Friday, January 6, 2012

Through the Portal

Author: Justin Dennis
Genre: YA Fantasy
How long it's been on sale: 3 Months
Current price: $.99
Marketing: Facebook, Twitter, Blog, Active on Kindleboards, sent out hundreds of emails for requests for reviews to book blogs.
Total sold so far: 17
Link to book on Amazon: Through the Portal (Book One in the Through the Portal Trilogy)

Product Description: 

What's the worst part of falling through a portal to another world and not being able to get back? When the first person you meet almost gets you killed by a ferocious, fire-breathing dragon. Luckily, Jem and Oliver, two boys who were about to start their first year in high school, are saved by Sierra, a farm girl who is itching to get out of her small town. Together, the three of them set off on a quest to defeat the evil Veroci Regime that is stealing all the magic from the world, but can they do it before the Dragon catches up with them?

Through the Portal is the first book in a planned trilogy.
Approx. 104,000 words

First 300 Words:

Jem wasn’t the type of kid who went on adventures; Oliver was. And as they sat in their last day of summer school, on a blazing hot mid-August day, Oliver was dreaming up what he thought would be his best adventure yet. It was one o’clock in the afternoon… that meant that in twelve hours he could start his plan, after everyone was sound asleep… yeah!  This was going to work… he just had to—

“Oliver!” called the teacher, a small, chubby man who was sweating profusely in his striped dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. “Would you like to answer the question?”

Oliver snapped out of his daydream. “Uh, not really…” he muttered under his breath.

“What was that?” asked the teacher.

“Yeah, sure,” sputtered Oliver, fumbling randomly with the papers on his desk. “What’s the question?”

Snickering broke out across the crowded classroom—apparently everyone found it funny that he hadn’t even heard the question. That is ... everyone except for the boy who was a row to Oliver’s left, and three rows closer to the front. That was Jem, and he wasn’t about to laugh at Oliver.

“The question, Mr. Pautelle, was: On what date did Benito Mussolini die?”

“Benito Mussolini…” said Oliver, looking everywhere but at the teacher. “That was the Italian Hitler, right?”

This got a couple of laughs throughout the classroom.

“If you must be crude about it,” replied the teacher, obviously running out of patience. “He was the Fascist leader of Italy during World War Two, and his country was allied with Hitler’s Nazi Germany.”

“Right, right…” said Oliver, now looking at Jem for help, but he hadn’t even turned around. “So no funny-lookin’ square moustache?”

More laughter.

“Answer the question, Oliver.”

Then his eye caught the bottom of Jem’s shoe, which was visible since Jem had his right foot slightly out to the side and was on his toes. Sharpie was roughly scribbled over the white rubber bottom of his shoe: 28 APR 45.

“April 28th, 1945,” said Oliver coolly.

Vicki's Comments: My first thought after looking at the cover was, "What? Dragons in space?" An interesting concept but I'm guessing that's not really what the book is about. I think there is some genre confusion on the cover. I see that it's listed as a fantasy novel. Most fantasy novels don't have a space shot on the front. I would definitely rework the cover image. Having a dragon on the cover is great, but I would not put him in space, that gives the reader a Science Fiction feeling. And with both you're probably turning away Sci-fi fans who don't particularly want to read about dragons, and turning away Fantasy fans who don't particularly want to read about outer space.

The description is okay, but kind of generic. I've read a lot of fantasy blurbs about young people going on quests to save the world from some evil person destroying that world. I would like to know what's different about this book. I don't think it would take much to spice it up a bit.

I liked the beginning of the book. My only complaint? There seem to be a lot of…periods of…ellipsis. In the first 300 words there are 7 of them. That's one every 42 words. If they're that rampant in the rest of the book I'd stop reading, it would drive me crazy. That's my only complaint, and I readily admit it's a nit pick.

I think a new cover and blurb would really help this book. What do you guys think?


  1. Vicki pretty much hit what I consider the problems. The blurb could use some work, but especially the cover. It really put me off.

    The blurb, why do these boys care about magic being stolen in this world? Why can't they go back home? How does the first person they meet almost get them killed? I'd think that's who they'd be mad at this Regime? And three kids overthrowing a regime doesn't really seem very compelling. What exactly are the stakes? What is their immediate goal?

  2. I didn't see the cover as a literal scene from the book ('dragon in space'), I saw it as 'dragon' and 'moonlit sky'. But I don't claim to be an expert in 'fantasy' covers.

    I used to read quite a bit of fantasy. The problem I see with this is that it sounds exactly like hundreds (thousands?) of other YA fantasy out there. Nothing about your blurb makes it stand out. What makes these characters or their story unique?

  3. The cover and the blurb makes me think MG, not YA. At first I though the dragon was silhouetted against the moon, but looking closer, I think it's the earth. Either way, it's a very basic, generic cover and needs to be punched up quite a bit.

    The blurb doesn't entice me to read what promises to be a standard two boys and a girl (Harry, Ron, Hermione? The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew?)quest. What is different about this one?

    Nothing inherently wrong with the opening. It's pretty much how I would expect 14 yr old boys to act at the end of summer school. Maybe just a little more of a teaser about Oliver's plans for that night would punch it up enough.

  4. My thoughts echo the others here.

    I think the cover is generic. Not terrible but not unique. I would definitely make the typography more interesting, if nothing else.

    The description is also very generic. A couple kids go to Narnia and fight evil? I want to know how this book is different and worth reading.

    The opening text is okay. Although when I read the name "Jem" I think of the 1980's cartoon Jem and the Holograms, so "Jem" is a lady to me.

    And I also got a Middle Grade feel from this, not a Young Adult feel. YA usually features a more intense plot about sex or drugs or violence in which the protag learns to confront the adult world. A straight-up fantasy adventure for kids sounds more PG to me.

  5. Almost all of the comments ask "what is different? What is unique" about this story. Personally (and I may be wrong) I think that there are dozens (hundreds?) of "2 boys and a girl save the world" stories out there, and I don't think that yours necessarily has to be "unique" I just think it has to be good. If I read LotR, Narnia and HP, I'm not too concerned that the general plot is a pair of boys and a girl save the world. I've probably read that same story line 5 times. I'll read it again, I just need what I read to be good. I need it to be well written and I need it to have good characters. So manufacturing "uniqueness" isn't something that I think you necessarily need to strive for. Tell a good story and tell it well.

    as far as your 1st impression material here:

    Point blank: Your blurb is poorly written. It's close to terrible. You need to approach the blurb from a different angle. Do you want to sell a story about an evil regime that is stealing magic and 3 kids that set out on a quest to defeat that regime or do you want to sell a story about 3 kids from modern Earth who end up as strangers in a strange land? I get the sense that your blurb is trying to sell this book (kids fall through a portal, fight a dragon and meet sierra) while also trying to setup the series (go on a quest to defeat the regime). If this is the case, my suggestion is to blurb the book, not the series. keep your blurb limited to what happens to Jem and Oliver in the book, not the series. Think Hunger Games. Book 1 wasn't about overthrowing the president, but the series is. Read the blurb and it's ONLY about what happens in book 1. Hopefully your book is a little more focused than your blurb.

    The ellipses in your first 300 stood out but I also, for some reason, noticed an overabundance of the word "was" in there. Maybe it's okay. Maybe it's just me but it stood out to me. The word is used at least once in almost every sentence of the first half of the 300. including some odd uses like: "everyone except for the boy who WAS a row to Oliver’s left, and three rows closer to the front. That WAS Jem, and he WASn’t about to laugh at Oliver."

    And I agree. The name Jem throws me off.

    So in short:

    You don't have to prove that you're unique or different or original, you just have to prove that you are good or better.

    Rewrite your blurb. for God's sake rewrite it. It's bad.

    Find a writer, whose work you like and have them read your book. If those ellipses and the word "was" perforate it the way they do this first 300 words a rewrite might be in order.

  6. COVER: The typeface doesn’t work for me. It says psychotic clown released from asylum, not dragons released from abyss. You need something gothic. The image doesn’t work either. No one uses photorealism (or real photos) in fantasy covers (i.e., the picture of the Moon).

    PD: The description is, well, convoluted. It goes from talk of falling through magical portals and fire-breathing dragons to cherubic faces starting the first year of high school. The juxtaposition of those two images is jarring. On top of that, the next two lines are illogical: assuming that the first person they meet is Sierra, she almost gets them killed and saves them at the same time—and this even though she’s a farm girl itching to get away from home? Huh? If the first person they meet is someone else then you should name him/her/it and avoid the ambiguity.

    It also needs copyediting. The syntax of the first sentence doesn’t naturally lead into the next, for example, and both sentences are overwrought:

    “What's the worst part of falling through a portal to another world and not being able to get back? When the first person you meet almost gets you killed by a ferocious, fire-breathing dragon.”

    This should be pared down to something like

    “What’s worse than falling through a portal to another world? Being chased by a fire-breathing dragon.”

    Simple question, simple answer. Adding in “not being able to get back” and the “when the first person you meet,” etc., just makes the syntax too convoluted for young people. Even old people find it hard to digest for long.

    300: Like the PD, the text needs editing. Believe it or not, Seriously, get rid of the ellipses. They’re not even warranted in the context in which you’ve used them. There should be a full stop after the word “afternoon,” for example, and the next sentence should begin with “In twelve hours.”

    Which points to the next problem: I suggest that you could shed about 50 of the first 300 words (not counting ellipses). It’s not tight, so it probably doesn’t move fast enough to be compelling to readers. Half or more of each of these expressions should go: “And as they,” “a blazing hot mid-August day,” “was dreaming up what he thought would be,” “that meant that,” “a small, chubby man who was sweating profusely in his striped dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up,” “fumbling randomly,” “out across the crowded classroom,” etc.

    Also, NWRANN picked up on another of your ticks that most people will only register unconsciously as the feeling that something’s a bit off: you use the progressive past tense in every sentence, sometimes twice (i.e., wasn’t/was/was dreaming/was asleep/was going/was sweating, etc.), as if all the action was continuous. It shouldn’t be.

    Anyway, good luck.

  7. Strunk and White says it well, "Omit needless words." I've found omitting needless words makes me really think about what I'm trying to say. It also usually makes the writing a lot tighter.

    Seems to be a lot of telling, not showing going on as well. In the opening paragraph, there's a lot of opportunity to show us how Jem may not be adventuresome or show us how hot it is; instead you're telling us.

    A lot of places where you're using elipses could be replaced with comma's or semi-colon's. Elipses usually indicate thoughts/words trailing off. I think your writing could be improved with reading a copy of 'The Elements of Style'.

    The cover, well, that cover would not inspire me to look any further. When designing a cover, or anything really, you need to look at it from the prospective of, "Would I go to an important first meeting in grungy sweatpants and dirty, uncombed hair?" Your cover puts your best foot forward, or it should at any rate. I'll admit, unless I've gotten really good word of mouth about an Indie book, if the cover is bad I walk away. I won't even read the blurb.

    I just mocked up a quick cover with a stock illustration from istockphoto... it's not great but it's an improvement.

  8. Have read all of the comments above and in actual fact i personaly enjoyed both the first and second book and really can't wait for the third! My only reason for looking at this page was to see when book 3 will be out in the public domain.
    Hey you will never please everyone...........


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