Thursday, July 7, 2011

Listen to Your Heart

Author: Margaret Lake
Genre: Historical Romance
How long it's been on sale: Dec. 16, 2010
Current price: $1.99
Total sold so far: 179
Link to book on Amazon

Product Description:

Listen to Your Heart

World War I - Lena Manning is barely 20 years old and already a war widow with a baby on the way. Her church takes care of her, gives her employment and wraps her in its secure world. When the bishop appoints a new pastor, a young, handsome widower, she is forced to seek other employment to avoid any hint of scandal.

Her new job as social secretary to the wife of a wealthy New York banker thrusts her into a seductive world of money and privilege. When the son of the house pursues her, he awakens feelings she thought long dead.

Can she survive his secrets or will fear send her running back to the security of her church and the pastor who waits for her there?

Print length: 190 pages

First 300 Words:

Chapter One

April, 1918

They hadn't known she was pregnant when Jack was sent with the AEF to fight in France. She had stood on the docks in New York with hundreds of other wives, mothers and girlfriends, all of them waving madly, never dreaming he wouldn't return to her. Not coming back to her was a nightmare; not a dream.

It must have happened that last night they were together when they turned to each other over and over, clinging desperately until the last minute. At least Lena had clung. In her heart, she knew as the dawn approached, that he was already far away from her, thinking about France and the coming fight.

He was always a scrapper, her Jack. He figured that once the American's got into the war, the Huns would turn tail and run. He only hoped he would get a chance to fight before it was all over.

The few letters she received were hastily written in pencil on torn scraps of paper. He talked about training and then trenches and rain and mud and the constant bombardment by the Germans. He was anxious to get into the fight, but that hadn't happened. The English and the French had lost many thousands of troops and were no longer willing to risk a frontal attack.

Now that the Americans were there, things were different. When the order came to go over the top, Jack had scrambled up the ladder and gone no more than a few yards when a German shell took away his chance for glory.

Lena had never told Jack he was going to be a father. She was afraid the news would distract him when he needed to focus on staying alive. Now all she could do was wonder if knowing about the baby would have made him more determined to come home; less willing to take chances. It was an agonizing thought that haunted her at night in her lonely bed.

Vicki's Comments: The first thing that came to my mind as I looked at this was the cover needs some work. The cover doesn't say romance to me at all. Since the romance is the central theme of this book, I would indicate that on the cover instead of the children. Sure, it's a sweet romance, so don't use a bare chested man or a scantily clad woman, but I think the historical romance can be conveyed by having at least a man or a woman on the front, preferably both.

The description could use some work, IMHO. I wouldn't start with the title. Most descriptions just go right into it, and if they want to know the title they can look at the top of the page or on the book cover. I'm a huge fan of the "when" formula for descriptions. "When such and such event happens, your main character—a descriptive adjective, age, professional occupation—must confront further conflict and triumph in his or her own special way." (I copied this directly from They have examples if anyone wants to see. They are talking about query letters, but I think it translates well to blurbs.) I always try to sum up a book using the "when" formula, and then go from there. I might end up rewriting, but I think it's a good place to start.

As for the first chapter, I'm not a huge fan of starting off with an omniscient point of view, or back story, and this has both. If it were me, I would start right off with an opening scene that gets the reader right into the here and now. But I admit that some people don't mind a book starting with back story. And it's well written, so I can't complain about that. It's just my personal tastes when sampling a book. I'm much less likely to be hooked by back story.

In the end, though, I think the main issue with this book is the cover. If anything should be changed, I would suggest it be this. People should be able to see this is a historical romance at a glance.

Your turn, why do you think this book isn't selling?


  1. Thanks, Vicki, good comments. I have to turn my back on my attachment to the three little girls and just put that photo on my wall if I want to look at it. :)

    Thanks for the advice about the blurb, too. I knew it was weak, but haven't been able to fix it.

    Bring on the comments, folks. I'm eager to hear everyone's opinions.

  2. I agree with everything Vicki's said. The cover doesn't say romance to me. It says memoir. The picture also doesn't scream WWI to me. It might be of that era, but it doesn't evoke it for me. And it doesn't feel romantic at all.

    The blurb isn't bad, but it makes (to me anyway) the heroine seem kind of flighty. She's freshly widowed and falls for two men almost immediately? While pregnant?

    The first 300 - Again, I agree with Vicki. It's a bit too arm's length. It doesn't grab me by the heart. It's backstory that might be better worked in organically instead of dumped here at the start.

    Also, and it's a small thing, but it pulled me out of the story:

    Not coming back to her was a nightmare; not a dream.

    Well, yeah. I'd hope so. :) It feels a little clunky and unnecessary. Unless, she's a black widow.

  3. I agree that a new, more relevant cover would probably help a lot. I don't mind the back story as the beginning, but I also agree that getting to some attention-catching action/conflict (even internal conflict) and working the back story in gradually will keep the attention of more readers. I also found the "dream" thing a bit awkward and I ended up re-reading that part.

    Plus, I'm a bit sensitive (maybe overly so) to the word "had" so hitting it twice in the first two sentences sort of put me off. (I once went through a 150,000 word manuscript -- not yet published -- and edited out all but two instances of the word "had" and ended up with some much stronger writing in many places where it was taken out.)

    Anyway, despite this being in a genre I would not normally read, I think the story line is interesting and I could see reading the book when my TBR queue is a not so long.

  4. Just to clarify -- I think the problem with the "dream" line is that most people take "never dreamed such-and-such would happen" to mean "it never occurred to them" rather than "never thought of it as a favorable outcome." To rewrite it with that implied meaning, it might become:
    When she stood on the docks in New York with hundreds of other wives, mothers and girlfriends, all of them waving madly, it never occurred to her that he wouldn't return.
    This is why I found myself re-reading that part when I reached the dream/nightmare sentence. (And since he was going to war, I also initially questioned -- taking me out of the story -- how she could possibly have been unaware that he might not come home alive.)

  5. Vickie's pretty much on the money with all of it, the cover being the biggest issue. Good luck, it sounds like a charming story and with a few tweaks I bet you sell the heck out of it.

  6. In addition to the points mentioned above, the book (based on the excerpt) needs professional copyediting. There are at least three errors in this excerpt, and that makes me, as a reader, hesitant to believe the author can tell me a satisfying story. Unfair, I know, because the actual writing is fine--but that's the way (at least some) readers work.

    Good luck!

  7. I agree with what's been posted. I actually couldn't tell what that photo was even of- i had to hold my laptop up closer to my face to identify it. I think an image that reads romance will help you out tremendously.

    I'm glad the issue of starting with a back story was brought up. With people being able to sample your story, you want that first chapter to be your absolute strongest, grab 'em and don't let go storytelling.

    What if you wrote a prologue of these events actually happening? Maybe the day the heroine gets the news about her husband dying. That might grab people more and help them connect with your character right from the get go.

  8. Without Vicki telling me this was a sweet romance I probably wouldn't have known it. I agree with the others that a cover that indicates sweet romance will help.

    For me the first 300 words got my attention. The back story here works for me and Lena wondering if telling Jack he was going to be a father would have made him more cautious helped hold my attention.

  9. I actually like the prologue idea, it would grab me. :)

  10. In this case, I'd be against a prologue. It's much more fun to discover these things as you go than it is to be presented with a history at the outset, especially with something as short as a novella.


  11. [i]The blurb isn't bad, but it makes (to me anyway) the heroine seem kind of flighty. She's freshly widowed and falls for two men almost immediately? While pregnant? [/i]

    If that's what you got out of it, the blurb is even worse than I thought. After the backstory, the baby is nearly four years old and that's where Lena's story and her involvement with the two men really starts.

    Thanks so much for picking that up.

    Also that nightmare/dream line. To be honest, I've never really been that happy with it and now I know why. I may just pull it entirely.

    Thank you so much, everyone. I'm going to look into new artwork right now.

  12. You've gotten some good feedback. The two things I'd suggest is to start with an immediate scene...either the night before he leaves, or the scene on the dock, showing how she feels about his leaving.

    One thing you might want to keep in mind...your second sentence is author intrusion. You have to stay with what the POV character sees, knows, feels, and she can't see into the future. The "little did she know that in a few short weeks..." etc., is author intrusion and should be avoided.

  13. I agree with you, Victorine on everything you said. I would add that the blurb start with answering the question of WHY the reader should read this particular book. What is the hook that will grab us? Why as an author was this book written? It sort of needs to be conveyed up front in that back-of-the-book copy.

    What grabs me is that the protag is going to get caught up in scandalous events even though she's a church-going woman. Start with that in the blurb because that's what will interest readers most.

  14. I have a feeling a new cover will really help you (I like that photo Victorine suggested on the Kindleboards). Something with more color. This brown feels very passive (I think you were going for the old-fashioned sense that sepia can give a photo, but your story doesn't really sound that quiet and bland. It actually sounds quite vibrant, so vibrant colors may reflect that.

  15. I'm right on board with Kelly. The palette is too bland for a romance of any sort. Look at a few of the sweeter Christian romance covers for inspiration. No browns to be had. The first thing that popped into my head when I saw the book cover: Memoir. It looks just like a woman who is about to tell us her life story.
    I'll read the other parts and maybe comment on them, but that's what I've got for now.

  16. My rough idea on the whole cover thing, for what it's worth...

    Tell a story with the image. Tell the important story: a love with a man doomed to die in the trenches that hangs heavy over the love our heroine faces now.

    So: you need two images. One of a woman and a man, the man in uniform, about to go to war - or maybe just the man himself: one of those photos that were taken in uniform before they shipped out, looking all proud and ready to fight (it's a pretty universal style of image - a lot of people did this, thinking they were off to a war full of heroism and chivalry, only to find out what war was all about in a very terminal way all too soon). That's picture A.

    Then you find picture B: less of a traditional one. Can be even just sillhouettes. A man and a woman in period costume, very obviously entranced with each over. Probably not actually kissing, given the time we're talking about. But clearly there's something going on here. Ideally, she should look reluctant, but still terribly tempted.

    Now take picture A and put it in a frame. A locket, or an old picture frame from the time, doesn't matter. Something that looks old. Photoshop picture A in. Or just print out picture A and put it in a real frame, then take a photo of that. Just make sure the glass is broken. That's key.

    Then back to photoshop. Put Picture A (in its frame) in the foreground. Put Picture B in the background. Maybe even put picture B out of focus. Anything to make it clear: The old love was doomed and now our heroine faces a new one in the present, but can it even work when she's still carrying a candle for the war hero...

    It's fairly basic photoshop stuff and there'll be tutorials on how to do this kind of thing somewhere on the web. But I think the clear thing you want from the cover is the tension between the two romances: one doomed and perfect, one still alive and deeply imperfect. That's what I get from the sample, and that's what's interesting.

    Just my tuppence!

  17. I'm with Tommie Lyn here--start with a scene. You could do a lot with a little and hook your reader.

    If it started, for example, with Lena on her front porch dropping the slip of paper that was just handed to her by two officers, and have her feeling an odd sensation in her abdomen that she can't identify in the moment, we'd know what happened without getting that backstory. You could even have a time jump after such a scene.

    I don't understand this part of the blurb: "...When the son of the house pursues her, he awakens feelings she thought long dead. / Can she survive his secrets or will fear send her running back..."

    I'm guessing he awakens sexy-time feelings in her, right? Because she doesn't think of the young widower that way, even though he's a great guy? And then the NYC guy turns out to be... what? I don't understand surviving a secret. Is Lena trying to resist the 1920s NYC underworld of loose relationships and free-flowing booze? Or does the NYC son actually have a secret that she must survive, such as a communicable disease or werewolfism? (Okay, maybe not.)

    I don't get a sense of the conflict from the blurb; maybe we need to know more about the men. As it is now, I know that she's going to choose the widower. Maybe sweeten the pot for the NYC contender so I'm not quite so sure.

    Still, with a new cover and a sharper blurb, this sounds like a great story.

  18. I agree with those who say that a new cover would do wonders. I love black and white, like the historic kiss you found, but I only like it in my family archives. When I'm looking for a book, I want something that catches my eye, and color catches my eye. Plus, I fear that historic feel only really appeals to the baby boomers like me who are sadly not as tech savy as the people who use Kindle.

    Another problem I see is that you start the book with something like twelve or thirteen paragraphs of backstory. (I cheated and checked the Kindle preview on your web site, so this is based on more than just the 300 words above) And as far as I can see, there's no reason the information needs to be out there right away. There's nothing wrong with keeping the reader in the darl as to why the father isn't there. In fact, a little mystery about that would help draw the reader in. You give it in those first thirteen paragraphs in omiscient POV, and then slip into close 3rd midway through the first chapter. It's interesting backstory, but only when told by someone the reader cares about, and the reader doesn't care about the MC at the beginning of your book because he doesn't meet her until halfway through the first chapter. I don't know why you waste such delicious agony such as the father of her child dying in comabt on something as sterile as a backstory dowmp at the beginning of the book. That sort of stuff would be moch more poignant coming at a time when its revelation would matter more. Maybe she has to tell someone while she's standing in front of her new love interest and she has to worry if it will affect their relationship somehow, or something like that. Give it to reader when the reader can feel the pain. Taste the hurt from her own lips, not fron a lofty omiscient POV narrator who can't get emotionally involved.

    Also, you miss an perfect opening by starting with that, because the near death child birth is a great natural place to start the story. Immediately, the reader would get drawn in. Unfortunately, when you get to that point, you're still in either an omniscient mode, or you're hurrying through it to make it sterile so you can get to the romance. The first time in the book when I feel like the voice on the page is appropriate for the scene is when she goes to the preacher's house. You have a wonderful voice for that folksy get together with the local preacher, or the navel gazing between lovers I'm sure follows at some point, but you can't use that same voice when you're describing a near death experience in child birth. It comes across as some grandma in a rocking chair telling about the episode, but you are in HER POV. That means that you have to convey what she's feeling. What she's seeing. And not just that the doctor's mask was white. They are rushing her to the operating or delivery room. She's weak. The lights on the ceiling as they're wheeling her down the hall go by like the headlights of cars on a busy highway. The gurney creeks because it's wood. A nurse checks her eyes. "They're dialated! Get an I.V. going stat!" (Or whatever lingo they used circa WWI)

    You don't make the reader feel that moment. You're describing it from afar. The reader will know there's more to it than what you're telling him. And if he can't trust you to describe that accurately, then how can he trust you to describe the moment when she falls in love? You may not want to put the reader through something that harrowing, that personal. You may not want him to have a taste of the pain, but if that's the case, if you're not going to give the reader the clinking vials, the smell of iodine, the sounds of the people surrounding her, then don't include the scene. You can give the reader the whole thing with an Uncle Joe type making a comment about the difficult childberth. Otherwise, the reader feels cheated and puts the book down.

    Anyway, good luck with this.

    Take care.

  19. Again some really wonderful input. You're not only telling me what's wrong, you're telling me how to improve it and even I'm getting a better sense of my own story.

    I'm copying every one of your comments and putting them into a file so I can read and absorb them at leisure. And, Fred, thanks for reading the sample and giving me such an in-depth analysis.

    I appreciate all the suggestions about the cover, too. I think I'll go with the photo that Vicki found.

  20. Fred, you're awesome. Great observations, and you really went above and beyond by reading on and giving such in depth input. You rock!

  21. As others have said, the cover is weak.

    The beginning is all prologue. That's a bit boring.

    One question I have from the description is why is this a historical novel? By that I mean what does setting it in WWI do for the book? What am I going to get in the way of history? Is it a story that just happens to be set in WWI or is it a story that can only take place during WWI?

  22. Selling way better than mine.

    I agree that the cover is, well... kind of blah.

    I think firs you need a photo of a girl with REALLY blue eyes.

    And a photo of a knife...

    And your title and author name in the middle...

    And... umm... *runs away* LOL


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