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Friday, August 17, 2012

Shadowlawn


Author: Joseph M. Horodyski
Genre: Horror
How long it's been on sale: May 19, 2012
Current price: $9.99
Marketing: Unknown
Total sold so far: 2
Link to book on Amazon: Shadowlawn

Product Description:

There was a secret once kept by the Catholic Church, one long since lost. Before the dawn of modern civilization, mankind worshipped a different set of gods - darker and more primal. It was around these that early man built a whole system of worship and service. It was a time when every dark night brought with it the fear of death and unspeakable danger lurking in every dim recess. With the coming of the world's great religions these gods were pushed aside and forgotten, relegated to the province of myth or of dimly remembered tales told around campfires. While the human race has long forgotten its association with these beings, they have never forgotten us. The doorway is now open - and man is totally unprepared for what is about to come through.

On a lonely windswept isle off the coast of Massachusetts, a group of eight individuals gather one weekend to assess the state of a long disused manor, Shadowlawn, now up for sale. In so doing they accidentally unleash a string of events that paves the way for the return of these beings.  From musty secret passages to dark unholy chapels,  from bone-filled catacombs and lonely windswept sand-duned beaches to a gut-wrenching climax played out in a dank and disused lighthouse, these eight disparate individuals are about to fight mankind's final battle against the ultimate, unspeakable evil. With the help of a benevolent spirit trapped on the island, the secrets of Shadowlawn are laid bare one by one until they finally see the light of day - a day that will ultimately end in either humanity's salvation, or its eternal damnation.

First 300 Words:

If you should happen to find yourself driving up the coast from Boston a short way and come to town of Ipswich on old Rte. 133, and have a little time to spare, take Argyll Rd. that leads east from the town to the Atlantic coast about 6 or 7 miles. Once you hit the water park your car and take a look at the vista before you. To your left, across the bay, you'll see Plum Island State Park, one of the most popular bird sanctuaries and nature reserves on the eastern seaboard, and one made almost entirely of shifting sand dunes and tall saw grass. To your right, the rocky coast that seems to stretch out into the Atlantic like a thumb pointing the way, is Cape Ann, a tourist's and artist's haven, attracting people from all across the globe each summer. That little town off in the distance is Pigeon Cove, at the very end of the Cape. The other side of the Cape shelters such well knew locations as Gloucester and Rockport.

But turn your attention to the peninsula you're on. The very end of it is known as Castle Neck, probably named from an old fort or other defensive structure that used to guard the harbor in colonial days. Look a little closer across the windswept bay to a small spit of land about a mile or two out in the bay. That's known as Seaview Island. If you happened to have a handy set of binoculars on you, you could just about make out a cluster of buildings on the island, but not well enough to see any of the features or architecture that you could appreciate.

Seaview Island was uninhabited through much of its history, until about 1880 when the fledgling Coast guard put up an eighty foot tall lighthouse on one end as a precaution against sailing vessel from coming to close to the rocky coast, especially if a gale or strong nor'easter was blowing in from the Atlantic. About two miles long and only a mile in width, the lighthouse stood on a rocky promontory at the northern end of the island and beamed its welcoming light seaward for over a century. The middle of the island was rocky, hilly, and heavily wooded, not much good for growing things. The southern end of the island was mostly sand and dunes that the winds would play with and form into an ever-changing array of shapes and patterns, the result of eons of ocean waves and currents smashing onto the island, reducing it at that point to fine particles of cream-colored sand.

The lighthouse stood alone until 1905 when it was joined by a 40-room stone structure of arched roofs, turrets, gables, widow's walks known collectively as Shadowlawn Terrace, or just Shadowlawn, as it quickly became known to the locals. Shadowlawn was the brainchild of millionaire inventor Nathaniel Hammond III, who made his fortune in hundreds of patents during that technological boom that took place around the turn of the century when even electricity was a mysterious force to be reckoned with. He had it built to his own specifications with the structure and furnishing imported stone by stone from the best castle ruins scattered across Europe, and included a family mausoleum, an indoor aviary, fountains, arched walkways, and spring fed pool. Hammond meant it to be the future home of his family for generations to come, but his time spent there was neither happy nor brief. Expecting his first child of the latest Hammond generation, he and his pregnant wife went down on the Titanic in 1912 returning from a European vacation and both were lost.

Comments: I like the lighthouse picture. Unfortunately, it doesn't say "Horror" to me at all. The stormy clouds maybe hint at it, but I think the cover needs more to make it look like a horror novel. I want to see some blood on it. Or a dead body. Or a weapon. Something scary. The lighthouse kind of looks peaceful, you know? I'd also suggest a different font. I'm not a big fan of the current one. I'd also get rid of the "A Classic Tale of Modern Horror." This is what the picture on the cover should show. I'd go look at some other horror novels and see what's on the cover, and study how the cover shows the genre. (And don't look at the popular authors, because the name alone will tell the genre. Study some unknown author covers, ones that are selling well.)

The description needs some scissors taken to it. I actually think the first paragraph can be cut altogether. It's all back story. You don't need it in the description. The second paragraph is much better, but can be trimmed up too. I like some of the things in there, I would just edit it to get to the good stuff. If a description is overly wordy, I always assume the book will be as well. Don't give your readers the impression the book needs a pair of scissors. Trim up that description and the book will be much more appealing. I'd also like to know who the main character is.

The beginning of the novel didn't grab me. It was all back story. Things like this are great for the author to know, but I would chop off all the back story from the beginning, and start where the story actually starts. I also see some editing issues, and some wordiness. I might suggest hiring an editor to help with those issues. (Example: Once you hit the water park your car...)

One last thing. $9.99 for the ebook? I wouldn't expect people to pay that much for an unknown author. Lower the price to $3.99 to $2.99 range.

What do you guys think?

14 comments:

  1. Hello. I'm just offering my humble opinions in the hopes they help you, but keep in mind, I could be wrong.

    First, the opening doesn't read like a novel. It reads like a tour or a blog article. I started skimming almost immediately, trying to find a character to engage me. I got excited when I read the name Nathaniel Hammond III, but quickly realized the story wasn't about him.

    The details you have here are what some writers call an info dump. It's not story, it's setting and background, which is more tolerated dribbled into the story as the events unfold. Some of it might not even be needed.

    For instance, instead of writing "The middle of the island was rocky, hilly, and heavily wooded, not much good for growing things." try something like "As Hank picked his way toward the middle of the island, he wondered how the pines and poplars managed to take root in the rocky ground." Merge setting with relevant character action.

    The price of the book would put me off, also. The best advice I can give is to cut the price to $2.99 (or even 99c) until you establish yourself as a noteworthy writer. Build an audience. As people come to trust your ability to entertain them, they'll come back for more.

    Lastly, the cover doesn't strike me as horror. I think it could be spooky -- lighthouses sometimes are -- but maybe the photo needs touching up -- a vignette, maybe? Some blood-red in the distant clouds like a scary sunset? The typography I think does the cover a disservice. Study the type faces and layout of some of the best horror covers you've seen and try to emulate them.

    Hope this helps. Best of luck with it!

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  2. This comment is from MeiLin:

    Cover: the photo's too snapshot-y, the font is wrong, drop the tag line and make your name bigger. Best advice is to hire it out. Go dig through the pre-made covers, you'd be amazed. There are some gems if you dig.

    Blurb: I have to be harsh. What isn't unnecessary back story is cliche. Scrap it and start over. These questions can help you begin:

    What does my hero have to do?
    Who or what is standing in his way?
    What happens if he doesn't do it?

    Answer those questions and you'll have a handle on what your blurb should say.

    Sample: I'm one of the odd people who rather likes that sort of thing, but this goes on too long with no sense of who the narrator is, and then just goes on too long. We need to know who the narrator is--even if the narrator is the author--and we need a more immediate sense of story, or at least a foreshadowing of events. I suggest a development editor. You're not a bad writer, but you could use some guidance. It was the best money I ever spent, my editor.

    Good luck!

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  3. Nothing says excitement like 'lawn'.

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  4. There are aspects I like about the cover, and others I don't. For instance, the dark blue clouds are beautiful and foreboding. The scenery with the desert gives a sense of lifelessness. There's something about the lighthouse I'm not fond of, but that's probably just a personal preference. And reading the description, the lighthouse makes sense. My concern is the subtitle says the book is a horror, but I really don't get horror from the cover. I'm also not fond of the generic font. Basically, I'm with Victorine on her assessment. It needs something more. Maybe zoom in a bit and add a face in torment/anguish in the clouds?

    The first sentence of the description is disconnected with the entire paragraph. First it talks about the Catholic Church, but then moves on to a different topic (early civilizations and systems of belief). My biggest issue with the first paragraph is it reads like a documentary. Who is the story about?

    The second paragraph is completely unrelated to the first. It's almost as if I'm looking at the description for two different books. The strongest part of the description is the last line. I would probably start there and work my description around it, and don't forget to include the name of a main character. Readers like people to connect to.

    The 300-word sample sounds like a travel guide. It doesn't pull me in.

    The price is also a issue. Yesterday I was cruising tags at Amazon. $9.99 is a price traditional publishers often will throw on their books. If you check out the tags, you'll find things like "9 99 boycott," "kindle price too high," "outrageous kindle price," or "not at that price." These tags are on bestselling authors and people are complaining. I think you'll be hard pressed to find a reader (other than family and friends) to shell out $9.99 for an eBook.

    I don't think you have to drop all the way to $0.99. I haven't had the best success at that level. However, I think eBooks do best when they're priced below $5.

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  5. Pretty much what has already been said. The cover didn't grab me, the blurb didn't grab me and the beginning didn't grab me. Really where is a CHARACTER? Even at the end of the 300 word blurb I don't have one to interest me.

    And the price is WAY too high.

    Oops. That probably sounds harsher than I mean it, but this needs some serious work.

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  6. I actually love the cover photo. The font needs work though. Maybe look at some of the other (successful book) covers in the horror section for ideas on font and placement.

    Horror is not what I read so keep that in mind but I didn't really like the intro.

    Also, $4.99 is the max I have ever paid for a fiction ebook and I have to REALLY want it to pay that.

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  7. I agree with everyone else on the price, description, and first 300 words. But I do think the cover could work. The image is fairly bleak already. With the right tweaks and a better font (one that makes it clear this is horror), it could be a winner.

    Hope that helps!

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  8. In addition to what has already been said (with which I agree), I noticed a couple other problems in the first 300 words.

    First, you refer to the Coast Guard as "fledgling" in 1880. By that point it had been in service for almost 100 years. I assume this isn't a typo in which you meant 1780 (before the Coast Guard existed), but either way it looks like a lack of research. This can be fixed by removing "fledgling."

    Also, near the end of that short sample is the sentence: "Hammond meant it to be the future home of his family for generations to come, but his time spent there was neither happy nor brief." You explain that Hammond died shortly after. That would mean his time there was brief. This can be fixed by replacing "happy nor brief" with "happy nor long" (or something like that).

    I think a close reading of the book to find details like these would help, although the blurb and cover need attention first.

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  9. One other note regarding the history of the lighthouse. You mention that it was built "as a precaution against sailing vessel from coming to close to the rocky coast." Aside from "vessel" needing to be plural, "to close" needing to be "too close," and the redundancy of explaining the purpose of a lighthouse, "sailing" as an adjective describing a ship can be understood as a reference to "a ship with sails." (That's how I read it, at least.) By 1880, steam-powered ships were common, and naturally they would need warning like any other vessel.

    Perhaps that part could be reworded to "as a precaution against any vessel sailing too close to the rocky coast" (where "sailing" as a verb can apply to vessels powered by sail, steam, nuclear, etc.). Or maybe it can be eliminated, or reworded even more succinctly (to emphasize the rockiness of the coast), since readers will presumably know the purpose of lighthouses.

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  10. I like the cover. It definitely says horror to me. But then I'm a total weenie and don't read horror so it doesn't take much to scare me.

    Most of the first paragraph of the blurb can go. Something brief about the old gods and keep the last sentence of that paragraph. The second paragraph is pretty good.

    That being said, I would never have gotten past the $9.99 price to even read the blurb, much less the first 300. I suggest $2.99 and give it a couple of months to see how it goes.

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  11. There is at least one major punctuation error and a glaring missing word in the first sentence. If I were browsing books at the library (or on Amazon) and discovered such mistakes in a book, I am afraid I would put it down and move on. It leaves a reader with the impression that the writer is careless, and that means the plot might have similar problems. Tighten your writing and proofread it; nothing sticks out more than copy edit problems!

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  12. I love the cover image, but the font needs to scream horror. Not sure I like the title (I keep thinking it's "Shadowland" by Peter Straub), but I could make it past that.

    There's too much exposition/information dump at the beginning. I started skimming while reading the sample. That's not good; I should be hanging on your every word. The book needs a hook, some dramatic and scarier-than-hell scene to get readers to want to know more. Foreshadow a bit maybe. A history lesson won't grab readers; only a story will do that. Make them care about the people in your story and what happens to them.

    The manuscript needs a copyedit to keep it clean and tight. If you start asking around it's very likely you have a friend who is an English major and might do the work for a couple hundred bucks. If not, find someone reasonable and ask for a sample edit. If you like his or her work, hire them. It's worth the money. We all think our writing is perfect until we get the copyedit back with all the red marks.

    The price is way too high. I would never make it to the sample after seeing the $9.99 price point. $2.99 to $3.99 is a great start. Once the book starts selling you'll make up the difference in quantity. This early in the game you need readers more than you need money. Should you build a following, the money will come if you're prolific. Make it easy for readers to give you a chance.

    The negatives aside, I love the premise of a group of people stuck on an island, fighting for their lives (and ultimately the lives of all humanity) against some truly frightening forces. There's a lot of potential here, you just have to get readers hooked so they can find out for themselves. I love horror, so I really want to love this book. Thanks to you for helping keep the horror genre alive. With some changes this book has a lot of potential.

    Good luck!

    Brian

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  13. I don't like how you use numbers and I am by no means an expert, but you shouldn't say "6 or 7 miles" It should be spelled out "six or seven miles". Same with 40-room stone structure. The use of numbers jumped out at me as being unedited or proofread.

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  14. Price is too high. I'm less and less willing to pay that much for even a big-name author's ebook. Trim the opening. I don't want directions to the island; I want to be hooked. I like the cover.

    RT

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