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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Badwater


Author: Toni Dwiggins
Genre: Thriller
How long it's been on sale: June 4, 2011
Current price: $2.99
Total sold so far: 38
Link to book on Amazon: BADWATER (The Forensic Geology Series)

Product Description:

"Fans of
Nevada Barr will love this book..."
   
          What if your job is to find the thing you fear most?

     When a freight truck is hijacked, forensic geologists Cassie Oldfield and her partner Walter Shaws track the mineral trail into Death Valley. The stolen cargo they seek is hotter than the desert in August: radioactive waste.

     As scientists, Cassie and her partner Walter are familiar with background radiation in the rocks they study. But as a woman of child-bearing age and a man of advancing years, they become acutely aware of the risk of their hunt. How many exposures are too many? What's safe? More immediately, what's lethal?

     The geologists find out when the unstable radwaste thief unleashes the power of the unstable atom.

REVIEWS

"Fans of Nevada
Barr will love this suspenseful literary mystery, where the brutal
Death Valley landscape is as much a character as the renegade
radworkers, dangerously eccentric desert rats, and dogged geologists
trying to prevent a nuclear disaster."
          --Lisa Brackmann, author of the literary suspense novel ROCK PAPER
TIGER, an Amazon 2010 Top 10 Mystery & Thriller Pick

"In this superb, taut, action-packed
thriller set in the California desert, a highway hijacking turns
toxic and Cassie Oldfield, forensic geologist, is called in to help
the FBI and the EPA's Radiological Emergency Response Team track
down stolen casks of nuclear waste. Sophisticated soil analysis is
not normally a deadly occupation, yet before it's all over, Cassie
comes face to face with a sociopathic killer and with her own
mortality. Notice to criminals: Watch out for Cassie! She knows
where you've been. Fans of Nevada Barr are going to love this book
just as much as I did."
          --Marcia Talley, Agatha
and Anthony award-winning author of A QUIET DEATH and nine previous
Hannah Ives mysteries

"BADWATER is
superb. It has a great plot with many twists and surprises, featuring
real-life characters. The author did a very fine job of
characterizing the disconnect between all the measures intended to
assure safety and the reality of things sometimes being unsafe. Truly
well-written and engaging. A joy to read."
          --David
Lochbaum, head of the Nuclear Safety Project, Union of Concerned
Scientists

First 300 Words:

There was something odd about the figure coming down the dark road and I was not going to be happy until I could put my eyes on the details.

Walter, stowing the donut bag in his field pack, hadn’t yet noticed.

Uphill of the figure, spotlights cracked the deep night and more could be seen. Big vehicles clogged the road. Adjacent to the road, yellow rope zoned off a chunk of desert where a tractor-trailer lay on its side. Well uphill of the crash was another roped and spotlit area, occupied by a hulking crane. What was the crane doing off on its lonesome?

I refocused on the figure. “Somebody’s coming. A man, I think. But odd.”

Walter looked, straining to see. “You have young eyes.”

“It’s more a question of what jumps out at you.”

“Cassie, what jumps out at me in the dead of night belongs in the realm of bad poetry.”

I smiled. He would know.

“However,” he said, still peering, “that is an odd gait.”

That it was, perhaps due to the muddied condition of the road. I glanced at the sky, where a cloud roof glowed beneath a hidden moon. Summer thunderstorm—local, wherever precisely local was. It had been clear twenty minutes ago in Mammoth, our home base in the Sierra mountains. We run a two-person lab and what we do for a living is read earth evidence at the crime scene. We’d headed for this scene truly in the dark. The FBI sent a helicopter but provided few details. We’d flown east from the Sierra, crossing California into Nevada, then bellied down to the dark desert.

And here we waited, speculating. All too often, the geological evidence gets overlooked. This time, though, the FBI considered it urgent enough to bring us by chopper, and that impressed me deeply.


Vicki's Comments: I love the cover for this book. I think it depicts the book and genre well. I don't think I'd change a thing with it.

The description could use a little trimming. I would start with "When a freight truck..." and cut the stuff above. I'd also leave off the reviews, but that could just be me. I don't put a lot of stock in reviews put up by the author. If it was just one blurb from a famous author, maybe, but short and sweet is how I prefer that kind of thing. Other than a little trimming, I think the blurb is good. It's strong to me, and sells the book, in my opinion.

I also think the first 300 words are very strong. It draws me into the story, and I want to read more.

Honestly, this book has not been available for long, less than two months. The number sold is good for a book that just came out. Why is this book not selling? It's too new. Give it time and let the sales grow naturally as the book gets reviews from book bloggers and such. That's my best assessment. I think this book is very strong and will see powerful sales, especially with a second book out. Keep writing.

What do you guys think?

27 comments:

  1. Everything seems strong except the blurb. That could be much better at conveying the actual hook of this story right off the bat.

    Even the best-selling indie authors needed 6 months or more for their books to really take off. This book is too new just yet.

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  2. I agree that this book is off to a decent start (compared to mine, almost anything qualifies as a decent start, but really 38 copies in your first month is nothing to sneeze at). I agree that the cover and first 300 words are good.

    I'm ambivalent about the reviews -- I understand wanting to share them, especially since you've identified the sources as not just off-the-street Joes/Janes. On the other hand, that's a lot of content to include, and people are typically disinclined to read a lot of compact content on a Web page. If kept, I might put the David Lochbaum review first (given the nature of the book, "head of the Nuclear Safety Project, Union of Concerned Scientists" seems the most influential compared to other authors).

    Also, the layout of the description looks odd on the Amazon page. It has a cut-and-pasted appearance to my eye, including odd line breaks. Cleaning that up would help improve the professionalism of the presentation of your work.

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  3. e-books might spring up like mushrooms but sales grow like trees.

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  4. Hey, Toni! We're twins! I have around 40 sales in 6 weeks and four 5-star reviews as well! I am expecting a long, slow climb as the OP's suggested.

    I do have one suggestion, though: I find the title to be almost illegible in thumbnail. The rest of the cover is quite arresting. (I love it!) But I have to admit, I thought it said "Rad" water instead of "Bad" water. I figured it was some type of radioactive water I hadn't yet heard of. Anyway, you might rethink the contrast between the title letters and the background to make the title pop more.

    Cheers and best wishes!
    Cidney

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  5. Cool cover, Toni. And I like your sample text. I'm not the best judge of blurbs (can't even write my own, LOL) so I'll let those more adept than I guide you in that area.

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  6. You're sales are actually quite good for the first month and you've garnered some good reviews. If you want to include them with your product description, pick the best one and pare it down to a sound-byte. You can put an editorial review through author central. Keep it short and sharp.

    The only other change I would make in the blurb is to take out the following.

    But as a woman of child-bearing age and a man of advancing years, they become acutely aware of the risk of their hunt.

    That line threw off the whole thing for me.

    Excellent cover and strong opening.

    Get rid of all those reviews in your blurb (makes you look like you're trying to hard). Do some marketing and give it some time. You've made a good start.

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  7. I just saw that my book is up to bat, so to speak. Very exciting, and thanks to everyone for posting your comments.

    Vicki, I really appreciate what you're doing with this blog. And hearing that you would want to read on after the first 300 makes me happy. Drawing in a reader is what it's all about. Regarding the blurb, from what you and others say I think I'll be ditching the opening bits, and tightening the rest. Must say I'm conflicted about the reviews. I'll give that some thought.

    Cathy, thanks! Do you think the blurb needs to be heavily redone, or just a nip and tuck? And yes, I do realize it takes time to build sales. I'm fairly happy with the June sales but July has been slooooow. I did put the book up in the Smashwords summer sale for free, so perhaps that's partly to blame. Or sunspots. But agree that patience is a virtue.

    Stuart, thanks! If I dump the opening bits of the blurb, that should improve the layout. I don't know why the reviews have those broken lines. When I redo the blurb I'll be sure to fix that. And yeah, I hear you about the reviews taking up so much space.

    Kat, very well put.

    Cidney, synchronicity! Hopefully we'll do that long slow climb in synch. The cover was done by a designer, so I'd have to pay to get it redone. But thanks for the heads-up about the confusion between B and R. (although the water does end up being "radwater")

    Tommie, thanks! So glad you like the sample. And I'll pass along yours and others comments on the cover to my designer.

    Again, I really appreciate the feedback.

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  8. Margaret, thanks! Good advice about trimming the reviews. The consensus seems to be none, or very little.

    The woman/man thing in the blurb was my attempt to get in a bit about who they are, aside from forensic geologists. But if it threw you off, it needs another look.

    So glad you liked the cover and opening!

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  9. Hi ToniD -- great cover! Since you're here for ideas, I have to suggestions. 1) The opening couple of sentences seems a little passive to me. I wonder how it would work to have the opening be a vivid description of the approaching person? 2) For more fine-tuning, you could eliminate some word echoes, like odd, uphill, unstable (in blurb) -- unless these are intended to have an effect I'm missing.

    Good luck!

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  10. I'll just chime in to say this threw me as well:

    But as a woman of child-bearing age and a man of advancing years, they become acutely aware of the risk of their hunt.

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  11. I haven't even sold close to 38 copies total yet, and my book's been out there for 6-7 weeks.

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  12. I agree with much of what was said. I don't think that the first line of the blurb should be removed, necessarily, but you might make it more punchy like: What if your job was to track down the very thing you feared the most?

    I understood what you were doing with the 'child-bearing age' and 'advancing years' lines, but they pulled me out of the blurb as well.

    Finally, I don't think there's anything wrong with posting and being proud of your reviews, but you might find sound bytes (like you did with the first one) for all three of them rather than posting the entire things.

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  13. The blurb reads more like a pseudo synopsys than a blurb. I can't tell if the primary thrust of the book is the chase to get the hijacker or if it's trying to survive after they're apparently exposed to the radiation. The tracking of the stuff seems secondary to me, so I'd think about minimizing that and maximizing the exposure. Something like (paraphrasing) "A pair of forensic geologists are exposed to radioactive waste when they track a hijacked shipment into Death Valley. Every tick of the geiger counter means they come closer to radiation poisoning. They must find the materials and secure them from those who stole them."

    The resumes of the forensic geologists are irrelevant. The reader will assume that, since they're some sort of scientists, and they are tracking the shipment, then they are aware of the dangers. Also, the readers are probably aware of the dangers at this point as well, so I wouldn't bother listing those.

    I'm not a big fan of putting author reviews in a blurb, but that last one is kind of cool since it's from someone who's at least peripherally in the field. I'd think about highlighting that one by removing the other two.

    As for the cover, the title gets lost in the orange at the top. I think a brighter color would not only set it off better, but could actually convey the sense that the "Badwater" is kind of glowing. Even if it was white lettering.

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  14. Part 2:

    As for the prose:

    There was something odd about the figure coming down the dark road and I was not going to be happy until I could put my eyes on the details.

    The "I was not going to be happy..." part seems awkward. Making out the details probably doesn't guarantee the person will be "happy." Also, the person actually is putting eyes on the details because he/she is watching the approaching figure, but he/she just can't make them out yet. That makes the sentence feel like it's sending mixed signals. Is he/she watching the approaching figure or not?


    Walter, stowing the donut bag in his field pack, hadn’t yet noticed.

    Technically, this is a POV slip. The character in the first paragraph wouldn't know for sure whether Walter had seen it or not. It's not a big deal because the POV character can make assumptions, but when it comes this early in the narrative, it makes it difficult to tell whose OV we're in. I'd think about going more with a description of what Walter's doing with the donuts, a description that includes a netion that he's not watching the figure so the reader can make the assumption he hasn't noticed yet, rather than spelling it out in a kind of omniscient start. I think you'd get the reader in the POV character's head quicker that way.

    Uphill of the figure, spotlights cracked the deep night and more could be seen. Big vehicles clogged the road. Adjacent to the road, yellow rope zoned off a chunk of desert where a tractor-trailer lay on its side. Well uphill of the crash was another roped and spotlit area, occupied by a hulking crane. What was the crane doing off on its lonesome?

    That first sentence is a bit confusing. "Uphill of the figure" needs more setting description to be effective. Since you go out of your way to say "uphill" you're creating a visual, but you don't anchor it by telling the reader whether the hill is behind the figure, to the right or left. It's just two more words. I'd think about including it.

    Also, "spotlights cracked the deep night and more could be seen" feels odd. The verb "cracked" doesn't exactly define whether the spotlights were on to begin with or if they came on just at that moment. The first paragraph would lead the reader to believe that there was at least enough light for the figure to be seen, so it couldn't have been "deep night" which conveys the sense that it's pitch black. So, if the spotlights were already on, then the "cracked" doesn't seem to fit because the act of cracking is something sudden, it wasn't there before, and then it suddenly cracked. I don't think there's anything wrong with a simpler description like "there were spotlight beams everywhere." Also, "and more could be seen" is too ambiguous. More what? More spotlings? Did they just come on? Or more things? If it's more things, then you should give the reader some idea of what those things are.

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  15. Part 3:

    I refocused on the figure. “Somebody’s coming. A man, I think. But odd.”

    Here, you don't need to tell the reader that the POV character refocused on the figure. The very act of talking about the figure will do that automatically in the reader's mind. Something like "Someone's coming," I said. "Is that a man? Odd." would do the same thing, and would save you the "refocused" which should be saved for times when a character is actually focussing hard on some chore or thought process, steps away, and then focussed hard on it again.

    Walter looked, straining to see. “You have young eyes.”

    Here, "looked" and "straining to see" are redundant. When you tell the reader that he strained to see, that inherently conveys with it that he "looked."

    “It’s more a question of what jumps out at you.”

    “Cassie, what jumps out at me in the dead of night belongs in the realm of bad poetry.”

    This one feels odd as well. I know it's the dead of night, but there are spotlights all over the place. I'd think about tying it more to the time of night, rather than the sense of darkness, because that darkness has been shattered by the spotlights (by the way, do you really mean to say spotlights, or is it floodlights? Spotlights are what's used on stages, floodlights are what the FBI brings to light up buildings) Anyway, maybe something like "What jumps out at me at one in the morning belongs in the realm of bad poetry"


    I smiled. He would know.

    “However,” he said, still peering, “that is an odd gait.”


    No need to tell the reader he's still peering. The reader will assume that until you tell him otherwise. And the dialogue conveys that sufficiently because he describes the gait as "odd" so he is clearly still looking at it.

    That it was, perhaps due to the muddied condition of the road. I glanced at the sky, where a cloud roof glowed beneath a hidden moon. Summer thunderstorm—local, wherever precisely local was. It had been clear twenty minutes ago in Mammoth, our home base in the Sierra mountains. We run a two-person lab and what we do for a living is read earth evidence at the crime scene. We’d headed for this scene truly in the dark. The FBI sent a helicopter but provided few details. We’d flown east from the Sierra, crossing California into Nevada, then bellied down to the dark desert.

    Now instead of the dead of night which conveys the sense that it is a dark night, we have visible clouds and a moon. I'd pick one or the other. Also, this is a bad place for backstory IMO. The approaching figure is way more interesting that who they are and where they came from right now. It feels like a big intrusion. I would think about putting off the revelations about their identities until after the encounter with the strange figure, or reveal some of that stuff in the course of dialogue with the figure if you can, or put it up front after the first mention of the figure so that now the reader can concentrate on the approaching figure along with the characters.

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  16. Part 4:

    And here we waited, speculating. All too often, the geological evidence gets overlooked. This time, though, the FBI considered it urgent enough to bring us by chopper, and that impressed me deeply.

    This actually feels like you could tuck it in with the paragraph where Walter's messing with his donuts. I'd think about dropping the first sentence, since it seems fairly clear that they are speculating from the narrative and dialogue. Also, now that I read it a second time, it feels a bit repetetive because of the previous paragraph. I'd try condensing this with the previous paragraph, move the line about the clouds and moon to any setting you might want to add to clarify exactly where the hill is, so the reader gets it in this order:
    1. Mysterious figure
    2. Setting, hill clouds
    3. Brief backstory
    4. Characters watch the approaching figure.

    Anyway, the premise sounds very intriguing. And it looks like your sales aren't anything to cry over. Good luck with this.

    Take care.

    Fred

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  17. Just to echo what other folks have said, at 38 copies in six weeks, this book IS selling. I think it took me four months to total 38 copies. Write another book.

    In a blurb-tweaking mindset, the bit about "how many exposures is too many" sounds a little Greenpeace-y and tree-huggery to me. Pump up the suspense, play down the "radiation is evil" concept. But that's just how it comes off to me.

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  18. Jody, thanks. Hadn't even noticed the word echoes, so appreciate your sharp-eyed read. Regarding the opening sentences, agree that describing the approaching figure would be more vivid. However, the reason he looks odd in the dark is because he's wearing a hazmat suit; I was withholding that until later in the scene in order to generate a little suspense. At least, I though I was generating suspense...anything passive undermines that. I'll give it some thought.

    Cidney, yup I'm dumping the woman/man thing. Instead, how about a young woman and her father-figure mentor?

    Craig, hang in there. My 38 copies were given a boost by family/friends in June. In July, not so much. But I'm learning that it can take months to build steady sales.

    S.Arthur, thanks. I like your tweak of the first line of the blurb. (and see above, child-bearing is going) Good idea about just using a phrase from each review.

    This does bring up a question about the reviews. Many of you have said dump them or cut them way back. What about moving them to the "editorial reviews" section of the page?

    Fred, thanks for the in-depth analysis. Very interesting point about the thrust of the blurb. I'll def take a hard look at that. And I am grateful for the thoughtful and specific critique of the opener. I'll def take a really hard look at that, as well. Also, can't believe I messed up spotlight vs. floodlight. Good catch. The opener is so important and I want to get everything as good as it can be.

    John, thanks. As I mentioned above, if I were on track to sell 38 in July, I'd be content, but July sales have been very slow. Regarding your blurb comment, um, point taken. I do lean more to the tree-hugging side of the spectrum, but I do NOT want to come off as preachy.

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  19. Looks ready for a strait to TV movie.

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  20. I actually own Badwater, although I haven't yet read beyond the first few pages. I thought the opening was smooth and professional, which is why I upgraded my sample a couple of weeks ago. It gives the right balance of character, setting, and problem for an opening. I'm very stingy about my praise about openings and this one earned it. I also think the cover is great. I write in this same genre, and I'd be pleased to have that cover representing one of my own books.

    I also disagree with the POV lapse comment. Cassie can tell that he doesn't notice because he hasn't looked up yet, otherwise Walter would be studying the odd figure instead of completing the mundane task of stowing his donut. You could say, "I noticed..." but that would be an unnecessary filter. This is what I would call a hot POV, which is perfect for a thriller.

    The problems I see have nothing to do with the quality of the product, just the sales approach, which is easily fixed. "Forensic Geology Series" sounds clinical and scientific. Boring. It needs something more...well, thrilling. Something like "The Hot Zone Mysteries." Don't make it sound like a class you take to get your general science credits out of the way.

    Second, you need to nail that hook. You need another iteration or two before this is half as compelling as the opening pages of the actual book. Remember what worked in your opening, and try to duplicate it. Mystery, danger, character, scope. Once you've got it, I'd start with that, then move into your endorsing quotes. Finally, the formatting of your product description looks wacky on my computer.

    Again, there's nothing wrong with the book itself. I'd be surprised if it doesn't eventually sell thousands of copies.

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  21. I don't mind a few sentences of review, in fact I've done it myself on my novel that sells the best of mine. But when they go on and on, I don't think it's effective. A one sentence snippet from a really good review sourced and then get a hook in.

    I like the cover a lot and I wouldn't be at all turned off by the title. I don't think many of your target market would be. But that's just my opinion.

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  22. SB, I'd be happy to take the TV money.

    Michael, the fact that you think the opener works means a lot. I've redone it a zillion times or so, and I was shooting for that balance of character, setting, and introducing a problem. You just made my day.

    Re the series title: I was hoping to attract the readers who like forensic msytery/thrillers. But yeah, it isn't exciting. I certainly do want to attract readers beyond those who are science nerds--or who need those class credits Cheesy . I rather like the "Hot Zone Mysteries," but other books in the series won't be concerned with radiation. I'll try to come up with something that has the Hot Zone feel, that is inclusive of other themes (book 2 has a volcano; book 3 an undersea experiment gone wrong).

    As for the hook... I hear you. Needs more than tweaking. Back to work on that. Writing blurbs for me is harder than writing the book. But if a browser doesn't get past the blurb, that's all she wrote.

    Don't know why the product description formatting is off, but since I'm going to redo the description, I hope I can fix it.

    Thanks Michael for commenting on all aspects of this. Very very useful.

    J.R., thanks. I assume you mean Michael's comment about the series title, not the book title. What I'd like is to get something catchier that tells the reader what the series is about. And yes, I'm going to edit those reviews down.

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  23. Hi - late to the game.

    Liked everything, even though it's outside my genre habits. To me, the cover is strong and gets the story across, but there is something very generic about it. It could be anyone's cover. It's fine. Not special.

    That could be a good thing or a bad thing. Give it a couple more months.

    Best of luck!

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  24. Thanks Christine. I appreciate the good wishes.

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  25. Another late-comer. The only thing I would add to what's been said is to shorten the endorsements. You've got some heavy hitters there, and to me, there's just as much power in who they are as what they say. I really enjoyed Rock, Paper, Tiger, so a basic thumbs up from Lisa Brackman is all I need.

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  26. Everything seems pretty good.

    The cover was great and conveyed the genre well. I wouldn't change anything.

    The blurb could maybe be tightened a bit but worked.

    The opening seemed good too, certainly strong enough to keep me reading.

    I agree with VL, the book just came out. What do you expect it to be selling after six weeks? Even Amanda Hocking only sold a few books her first month too. Really, just give it time and continue promoting.

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  27. Karl, thanks. Yes, I am cutting the endorsements--it seems to be unanimous. And hey, good to meet another fan of Lisa's. She has a new book ready, although not sure of the pub date.

    Charles, thanks. I'm going to rip into the blurb and see what I can do... Regarding the sales, my main concern that was July has been so much slower than June.

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