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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Birth of a Unicorn and Other Stories


Author(s): Sandra Bell Kirchman, Stephanie Ciofalo, Steven Watts, Brian Tuomi, Suzette Lydick, Eric Esteb, Merrianna Mutton, and Joshua Kurtz
Genre: Fantasy/Anthology
How long it's been on sale: In print since August 2010 but only on Kindle since the end of May 2011
Current price: $.99
Total sold so far: 6 on Kindle. Well, 7 if you count the one that got returned...
Link to book on Amazon


Product Description:

 Sandra Bell Kirchman’s “Birth of a Unicorn” – A youth and his horse make a desperate dash across unfriendly territory to save a village. Along the way, he finds death, life, and a miracle.

 Stephanie Ciofalo’s “Pearls and Bone” – When a creature from legend washes up out of the sea, a deaf woman's kindness and a guardsman's conscience are all that stand between their town's hatred and an entire race's damnation.

 Eric Esteb’s “Old Stories for New” – There's magic in stories, as a young woman discovers on her journey to recover her identity...and her shoes.

 Steven Watt’s “Beloved Enemy” – Surrounded by death it's easy to forget there is more to life. When the unexpected happens and two people find love instead, can they survive or will they wind up losing their heads as well as their hearts?

 Brian Tuomi’s “The Iron Falchion” – Elaina's beloved husband is missing, and nobody will help her. She must find him herself, even if it means going to frightening places and accepting assistance from a distinctly unusual source.

 Merrianna Mutton’s “A Wish in Time” – A writer's wish lands her in a story she hasn't written yet. Amazed, she finds herself face to face with her beloved characters—and some deadly problems she's not sure they can solve.

 Suzette Marie Lydick’s “Magic Is Not Always the Answer” – When teacher knows best, what can you really expect to happen?

 Joshua Kurtz’s “Tier” – A young thief makes headline news, just not exactly in the way he expected.


First 300 Words:

Patryll shifted on the stone bench, waiting for his name to be called. His first visit to Shemara and already he had done something to annoy the authorities. He hadn't thought he'd done anything other than gawk like a grezin at the tall buildings and broad boulevards of the huge city…but who knew the minds of Eslin elves? He wondered if he had time to just run out and make sure Kiria was okay. He probably hadn't better risk it; he didn't want them any more irritated with him than they already were.


“Patryll Caelthar, stand forth!” the guard called.


Patryll got to his feet, adjusting his short rider's cloak around his shoulder, and looked up enquiringly at the tall Eslin elf.


“Follow me,” the guard said gruffly. Patryll fell in step behind his well-armed escort and marched down a huge hallway of white marble and delicately veined stone. He couldn't help pausing in amazement at real windows along the exterior wall…with real glass...facing the sea. Most buildings in Shemara looked out onto the sea. To tell the truth, all that seascape made Patryll a bit queasy, but it sure was pretty to look at for short periods of time.


“Come along, youngster,” the guard said, looking back at Patryll and hiding a smile.


“Sorry,” Patryll said, almost skipping in his haste to catch up.

“So…uh…what's this all about?” he asked, addressing the guard's back. “I didn't think I broke any of the rules, but since I don't know them all, there is a good chance that I did break one of them…but I didn't mean to…I just came to the city to find my mother a present for the Festival of the Unicorn days in our village.



Vicki's Comments: The first thing I thought when I clicked on your link was, "Ooh, beautiful cover!" I think the artwork is gorgeous. The typography might need a tweak. The only other thing that comes to mind on the cover is that unicorns scream 'ten year old girls' to me. From reading your description, I didn't get the feeling that these are stories geared toward little kids. Maybe by tweaking the typography you can make the book look more like it's for adults. (This is also just my impressions as I'm waking up, so I could be totally off base here.)

Blurb: The blurb that is on the page isn't bad, it's basically one sentence descriptions of each story. Although none of the descriptions pull me in, maybe because they're too short. I might focus on the strongest story and give a longer description of that and cut the other ones. Then you can say, "and you get all these other stories too." Personally, if there was one story that was stronger, and I got very interested in the plot, I would buy the whole anthology just for one story. But be flexible too, if you change the blurb and after a month your sales aren't any better, try tweaking it again.

Sample: I know this is just a sample of one story in the book, but it's a nice sample. And that's what they'll get if they download a sample. My only suggestion here would be to make sure the first story in the book is the strongest one so it makes people want to buy the whole thing. I thought the writing was tight in this sample, no nit picks from me there.

Length: I have no idea how long each story is, or how long the entire book is. I suggest giving the reader an indication of what they're going to get. I like word count but some readers don't know what that means, so I would put page count in there too.

Time: I think you need to give this a little more time. It hasn't been for sale very long. Anthologies aren't the best selling items on the block. This book might just need a bit more time to pick up speed.

Okay, everyone else want to take a stab at this? Why do you think this isn't selling?

19 comments:

  1. You could list each author after a 2-3 line blurb and include word count. Names to start a blurb throw me as I think at first glance they're the characters and I need to remember them, making this a bit overwhelming to start, which is a pity as I may not have gone further to read the excerpt and your voice, writing style pulled me right in. You could also consider a cover for each story, but added preceding the story, and a main cover stating this is an 8 author anthology with something to show the genre.
    That's off the top of my head. Good luck with this!

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  2. I would change the title to reflect whatever theme or thread that these stories have in common, rather than just use one of the story titles, so you have some idea of what you're getting.

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  3. I agree with Genevieve..I would tweak the title a bit :)

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  4. First I think this is an AWESOME idea. I know I heard it mentioned before, but kudos to Victorine for getting it up here.

    OK, for it's worth:
    LOVE the cover and I remember it from tagging on the Kindle Boards!

    I would rather pull out my fingernails than do a book blurb! >< But this is the best advice I've seen on how to make them good -
    http://alchemyofscrawl.blogspot.com/2011/05/almost-diy-guide-to-ebook-publishing_20.html

    I agree, you need to be up front about how long each story is. People are getting savvy and want bang for their buck.

    I also agree Anthologies aren't the biggest sellers.

    I can't comment on the writing because I'm not a huge fan of fantasy/sci-fi.

    OK, here is some more info. on marketing -
    http://alchemyofscrawl.blogspot.com/2011/05/almost-diy-guide-to-ebook-publishing_25.html

    http://alchemyofscrawl.blogspot.com/2011/05/almost-diy-guide-to-ebook-publishing_31.html

    You've probably already read about these ideas since you're on KIndle Boards, but just in case - http://alchemyofscrawl.blogspot.com/2011/07/mawr-promotional-ideas.html

    I'm posting another segment from Kindle Boards tomorrow AND I am learning how to find out what categories are best for a book on Amazon. That will be after the holiday.

    I'm not updating the DIY Guide on the blog, only on Amazon. If anyone wants a free copy, of it, send me an email.

    Victorine I'd love to send you one too and get your thoughts!

    Following and keeping up with this - great service Victorine!

    Best of luck Birth of a Unicorn!

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  5. The cover is beautiful. Unicorns always draw me in. The blurb at the bottom of the cover is unreadable in a thumbnail and that needs to be addressed.

    My first thoughts, already posted by others above, were to put the author name at the end of the blurb and also include the page length for each story as well as a page length for the entire book. This shouldn't be important in a 99 cent book, but every little bit helps.

    Let me also echo that first, anthologies don't sell all that well, and second, your kindle edition has only been out for a little more than a month.

    I also have an anthology but three of the stories in the anthology are novelette length. I had them for sale individually months before I published the anthology. The anthology is $1.99 and the novelettes are 99 cents. Any one of the novelettes outsell the anthology every month. I don't know what that means, but that's what happens even though I reference the anthology in the product description for each of the novelettes.

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  6. I think you've had some solid feedback and I don't really have any other suggestions, but I figured I'd post a quick comment to say that I'm passing along a link to the book to my daughter, as I'm pretty sure she'll be interested (and she has free time for reading these days). Best of luck with ongoing sales!

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  7. Really love the cover image on this!

    Along the lines of what Genevieve said, I do think this anthology needs to have a theme that should be mentioned on the cover and in the product description. Something like: 8 FANTASTICAL STORIES OF INTRIGUE. It could go just below the title where it now says AND OTHER STORIES. Making the type larger and easier to read would help, too.

    Really liked the excerpt, btw.

    As most people said, give this anthology some time to build :)

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  8. Love the cover! And I'm at a loss to suggest any changes. Except, as one suggested, perhaps put each story's word count after the log line for that story.

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  9. I didn't even notice the "and other stories" element of the cover, in the thumbnail it looks like it could the be author name, and the actual author names down the bottom are like, a review quote or something.

    With the unicorn so prominent in both image and title, I'd find myself a little disappointed that it wasn't, say, an anthology of about unicorns - I think the title should be changed to reflect it's a more general fantasy anthology, as the cover art really is too beautiful to change.

    I also think the product description should...I dunno, it's missing something. Maybe an overview before the story listing, but as it stands, the eye almost skims over it on the Amazon page.

    That all being said, I just bought a copy, so you've got +1 sale. :)

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  10. My initial reaction is to the title and cover image, and this reflects my maturity level, but I immediately began wondering about the statistical likelihood of unicorn mares being impaled by their own foals either in utero or during birth. That horn on the cover looks awfully sharp. But it is a beautiful cover, and I'm not suggesting you change it unless the artist can make the type larger.

    My only real concern is for the target readers' expectations of story length. I don't read fantasy, so I just have some questions: Do fantasy readers read short stories? Or are they more likely to read very long novels? Has a similar anthology sold well? What was different about it?

    Maybe you could market the book as a way to introduce readers to a group of authors in their favorite genre.

    Good luck!

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  11. I went to Amazon and looked at the larger image of the cover. Yes, the problem is the size and placement of the type. I don't think that's stopping sales, per se, but something more readable might invite more people to look further.

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  12. OMG, thanks so much, all of you!

    I've spoken with the editor and she and I, at least, are going to create longer blurbs for our respective stories and experiment with those. Eventually, the other authors should get my messages ;) The "word/page count" idea seems to be an overwhelming consensus here...I'll fix that, soon, too.

    Lamentably, we can't do much about the cover right now as the artist has been MIA for the last month or two.

    You don't see too many fantasy anthologies out there, so I'm at a loss as to how it compares. But yes, fantasy fans DO tend toward more "epic" offerings.

    And I'm seriously cringing at the thought of a unicorn in the womb, lol, thanks!

    ~Stephanie

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  13. It's been on Kindle for a month. That's not enough time, really, to make any judgments.

    There isn't anything that jumps out at me as being "wrong." The cover is nice. The product description is ok. All I can tell you is that personally I'm not interested in stories that feature unicorns.

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  14. This is... a difficult sell.

    I don't mean this in an unkind way. Really, I don't know much about selling books (although I'm very good at not selling them, at least so far...)

    But anthologies are always incredibly difficult. I don't think the content is really the problem - it's the format itself that makes it difficult. I've lost count of the number of anthology films, comics and books that have failed because anthologies are just so difficult to sell.

    Part of it is that any anthology usually has some bits that aren't as good as the other bits. And you can't control this, because no matter how careful you were about making sure everything was good - as soon as someone else comes along with a different point of view, it usually turns out that there was a bit of the anthology they didn't like because they like different things to you, and to everyone else. I've found that inevitable in every anthology I've ever seen (and participated in). It's just incredibly frustrating!

    Which begs the question: when can an anthology work?

    Some ideas:

    -A strong, popular central story so that people will buy that and not worry too much about the quality of everything else. For example, the SF anthology comic 2000AD has survived since 1977 (and far beyond the once SFish date of 2000AD) because it has Judge Dredd in every issue, a firm fan favourite.
    -A well known author whose work will draw readers all by itself. Ray Bradbury wrote some duff stories, sure, but stick them in an anthology with his good stuff and it'll sell regardless.
    -A well known theme of some kind that will draw readers in - for example the Nebula Awards anthologies that come out every year, with the only theme being that the stories are the awards winners. These, presumably, sell enough that they keep doing it.
    -Whatever strong theme is hot at the moment. Which makes it doubly difficult, as what on earth can you be sure is hot at the moment? Sparkly vampires are big this month, sure, but what about in six months' time? However, this is where indie ebook authors have a theoretical advantage, because they can operate with much less lead time than a trad publisher. Are zombie dinosaurs big right now? Then find out who's writing about the undead allosauruses and get those stories together, and you might just get there before anyone else...

    At the moment, you're selling this with something that looks very much like a Unicorn theme. Or maybe a fantasy one, but that's really very vague. Unlike most authors, you can't rely on the blurb of the individual story being fascinating - you need the blurb of the theme of the anthology to be fascinating. Or currently hot. Or associated with a hot author. Or have a lead story that's incredibly marketable all by itself in such a way that the details of the other stories don't matter. Or marketable in some other way that I can't even think of.

    I really don't want to be negative - but you've picked one of the hardest things to sell that I can think of. I've tried to do anthology comics and films, and failed each time. Anthology books frighten me even more.

    I don't think you should stop - I just think you should consider the collection as a whole. Why these stories? Why should people buy this work as a whole? Why unicorns? Is that the central theme? Is there a central theme? If it's just that they're all fantasy stories, then that should be clearer. Or if there was some reason why you picked these particular stories, that should be clearer as well. An interesting way of picking the stories might become a selling point all by itself.

    Argh, I feel like I'm being horribly negative when I wish I could provide something more positive. The individual stories are good! I just don't know why they're in this collection, or why people should buy this collection in and of itself...

    Okay. I'll be in the corner, weeping quietly to myself and trying to think of something more positive... :-)

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  15. No, no, Paul, I do understand what you're saying. I've purchased a few anthologies (mostly horror, go fig) myself. There are always one or two of the writers that I flip through disinterestedly...and there's always the one author who was the draw for me. You're making sense.

    However, I guess it just is what it is. Our whole stake is not in the one anthology. In fact, I've only finished three short stories in my life ever, two of which are in this book. I'm more comfortable doing novels. One's getting sent off to various slush piles right now. Ms. Kirchman has a novel or two of her own. As do one or two of the others.

    I guess what I'm saying is, I'm a realist. You're not breaking my heart, because it's not the only thing we're tied up in. (Plus I don't mind a challenge).

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  16. The cover image is incredible. But with the title, it leads it to seem a unicorn anthology, and that's very limited. A title change, or an increase in "and other stories" would really help clear up what it is, I think. And I'd also change the way the blurb is written; right now it's a collection of separate blurbs. I'd make it one listing with briefer suggestions of what the stories are about, or listing only a few of them beyond title and author. The sample is good, but in this case, it's unfortunate that's it just one story that you can put a sample up from, but that's the way it has to be.

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  17. I'm not a big fan of anthologies either, so maybe I'm not the best person to discuss this one. But I'm finding some things in the writing that have nothing to do with that, which are distracting:

    Patryll shifted on the stone bench, waiting for his name to be called. His first visit to Shemara and already he had done something to annoy the authorities. He hadn't thought he'd done anything other than gawk like a grezin at the tall buildings and broad boulevards of the huge city…but who knew the minds of Eslin elves? He wondered if he had time to just run out and make sure Kiria was okay. He probably hadn't better risk it; he didn't want them any more irritated with him than they already were.

    Here in the first paragraph, you introduce Patryll, Shemara, grezins, Eslin Elves, and Kiria. That's five people or places named with almost no information provided about any of them. Yeah, Shemara's a city and Eslin Elves are elves, so we get the pointy ears visual, but other than that, it's just names the reader will have forgotten by the second paragraph, and at this point, the reader isn't sure if Patryll is an elf, a man, or a unicorn.




    “Patryll Caelthar, stand forth!” the guard called.

    "called" feels awkward here. To call is used to call "someone", and since he has already identified the person he is calling by name, then saying he "called" has a redundant feel, and I'm not even sure it's interchangeable with "said" verbs like "yelled" or "hollered" which would feel more natural to my ear here. (minor point, I concede, but every word counts)

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  18. Part 2


    Patryll got to his feet, adjusting his short rider's cloak around his shoulder, and looked up enquiringly at the tall Eslin elf.


    In this part you've started mixing and matching. Some readers will assume the guard you identified in the previous paragraph and the tall Eslin elf are one and the same, and others will wonder if there's an Eslin elf protected by the guard. I'd think about identifying the guard as an Eslin elf before you started switching how you reference him.


    “Follow me,” the guard said gruffly. Patryll fell in step behind his well-armed escort and marched down a huge hallway of white marble and delicately veined stone. He couldn't help pausing in amazement at real windows along the exterior wall…with real glass...facing the sea. Most buildings in Shemara looked out onto the sea. To tell the truth, all that seascape made Patryll a bit queasy, but it sure was pretty to look at for short periods of time.


    Not sure you really need "gruffly", guards tend to speak in a gruff manner, and particularly those that holler the names of those they are escorting. Also, "huge hallway" is quite ambiguous and gives off mixed signals. Hallways, are generally long or wide or both, but when you say "huge hallway" I get more of a sense of a "hall" like a formal hall. Hallway narrows it down and feels like it contradicts with "huge." Also, you go out of your way to identify the marble as white, but then you leave the "delicately veined stone" without color, laeving the reader with a sense of white and SOMETHING that probably isn't white, but may be.

    Also, the "He couldn't help pausing in amazement" pulls the reader out of the POV character's head. You already had the reader in there by pointing out the stone then pull him out with "paused in amazement". I'd think about something like "He paused. There were amazing windows, real windows that faced the sea." And even that seems insufficient because you don't really identify what's so amazing and why. Is it the windows? Is it the sea? Is it the fact that the windows are real? If it's the fact that the windows are real, then I'd take out "amazing" all together and go with "There were windows, real windows that faced the sea" and let that repetition of "real windows" convey the sense of his amazement, otherwise, you leave the reader wondering exactly what's so amazing.

    The sentence that indicates that most of their buildings faced the sea doesn't seem to belong here. I think it's important, but he's thinking about the windows here and the seascape. I'd think about tucking that little fact away for the point at which you're describing the city in some more general terms. If you never describe the city in general terms, then I'd think about dropping it altogether as it doesn't seem important to the plot at this point.

    Then you indicate that the seascape makes him queasy, but you give no hint as to why. Is it the height from which they're looking down at the sea? Is it the water itself?

    I think you've got some cool vision here, but's very cloudy as to what means what, and what's important.

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  19. Part 3

    “Come along, youngster,” the guard said, looking back at Patryll and hiding a smile.


    I'd substitute "him" for "Patryll" here, it's clear who the guard's talking to. Kind of getting mixed signals from the guard, one minute he's gruff, and the next he's smiling. You might have to add a touch here to give the reader the sense that the guard is still gruff and hasn't turned into a creampuff. Also, if he's hiding a smile, how did Patryll see it? We're in Patryll's POV, so you should only be showing us what he sees.

    “Sorry,” Patryll said, almost skipping in his haste to catch up.


    “So…uh…what's this all about?” he asked, addressing the guard's back. “I didn't think I broke any of the rules, but since I don't know them all, there is a good chance that I did break one of them…but I didn't mean to…I just came to the city to find my mother a present for the Festival of the Unicorn days in our village.

    I'm not sure this needs to be in a seperate paragraph from the preceeding one. I think it would work to attach it to the one above it, and that way you could drop the dialogue tag, because you're getting pretty thick with the dialogue tags here. It's not too distracting, but it IS slowing down the story. I'm getting the sense that the guard is walking real fast and Patryll is moseying along. And it's not from anthing you say, it's the dialogue tags. The reader realy doesn't learn much up to the point that Patryll looks out the window and reveals that he's there to get something for the festival. I'd think about cutting the parts before that and starting with him stopping in the hall with the guard prodding him to hurry it up.

    p.s. Love the cover.

    Good luck.

    Fred

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