Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Author: Katie W. Stewart
Genre: Fantasy
How long it's been on sale: 19th April 2011
Current price: $2.99
Marketing: Guest blogs, Personal blog/website, Interviews, Facebook page, Reviews, Twitter, Kindleboard pages, flyer in local arts newsletter, article in local newspaper.
Total sold so far: 76
Link to book on Amazon: Treespeaker

Product Description:

Saving his people means leaving the forest. Leaving the forest means death.

Jakan, Treespeaker of the Fifth Tribe of Arrakesh, knows from the visions he received at the SpringSpeak, that the stranger who has just arrived in his village is not the innocent, interested visitor he claims to be. As the villagers succumb to the mind-bending sorcery of the man, Jakan becomes more and more desperate to be rid of him. But when he accuses the stranger of an act of sacrilege, events take a sinister turn and it is Jakan himself who is expelled from the forest.

Sent on a journey across the treeless land outside the forest, Jakan finds himself fighting for survival – for his people and himself. Somehow he must find a man he hasn’t seen for twenty years, but as a Treespeaker —bound in spirit to the forest — his life hangs by a tenuous thread which grows ever thinner.

Meanwhile, his son, Dovan, must find the strength to carry out the new role he has been given while his father is away, for who knows if the Treespeaker will ever return?

This is not a book about good versus evil. It is a book about belonging, balance and belief. It's an adult fantasy, but suitable for anyone 12+

First 300 Words:

The worried face of the moon, high in the branches of the great oak, mirrored the apprehension in Jakan’s mind.  He shuddered and pulled his deerskin cloak closer about his shoulders. It made no difference. The cold he felt had nothing to do with the night air.

Ahead of him, a column of men, women and children trod their way up the moonlit path in solemn silence. The only sound came from their soft shoes amongst the leaves and the scuffling of small animals hurrying away to hide in the darkness. A thin mist settled on the ground, swirling in the torchlight and the scent of damp earth wafted on the breeze.

Gritting his teeth, Jakan tried to centre his mind on the ritual to come. At the front of the procession, frail Kattanbek, Chief Elder of the Fifth Tribe of Arrakesh, swayed in a sedan chair. Beyond him, further up the hill, three fires burned in the glade in front of Padhag Klen, promising the villagers warmth and light as they attended the SpringSpeak.

Jakan fixed his gaze on the sedan chair and sighed to himself. He had little doubt that this would be the last Speak for Kattanbek. The old man’s poor, tired soul would not last another season. Who would succeed him? It was a question that had plagued Jakan for many months now. Amongst all the Elders, there was no one who he could discern had the strength, determination or leadership that had characterised Kattan. The tribe had run smoothly under his care, without ill will or strife. Jakan hoped that tonight Arrakesh would name a successor, for he alone could know the true heart of his people.

As the procession entered the glade, the sedan was set upon flat ground between two of the big fires. Jakan pushed back the hood of his cloak to rest on his shoulders and stood beside the Chief Elder. The other villagers edged around the fires and faced Padhag Klen, The Tree, a huge, dark shadow in the firelight. The moon peeked between the still-bare branches, lending a silver glow to one side of the gnarled trunk. 

Vicki's Comments: I'm felling like the cover is holding this book back. I do get a 'fantasy' feel from it, but when I compare it to some of the other covers out there I feel like it needs a little polish. I'd like to compare it to K.C. May's fantasy covers:

Let's look at the typography. The type on K.C.'s books are clear and clean looking. I think the font on Treespeaker isn't as professional. That's a pretty easy fix. I'd look for a font that is more like what you'd see on George R.R. Martin books. I think a serif font like that looks better.

Next, the background. In comparison, the Treespeaker background is very busy and almost screams 'look at me' more than anything else. In thumbnail, you hardly notice the background of K.C. May's books. When you examine them, however, you see the map. Maps are a very typical fantasy thing, so I think that's perfect for a background. And it's understated. Perfect.

Finally, the picture on the book. The tree symbol does give me the fantasy feeling, but I'm not sure what the blue thing at the bottom of the page is. The Kinshield pendant is something I see a lot on fantasy books. The sword is fantastic because it promises conflict and action right on the cover. I think the tree could work because of the stylistic way it's done, if it were done against a different background. I probably would take off the leaf and blue thing at the bottom. I also wouldn't rule out a different symbol or even a person on the front.

The description is pretty good, but I did get a little lost with the unfamiliar words. I might take out a few of the unknown words. For example, you could say: "Jakan knows from the visions he received that the stranger who has just arrived in his village is not the innocent, interested visitor he claims to be." I also think there are some things that can be trimmed in the description. For instance, "Sent on a journey across the treeless land outside the forest," - the 'outside the forest' isn't needed, as you already said he was expelled from the forest.

I found the story well written. It's a slow beginning, but it does catch my interest. The scene is well described and I am wondering who, if anyone, is going to be named the successor. I really don't think the writing itself is holding this book back.

My best guess is that the cover is the major culprit. If you can change the cover, make it look more like some of the other well-selling fantasy novels, I think that will be a huge improvement. And maybe ask opinions on the blurb.

What do you guys think?


  1. The blurb needs tightening--it's not badly written but it's a little too long--and Vicki's comments on the cover are good. I like the tree symbol. If you can focus on that and the name of the book I think you're good. Nice opening. You should do well with this. Good luck!

  2. You write very well. The only thing that hung me up--and it always REALLY hangs me up, because it makes me scared things might get worse further into a book--were two places where the punctuation was off:

    "...visions he received at the SpringSpeak that the stranger..." (remove comma after SpringSpeak)

    "...mist settled on the ground, swirling in the torchlight, and the scent of damp earth wafted..." (add comma after torchlight)

    That kind of thing pulls me right out of a book, even well-written ones with great plots, and usually makes me put them down and not read more of an author's work.

    I do agree with Vicki's comments about the cover.

  3. Agree with Vicki about the cover. Your cover isn't bad, but it isn't GREAT. Your writing is excellent. In my opinion your cover should match that excellence. I would definitely take her advice on board there.

    Also agree with the blurb. It was lengthy and a little overburdened with strange words. It doesn't do justice to the writing. Again, it's not bad, but it could be better.

  4. The cover's not bad but I think that you could lose the blue thing and the leaf. The font is a little stark for a fantasy.

    The blurb starts out really well, especially the first sentence. I would keep that and the next paragraph and get rid of the rest. TMI.

    I liked the opening. We pretty much know what's happening in just a few paragraphs.

    I think this is one of those books that just needs to find an audience.

  5. I agree that the cover is the weakest link here, just as Vicki says.

    Also, I see you have six 5-star reviews, and none else. I would try to get a more balanced set of reviews so it doesn't look like you just got your best friends to give you perfect reviews.

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  7. Hi Vicki, Thanks so much for your advice. I think you've probably nailed the problems and I'll set to work on tightening the blurb (and fixing commas - thanks, Grayson)and doing a new cover straight away.

    Thanks to everyone so far for their feedback.

    Joseph, I did get a 3 star review early on, but unfortunately she didn't paste it on Amazon. Two of my other reviews are from review bloggers. I have never met them. Maybe when I've sold more books I'll get some more less-than-happy readers. :)

  8. I was surprised when I saw this book as the title for Vicki's thread and wondered how it could be having troubles selling. I am one of the people who bought the book and read it.

    For what it is worth, the things on the cover have meaning too me because they represent things that are integral parts of the book. It would be nice if a way to keep the blue stone on the cover were found. Perhaps showing someone using the stone to heal. I can see how people would feel that the cover could be improved and do not doubt that will help sales.

    There was nothing in the story that threw me out of it (my grammar skills are not so good so minor errors will not even be noticed by me) and I remember making steady progress through the book as I had to find out what happened next.

  9. My teenage sons BOTH said the cover was really cool and asked if I could get it for them. (They are fantasy readers, consuming dozens, if not hundreds of books between them a year). So, it works for me.

    I would like to say that Vicki's comparison to KC May's isn't a fair one, since sword and sorcery covers should look different than adventure fantasy. I am with Margaret that you just don't need the blue thing and could go with a less stark font.

    Overall, I just think it's the kind of book that can take a while to get going. Do you have local gaming and readercon conventions? Not the giant ones, but just the smaller local ones. Try selling print copies there, assuming that there aren't any writing issues with the book. A lot of fantasy and readercon types prefer to buy books from authors they know, or are the big name ones.

  10. The background of the cover is a bit busy, but that has been said. The font doesn't bother me but I'm not a fan of the "T" being tinged green on a green background. It's getting lost.

    I don't like the last line in the description. It was a big turn off to be told what it isn't when the whole description build up a scene about overcoming and evil outsider.

    You do this again for your other book as well. Just because I am in my thirties, doesn't mean I won't pick up a middle school book if its good.

    Overall, I think the only thing wrong is that it simply hasn't found its audience yet. You're selling over a dozen copies a month and that isn't bad. If I had to guess, you need to look outside of the blogger, reviewer, author circles and start focusing on your readers.

  11. There's no magic bullet, or if there is one, it is called "name-recognition". Those K C May covers, held up as an example, are standard industry fare, the sort of thing which in the boardroom of any publisher I'd nod through without blinking. We can become too slick for our own good.

    One could equally say that Katie's 75 sales, which are in fact perfectly respectable at over 12 per month, are the result of a cover that is clearly different from the standard industry fare. It is not a bad thing for an otherwise good cover to stop buyers to ask, Hey, what's this? The large symbol and the hand-drawn type are good for this.

    That said, some of the comments on the secondary elements on the cover are worth considering.

    Also, putting an image of a person on the cover, preferably relating to the secondary element(s), gives the buyer someone to identify with, with an equal risk of putting off those attracted to different physical attributes. In any event, the person or persons must not cause the USP symbol to be too much smaller though I don't think it matters if the symbol is partially obscured.

    Redrawing the letters to have serifs, suggested above, might not be a bad idea. They read well enough at thumbnail but improvement is clearly possible.

    So what we're really talking about isn't a bad cover but a cover that can be tweaked to be better.

    I also agree the blurb would look more professional if it were tightened.

    My suggestion to Katie would be to do a giveway on LibraryThing to generate some buzz, and to finetune the cover to any of these suggestions she likes.

    But let's not be mealymouthed here. The important thing is the giveaway, or some other means of generating buzz about Katie's book, not fiddling with a cover to be displayed in the same old places.

  12. I agree with Andre. Although other comments have made good suggestions (like the one regarding punctuation), I don't think that tweaking the cover or blurb is going to turn this book into a bestseller overnight.

    I looked you up on Amazon and see that, right now, you have authored two books, both of which came out this year. Are you disappointed by your sales already? (Or maybe you just wanted to make sure that you were doing everything right?) Personally, I've always thought of this indie book thing as a journey that takes a lot of time and energy. You need to build readership, and oftentimes, that takes a while.

    To me, you've got a great-looking book with some very fine writing in it. God knows I'm no expert nor can I see the future, but I think you have a terrific product that just needs more marketing and time to make it catch on.

  13. Robert, thanks. Yes, the stone is an integral part of the story, but it seems to worry quite a few people!

    Krista, I live in rural Western Australia, so there's nothing approaching a readercon around here! Thanks to your sons for their vote of confidence!

    Andre and Michelle, the books I sold were mainly in the first couple of months. Since then sales have slowed to a trickle and I don't seem to be able to kick-start them again. I'm not worried about my children's book. That's just sitting there ready to jump onto the wave when children's books become popular. But I would like this one to sell.

  14. Sorry, SB, I scrolled too fast and missed you! I'll keep in mind what you said when I work on my blurb. Thanks.

  15. A sequel could help sales. ;-)

  16. I too agree with the cover. I like the tree symbol but would do away with the other elements on the cover and simplify the background. Is this symbol used within the story itself? That would be an awesome element if it was used within the book and a direct pull for the reader to turn back to the cover to examine it. Perhaps there is a clue on the symbol? The blurb was a little too long. I was interested in the beginning, but you kind of lost me toward the end. Good luck!
    C.K. Volnek


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