What authors could learn from Star Wars and Tor Books

Here’s the brief take: Showmanship.

This is a tale of two books: one I saw in the Books-A-Million and the other I just picked up at the library. Both are part of series in which there are multiple authors or books, and yet how they were treated were diametrically opposed.

The library book was “The Disunited States of America” by Harry Turtledove, published in 2006 by Tor Books. My wife picked it up because of the title. She reads a lot of dystopian fiction, and I’m playing with a novel idea about the future of the United States (hint: it doesn’t end well), so Harry’s book was right in our wheelhouse (look for that phrase to become hated in about another year — I’ve been hearing it a lot lately).

Harry Turtledove cover art for The Disunited States of America

Don't get me started about the cover. You really don't want me to start talking about the cover.

“Disunited” is the fourth book in the Harry’s “Crosstime Traffic” series. He has a lot of series, which is what you can do when you spend your time writing books instead of blogposts.

How can you tell? By this line at the bottom of the cover:

Excited about the series, yet?

That’s it. Now, granted, that’s a start, but it shouldn’t have ended there. The copy on the inside flap discusses this book, but not any of the others.

What to find out what the other titles are? Here’s the “Other books by the author” page:

They have “Disunited” listed, so I guess books 1-3 are above them, right?

(“Conan of Venarium“>Conan of Venarium” is not part of the series, but maybe Harry should consider putting the Cimmerian in an alternative history United States. “Conan of Cleveland”? “Conan of Venice Beach?” I’d pay to read that. Anyway…)

This is the type of book page if you’re a literary writer who doesn’t muck about in series or genre fiction. Good thing he used “Darkness” in six of the titles, else you wouldn’t get the hint that that’s a different series as well. And are the Turteltaub books part of a series, too? Sort of. “Justinian” stands alone, but the other three are part of another series.

In other words, Tor didn’t do Harry any favors in promoting this series.

Which brings me to “Star Wars.”

As you know, there are a few novels out there that extend and deepen George Lucas’ universe. What I didn’t realize was just how many freaking books there were out there.

How did I find out? I saw it in the book.

Every "Star Wars" novel, right back to "Splinter in a Mind's Eye" organized by chronology.

Here’s a closeup of the third page, so you can tell how it was organized:

And not a single Jar-Jar nor Ewok title in sight.

Now, I don’t read Star Wars’ novels, but if I did, this would get me excited. I’d lock into a particular time period and go down the list. Heck, I’d probably Xerox the list and keep it at hand, like I do for Stephen King and Agatha Christie (I don’t have to do that for Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett, because, well, I have all of theirs).

And that, my friends, is what showmanship is about. A little more information, prettily designed, help give the author a presence in the reader’s mind, a little “whoa, I never expected that,” to encourage the reader to check out the rest of the books in the series.

Now, I don’t mean to rag on Tor Books. They were just doing what every other publisher is doing. LucasBooks is an imprint of Del Rey Books, a division of Ballantine, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this idea didn’t come from someone on the Lucas side of the fence.

But publishers can’t afford to be hidebound, not when authors have alternatives, such as publishing their books themselves. Now that authors can afford to reject publishers’ advances, publishers have responded by promoting their marketing skills. Now they’ll have to prove it, and from the look of things, their record of promoting John Locke and Amanda Hocking have been mixed.