Friday, July 29, 2011

The Book of the Nine Ides

Author: Benjamin Goshko
Genre: Occult, Science Fiction, Short Story
How long it's been on sale: 1 Month
Current price: $2.99
Marketing: I have marketed the book through my twitter page, by posting links to it in author/writing related forums, and I have posted several free short stories and fan fiction novels/novellas on and other forums with links to my e-book. I always use the penname SentientSurfer.
Total sold so far: 12
Link to book on Amazon: The Book of the Nine Ides

Product Description:

After spending four years in a juvenile psychiatric facility, Ashley Minden, a sixteen-year-old gender dysphoric, has been released back into her family's custody. While the transition to home life and high school would be difficult for any teenager, Ashley has the added burden of being a conduit of Qualkhoikhom, a mad god, who gives her the eyes to see a terrifying, hidden world. Now, Ashley must either find a way to escape Qualkhoikhom and live a normal life, or succumb to her delirium, becoming the mad god's final sacrifice. 

First 300 Words:

I am Ashna, final conduit of Qualkhoikhom. I feel him flow through me like water, yet I do not drown. My body shakes, vision blurring with each passing breath, and I cannot breathe. These white walls close in but cannot contain me. Nothing can contain me. When I shift, all barriers cease to be.

Ashley twitched. A muscle spasm, somewhere deep in her lower back. The impulse made her curl her toes. She placed her foot against the wall and straightened them out, feeling the cool of the concrete radiate through her sock.

A two foot long, green centipede slithered across the floor, next to her cot, shimmering. It quickly disappeared into a tiny triangular gap between the wall and the floor.
Ashley rolled over on top of her blanket, trying to find a position that would relieve her headache. Her skull throbbed with built up pressure and the sudden movement made her feel like she was about to vomit. She dry heaved. Her body tingled for a moment and then went cold.

Qualkhoikhom is coming. I'm going to shift soon. . .

"Minden. Number 1050." A guard peered into Ashley's cell through the narrow slot used to feed her. His voice echoed loudly in the cramped, concrete cube. "Come over and cuff up. You have a visitor."

Ashley glanced at the guard through the little door slit. Officer Cole. He was just a pair of navy blue eyes and a wiry, grey mustache. She sat up slowly, buttoned her yellow jumpsuit, and slipped on sandals. She then backed up against the door, putting both hands through the slot.

Cole fastened handcuffs around her wrists. Ashley was used to the feeling and didn't react. Once he let go, she stepped away from the door and scanned her cell. She noticed a brief flicker of movement on the floor; the feelers of the centipede. It was still hiding in the crack.

The door whined loudly as Cole pulled it open, a grating screech of metal on metal.

Ashley took a step out, onto the tier.

Vicki's Comments: There are a lot of things about this book that are confusing to me. First, the author named on Amazon is "Benjamin Goshko" but the name on the cover of the book is "Sentient Surfer." The author admits to advertising under the pen name of SentientSurfer, but since the book isn't searchable by that name on Amazon it might be confusing people. Also, I prefer pen names that read like actual names. The Sentient Surfer might be putting people off.

Second, the title confuses me. When I think of Ides, I think of The Ides of March and the ancient Roman calendar. This doesn't make me think of the occult or science fiction.

Third, throwing in the occult with the science fiction might be confusing the genre too much. People who like the occult might not necessarily like science fiction, and visa versa.

Fourth, I don't see anything in the description about this being a short story, and yet it's submitted to me with that as one of the genres listed. (It's also been tagged short story.) If this is indeed a short story, it needs to be clear in the description. I would also strongly suggest the price be lower than $2.99, but without knowing the word count I can't say for sure. I would put the word count and number of pages in the description no matter what the length, but especially for a short story.

The cover isn't horrible, but it is kind of plain, and I would change the font. It's too hard to read. With the cross genre, it's going to be hard to find a graphic that suits both.

I actually liked the description. To me it gave the right amount of information with a hook to draw the reader in. I don't think I would mess with it too much, other than to reveal the word count and page count.

The writing was good. It drew me into the story and made me want to read more. I probably would cut both instances of 'loudly' but that's just the adverb Nazi in me coming out. I'm much more brutal with other people's adverbs than I am with my own. Ha.

In my opinion this book needs a lower price and a new cover. I think with those two tweaks this could do much better. I would also suggest making the author name match what's on the cover, and if at all possible use a pen name that looks like someone's real name.

What do you guys think?


  1. I actually really dig the image on the cover, but the Chiller font really screams, "This book is self-published!" Seriously, if you want a creepy font, there are tons of free downloads out there. It's also kind of hard to read. I'd ditch the "by" on the cover, and I think the cover would look better if the author name was centered.

    I'm not sure this book is something I'd read, so I hesitate to comment too much on the content, because my lack of taste for it might color my suggestions. I agree that it's solid, but I'd like to offer some suggestions on minor tweaks to the blurb.

    A-I don't know what a gender dysphoric is. Someone who doesn't like his or her gender? I'd prefer not to have to consult a dictionary when reading a blurb, so maybe you could make that plainer.

    B-Was her connection to this god the reason she was put in a psychiatric facility? If so, maybe you've got a kind of, "People think Ashley is crazy, but she's actually just under attack from the supernatural" thing going on, which I think you could play up.

    C-The name of the God in the blurb strikes me as kind of silly and humorous. As that's not your intention (I don't think) I would not name him in the blurb. Leave it as a "mad god." That's pretty creepy.

  2. I wonder how many people know what a "gender dysphoric"? Knowing, I can't say I'm comfortable with your usage of it as though someone with gender confusion would normally be in "custody". I think this is a definite turn off, very possibly just puzzling to most readers.

    My next problem is "Qualkhoikhom". I'm not generally thrilled with unpronounceable names. I've done it myself a few times, but not in the blurb where it will, I suspect, put off a lot of readers.

    And then there is the phrase "gives her the eyes to see..." Meant in the kindest way possible, she probably already had eyes. That is a metaphor best avoided under any circumstances but definitely in a blurb.

    I also had some problems with the sample. A twitch is not usually considered an "impulse" for example. Also, how is the centipede related to her turning over. Having them in the same paragraph makes them seem related. How does she know the guard is peering before she has seen him? This seems to be a hated head hop. All of this is fixable, but makes it look like the writing might need a bit of polishing. (On the other hand, I've seen worse sins in stories I enjoyed)

    I have to agree with Victorine that the title is not helping, and that you need to make it clear if this is a novel, novella or short story.

    Hope that helps.

  3. Hi Benjamin!

    I, too, like the image on your cover. It's cool! But the font choice and the size and placement of name/title are working against this cover. That is, I look and say, "Oh, this is obv. self-pubbed." Definitely get rid of the "by." Check fonts on traditionally published books in your genre.

    Your writing in the first 300 is pretty solid. I don't think it would put readers off. So I'm guessing it's the cover. Likewise, the description is solid, but I would get rid of the challenging god-name for the description.

    I hope that helps!

    Oh, and lastly, 12 in a month isn't that horrible as long as you see sales building over time.

  4. First I have to say that 12 books in the first month is not necessarily bad. It might just need more time.

    But there are things that can be improved. The blurb and writing were good.

    The cover picture gave me a proper occult feel and it could be kept, but the font did really look self-published.

    I don't have a problem with the pen name, especially if you've written under it before. But it must be searchable under amazon. If Amazon is listing your personal name as the author then you've published with your personal amazon account using your SS#.
    You can't do that and use a pen name. You must set up a publishing company and get an EIN then register a new amazon account for your publishing business. They you can use whatever name you want as the author.
    You need to be consistent. Either ditch the pen name and use your real name or set up a publishing business and republish the book under that account with your pen name.
    Sorry, but it looks totally amateurish to have one name on the cover and another listed as the author with amazon. Plus you want people to be able to search for your other, future works using the author name you write under.

  5. I just noticed the book size. It looks like it's under 11,000 words. You definitely need to drop the price to .99. The price you have is just too high for something that's essentially a long short story/short novella.

    Personally, I'd return anything that I'd accidentally purchased for 2.99 with that length.

  6. Hey guys - Tis I - SentientSurfer, A.K.A. Ben Goshko. The author. Thanks for all of the comments and suggestions. Regarding the book's length, it's 30,000 words - a novella. Does $2.99 seem like an appropriate price for such a work? I've heard conflicting advice on price points ;)

  7. Font is not good. Not good at all. has thousands of good fonts, many of them completely free. So change that. Then drop the pseudonym entirely, esp. as you use your real name as the author. I like the central image of the cover, which is suggestive of the genres. I like the title, unlike most seem to, as long as the story takes place over the course of several months (nine, one would hope) or has some similar time based notion. It's an evocative, intriguing title to me, so I'd keep it if it in fact is also meaningful (which I don't know, I'm only basing this on the sample and blurb.) I do think, if it's just a story, that 2.99 might be a high price. But you've sold a good number for it only being out a month; I wonder what you would have sold, and would sell, if it was .99 as the length would call for?

  8. I've been lurking a while. Hi!

    The cover made me think the calendar or horoscope played a part of the sci-fi, but when it didn't I was confused. Also, this reads more like fantasy than sci-fi.

    Finally, I think the writing is up to snuff, but I had one problem with the name of the was long and hard to pronounce, and I ended up stuck on it long enough I kind of lost momentum in reading the blurb and the excerpt.

    Change the font on the cover and it's good to go, as far as that's concerned.

    Thanks for doing these posts, and thanks to Benjamin for being a brave soul. It's really helpful for everyone!

  9. $2.99 for 30,000 words is over my budget and comfort level for an unknown author.

    It seems this title is getting reviews and good ones. It's very possible that shorts are falling lower on people's wish lists. The large influx of freebies cantain many, many shorts. I happen to love reading them, but to be honest, I have lots on my Kindle that I downloaded for free.


  10. Ha ha - I'd also love to see the title of this blog changed to something like: "Tweak my Book" "First Imspression Feedback" I think it would put a more positive spin on things vs. "My book is sucking eggs".

    It appears I have a habit of giving unwanted feedback. I must be getting old.


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  12. My two cents for what it's worth, but I didn't like the font used. It was too small, especially on a reduced size cover.

    And in the product description, I don't have a clue what a gender dysphoric is! Also, the name of the God in the description is a mouthful and is used twice in close succession which I found off-putting: I'd suggest: Ashley has the added burden of being a conduit of a mad god, who gives her the eyes to see a terrifying, hidden world. Now, Ashley must either find a way to escape and live a normal life, or succumb to her delirium, becoming the mad god's final sacrifice.

  13. I thought I'd have some original things to add but most of it is "me too"-isms.

    The typography on the cover is just not pro-level stuff. The title is too long to be on one line; divide it in two and puff.

    Get rid of "by"

    And you'll hate me for saying this, but dump the campy, amateur-writer pen name; no one's going to take you seriously by the SentientSurfer pen name. It screams "I used to (and maybe still do) post most of my stuff for free on Usenet!"

    Then why pay?

    Either use your real name, or get a pen name that sounds like a real name. Otherwise you and your book won't be taken seriously at all.

    Also, and I can speak personally on this... $2.99 for 30,000 words is too much, esp. if this is your first book.

    I have a book around that length coming out soon. (Technically my second book.) I'm pricing it at $0.99 because it's going to sell a lot better at that price, and I'm going to include a sample chapter of my longer, already-published novel in it, plus a sample chapter of my next long novel that'll be out for $2.99.

    The weird-named-god thing went out of style when H.P. Lovecraft died. That was 1937. Even Stephen King, who practically worships Lovecraft, doesn't do that.

    The name seems self-conscious, invented purely to draw attention to itself. That's not what you want.

    The blurb is only OK. But with terms like "gender dysphoric" the weirdly-named-god's name appearing twice(!), and genre cliches like "delirium" popping up, it could be a lot stronger. Think of a book blurb as being kinda like a voice over in a movie trailer. It's a hard-sell for the movie, and makes you feel like the earth just might explode if you're not putting your but in the seat opening day. Not by scaring you into it, but by really making the story seem like the most interesting thing ever. Do that.

    The first 300 words were actually well-written, but the whole "main character is asleep, waking up disoriented, and having dreams of what MIGHT be an alternate reality" is a genre cliche.

    You might want to work on finding a fresher way to open...

    The good news is your actual writing seems clean (from the look of the first 300 words, anyway)... so you have a good core to build on.

    Fix these other things and you'll see better results, I think.

  14. By the way... 12 in the first month isn't that bad... give it time!

  15. Just to affirm most of the advice here.

    1. Price. Too high. 154 sentence sample means about 1600 sentence story. That's short. A 99 cent price might be indicated for that reason alone. Without a platform to support it, that's going to be a tough sell.

    2. Cover. Might be a good image but font and layout are weak. I'd offer the advice given to photographers -- "Get closer." Bring that image up. Let it bleed off the edges of the cover. The plot has a lot of things that are "hidden" or "partially revealed." Let your graphic do the same. The tension will be eye catching and the detail will be clearer. For font, I'd go with something more mainstream -- Cheltenham is good, even Garamond. If it were me, I might break the title at "the," start "Five Ides" on the next line in all caps and the full width of the cover.

    3. Pen name. Don't. The cheese factor on "Sentient Surfer" makes this an automatic "no" for me. Benjamin Goshko is a great name and crates a clear identity on Google. There *is* a lawyer in PA that *could* be you (the age is right and you could have transferred from BU to pursue the Poli-Sci degree at Temple--the timing is right). If your goal is to separate out those two identities, you'll want to create an actual pen name rather than a handle.

    4. God's name. Yeah. I can't help but read it as "Quackenbush" and think "Marx Brothers." I grabbed the sample and noticed a "Klathu" as well, and that just struck me badly ("Klaatu, barada nicto"). This is a problem, particularly in the blurb.

    5. "Gender dysphoria" - problem term. Most won't know it and those who get pulled into the story and surprised by the meaning will not appreciate it. The TG sf/f is going to limit your market but I think you're better off in the long run letting people know that this is what you've got going on here. Try the common term - gender identity disorder - if your MC is really suffering doubt and, if not, then call it what it is.

    Good luck and best wishes for future success.

  16. I just discovered this blog, very interesting!
    I agree with most of the advice given, but wanted to to toss in a few tips to help the cover. (I'm a book cover artist)
    There's nothing wrong with the image per se, but I'd suggest enlarging the disk so it fills the space better, leaving room above and below for the text.

    And yes, the font should be changed.

    A tip on that- periodically, when working on a cover, I shrink it down to a thumbnail size, this gives me insight to if the design is working and lets me see what tweaks I need to make in the font.

    good luck! You've gotten some great advice here!

  17. I don't have much to add -- bigger font, your real name, avoid the unpronounceables/defineables in the blurb, seems more fantasy than sf, etc. I guess the only thing I might suggest is starting with our protagonist instead of the hallucination or whatever that might be. That would require something stronger than "Ashley twitched." as the first sentence, but if you wanted to try that, I'm sure you could come up with something. It's pretty easy to tell what's going on even though strange things are obviously afoot, which is great.

  18. I'd like a bit more internal voice in the characters. Being told to 'cuff up' for a visitor is treated so neutrally that I get no reason to identify with the character. Why so passive - has it happened a hundred times? - does she know she can trust the guards? - is there no shame? - does she actually like it?
    If there is a reason why the girl is so passive what does the guard think? Something has to be there to make me want to turn the page.

  19. I agree with everything that's been said so far, but I'm also very intrigued by the premise and the first 300 words. The problem for me would be that I don't generally read short stories (strike one), the god's name is *way* too long (I would stumble over it every time I read, so strike two), and I've never liked a switch in POV from first to third person - especially that close to the beginning of a story (strike three). Some of this is simply my personal tastes, but it's simply something to think about. Also, like others have said, 12 copies in one month isn't terrible!


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