America’s involvement in Vietnam had wrapped up in 1975, but the effects of that war were still impacting the nation’s politics. Nixon was out of office, and Americans had elected a mild-mannered peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, as their president.

And yet, at the same time, it was a time of great flowering for artists such as Warhol, Hockney, and Serra. Gehry and Pei were designing some of their greatest architecture, and the World Trade Center was nearing completion in lower Manhattan. Part of the novel touches on the art scene of the time.

And I intend to follow up this book with two others in a trilogy, featuring the book’s two occult detectives, Soul and Fisher.

As Fisher and Soul try to track their killer, they’re forced to make sense of the killer’s powers by researching books on psychic phenomenon. So there’s kind of a bizarre paper chase going on in the plot.

When I was a child my father was obsessed with psychic phenomenon, and I suppose I absorbed this stuff by osmosis. He devoured old books about men like Emile Coue, the father of autosuggestion; Edgar Cayce, a psychic who claimed to “read” books by sleeping on them; Edmund Shaftesbury, a quack and charlatan who tried to teach people the power of “personal magnetism”; and Thomson Jay Hudson, a skeptic who tried to make sense of these bullshit claims. 

In my book, of course, all this stuff is treated as if it is true. Fisher, the cop, is the skeptic; Soul, the FBI man, is a believer.

You can page through Hudson’s book here, and see some of those old-fashioned print block designs they used in books of that period, if that interests you…
Sample page 1

Sample page 2

Sample page 3

I hope this is a good introduction to the concepts of this book. I’ll be back in a few day or so to talk about the art world connections.

Oh—in the time it took me to write this post, I sold a copy on Smashwords. Yay.

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Coming Soon: The Mesmerist

The Mesmerist by Joseph D'Agnese

The Mesmerist is an urban fantasy noir novel that I’ll be releasing this month. The story is set in an alt-version of 1979 New York City, in an era when looks can kill and hands can heal. 

I’ll be posting some more details as they’re ready.

I bow, as always, to the incredible talent of book cover designer, Jeroen ten Berge.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your collection of free ebooks, go here. Thanks!

Q&A: Jeroen ten Berge

“The cover of your book looks amazing!” people tell me. And I absolutely agree. The compliments I’ve been hearing lately refer to the two books I recently published. The striking covers were designed by the talented Jeroen ten Berge, a Dutch-born designer who lives and works in New Zealand.

Portrait of Jeroen ten Berge

Lately, every time I read about a hot new indie title—whether self-published by a name author or an up-and-coming newbie—the man behind the cover art is Jeroen.

I’ve been obsessed with illustration since I was a kid. In my career, I’ve been lucky to work with children’s book illustrators and magazine illustrators, but this is the first time I’ve personally hired and teamed up with a cover artist to bring my work to life. I thought I’d take some time to ask Jeroen all the little questions I’ve been shy about asking during the few months we’ve been working together.

He graciously consented. Here’s our interview, along with links to some recent cover art by the man himself.

How do you describe the work you do? Are you a designer, an illustrator, or what? (It might help if you tell us what your training/background is.)

I consider myself a designer first. However, illustration is a skill I almost always use to assist me in creating the design I have in mind. In some cases an illustration becomes the key element of a design. Your book The Scientist & The Sociopath is an example, but the Serial-series covers I created for Blake Crouch and Joe Konrath are also illustrations, as is Suzanne Tyrpak’s Vestal Virgin cover. I also use stock photography, sometimes my own. Several of the covers I designed for Marcus Sakey feature my photos, as do several of Blake’s covers. 

I guess I was fortunate to have studied graphic and typographic design at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague in the early- to mid-1980s. There was a strong focus on teaching the principles of design and typography, taught by people such as Gerrit Noordzij, one of the greatest type designers of his generation. There was, however, equal attention paid to illustration and photography. The philosophy was very much, "Why ask someone else to make an illustration or photograph for your design if you can do it yourself?"  In retrospect I can see that graduating the year before Apple MacIntosh was introduced to the Netherlands helped as well. Knowing how lead type works, and why there are certain rules of design helps me on a daily basis. That said, I have worked on an Apple for more than 20 years now, and would consider a career change if I had to go back designing old school.

Everywhere I look these days, I see your name and your work. I unhesitatingly tell people that you are probably the best designer of indie book covers on the planet. Do you have any problem with that designation?

If that is your truth — so be it, I’m flattered. However, I’m sure there will be many people who beg to differ, who prefer someone else’s work. I would never use the designation myself, or even consider the thought. Like most people working in the arts, everything I do is accompanied with doubt. Is it good or is it crap? Will the client like the cover, or think it is shit?

What other types of design work do you do and how important is the indie book business to your overall workload?

Before entering the book design world about three or four years ago, I designed logos, corporate identities, websites, wayfinding, and packaging. I still do, but designing covers has become something I’m very passionate about. It is hard to say what the balance is today. A year ago I would have said 80/20 in favour of the other stuff. Today it is probably 40/60 in favour of book covers. Who knows what it’ll be next year?

About how many covers do you create a year? Is that part of your business growing?

I don’t know — I haven’t counted. I can tell you that about a year ago I worked with about 7 or 8 authors, today it is over 40. So yes, that part of my business is growing.

Soup to nuts, how does a cover come to be? How long does the process take, and do the steps you take vary from cover to cover?

It depends. I usually receive a manuscript, sometimes accompanied by a synopsis. I read it, take in account additional information offered by the author and I think. And think, and doodle. And sometimes research. I think until I have an idea, or several, then edit, and usually only then start to actually design. Almost always I create one cover and present that to the author. I don’t do comps and send a bunch of ideas to the author. It creates confusion. It does, however, mean that I occasionally present a design that doesn’t work for the author. Which means that I then go back and present a new and different idea, taking in account the author’s feedback. Important to me is that the author receives a cover he or she feels completely happy with, and is proud to share with his or her audience.

What kind of software or other tools do you use to make a cover come to life?

Illustrator, Photoshop, and Indesign are my software, plus the thousands of typefaces I have bought over the past decades. My hardware are a MacBook Pro, two iMacs, and my beloved MontBlanc Meisterstück (which I bought twenty years ago as retail therapy after a particularly frustrating meeting with a client) for writing notes. I also use Steadtler Ergosoft and Omnichrom 108-3 Aquarell pencils for doodling and sketching in Moleskine drawing notebooks. I’m a sucker for nice stuff.

You told me once how ideas for covers pop into your head as a quick flash of insight or inspiration. Can you tell us what that process is like?

Annoying — because it never stops. I sometimes even design in my dreams. I’m not kidding. It is bloody annoying, especially for family and friends. We can have a lively conversation, and I see or hear or smell something that triggers a synapse in my brain and off it goes. I have to leave the party to write the idea down, or make a quick sketch, otherwise I might forget it. It drove my wife bonkers, but she’s used to it now.

Do you read all the books for which you design, or is it enough to simply get a feel for the concept from the author?

I read almost all the books I design covers for, or at least enough to get a feel for the story, its tone and style. Occasionally the author supplies a summary or synopsis of the book, which allows me to skip reading the book itself. I’ve probably read over 80 novels so far this year. I’m not a fast reader, so reading is expensive. Thankfully sometimes an idea can be triggered by a paragraph in the author’s email, talking about the manuscript. Then I only read enough to confirm my idea truly fits. 

It seems like you do mostly mystery, thriller, horror book covers. Are these your favorite genres?

Not necessarily. It is the quality of the writing, combined with great storytelling that makes me tick. One of my favourite authors is Ron Rash, who writes amazing stories set in the Appalachians. I love his style, the dire realism of his work, the love he has for nature and how he describes his characters, their relationships, the choices they make and how it affects them. I’ve read all his work except for Serena, of which I read the first two chapters only. I’m saving the rest for the perfect moment, whenever that may be. For my own pleasure I designed nine covers last year, for some of his short stories. After awhile I found the courage to send them to him, hoping I could sway him to publish his work as ebooks, featuring my covers. He said he found the illustrations wonderful, and referred me to his agent. Sadly it ended there. Rash did give me permission to show the covers on my website — I haven’t done so yet.

So are we unlikely to see a cover by you for a sci-fi or fantasy ebook featuring some kind of Hobbit-like creature in the near future?

I usually say I won’t design covers for books that are about scarcely clad guys toting oversized shining swords conversing with dragons — not my cup of tea. That said, someone I already work with sent me the first snippet of a novel that is very much fantasy, and immediately the ideas started bouncing. So watch this space…

We first met when I asked you to do a cover for my nonfiction science book. You said you were intrigued because you actually have an interest in all kinds of nonfiction books as well. Can you tell us about some of your recent favorite NF reads? 

I’ve always been interested in human behaviour. What is it that makes us do what we do, and why? Do we have any control over our destiny, is there such a thing as fate? Why do people fall under the spell of others — and would I? Right now I’m trying to read The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, which is about unpredictable and improbable events, and once they have happened how we then try to explain it, rationalize it, attempting to make it appear less random, more predictable. Which Taleb explains is pointless, I think. Another one is Hitch 22, Christopher Hitchins’ autobiography. But I’m afraid both are too demanding right now. I guess I should book myself some long flights for those two books.

What also interests me greatly is how talented people utilise their artistic creativity to con people. Especially where it concerns the fine art scene. One of my favourite non-fiction books is Clifford Irving’s FAKE! The story of Elmyr De Hory, The Greatest Art-Forger of Our Time, published in 1969. Anyone remotely interested in fine art, the art of collecting fine art, and the gullibility and greed of people should read it. Also fantastic, and more recent, is Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. 

Can you name some up-and-coming self-pubbed authors whom you think have great promise?

I think Blake Crouch will become one of the greatest thriller writers of his generation, if he isn’t already. J.E. Medrick has the potential to become a household name — her Icarus Helix series totally rocks. Roy Finch’s The Emperor of Glitter Gulch is an amazing and brutal debut. Steven Konkoly’s The Jakarta Pandemic, if you like a terrific novel about society unraveling after an event; Suzanne Tyrpak’s Vestal Virgin, if you are into the genre currently dominated by Robert Harris. Ania Ahlborn’s debut Seed is a terrific horror yarn, as is Robert Swartwood’s The Dishonored Dead, but for totally different reason — best zombie book I have ever read. And Saffina DesforgesSugar & Spice will more than satisfy anyone who loves a psycho-sexual thriller. There are more – should I continue?

Are you pleased with your increasing work in book covers? Is there ever such a thing as too much work for a freelancer?

Yes, I am — very much so. With designing ebook and print-on-demand covers I have found something that combines my love for reading, collecting books, and design. I have never been very ambitious, but having found this niche — and enjoying it immensely, I now want to build a large and diverse body of work. This is only the beginning.

What the heck are you doing living in New Zealand, and can you get us all a good deal on some sauvignon blanc?

That is a very long story I may tell you in person someday, while enjoying a bottle of that great sauvignon blanc or pinot noir growing in my back yard.

Thank you, very much, Jeroen, and here's hoping we'll meet in person someday.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your collection of free ebooks, go here. Thanks!

New Novel: Jersey Heat

Jersey Heat, novel by Joseph D'Agnese

Today marks the debut of my new book, Jersey Heat, a mystery/thriller that takes place in and around a fictional town in New Jersey.

I’m really excited about this book, because, while it’s not the first novel I’ve ever written, it’s the first I’ve shared with the public. The book’s available today via Amazon and B&N for the ridiculous price of $2.99. Over the next few days, it will slowly migrate to most other venues, such as Kobo, Smashwords, etc.

There are some really neat bonuses that come with the digital version, which I’ll describe briefly. First, the book features a gorgeous cover by artist/designer Jeroen ten Berge. In a few days I’ll be running an interview with Jeroen.

The book includes a free preview of Haven House, a new horror novel by Stuart Connelly. It’s a horror story with a twist: a mix of The Lottery, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Shining all wrapped into one. I dare you to stop after reading the first horrifying chapter.

Lastly, I’m offering a freebie with this ebook. Your purchase entitles you to a free copy of The Scientist & the Sociopath, a collection of my best nonfiction science stories, from magazines such as Discover, Wired, and Seed. All you have to do is send me proof that you’ve bought Jersey Heat, and I’ll mail you a coupon good for Scientist.

Here’s the pitch for Jersey Heat:

It’s a hazy, hot, and humid summer in New Jersey, circa 1993.

No mobile phones.

No Internet.

No Caller ID.

No DVDs.

No terrorists.

And the environment isn’t cool.

Luke Mulcek calls himself a businessman. He’s actually a thug in a suit, a former Brooklyn kid, ex-boxer, and mechanic who made good. Luke’s got an in at the water company in a dinky town, where he’s concocted a $200 million land deal to build condos on the reservoir. Ramming the plan through the town’s planning board is the tricky part. Shadow Lakes isn’t Brooklyn, and even before page one Mulcek has decided to cut through the red tape the way he would have done in the old neighborhood. 

With payoffs, threats, blackmail — and murder.

A retired cop and a young slacker are all that stand between Mulcek and his violent grasp at the good life.

Mulcek’s undoing — and the key to this environmental thriller — is a creature from the skies, bred by nature to be the ultimate killing machine.

The strength of this book lies in its voices: Cops, thugs, Brits, gigolos, ghetto kids, scientists and lawyers all come to life in a world that feels part Elmore Leonard, part Carl Hiassen, and 100 percent New Jersey.

Note: Both Jersey Heat and Haven House are intended for mature readers. Both feature scenes of sexuality, violence and strong dialogue.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your collection of free ebooks, go here. Thanks!