Friday, October 28, 2011

Driving to BelAir

Author: William G. Jones
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
How long it's been on sale: Aug 28th
Current price: $.99
Marketing: Given away 125+ review copies, scheduled blog reviews, took out ad with Frugal eBook Reader, multiple tweets per week to nearly 4000 Twitter followers, posted in Kindle Boards Book Bazaar, repeated announcements through Authors on the Cheap, Kindle on the Cheap, and other Facebook eBook pages.
Total sold so far: 14
Link to book on Amazon: Driving to BelAir: A Novella

Product Description:

Dale had everything—dream job, dream girl, dream life. When he moved to New York to chase his dreams, he never planned on returning to the Indiana farm where he grew up. Yet, one phone call from his ex-fiance brings him back to face the brothers he abandoned and the consequences of the choices he made in pursuit of those dreams. Will a father's last wish be the key to reuniting a family torn apart by tragedy? Or will Dale lose everything while driving to BelAir.

First 300 Words:

Growing up is hard on anyone. But it’s especially hard when you can’t shake the feeling you were switched at birth.

That was me, the kid who never fit in, always off sync and out of place. I spent most of my childhood feeling like a broken toy, missing some important piece, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only kid in the history of kiddom to break down and cry when he found out he wasn’t adopted.

Come to think of it, I was sixteen when that happened.

Growing up without a mother didn’t help. I was five—almost six—when she died. I remember her only vaguely, just ghost-like impressions stitched together by an artful imagination.

In a way, I’m lucky. My brothers don’t remember her at all.

It’s mostly little things I can recall, like how her smile could make any bad thing okay again. In the twenty-five years she’s been gone, I’ve never seen another woman whose smile was anything like that. If I did, I’d probably marry her on the spot. I remember mom’s long, lightly curled hair and how she’d sometimes put it in a ponytail but mostly let it flow free, how she always wore jeans, even to church, and how she had this way of greeting people that made them laugh.

My favorite memory is how she’d sit on the couch and read books while I played with my toys and watched cartoons. I don’t know what kind of books she read because after she died, dad got rid of them. The only one he kept was an old Bible. I use to sneak into his bedroom as a teenager and look through its dog-eared pages at the margin notes she’d scrawled and the little squares of paper she stuck in different places with prayers written on them.

Vicki's Comments: The cover doesn't say "Contemporary Fiction" to me at all. It looks like it's set in the 50's. And I was pretty surprised by the description. The cover seems fun to me, almost like a comedy. I don't get a serious feeling from it at all. I would suggest a total redesign of the cover.

The description needs work also. If Dale has his dream job, dream girl and dream live, why in the world would he need to go in search of his dreams? That doesn't make sense to me. I think what you mean is his life seemed perfect to others, but he felt unsettled, so he left in search of his dreams. I do like the implication that his father is dying, but I think you need to be more clear of the plot in the description. I would also get rid of the questions at the end.

I like the beginning of the book. It's got a personable feel to it, even though there's not a lot going on. Sometimes that bothers me, but I like the conversational feel to this. It doesn't match the cover at all, though, so I think that's your biggest issue. I would change the cover first, and then work on the description. Maybe get some opinions from other writers on how to make the description stronger.

What do you guys think?


  1. Once again, I've got to agree with Vicki on most of this.

    The Cover:
    It says retro fun to me. The title makes me think of going to Bel Air, CA, so the mention of Indiana threw me.

    Same note as Vicki. The "dreams" section didn't make sense to me and was repetitive. I was also confused with the "face to face with his brothers" section when the last sentence implies it's about the journey there and not being there and dealing things. The title implies it's about the drive, but the description is sending mixed messages. What is the sequence of events? Does he have his dream job in NY? Before he leaves? Is the book about the drive/journey home or being home? Is there a Bel Air, Indiana?

    First 300:
    Not bad, but a little, I don't know, expected. There's nothing really wrong with them, but they didn't feel unique either. I felt a bit like I'd read/heard it before.

    I think fixing the title/cover and cleaning up the description will do a lot for this book. Best of luck with it.

  2. It's unusual but I disagree with Vicki on the beginning. I think starting with a flashback and backstory isn't a good idea. I don't really have any reason to care about his backstory. I haven't even met him yet.

    Otherwise, I agree with the other opinions.

  3. Cover - Like Vicki, I thought it was a sharp cover for a fun or funny story about a road trip, possibly in the 50s, possibly to California. The car and the fonts do not say "contemporary" to me at all.

    Description - Complete 180. Now it sounds like a very serious, introspective, possibly tragic story about a family in the mid-west.

    It's too vague. I have no sense what might happen in this story. Is Dale going to confront someone, or save someone, or what? My only impression is that this is NOT the fun road trip story that the cover teased me with.

    Opening - It's okay, not my style though. Very slow and thoughtful. It's not dynamic to me, I'm not feeling engaged or curious about what happens next.

    My impression is, regardless of how well written it might be, that this will be a sad, slow, depressing story with lots of little details, and very little action or energy, with a general "literary" bent that I for one would not enjoy.

    I get a better vibe from your reviews. They say the story is "fun" and about a road trip with 2 brothers who are addicts and a girlfriend and an ex. Why isn't that in the description?

  4. I'm not as turned off by the cover. Is the road trip in an old car? Then I understand the image and the font. I will agree that it does look a bit comedic.

    Your description needs the most work of all. It sounds like standard introspective literary fiction, like it could be one of the dozens of Very Serious books that come out every year. I'm betting it's not, though the opening kinda gives that impression, too. Tell me what's different about this book, because I'm not getting it at present.

  5. When I looked at the cover, I thought I was going to read a nostalgic and fun look back at the 50's. I think a new cover will make a difference.

    The blurb was good. Dale had left home in pursuit of his dreams with dire consequences to his family. Now he has it all and his family is sucking him back in.

    I liked the opening, too, but there was a grammatical error. Maybe you should have someone read it over again. If there's an error on the first page, there might be more.

  6. The cover might work but it doesn't match the blurb or the beginning. Definitely 50s retro look with the font choice, layout, and design elements.

    Something in this book is about BelAir .. using the Chevy BelAir on the cover is a nice touch, altho it does make me think this is a "road picture" of a story.

    The problem is that there's nothing in the blurb that tells me where he's going (back home?) or where he's been (Upstate New York? New York City?). If I had to guess, he was in NY, got called back home, and now .. for some reason .. has to drive to BelAir, California.

    And I guess that's my point. I'm guessing.

    I'm guessing there's a story about a guy who has a problem going home. Everybody knows you can't go home again. Cue Tom Wolfe.

    There's too much dissonance between cover and blurb. By the time you hook them with the jazzy cover (and it's eye catching alright), then confuse them with the blurb, I think potential readers are just hitting the "next" button.

  7. The cover works for me and the writing is good, but the blurb doesn't pull me in. It needs a better hook. I agree with JR Tomlin and wouldn't start it with backstory. The premise is interesting.

  8. I agree with previous comments so I won't go over those same points. I want to address something different, in case you decide to stay with this cover or a very similar design. When the cover is viewed at a large size, such as the "Look Inside" preview, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the text. However, at the smaller size that we all see on the Amazon product page, the black text against the yellow background has jagged edges instead of smooth lines. This gives it a less professional feel, and to be honest it grabbed my attention before anything else. I've seen similar issues with certain color combinations in my own design work; I think there are colors that just don't "play nicely" on a raster computer display (i.e., scaling and anti-aliasing of non-vertical, non-horizontal lines does not come out crisply), and I think black on yellow is one of them. If you alter the cover at all, I recommend experimenting with the color scheme to ensure that things look crisp even at the smaller size.

    The car also has some crispness and noise/grain issues, even at the larger size, but I'm not sure if that's intentional or not. The roof line in particular bleeds into the yellow background. This isn't quite as eye-catching as the text, probably because (at least for me) the image of the car can be grasped immediately without paying a lot of attention to it, while the words of the title, etc. must be read.

    On a separate note, if the multiple tweets per week that you mention are directly promotional about the book, I would recommend altering your Twitter strategy, especially if the tweets are actually identical. People learn to tune out repeated tweets, or simply unfollow those who post them. I recommend focusing on engaging with people, either about your book or (better yet) about topics related to your book, in the latter case allowing them to discover your book on their own. Avoiding direct promotion will probably not decrease the odds of a sale to someone who is already prone to buying your book, while "training" people to tune out your tweets (or unfollow you) will have a directly negative impact.

  9. The thing I can't understand (unless I'm missing the point) is that the kid hoped he was switched at birth, because he didn't fit it. But then he goes on to say how great his memories of his mom were. If the memories were so great, I'm sure he wouldn't want to believe he was switched at birth. I just didn't understand that at all, and it would stop me reading further. But then perhaps that's just me and I'm reading too deep ...

  10. Thank you all so much for your input (and please keep it coming!). I really appreciate the time you all took to give suggestions. All your feedback is a tremendous help and I can assure that a new cover and new blurb are in the works. The prologue will probably get removed too.

    Thanks again!

  11. I'm with Vicki on the cover. It's too indicative of a 1950s humorous novel.I also thought the description was misleading. If he's achieved all these dream things, why is he leaving in search of his dreams?

    The first 300 words need replacing. Right now it's one big info-dump. Where's the story?

  12. I agree with Jenny. I think the cover is solid, though it wouldn't to tool it a bit more/skew the image. The blurb doesn't drag me in, at all. I love the sample.


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