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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Evangeline Heresy


Author: Thayer Berlyn
Genre: Supernatural Suspense/Dark Fantasy
How long it's been on sale: November 29, 2011
Current price: $2.99
Marketing: Goodreads, Book Blogs, Book Marketing Network, My Creative Intent, Wordpress, Xanga, Blogger, Twitter, Authors Den, Red Room, Kindle Boards Book Bazaar, Amazon Meet our Authors, Indie Book List (recently submitted).  Recently signed up for Linkedin.
Total sold so far: 35 books UK, 10 USA (approximately 1500 total on free downloads Feb/March KDP Select)
Link to book on Amazon: The Evangeline Heresy: a novel of Dark Fantasy and Supernatural Suspense

Product Description: 

Deep in the green forest, there exists a creature unlike any other. Some say a witch, but some say a lot of things.

Dr. Ethan Broughton has agreed to investigate a potent medicinal plant, and a rumor of curative miracles on Porringer Hill in East Tennessee. What he finds, is an isolated community of disturbing superstition centered on one woman, Ana Lagori, a local apothecary with a mysterious ability to heal all wounds. What at first seems little more than a clever deception, soon propels Ethan into an abyss of shadowy forest haunts, unsettling interactions and the perilous web of a legacy that traces its origin back to antiquity.

First 300 Words:

The notes of Dr. Ethan Broughton

Boston, Massachusetts

It was the morning some kind of holy sprite dropped from a flowering hawthorn tree.
     
In the spring of 1935, Dr. Leland Broughton and two colleagues were hiking alongside the Cutler creek in search of a rare botanical, known in mountain lay term as blue poke: a delicate wild plant with a velvety sapphire blossom resembling a small pouch. When squeezed between the fingertips, this scarce bloom produces a warm, purplish juice with acute antiseptic properties. Broughton discovered reference to the plant in the writings of one Dr. Charles Holt from Durham, who, himself, described an observation of its curative powers in 1928, at the hands of a "granny" in East Tennessee.
     
The wonder of either testimony or madness came when the adventurous Dr. Broughton clipped the backside of a nesting pit viper with his boot heel.
     
Flushed under the maturating toxin spreading from his inner thigh, Broughton waited alone for his comrades to return with aid, by way of a homestead not a quarter mile down creek side. Through a sediment of increasing delirium, he watched the milky figure of a strikingly pale young woman slip from her hidden perch on a nearby hawthorn branch and, with preternatural calm, move closer to assess the wound with a critical eye. She whispered, then, an unusual inquiry, which brushed against Broughton's ear like the swaying fronds of a wild fern. He breathed a heavy gasp in response, nearly losing consciousness when the woman’s front teeth molded into the grooved fangs of the deadly serpent. He cried out, in agony, when those hollow spears tore deep into the injury.

Comments: I kind of like the image of the girl on the cover, although it makes me think it's a paranormal story instead of a fantasy. The title is very small and hard to read. I'm also not sure what an Evangeline Heresy is. I mean, I know that heresy is, but it doesn't seem to work well in the title. I think readers like to be challenged a little, but starting out by confusing the reader might not be a great idea. I would suggest at least making the title larger, and possibly changing the name.

The blurb was hard to read because of all the misplaced commas. I would get help with it from an editor. Most editors will help with the blurb if you hire them to edit the book. The comma issue in the description makes me think the book is unedited and makes me want to stay away.

As for the content of the description, I think there are some things going for it. I like the ability to heal all wounds bit. I don't like that the beginning calls her a creature. This makes me think of big foot or some other hairy monster. There's also some vague language used, which doesn't help the reader figure out what kind of a book they are getting. Things like "creature unlike any other - an abyss of shadowy forest haunts - unsettling interactions - perilous web of a legacy." These are too vague and don't help me visualize what I'm going to be reading about.

Consider this book blurb:

When something unexpected happens to Mary, she takes the initiative and puts things into her own hands. Transported into a whole new world, Mary must try to figure out who is a friend and who is an enemy. The tension increases when Mary is put into more difficult situations. With everything on the line, Mary finds herself making the choices no person ever wants to make.

What kind of a book is this? Is this set in future times? The past? Is she in the forest, or a city? Does she move to a new place or get transported through a time machine? Is this book like the Chronicles of Narnia or like The Hunger Games? I can't tell a blessed thing from the vague sentences here. And yet, we as authors love to use these kinds of phrases when we write our book blurbs. The best thing I ever did was type up each sentence in Word on a separate line and pick it apart, looking for vague stuff, and cutting it out making it more specific. I would try that with this blurb.

The beginning of the book confuses me. It states these are the notes of Dr. Ethan Broughton, and yet it doesn't read like his notes at all past the first sentence. I would expect his notes to be written in first person. I would suggest taking out the bit about his notes. We should be able to figure out we are in the Dr.'s perspective by the writing.

The rest of the opening is all back story. It's told like we are looking back at what has happened. This doesn't bring the reader into the book. I want to know what is happening right now, not what happened a while ago. Show these things happening in the moment, rather than telling it like it's back story. Unfortunately I would suggest rewriting the beginning and possibly getting some help from a critique group. My favorite is www.critiquecircle.com.

What do you guys think?

12 comments:

  1. I've seen the cover plenty of times on the KBoards and always assumed it was YA paranormal romance!

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  2. In general I like the cover image although if the story/setting is dark then the bright cover might need to be toned down, perhaps by using a stronger vignette effect with darker edges. I'm not sure what the difference is between paranormal and supernatural (as a skeptic I lump it all together when applied to real life, and in fiction I would consider it all under the broad umbrella of fantasy), so I didn't see a genre-indication problem with the cover image.

    I would definitely recommend making the title much bigger, as I'm assuming it is impossible to read when the cover is a small thumbnail image. I would remove "by" from the cover (it's understood the author's name refers to the person who wrote the story, and I believe including "by" makes it look unprofessional and home-made), and the author name text should also probably be larger. There needs to be "breathing space" between text and the edge of the cover, so the author name should be moved away from the right edge.

    I didn't find the title any more confusing than "The Bourne Identity" so -- assuming the witch(?) or some prominently-related character is named Evangeline -- I wouldn't recommend changing it.

    Put a sharp tack on your comma key. ;) (This coming from someone who overuses commas, and parentheses!) Having more people read your work and give you brutally honest feedback can be painful but it's pain toward a good cause, i.e., maximizing the value of your work. The first round of feedback of my writings typically includes many "delete this comma" markups, but getting those taken care of before publication is important.

    I noticed most or all of your promotion so far has been online. Once you've made any changes that you plan to make to the cover, blurb, and text of the story, be sure to consider offline promotion opportunities as well. Good luck!

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  3. The cover is almost but not quite there. I like the intensity of the girl's eyes. I'm assuming she's the apothecary, and if that's the case, then the image works. What doesn't work is the size of the title. Maybe it can't be enlarged, but I think it needs to be bolder.

    "Deep in the green forest, there exists a creature unlike any other. Some say a witch, but some say a lot of things."

    Did you mean, " a lot of other things?"

    Actually, I would eliminate that sentence entirely.

    The problem I find with the blurb and the first 300 is words such as "maturating," "sediment," "preturnatural." All good words, but they slow down the read when there are too many of them.

    This sounds like a good story.

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  4. Am I the only one who finds the cover washed-out, like an over-exposed photo? That and I can't read the title, let alone the author's name.

    The blurb: it's interesting, but yeah, the commas. If in doubt, leave it out. In other words, if you're unsure if a comma is needed, chances are that you can probably do without it.

    The sample: it's dry. I mean, really, really dry. And there are tense switches. I don't know why people start books with diary entries or letters or quotes. This is the first thing a potential reader sees when clicking on the cover at Amazon. IMO ditch the entry and start with something active that shows a character doing something compelling.

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  5. Thank you for these valuable insights. When things are not quite right, I want to be the first to know. The comma issue is one I admittedly struggle with. I did remove what I believe to be the misplaced commas in the blurb and eliminated the second sentence about a witch. I may go back to the original cover of a woodland scene, but with a change in font. The cover that is up now was changed a few days ago from a plain stock image, but the title doesn't really seem to fit either way. I experimented this evening with larger wording and tweaked the image, but am not really satisfied with it, so the original landscape cover is looking more probable.

    The title has everything to do with the book, so I am wary of changing that.

    The singular event in the spring of 1935 related in the prologue (thread) is the very foundation of the story, so I am not certain how to work with this. I am aware of the perils of too much back story and worked very hard to make the prologue brief. I am confused about the prologue being very dry and a character not doing something compelling. I would hesitate to eliminate the beginning as it stands, because despite its initial presentation/sales failings, the book has had some fortune in receiving interesting and random reviews on Amazon, UK and Goodreads.

    Thank you, again, to everyone who responded. You have each helped more than you know.

    Respectfully,
    Thayer Berlyn

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  6. I recently hired a professional editor to help me with my novel, and I'm extremely glad I did. He helped to point out that I was still being purple in much of my writing, and implored me to do 'more using less'.

    Thayer, I would strongly recommend that you follow this same advice. It really will make you a better and more disciplined writer.

    For example: "Through a sediment of increasing delirium, he watched the milky figure of a strikingly pale young woman slip from her hidden perch on a nearby hawthorn branch and, with preternatural calm, move closer to assess the wound with a critical eye".

    Perhaps some people will disagree for me, but I think this is way too much. I believe this sentence would hold far more weight if you pared it down and maybe divided it up. Take the 'milky figure' and 'strikingly pale young woman' as an example. You need to choose one of these descriptions. They are both saying the same thing in different ways, which is quite grating. And 'critical eye' is also unnecessary for me, because you've already said that she's 'assessing' the wound. I think something like the following would be better:

    As the delirium increased, he watched a strikingly pale young woman slip from her hidden perch on a nearby hawthorn branch. With preternatural calm, she moved closer, assessing the wound.

    I know from personal experience that it can be quite disconcerting at first when outsiders start messing with your style. But once you start to be tougher with yourself, you will be amazed at how much progress you'll make.

    I wish you all the best. Good luck.

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  7. Thanks, Anonymous. I clearly see what you mean with the example and will apply your suggestion. I am in the process of reading through the manuscript for misplaced comma usage, so will keep my eye out for any more weighted sentence structure as well.

    Appreciatively,
    Thayer Berlyn

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  8. You know the reader RARELY needs to understand the backstory to start the story. If they need to know all that stuff at some point, it probably isn't needed the second they start reading. Consider cutting the backstory from the first and slipping it in gradually or at least in the second chapter.

    And you really could use a good editor, a content editor, not a copy editor. This gives the impression of trying way, way too hard, to the point of being a bit purple. Watch every noun having an adjective (or worse two) for every noun. Keep in mind Mark Twain's "when you meet an adjective, kill it..." comment.

    Let's look at some of it that has someone else commented on. I want to look at some addition issues:

    "Through a sediment of increasing delirium, he watched the milky figure of a strikingly pale young woman slip from her hidden perch on a nearby hawthorn branch and, with preternatural calm, move closer to assess the wound with a critical eye. She whispered, then, an unusual inquiry, which brushed against Broughton's ear like the swaying fronds of a wild fern."

    "Watched" is rather a distancing verb. Assuming you're writing in close 3rd, it is almost always redundant since the reader shouldn't know about it unless the PoV character watched it. Then I have to wonder how he watched her slip from somewhere that was hidden. Not so very hidden, I have to assume. She has preternatural calm? How does he know this, especially if he is delirious? In what way is her eye critical? Do you need that when you just said she was assessing the wound? I find it annoying as a reader to have the author (and the PoV character) hide stuff from me and I want to know why I'm not told what she whispered. And how does a whisper brush one's ear "like the swaying fronds of a wild fern"? That's poetic sounding, but does it mean anything? Do the fronds of a wild fern feel different from the fronds of a non-wild frond? Really?

    I know that is a very harsh analysis of only two sentences, but it shows where I think there is a problem. There is nothing wrong with description and a bit of metapher in one's writing, but it needs to be done selectively, not a couple of times in every sentence and it needs to bring something to the meaning, not just sound nice.

    Sorry! I don't want to hurt your feelings, but judging by the sample you need someone to give you a hand with this on editing.

    The cover could use a re-work. I can't imagine that the title is readable in thumbnail size and the "by" should go, but I don't think that's the big problem here.

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  9. Thank you for your response, J.R.

    I'm not too thin-skinned about my writing, so do not worry about hurting my feelings, as it were.

    I do see the value in tightening the structure. The story is meant to sound poetic in the sense that I wished to convey the narrow line between reality and illusion, although I begin to see there are some valid issues.

    I do find myself somewhat confused about the use of a brief backstory. The entire mystery of the heresy hinges on a single event as I mentioned previously.

    Defense of use:

    "In the second category [of prologue groups], used often by thriller and mystery writers, the prologue describes a precipitating event, while the novel proper describes the responses to, or consequences of, that event." (http://www.rebawhitewilliams.org/framing_novel.htm)

    I think the running theme here is that in order to reach a wider audience, the prose needs to be toned down and that is a legitimate criticism. I say wider audience, because I do have interesting reviews from readers, as aforementioned, and I value their perception of the work as they found it. Therein rests a hesitation of too great an alteration as well.

    I have tweaked the cover to make it more legible and worked on the comma problems.

    Much Appreciation,
    Thayer Berlyn

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  10. Thank you, Victorine, for offering this little corner. It has really helped with perspective.

    Respectfully,
    Thayer Berlyn

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  11. You're welcome, Thayer. I'm glad to help.

    As for your question, maybe I can shed a little light on it. Here's a precipitating event told in back story:

    In the spring of 1935, Dr. Leland Broughton and two colleagues were hiking alongside the Cutler creek in search of a rare botanical, known in mountain lay term as blue poke: a delicate wild plant with a velvety sapphire blossom resembling a small pouch.

    Here's the same precipitating event, but not told in back story:

    Dr. Leland Broughton squatted and plucked the delicate blossom. "Is this it?" he asked.

    "Doubt it. It's the wrong color." Russel scrubbed his face with his hand. "But we're close. I know it's here somewhere."

    Okay, that's terribly boring, but you can see how showing the scene in "real time" can bring the reader into the moment, rather than "telling" what had happened. In your book, I see you going from "real time" to "back story" and back to "real time." It's important to stick with a scene and keep the reader in "real time." There is a time and place for summarizing, but the beginning of a novel isn't it, IMHO.

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  12. Hi Victorine,

    I am getting a much clearer picture now. The value has gone even beyond this particular book. As it turns out, the suggestions in this thread also helped in my upcoming novel, specifically in eliminating the prologue of that work altogether.

    Much Appreciation,
    Thayer Berlyn

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