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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lesson One: Revolution!


Author: Stuart J. Whitmore
Genre: Psychological Thriller
How long it's been on sale: 11 Months
Current price: $.99
Total sold so far: 10
Link to book on Amazon: Lesson One: Revolution!

Product Description:

Your country is sinking into tyranny but your neighbors don't seem to notice, or care. What can you do to save the freedoms you value? How can you honor the many who died in centuries past to create and defend your nation as a global icon of liberty? If you're Dan Starney, you don't just sit and watch.

Other teachers might think of Dan as a quiet, mild-mannered history teacher who fits in nicely with their small town views. However, a sudden local controversy involving one of the school's art teachers begins to erode Dan's mundane facade when he, along with math teacher Karena Walsh, are drawn into the fray by the school's administration. When Karena gets a peek behind that facade, she is disturbed by what she learns and decides she needs to secretly investigate his activities, setting the stage for explosive results that extend far beyond their quiet town.

(Previously sold for $7.99, on sale during July 2011.)

First 300 Words:

"Political bias." Dan Starney paused for effect. Actually, his
students thought he paused for effect, but instead he paused to
survey his class and choose some slackers to pick on. He was a
slender, but not particularly fit, man in his early fifties. Although
his hair was starting to thin, he didn't look thirty years older than
his high school students. They were mostly seniors, generally
seventeen or eighteen, although some advanced juniors were in the
class as well, along with one sophomore who was one of the most
bookish students he had met in many years.

    "What is it," Mr. Starney questioned, "and should teachers teach
with it, about it, both, or neither?" As he expected, most of the
teenagers either looked dazed or else shifted uncomfortably in their
seats. It was that kind of question, the kind few would want to take
a stab at, especially on a Monday.

    Mr. Starney knew five students would raise their hands -- four
male, one female -- and he already knew he would ignore them. They
probably knew it too, but slowly their hands went up as the silence
of the unanswered question became uncomfortable. Mr. Starney glanced
minimally at the five who could give him a good answer, then focused
on another student who was not looking dazed nor shifting
uncomfortably in her seat. "Katie, should we call the coroner, or the
corner espresso stand?"

    A murmur of suppressed giggles rolled across the classroom as
Katie's fellow students saw that she was clearly dozing behind her
now-drooping textbook. The young man seated behind Katie kicked her
chair gently, then again with more force since the first kick had no
effect. Katie's eyelids and book rose abruptly and she looked around
to see her classmates looking at her.


Vicki's Comments: Here are my impressions. First, I think the cover needs reworking. I don't get "Psychological Thriller" at all from the cover. The bright color of the pencils, and the texture created with them lined up like that overpower the bullets. When I think of psychological thriller, I think of a face on the front of a book. I would go take a peek at some of the covers out there and selling in that genre. See what about them tells you it's a psychological thriller.

I'm not crazy about the title either. I'm not sure what else to suggest, because I haven't read the book, but maybe get some ideas from your beta readers, or see what others say about it.

I think the description could use some tweaking as well. I get a little hint of the conflict with the line that begins "When Karena gets a peek behind that facade," but I don't get a real sense of what this guy is about. Is he a murderer? Does he just incite rebellion? Where's the "thriller" part of this? I'd love to get more of a sense of the danger here.

The first 300 words are good, they do draw me into the story, they just don't say "psychological thriller" in them. I'm not a huge fan of the kind of pulled back point of view that this is written in, but I would keep reading to see if I can get wrapped up in the story. I think the writing itself is tight, and I am interested to keep reading, but I'm afraid that people looking for the genre might not keep reading because the tone isn't one that would be a thriller, if that makes sense. It could be something simple, like starting the story in the wrong place. Or I could be way off in left base here, so I would get some other opinions.

In short, I think the cover is the main problem, with the blurb second. I would put more "thriller" in them so you're appealing to the right audience. One other comment, and that's the $7.99 price. (I know it's on sale, but it looks like you intend to put it back to $7.99 after July.) In my opinion, that's just too high for an unknown author, unless you want to spend a lot of hours and money marketing the book. I wouldn't go any higher than $4.99, and with that price you'll need to create your own buzz about the book.

What do you guys think?

15 comments:

  1. I agree with Vicki about the cover. Lined up pencils say MG to me, not psychological thriller.

    The blurb is confusing. At first I thought Dan was going to be our hero and save the world. But now I think maybe Karena is going to save the world from Dan. I think the blurb needs more focus.

    The opening is good enough to keep me reading and if I read the full sample, I probably would keep reading.

    Your initial problem is definitely the $7.99 price. One of your reviewers said exactly that. I suggest you leave it at 99 cents until you get some momentum going.

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  2. The price truly is a concern. I experimented with skipping the first paragraph of your blurb entirely and just reading the second one, and it worked a lot better for me.

    I also agree about the cover. If you had a picture of a teacher acting 'mostly' normal, but some small hint somewhere that there was something wrong. Or even a desk with a bunch of teacher-related items (pencil, corrected tests, an apple) and then one extremely shocking, out-of-place item (bullets, or a gun), I think it would work better as well.

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  3. I'm afraid I line up on not liking your opening to the point that I would not read further. Why?

    You hop from head to head so much that I have no idea who your PoV character is, in fact you don't seem to have one. You start showing the thoughts of Mr. Starney and telling what he knows but you describe him as though you are outside his head and then at the end you seem to be in the head of a student. I really wasn't sure who the main character was. It didn't draw me in or give me even a hint of a conflict of any kind except the usual teacher/student stuff which doesn't yell thriller. And is his hair color and weight going to be important enough to the story to introduce the story with it?

    I suspect this can be easily fixed. I think what we have here is what some writers refer to as "throat clearing". You're not getting immediately into the story but trying to set it up. Do I really need you to do that? I know what a classroom is and plunking me down in one, especially without setting up an INTERESTING character, is just going to bore me. Often the solution to "throat clearing" is to consider cutting the first couple of pages and getting to where the story actually starts.

    Your blurb is also a concern. I don't like blurbs that preach at me and that's what yours seems to do in the first paragraph. Just hook me on the character or conflict and I'll look. Preach at me and I'm elsewhere.

    The problems with the cover have already been covered. Good suggestions on a cover, I don't know that the price is a big concern. It's hard to know the best price point. I'd consider $2.99 if being priced at 99 cents isn't getting you sales, but that is a judgement call with no right or wrong.

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  4. From the opening of the blurb I get the impression that Dan is the hero and that this is going to be a right-wing agitprop piece a la Rambo. Instant turn-off for me, but possibly an attractor for others. Then in the closing of it I get the impression that maybe Karen's the hero and this may or may not be agitprop--by the end I don't know what it is. Clear up the confusion.

    The cover needs work, too. Not enough literal contrast between the pencils and the bullets--too close to the same values/hues/etc.

    As for the title, I'm not sure "Lesson One, Revolution!" is quite the thing. I'd brainstorm that.

    If this is strict genre, you're going to have a hard time over $4.99 and you'll probably be counseled to price it below $2.99. Every book has a sweet spot (my main book, it's $4.95).

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  5. I'm sorry but nothing about this book does it for me.

    First the cover turned me off immediately. My initial reaction with a bunch of pencils covered with bullets was this psycothriller would be some type of inside the head of a school shooter with a bunch of kids getting shot up. A book like that isn't going to get .99 let alone $8 from me.

    Second, the blurb. I finally get that this isn't some school massacre book (probably) but I don't know who the protagonist is. Will Dan or Karena be the hero? I'm not sure.

    Finally the opening. For a thriller the opening is very slow. Nothing really happens. I'd probably read farther along to see if the story gets going, but not too much longer.

    I also got the impression that this book would slant heavily politically correct (probably to the right) and I'm not a fan of books that try to bring too many real political issues of any type into a fictional world. Deleting the first paragraph of the blurb would help alleviate that impression.

    Suggestions:

    The price was way too high. Even the most aggressive indie authors usually cap their books at $4.99. Stick with .99 for three months and see what happens.

    Revise the blurb to make clear who the story is about and their role in it. Is Dan the hero or villain.

    The writing was tight so the author has talent, but the opening was dull. I'll check out the sample to see if it gets better after the first 300, but if it doesn't then that's an issue to address too.

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  6. I didn't really get a feel for what the story is about by the product description - it seems a bit too vague and if I'm going to buy a book, I need to have a pretty good idea what it's about.

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  7. Here are some blurb suggestions:
    Cut down to: "However, a sudden local controversy (which is what?) involving one of the school's art teachers begins to erode Dan's mundane facade (is he really mundane, and then transforms into an active, thriller-type hero? Or have these qualities been there all along? Is the book about transformation or revelation? Tell us here!) when he, along with math teacher Karena Walsh (is she sexy? Is there romance? Tell us here!), are drawn into the fray (again, what kind of fray? Murder? Conspiracy? Tell us here!), [creating] explosive results that extend far beyond their quiet town."

    I like your use of the words "erode" and "explosive;" they're particularly powerful and seem targeted to a thriller-type audience. I also like the way you mention setting. You could play up the something-awful-in-a-quiet-town angle too. It's compelling.

    I'd agree with the cover and pricing suggestions. One way I've seen this handled is to play it as a relaunch of an enhanced second edition and maybe include bonus material, like maps, fake police reports, etc., with your new cover, lower price point, and then do as aggressive a media push as you are comfortable with. Guest posts, Goodreads announcements, whatever works for you. If you go this route, I'm not sure I'd change the title because you want to stick with the idea that you've got this really awesome re-release, so you'll need continuity. Maybe emphasize the "Revolution" part of the title on the new cover, and add a subtitle telling the world how amazing your hero is? "Lesson One : REVOLUTION, a Dan Starney Investigation" or something like that. I think you've got great stuff to work with and can't wait to see where you go with it.
    Best of luck!

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  8. Oh, and thanks to Vicki for starting this blog! I think it's fantastic, and I've gotten some great ideas from commenters and watching other authors transform their books.

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  9. Thanks for the comments so far, it's all good input as I try to decide what I'm going to do with this one. Even at 99 cents it's not selling; my plan, after July, was to set it to 2.99. I set the 7.99 initial price pretty much in ignorance, long before I stumbled across Kindle Boards. Once I started reading threads there I promptly dropped the price to 4.99 but that didn't have any effect, much like putting it on sale in July for 99 cents.

    I should point out that in addition to submitting my book for this blog I also received valuable feedback in a KB thread, and David Gaughran was kind enough to provide some very detailed input, between the time that I submitted the book here and the time it appeared for reviews. This isn't meant to suggest that I'm not interested in more, just that I'm happy to be getting a lot of really useful input on this novel.

    I can see I have a challenge ahead of me in terms of explaining the story adequately in the blurb, and also finding a niche who would enjoy the story for what it is and making it attractive to them. There is no "good guy" in this story. Maybe that's too realistic -- or maybe I'm too cynical...?

    When I first released the paperback, I commented to some people that I was wondering if I'd managed (unintentionally) to write a story that would have something for everybody -- to get angry about. It may be that this one is basically a dead-end and I should go back to my unfinished fantasy novels!

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  10. Stuart, you've only had it at 99 cents for a couple of weeks and July is never a great sales month. You need to keep it at 99 cents for at least a couple of months. Redesign your cover, work on your blurb and see what happens then.

    In the meantime, by all means, work on your fantasy novel.

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  11. Absolutely you should be working on a new book. ALWAYS be working on a new book. Writing is what writers do and as many say, a new book is always our best promotion.

    Even if no one character is a purely "good guy" surely one of them is the main character. You need to let the reader know who and why? What kind of story is it? What is the inciting action? Once you improve the blurb and cover, concentrate on something else for a while to see what happens.

    *cough* I'm a fine one to talk about that. I rarely take my own advice.

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  12. I think the cover could work if the pencils were matt black, so you didn't immediately notice what they were. And a different font for the title, not over the bullets. Let the bullets have full impact.

    The opening doesn't grab me; I don't know who I'm rooting for, and nothing happens. The blurb is vague, where it needs to be specific and show me a strong story. I'd suggest reading the blurbs of best-selling books, and seeing how you can apply their techniques to your book.

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  13. Reading your comment, I wouldn'y trunk the novel just because it appears as though you have no "good guy" because sometimes you can make society as w hole the protagonist and the POV characters as the antags. It's not easy, but it's been done. If that's the case, then you can make your blurb something like "A teacher discovers that a colleague may be a madman who tutors his studenets if the fine art of the coup d'etat, and she needs to expose his activities before it gets out of hand." She may not be the protagonist or even a "good guy" but at least there's a conflict there that might draw the reader in.

    Any time you have hints of politics like this what with the revolution and all, I'd think about throwing in a flag on the cover. It'll draw the people who look for that sort of thing. You might get some sales out of some of the more radical extremes (though, I'm not certain the radical right and left are actually literate).

    As for the prose:

    "Political bias." Dan Starney paused for effect.

    Wow, in literary terms, this is a long "pause."

    Here, here's how this sentence feels by the time you get to the second sentence of dialogue.

    Dan Starney climbed up on the stool and jumped off. Actually, his
    students thought he jumped for effect, but instead he jumped to
    survey his class and choose some slackers to pick on. He was a
    slender, but not particularly fit, man in his early fifties. Although
    his hair was starting to thin, he didn't look thirty years older than
    his high school students. They were mostly seniors, generally
    seventeen or eighteen, although some advanced juniors were in the
    class as well, along with one sophomore who was one of the most
    bookish students he had met in many years. He landed.

    The reader's mind ticks off time while he reads. A pause is brief, and the time it takes to read that backstory feels like a long time. Maybe if you had the students looking around and wondering when he'd say the next sentence it might work.

    Also, if he does this kind of a pause all the time, then you can say that the students thought he paused for effect. In that case, I'd make it clear by saying something like "The students thought it was one of his pauses for effect." If he doesn't do it all the time, then you're switching POV by telling us what they think, because he can't know for sure what they're thinking. You could get away with it except that you clearly jump into a students POV later, which makes it confusing to the reader as to whose point of view the story is being told from. It makes it next to impossible to settle into a character's head and into the fictive dream where the reader essentially becomes the character.

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  14. Part 2:

    He was a
    slender, but not particularly fit, man in his early fifties. Although
    his hair was starting to thin, he didn't look thirty years older than
    his high school students. They were mostly seniors, generally
    seventeen or eighteen, although some advanced juniors were in the
    class as well, along with one sophomore who was one of the most
    bookish students he had met in many years.

    Also, the description is quite wordy. You are wasting words and that slows the story down. The quicker you can convey what you are trying to say, the faster the pace feels to the reader. Wordy descriptions can work in some genres like historic or romance, but this is supposed to be a thriller.

    We already know he's a man from the "Mr." and "he" so I'd try to avoind saying that if you don't need to because it'll give you more room for other stuff. If you went with something like "He was in his early fifties and slender, though not particularly fit. But depite his tinning hair, he didn't look much older than high scool students." I wouldn't bother listing the ages of the students since most readers will know about how old a high scool stuident is, and it's probably not critical to the novel for the reader to know precisely. And that way you can focus on the one bright student with something like "One of them, a sophomore, was..."

    It may feel like it's chaning you voice on the page, but this is too plodding. It feels like you're dedicating one sentence per idea and you can double that up witout losing your voice.

    "What is it," Mr. Starney questioned, "and should teachers teach
    with it, about it, both, or neither?" As he expected, most of the
    teenagers either looked dazed or else shifted uncomfortably in their
    seats. It was that kind of question, the kind few would want to take
    a stab at, especially on a Monday.

    Maybe it's just me but I would think that most high school students would take a stab at this. It's not the kind of question that takes some knowledge of the text book like asking whether or not the Davis-Bacon act was good. Most students would know what bias is and what media bias is, or at least have an opinion, though probably simplistic and based on their parent's view or Comedy Central's view. And I'm fairly certain thye would all chime in that bias of any kind is bad, because they're in high school and at that age that's the answer.

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  15. Part 3:

    Mr. Starney knew five students would raise their hands -- four
    male, one female -- and he already knew he would ignore them. They
    probably knew it too, but slowly their hands went up as the silence
    of the unanswered question became uncomfortable.

    I would animate the silence here by making it "uncomfortable." I'd stick with an adjective like "awkward"

    Mr. Starney glanced
    minimally at the five who could give him a good answer

    You already told the reader he would ignore them, so I don't know why you bring them up again. If he's ignoring them, then the reader is ignoring them.

    , then focused
    on another student who was not looking dazed nor shifting
    uncomfortably in her seat.
    "Katie, should we call the coroner, or the
    corner espresso stand?"

    I'm not excatly following this, first you give the imporession that he selects her because she's attentive and not fidgetting, then his dialogue seems to imply that he's accusing her of falling alseep. If the comment is made as a joke about the rest of the class excluding her and the five regular participants, then maybe he can gesture to the deader part of the room. That would give you a visual here, because this is very introspective so far with very little senses in play.

    A murmur of suppressed giggles rolled across the classroom as
    Katie's fellow students saw that she was clearly dozing behind her
    now-drooping textbook.

    Oh, she's asleep? Then the section when you say she's not looking dazed nor fidgetting is misleading. I'd think about re-wording that to give the impression that she's out of it, maybe something like "to a student who wasn't even fidgetting" and then the revelation that she's sleeping would then make a little more sense.

    The young man seated behind Katie kicked her
    chair gently, then again with more force since the first kick had no
    effect. Katie's eyelids and book rose abruptly and she looked around
    to see her classmates looking at her.

    Now, we know her classmates are looking at her. I assume you're going to stay in Mr. Starney's POV. If that's the case, I wouldn't tell the reader that she sees the classmates looking at her. The reader will assume she sees them when she looks around, and you avoid the POV slip.

    This is an odd situation. In spite of the cover which I think is as ineefective as everyone else has pointed out, in spite of the confusing blurb, and in spite of the prose which I think could be made far better, I'm intrigued by the story and I'd love to see what you do with it. Maybe it's because I have a heavy dose of politics in my WIP.

    I think there's a big market out there for the right type of story told in a sly way so that any agenda you may have is carefully hidden in circumstance. There is definitely madness out there in this area and a well told story ab out a teacher who gets caught up in something to do with a revolution should do well. I would NOT trunk this. Work on it. It really has promise IMO, but it needs work.

    Good luck.
    Take care.
    Fred

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