Friday, July 1, 2011

The Fifth Specter

Author: T.S. Welti
How long it's been for sale: 5 days
Total sold so far: 4

Product Description:

When thirteen-year-old Parker Chance stumbles upon a photograph of his dead birth mother he has no idea this mysterious picture will lead him to a land where the Law of Fives is never wrong....

Thirteen-year-old Parker Chance has endured years of ridicule at the hands of his adoptive family on account of his frequent “hallucinations”—until he finally decides to run away. His escape through the forest doesn’t quite go as planned when Parker’s life is saved by a stranger who claims to have the power to control electricity. The man uses this power to zap Parker into a tiny village buried in the mountains of Northern California.

The village of Stonyford Hollow is home to a species of humans who have evolved superhuman traits. Pieces of Parker’s troubled past begin to click into place when he discovers he is one of them.

Parker begins attending Knobhouse Academy where he learns he is one of five Specters in the universe with the power to travel by portal. As usual, Parker flouts the rules with a little harmless portal-hopping, but it all goes awry when he discovers someone wants to use his power to break a notorious scientist out of prison—the same crackpot responsible for his birth mother's disappearance. Though Parker has been warned to put the mysterious circumstances of his mother’s disappearance behind him, he and his new friends are too curious for their own good.

"I didn't want it to end."
- Cristina Elberson, Reader

"Once I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down. Unraveling the mysteries that were unfolding in young Parker's life compelled me to keep turning those pages. This book was completely enjoyable. I am, seriously, looking forward to this writer's next book."
- Laura Fagundes, Reader

First 300 words:

The rumor that parents who adopt their children love their children more has been greatly exaggerated. When Clarence and Victoria Rooney adopted eleven-month-old Parker Chance, they didn’t do so out of love. 

 Parker learned this when he was just four years old and dreadful Tommy Nichols called Parker a “’tinky adoption baby” for having a different last name than the Rooneys. His adoptive parents never bothered to change Parker’s last name to Rooney. “Too much paperwork,” Clarence muttered when Parker asked him about it. When Parker was eight, Clarence and Victoria Rooney couldn’t even be bothered to attend the school board meeting where Parker was expelled from public school permanently.

Two years after being booted out of public school, ten-year-old Parker was now sitting quietly at the kitchen table with a bag of crayon nubs drawing superheroes in his composition book. He was waiting for his private teacher, Miss Mopkiss, who was late for their daily lesson—as usual. 

Vicki's Comments: Why isn't this selling? Well, for starters, it's only been for sale for five days. You may have come at this with unrealistic expectations. I only sold seven copies my first month. I know many more authors who would have loved to sell four books in their first five days out. When I first published, I had the goal of selling one book a day. After that was easy, I increased my goal to three books a day. I think if you start out with more realistic goals, you won't be so discouraged.

However, I'm sure you came for more of a critique of your book, so I'll take a stab at it. The cover looks good for a middle grade novel, except the title and author names are hard to make out in thumbnail size. It also might be a little hard to figure out what the characters are doing. It does give me the 'fantasy' vibe, though, so I think you're doing something right there.

Middle grade is a tough sell to adults. You mentioned you've been hitting the social media circuits hard. It's probably adults you're talking to, no? If you've only been at this for five days, it takes time to build up connections in social media. I sure hope you're not out there spamming all the message boards with links to your book. That won't work. You have to chat and get to know people. That takes much longer than five days.

Blurb: I would work on your blurb. You repeat thirteen-year-old Parker Chance, which gives me the impression your writing will be clunky. Also, I feel like the description is too long. It should hook the reader and give them the desire to read more, not outline the whole plot of the book.

Sample: Your book starts out with a lot of telling. You're telling the reader about adopted kids. Then you're telling the reader that Chance had a troubled childhood. I would try to start with action, to draw the reader in. And I don't mean you have to start with someone chasing Chance, but start with showing the reader his troubled childhood instead of telling it.

And of course, as always, these are just my thoughts and impressions as I am looking at your book. Take it with a grain of salt.

Now your turn, everyone. Why do you think this book isn't selling?


  1. You have an interesting premise, a character I'm sure many middle grade kids can relate to, but I think Victorine summed it well with the clunky aspect. I also wonder about too many details that dont seem to tie in without actually reading the story. It's not easy to hook, but I think if you simplify, cut out repeats, it could only help and then give it time while you network and work on something else. And, think about hitting your local librarys and schools. Maybe organize an event where middle grade students submit their ideas for a story, and you, a published author comment on them with a give away of your novel to the best or something. Show kids (and parents) how to use a kindle if they dont know, stuff like that.
    Good luck with it!

  2. I'm definitely not an expert in "what makes a book sell." However, as a reader, I have some comments in addition to what was already mentioned. First, the story seems interesting enough that I might want to download the Kindle sample. However, a couple things stood out to me. One is that the concept has some solid parallels with the Harry Potter concept (unwanted adopted kid with unknown-to-him special powers).

    Another, which to me is more damaging, is that the book starts out with the idea that a young child could be permanently expelled from the public education system. That doesn't seem realistic at all, since public schools work very hard to keep even the worst-behaving (or learning-disabled) students moving forward in at least a basic education. In fact, by law they're probably not even allowed to set a young student adrift. Having that appear so early interferes with my ability to "get into the story" because part of my mind starts looking for other things wrong with it. (It might be more realistic to indicate that the adoptive parents "home-schooled" him but actually faked the paperwork after a few years.)

    I hope this is helpful, and I wish you the best of success with your book!

  3. I agree with the other comments. You lost me with the overly long blurb. It's more of a plot outline than a blurb with a hook.

    As one of the previous posters said, it is absolutely unrealistic that a ten year old would be permanently expelled from school. That stopped me in my tracks, too.

    Four sales in the first five days is pretty darn good, especially for a middle-grade book. MG kindle books are a hard sell.

  4. The text said it had been two years since he had been kicked out, so actually it would mean he was 8 when expelled. Also, does the child age 3 years in the book? Because your blurb talks about him being 13 but in the book he starts out at 10. Maybe this is addressed in the book? :) I also thought of the Harry Potter thing, but I can over look that if the rest of it is unique enough.

    Definately work on shortening the blurb and making it far less difficult for the reader. It does not need to be a synopsis that tells every point in the story, but a glossing over that will grab their attention and make them want to learn more.

    Hope this helps!

  5. 4 books in 5 days is nothing to sneeze at. Most authors spend months getting those kinds of numbers.

    I would work on the blurb. It's really long, I found myself getting bored after the first paragraph. Not that I have a short attention span. But if I were shopping around my first reaction is usually "just quickly tell me and then I'll take a more in-depth look."

  6. I agree the blurb is a bit long. I'd make it short with a good hook to grab them.

    It looks like an interesting idea for a story though and your sales are off to a good start. :)

    Personally, I don't mind if a story start off with some exposition if I already know I love the premise. Hope this helps.

  7. The blurb is too long, definitely. There's some problems with the descriptions of powers there, as well: too much seems taken for granted. Travel by portal could mean many things, for instance, and how exactly does a person who control electricity use that to zap someone elsewhere? I'd make sure the descriptions are more clear (because people haven't read the book and don't necessarily know what you mean), or alternately, more vague (because they don't need to know all the details, or even the details that are provided). And the age confusion is a problem, too.

    Also, if his adoptive parents couldn't be bothered to attend a meeting or fill out any paperwork, would they hire a private tutor for him?

    The cover's not bad for a middle grade book. The various features of it aren't integrated perfectly, though; it looks a bit like the children are cut outs that have been pasted in there, and so on. Smooth out those details a little and I think it'll get better.

    4 in 5 days is good stuff, though. Don't worry about that number. It's decent. Just try to keep it up, and you'll be doing well indeed.

  8. Great comments, everyone! I did notice the similarities to Harry Potter, but I didn't think it would hinder someone from buying the book. There was enough of a difference for me. :)

  9. I agree with the other comments, too. But do have one suggestion for possibly helping with your blurb. I think it helps if you can show some of the emotional conflict in the blurb rather than giving a story recap. How is Parker torn between what he wants and what is happening/has happened to him?

    Something like: When thirteen year old Parker Chance runs away from his adoptive home, he ends up in the village of Stonyford Hollow, home to a species of humans who have evolved superhuman traits. Pieces of Parker’s troubled past begin to click into place when he discovers he is one of them. Parker learns his biological mother disappeared under mysterious circumstances and he is determined to find her -- except everyone warns him to stay out of it. Can he use his newly discovered power to travel by portal to learn what happened to his mother? Or is he too curious for his own good?

  10. I don't think it's unrealistic for him to have been kicked out of public school at 8 or 10, but he needs to have done something to earn it, and that should be related to the conflict. If he's magical, he could have accidentally moved a pencil with his telekinetic power or whatever, but was accused of throwing it.

    Shorten the blurb for sure.

    I think the cover is good.

    And I have yet to publish one of my books, but 4 in 5 days sounds pretty good.

    Good luck!

  11. My 2 cents.

    The length of the blurb isn't the problem. No one will decide they don't want to buy the book because the description is four paragraphs long (with two those paragraphs being very short). The problem may be, however, that you give away too much of the plot. I'd end it after the first sentence of the fourth paragraph.

    I don't think you're telling too much in the first 300 words. One, you're succinctly summarizing the backstory and setting the scene. Two, it's a middle-grade book. The writing is compelling, IMO.

    I think the similarities to Harry Potter are a good thing, not a bad thing. You're resonating with Harry Potter, and that will attract people to the work. It's different enough from Harry Potter that it seems more like an homage than a copy.

    The cover is good, the price is low, the description is mostly good (just a bit too much plot, I think), and the writing is good.

    The problem is your book has been out for only 5 days. I'd focus on how to reach your target audience. Figure out who would buy this book and how you can reach them. Good luck! I don't think you're going to need it, though. You're a smart cookie ;-)

  12. The book premise sounds interesting, but the blurb definitely needs polishing.
    I don't see anything wrong with a few Harry Potter parallels - kids love HP and are probably looking for more similar tales.
    No one else mentions it, but I would make the yellow line of the cover a bit bigger or bolder. I feel it's a bit lost. But maybe that's just me.
    Best of luck with sales going forward. Seems a solid product!

  13. Kathy, that's a good blurb. If I were T.S., I would use it almost word for word.

    I don't mind the Potter similarities at all. I led a Potter book club at my grandkids school. At the end of the second year, a lot of the kids had started to read Percy Jackson. They wanted to discuss that, too, so I asked them to find similarities between Potter and Jackson. You'd be surprised at how many they found.

  14. Wow! I went off to run some errands and I come back to all these detailed responses! There is so much awesome feedback here, I don't know where to start!

    First off, thanks to everyone who commented. I really appreciate you taking the time to look at my book page and read my excerpt.

    I do recognize the HP parallels, though, when I began writing the book six years ago, the story did start off more as a Heroes-like story, but then the TV show came out and I went in a different direction. I hope it's not too similar. Some of you said that may be a positive thing. I hope you're right. :)

    I am revising the blurb tonight. I totally agree that there is too much plot in there. Thanks to you, Kathy, for taking the time to write a sample blurb for me. I'll probably build on that. Thank you!

    I actually knew a kid who was expelled from public school when I was a kid. Not sure if they still do it, but that is why I didn't think anything of putting that in there. I did originally explain his expulsion in more detail, but the story was getting too long. I ended up cutting a lot of small details like that out. I will consider putting that back in.

    As for the cover, I tried my best to put it together well. I'm not an expert cover artist and my illustrator is an artist with virtually no computer skills. I had to put together the cover myself. I don't think there's much else I can do to it. I'm a single mom who was laid off a few months ago. Not much money to pay a professional cover artist. :-/

    Thanks again to everyone who commented. I enjoyed reading all the feedback. None of the criticism stung, at all. I guess my skin has become much thicker over the past six years. Best of luck and a great weekend to you all!

  15. TS: I was happy to try to help. Feel free to use whatever works for you and discard the rest :) I hope your book sales skyrocket.

  16. Thank you, Kathy! I love finding awesome, supportive authors. You've made my day. :)

  17. Maybe it's just my (wicked bad) ADD kicking in, but the excerpt feels like pure info-dump to me, which makes it tough to get into a story at all. While my attention span may be extra-short, I don't think it's that much shorter than that of your target audience. Is there any way you could weave the information in later?

    It adds some "why" to the start of the story if he's waiting for a private teacher, without explaining in advance... you can use that to drag people farther into the story. But that's more story stuff, really.

    Agreed that the blurb feels a little long--I stopped reading it, actually, skimming (lightly) from the end of the second chunk to the "reviews". It's a great sounding idea, though, and something that I could see reading when I was that age.

    Oh, and my sister almost managed to get permanently expelled from a California school district in 6th grade, so it works for me (she still holds the all-time suspension record for both days and speed).

  18. The first 300 words are backstory. That's boring. Lead with some action and drop in the backstory later.

  19. I don't know anything about YA stories, but I was wondering if you started with a dramatic immediate scene and sprinkled the information in the info dump in bits and pieces through the story if it might be more of a grabber.

  20. Victorine is right about expecting too much. Five days is nothing. And from what I've read, YA has a tendency to build MUCH slower than adult fiction. In the YA industry, publishers don't just throw a book out and expect it to be a bestseller overnight. Unlike with the typical publishing world, in YA the editors know that it takes years to build a following, and many bestsellers, like Twilight, don't "explode" into their greatest popularity until years later. Though I think with indie ebooks, there is a chance for faster growth.


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