Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Burning Sky (Halcyon #1: A Steampunk Thriller)

Author: Joseph Robert Lewis
Genre: Historical Fantasy, Steampunk, Thriller
How long it's been on sale: 7 months
Current price: $.99
Marketing: Blogging, paid ads, giveaways, contests
Total sold so far: 300
Link to book on Amazon: The Burning Sky (Halcyon #1: A Steampunk Thriller)

Product Description:

For fans of steampunk adventure authors Cherie Priest and Scott Westerfield:

When the brilliant young engineer Taziri Ohana survives a devastating attack on the Air Corps, she is the only pilot left to chase the criminals responsible across the skies of Morocco. While helping the police to investigate, Taziri uncovers a vast conspiracy of deposed aristocrats and wealthy industrialists plotting to overthrow the Queen and plunge the country into war.

With assassins stalking the streets and riots on every street corner, Taziri quickly learns to defend herself as only an engineer can - by inventing electrical tools and weapons from whatever is at hand! But the country's only hope for survival may be a visiting Incan princess, a dashing Spanish fencer, and Taziri's airship Halcyon plummeting out of the burning sky.

The Other Earth: Explore this stunning vision of an alternate world where fantastical machines sail the seas and the skies, enormous prehistoric beasts still roam the earth, and the restless dead walk among the living.

Features: Multiple maps | An appendix explaining which parts of the novel are historical and which were figments of the author's imagination

Genre: historical fantasy | steampunk | action/adventure | thriller | Morocco | Spain

Length: 484 pages | 121,000 words

A note about the text

This is a work of historical fantasy. Some of this world may be familiar to you. But in this world, Europe never emerged from the last Ice Age and only the southern regions are habitable. North Africa is cool, wet, and fertile. Ancient nations such as the Persian Empire have persisted, though others, such as the Romans, never rose to power. Some of the countries in this world reflect the cultures and attitudes of the Renaissance while others reflect the Industrial Age. Historical figures appear, though they too may be different from the ones you have known.

And while this world is separate and unique from our own, it generally resembles our world in the sixteenth century in some ways. But only some. Don't expect this world to conform to the history that you know. The people and places are different. The climate and wildlife are different. Even death is different here.

First 300 Words:

Chapter 1. Taziri

“Once more around the world!” Taziri swept her tiny daughter up in her arms and carried her through the air, soaring over chairs, through the kitchen, and back again. “Over the forests of Ifrica! To the pyramids of Aegyptus! Across the Middle Sea to the glaciers of Europa! Past the spooky ghosts of España!” Menna giggled and waved her chubby arms as a shining trail of spittle dangled from her lip. After several minutes of swooping around the house, she gently crashed her baby onto a pile of cushions in the corner of the dining room. “And back home to Marrakesh!” Taziri groaned as she straightened up and rubbed her back. “She’s getting heavier.”

Yuba finished setting the table. “You always say that when you come back.”

“Well, she’s always getting heavier.” She smiled.

“Babies do that.” His face and voice were both dull as old stone. “You know, she’ll be walking soon.”

“Really? Already?” She stroked Menna’s cheek. “Time flies.” Time flies, Menna grows, and you, Yuba, what about you? What’s happening to you? His once glorious mane was gone, shaved during her last trip as yet another surprise to come home to. They were all doing that now. She saw it in the other cities, everywhere she went. The men were changing. Some things were small, like the shaved heads. Other things were more troubling, like the absence of their veils. When she entered a teahouse or café, they glared and grimaced at each other and at the ground, loathe to look her in the eye.

Yuba paused in the doorway. “I went by the university this morning. My work is really backing up. Trees to be moved, new gardens to dig, and the dean wants another pond with a fountain. They were asking when I’ll be back full time. It’s been almost a year since we had Menna. They’re starting to talk about bringing someone else in to replace me.” 

Vicki's Comments: I like the cover. It looks very professional. I don't think I would change a thing with the cover.

The blurb is too long, in my opinion. I would cut the beginning where you compare your book to other authors. I would also cut the Features section and the Note about the Text section. You can put the note about the text in the front matter of the book, if you think it's necessary.

The description itself I think is good. If you cut some of the extra stuff out, I think readers won't be too intimidated by the large amount of text.

The writing was good, although I think that first paragraph should be split up. Maybe have an editor look at that. I'm also not sure the story starts at a particularly good place. I like it because it shows that men and women have very different roles in your fantasy world, and that the world itself is different, but I'm not sure this snip grabs me in a way that makes me have to read more. But the beginning is always the hardest part to figure out.

I would tighten up the description, get rid of the stuff you don't need, and ask others about the beginning of the book. Let's see if we can't get some opinions here. What do you guys think? Does the beginning of this book grab you, or would you start in a different place?


  1. Thanks Victorine!

    I may cut down the extra "stuff" in the description. That's always bugged me, but I wasn't sure if having more was helping or hurting me.

    The trick about the beginning of the book is that about 100 words later, there's an explosion and the action begins. I started with that little domestic scene to help establish the heroine's "normal" life before the adventure starts.

    And I'm happy to report that sales in September are way up!

  2. I like the opening. It sets the scene well without being dull. Lots of intriguing glimpses into this world. It interests me and I normally hate steampunk!

    Cover is great too. Very typical of the genre.

    Blurb threw me. Too much info dumping - why not let the reader find out for themselves in the story? And I got lost when your said "The Other Earth:" as it seemed to be a book title but not yours....

  3. I'm glad sales are up, because you have a very good looking cover, the blurb is interesting, though perhaps a bit too long, and the writing is solid.

    In other words, if you can't sell then there's no hope for a lot of us. You seem to have done most things right.

    I will say that as a man the idea of a society where men are subservient to women doesn't exactly grab me. It's possible some women could find it a bit jarring, too.

  4. I do think having action right after this scene is good, and since sales are way up, you're definitely doing something right! That's great!

  5. I love the cover!

    I agree with Vicki on the point of removing the note on text. I would think this is a given considering the genre.

    I think it may be marketing(?) as I see no reason why this book would not take off :D

  6. Great cover. I don't know if it says Steampunk, but then I'm not familiar with the genre.

    I would also eliminate the first sentence of the blurb. Comparing yourself to other authors may lead to readers being disappointed. It's best to stand on your own and sell yourself.

    I would eliminate the features and put it in the beginning of the book which will be seen in the sample.

    I agree that the blurb is too long, but I found the note at the end intriguing. I don't know if readers will get that far in the blurb, but I did and I have a short attention span when it comes to blurbs. Maybe the note should go in the front of the book before "features."

    I liked the beginning. Although you didn't get into the overall conflict, you started out with familial conflict.

    You're selling a little better than one a day which isn't too bad. Are there any more books in the series? If so, how are they selling? If not, get busy writing. More than one book in a series definitely helps sales.

  7. Agreed--definitely a great cover. And the book sounds like a good read. From the small excerpt that I read, it sounds like the piece has a strong voice and the author has a thorough knowledge of the characters and the world.

    I think the blurb is too long, though. We get a lot of info about the plot and the world, but I need to know more about what's at stake for the protagonist. If you can get me worried a little for Taziri, you can hook me. What makes her special? What does she fight for?

    Good luck! And remember, it might just take a little while for sales to pick up.

  8. Wow. I'd like to know why this isn't selling, too. It's fascinating. I had the free sample on my Nook already, having seen the book promoted on Twitter.

    The only things I can nitpick:
    The Cover: It looks a little "romancy" to me, and not as much "thrillerish".

    The Blurb: From my experience in sales, I'll tell you that, as soon as you start answering unasked objections, people start wondering why. I would remove the "A Note About the Text" section. It reads like an apology. At best, it says, "If you read this book, you'll be confused, so I have to tell you this stuff up front."

    The Text: There were a couple of things that tripped me up until I went back and re-read them. I was wondering what kind of creature Taziri was, that she could swoop around the house, and in the "What about you?" portion, I couldn't figure out if someone was speaking or this was an internal thought, or what. (That could be a formatting issue with the blog though; perhaps there are italics in the book.)

    I look forward to reading the full sample, and, hopefully, the full work.

  9. Thanks everyone, I will definitely try to edit that product description down a bit. That is very helpful feedback. (I'm terrible at marketing!)

    For background: In July, this book sold 1 copy per day. In August, 4 per day. In September (so far), 8 per day. So things are definitely picking up now.

    Also, it has two sequels out now, which are both selling fairly well at $2.99

    (The Broken Sword and The Bound Soul)

  10. The cover is just a tad on the romancy side for Steampunk but it's so attractive, I wouldn't say to change it. Really attractive cover. Blurb definitely needs some trimming.

    I didn't care much for the opening. It didn't draw me in and I probably wouldn't read past it, but it sounds like, from other comments, I may be in a minority on that. Someone playing with a baby just isn't an opening that's likely to grab me.

  11. If I were going to suggest a change in the cover, it would be to make the air ship in the background more prominent. That's what identifies the genre, after all.

  12. The only trouble I see is the blurb--way, way too long. Your cover is good and I liked the opening a lot. Your sales figures sound good--I should be so lucky right now. I need to eat something but will take a run at the blurb a little later.

  13. OK, food on board. Try this:

    When brilliant young engineer Taziri Ohana survives a devastating assault on the [[country name]] Air Corps, only she is left to chase their attackers across the skies of Morocco and the streets of its capital [[assumed--otherwise, "cities" or specific city name]]. Taziri uncovers a vast conspiracy of deposed aristocrats and wealthy industrialists plotting to overthrow the Queen and plunge the country into war.

    Now the tables are turned. The only allies Taziri can count on are a visiting Incan princess, a dashing Spanish fencer and her own airship Halcyon, as she defends herself and her country as only an engineer can: inventing weapons from whatever is at hand faster than her pursuers can chase her.

  14. As a huge fan of steampunk, I WOULD change the cover because it does not say anything "steampunk" to me at all. Something more along the lines of the popular steampunk out there right now would be better.

  15. After reading your first 300 words, the most interesting thing to me is that the men seem very submissive (given that they wear veils, etc.) And they appear to be on the cusp of a revolution (shaving their heads, no longer wearing veils, congregating together). It's hard to tell from the intro, but if this is a part of your story, I'd consider putting something about it into your blurb. That would make me want to buy the book. And I think your writing style is very nice; however, I didn't like the beginning. I thought the rhyme was just a way to point out to the readers the different names of the continents and not really a good launching point for your narrative. Just my $.02, though!

  16. agree that while the cover is pretty, it doesn't say steampunk at all. I would change it, much as I think the current one is pretty.

  17. Thanks again, everyone, you've given me a lot of good pointers. I'm in the process of tweaking my cover to be more steampunky, my description to be more streamlined, and my opening to get to the action faster.


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