Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Author: Robin Morris
Genre: Horror
How long it's been on sale: Five Months
Current price: $2.99
Marketing: Submitted to a lot of review sites, but only a few reviews have come out. I have put it on Facebook and Twitter a lot.
Total sold so far: ~20
Link to book on Amazon: Mama

Product Description:


As the Conover family drives from L.A. to Chicago, increasingly strange things begin to happen. Nine year old Michael sees a face form in the glass of the car's window. Fourteen year old Alison sees two creepy children outside the family's motel room. A car follows them, then purposely hits them and speeds away.

Mama has found the Conovers and is using them as a lesson for her children. Mama is relentless, Mama is powerful, and Mama will not stop until the Conovers are dead. 

First 300 Words:

Paul Hilch’s Mazda minivan pulled a little ahead of the Winnebago. On the hill, the weight of the big vehicle held it back. It was a very slender lead. Paul knew it wouldn’t last long. He also knew he was going to die. The woman and her children were monsters. Worse, they didn't exist, according to the sheriff he talked to in Barstow. Get some rest, the sheriff said. Don’t drive such long hours.

Papers flew around the cabin of the minivan. His briefcase fell open, letting its contents loose. A sales chart hit Paul in the face. He swatted it away.

The minivan crested the top of the hill. Paul saw his death in the down slope. He looked desperately for any hope. The brutal sun blasted the desert landscape. There were no other cars. The only witnesses were cactus.

Another paper hit Paul in the face. He pulled it away. It wasn’t a sales chart, or any other business paper. It was the picture Jimmy gave him just before he left L.A.

Daddy and Mommy and Jimmy, in the five year old's wavering crayon line, stood together on a boat. Maybe Jimmy was thinking of the boat ride they took to Catalina a few months ago.

The Winnebago crashed into the back of the minivan.

There had to be a way out. A truck driver would come to the rescue. A state trooper would pull the RV over and arrest the hideous woman. He would wake up in a hospital and someone in authority would explain everything.

Paul heard a giggle. He turned his head and saw the baby. The fat, naked, horrible baby sat in his passenger seat. He jerked his head to scan the back seat, horrified that the woman was also in his car. Nothing there.

Vicki's Comments: I really like this cover. It shows the horror genre very well. If I were to nit pick about one thing it would be that the shadowy figure doesn't look like a woman. But that's a very picky thing, and I don't think that is why this book isn't selling. The cover is a win for me.

The description is pretty good, although I think it can be better. The stakes don't feel high enough for me. And I'm confused as to why this paranormal "Mama" is after this family. What did they do?

The book starts with action, which is good, but I feel like it fell a bit short for me, maybe because I didn't have any investment into the character. I don't know Paul, and I didn't get any sense of him in this snip. I also felt a bit removed from the action. I should be on the edge of my seat, but something was holding it back for me. The first few lines were confusing. I can't tell that he's in a life and death situation, I thought maybe he was joking around with another car on the road. I also didn't feel any emotion from Paul.

I might workshop this book through a critique group to get that final polish. I think it just needs to emotionally connect with people, and I didn't get that.

What do you guys think?


  1. I liked it. I thought it was good.

    I'm learning in my experience that you can have a good book and it just doesn't sell. There are non-starters out there. I have really good reviews and response, a cover people spontaneously contact me to gush over and used an editor, and my sales are in the toilet.

    Nor do I find that Twitter sells books. Mostly because the all the people on there? Are pimping books of their own. Twitter is for networking imo.

    I do kind of see what Victorine is saying and maybe the emotional connection could be stronger, but I really don't think it's holding the book back.

    So my advice would be to just write the next book and use this as part of your back list. Once you have a book that takes off that might be enough to get this one going.

    Your marketing has also been pretty limited. So try some different things.

    You could also put it on sale and see if a price change would help.

    Are you on Goodreads? Find a reader's group there and give copies to anyone who wants it. Dozens and dozens of copies. See if that starts some momentum.

    Have you networked with any other horror authors and worked out some cross promotion deals?


  2. Regarding the cover, I think the silhouette is perfect. Anyone who's familiar with the "backwoods" or "middle-of-nowhere" will know some Mama who looks just like that. It translates well to thumbnail size, too, and seriously creeps me out.

  3. I've seen the cover on Robin's threads and always found it very striking. The description falls a little flat for me though. Why does Mama target the family? The description says she has found them and is using them as a lesson for her children. Found them how? What lesson? I personally think the description needs more punch.

  4. I like the cover and I like the blurb. What confused me though was that the opening paragraphs felt like they were from the end of the book. It read like most of the story had already happened. From the blurb I was expecting an opening of family-on-road-trip with a slow build up of creepiness. Much like a horror film. Is the opening a piece from further in and then the rest of the story is flashback? Maybe that's why the emotional connection isn't there?

    Just a thought.

  5. I think the blurb needs to be tighter. Robin does a lot of "telling" but she's telling us the wrong things...and not a lot of showing at all.

    I understand that "Mama" is after this family...but WHY? I don't need to know every little incident along the journey to be interested, but I do need the stakes, the fear factor. She wants to kill this family--scare them to death and hurt them...but why them? What did they do to deserve this? Is there a backstory you could use to sell the plot?

    The show is also, IMO, a key component to the horror genre...don't simply tell me they're me their fear. You have thirty seconds to sell a reader on your writing--attack on all fronts.

    The cover is great. Absolutely fit for the genre and the theme.

    The first 300 are good, and if someone can read past the blurb, they may get to the sample.

    Good luck with marketing and bigger sales. Robin, your book is interesting and sounds captivating, as it dings into the darker places of a road trip!

  6. Excellent cover. I got horror out of it right away. The blurb isn't bad, but we do need to know a little more.

    The opening was very choppy. It was more like an outline than prose. 1. A paper hits him in the face. 2. he swats it away. There's no motion to it.


    Paul swatted at the papers flying around the cabin with one hand, the other clenched on the wheel, fighting to keep the minivan on the road.

  7. Robin (Morris) ReedOctober 19, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    Thanks for your comments. The silhouette on the cover is a woman, I know her and I took the picture. I am on Goodreads and have one review and some ratings there. I will look into giving away copies. The opening I submitted is the prologue. If anyone cares to sample they will meet the Conovers in Chapter One. I have been hampered by having no money for ads of any kind, but soon I should be able to invest in some ads.

  8. I'd like more in the description. Not a ton more, but just a few things that make me understand what's happening. Who is "mama"? And as others have said, why is she targeting this family? I haven't seen what they've done and why they've attracted her attention. I don't feel compelled by the blurb.

  9. Love the cover. I've been meaning to check this one out simply because I love the cover.

    However, I think the blurb is really lacking. The cover reeled me in, but the blurb didn't deliver.

    The opening was okay, but lacked depth. Of course, I don't expect to get a whole lot from the first 300 words.

    I think it's the blurb that's really causing me to think twice about buying this one.

  10. Love the cover. I think it's great. I think the blurb misses though. It's not bad, but I want at least a hint why she is targeting this family.

    I don't love the opening but it's not bad.

    I would work on the blurb or have someone work on it and maybe try a few different ideas in marketing. Sometimes it just takes a while for a book to take off. Maybe concentrate also on getting another novel out.

  11. Cover - pretty good, no changes here.

    Blurb - First half is decent, building some suspense, describing a couple plot points. But the second half reads like a movie tagline, and it takes the focus off the Conover family. And instead of making Mama scary, it just makes her sound like a crazy bad driver, which isn't too terrifying. You say she's "powerful" but my impression is just that she's going to run people off the road. I'd focus on the scary experiences of the Conovers.

    Opening - The action is good, except that it feels like the end of a book and I didn't really care about Paul. If it's a prologue, can you delete it and just start at Chapter 1?

  12. Boy, this is so close.

    The cover is absolutely fabulous. I can totally tell the silhouette is female. I'm surprised you're not selling buckets just off that cover.

    The blurb isn't horrible, but it's a little trite, especially the last line. I think you've got some Big Man Movie Voice in your head. Kick him to the curb.

    The opening: I think you've taken to heart the dictum to start in the middle of the action. Like most dictums, that doesn't always work. I take it that Paul is an earlier victim of Mama, and you're showing what happened to him to give the reader a taste of what might be in store for the Conovers.

    My advice is: Don't. Trust your readers more. Take it to a critique group.

  13. I generally don't read horror, but if I did, I'm sure I'd add this to my TBR pile. Thumbs up on the cover, and I didn't have any problem seeing the silhouette as a female. It all seems to nail the genre and fit the title very well. The fact that you have a strong cover means you've already passed a key hurdle that many still struggle with (myself included, although at least I hired a designer today).

    I think the blurb and the first 300 are too disconnected in the sense that the blurb has us thinking about Mama and the Conovers, and then suddenly there's this Paul guy. If I'm reading it right that Paul is a prior victim and we get to the Conovers later, maybe the blurb could at least hint that the Conovers are not Mama's first victim. That might smooth the mental path into that intro. Although, really, it might have been more obvious with the actual book, since here on the blog there was no indication (until your comment later) that the first 300 were from the prologue.

    I agree about diversifying your marketing, and (of course) continuing to write and release more titles, the latter of course being slower and much easier said than done. Good luck with it!

  14. Robin (Morris) ReedOctober 19, 2011 at 6:28 PM

    I posted earlier and I don't see it now. I hope this one stays.

    This is an (I hope) improved blurb:

    As the Conover family drives from L.A. to Chicago, each stewing in their own resentments, strange things begin to happen. Nine year old Michael sees a face form in the window of the family car. Two creepy children stare at fourteen year old Alison at a motel. A car follows the family for many miles, then hits their car and drives away.

    Wherever the Conover family goes, wherever they look, they see a large woman and her children coming closer. The woman and her children are superhumanly strong. They appear in a locked room without opening the door.

    Confused and scared, the Conovers can’t comprehend what is happening to them. Everywhere they turn they see the woman and her children. The woman is Mama, and as she teaches her children, like a lioness teaching her cubs to hunt, the Conovers realize that they are the prey.

  15. This is a bit trickier, Robin, but I think I've found some clues to your sales being slow.

    1) The cover's not the problem. I like it.

    2) The writing, as Vicki pointed out, could be a little better, but it's not bad by any means.

    3) The concept is solid.

    4) The blurb, while not perfect, gets the job done. It's not embarrassing or worse than some physical books from trad-publishers in the same genre.

    5) However....

    5A) You had not set up your Author Central page on Amazon, meaning there's no place for me to click to see any other books you may have... and ONLY those books.

    5B) It looks like you might have one other book out, and it appears to be a short story collection, so this may be your first novel... unless there's a bunch I missed in my Amazon search...

    5C) Are you the same Robin Morris that wrote some of the really expensive books further down the list? Books like ENERGY WITHIN US WITHOUT US for like $40? I SEE THEREFORE I AM I THINK for $21? BONGENI for $8.99?

    If you are, there could be some brand confusion since those books are nothing like your horror work here... and in fact aren't even very much like each other.

    If you're not the same Robin Morris, that's even worse because you could be confused with other writer(s) named Robin Morris.

    So... you need to get your Amazon Author Central page up, at the very least. It sounds like you're on Facebook and Twitter. Do you have a blog?

    Branding yourself as ROBIN MORRIS the horror writer, rather than ROBIN MORRIS, possibly the same person with a $40 eBook on energy, could help you a lot.

    Now, I suspect (and could be wrong) that the only other book that's yours is the short fiction collection.

    If so... you're a very new novelist with only a couple books out. Like me. ;)

    Give it time... and write more novel-length horror!

  16. Oh, one other thing...

    I mildly (mildly!) disagree with those suggesting you take MAMA to a critique group and invest a lot of time in revisions.

    MAMA has strengths and weaknesses, I'm sure, but you need to move on to the next project and maybe take THAT one to a critique group to make sure it's better.

    Redoing MAMA won't help MAMA noticeably at this point.

    Adding more novels to your arsenal will... so long as you continue improving with each release.

    Just my opinion on the matter.

  17. Robin (Morris) ReedOctober 20, 2011 at 4:58 AM

    Craig, I am Robin Reed, and Robin Morris is a pen name. There is also a Robin Morris with a children's book and the title starts with the word Mama. With millions of books on Amazon there are going to be authors with the same name. If you look up Robin Reed on Amazon prepare to shield your eyes, a bunch of porn books popped up earlier this year with that author name. I became Robin M. Reed to try to avoid confusion. I have a Robin M. Reed author page. Can I add a separate Robin Morris page?

  18. Ok, I will disagree with the general sentiment here about the opening. Which I know is going to be frustrating - do you believe the guy who says he loved it or the larger number of people who say it needs work? Normally, you'd go with the latter and not listen to me. Possibly you could focus on redoing the blurb first, since readers see that before the opening lines, and then if that doesn't work, you could consider working on what others have suggested about the opening.

    Anyway, I think the first 300 words rock. I have too many items on my TBR list, but I'm sorely tempted to buy the book based on the first few hundred words. It immediately brings me right into the fear and frustration the main character is feeling. Whatever you do, don't change the general idea of beginning with the action like this. Sure, the editor in me could find some things to tighten the writing a bit, but I've read far worse writing in top 100 books.

    The cover is great, as everyone has said. The blurb falls totally flat for me. I wish I had a suggestion on how to fix it, but I'd almost say clear your mind and start over from scratch. It says a few things that maybe need to be said, but for some reason it doesn't grab me in any way. So even though I love the first 300 words, I would have stopped at the blurb.

    I usually wind up with 15 or 20 versions of a blurb, many of them totally different from each other, before I finally settle on one. And I'm almost always very unhappy and uncomfortable during the process until I start to get close to the right one.

  19. Love, love, love the cover. It's terrific.

    The blurb, including the revised one, aren't working for me. The start of the revised one is a little better, but it, too, goes astray. It feels disjointed, like a list and isn't grabby. Also, minor thing, being watched by two creepy kids doesn't pull me in. The scene itself might, if it's written well, but just that act doesn't make me go "oooo" and that's what you want in a blurb.

    I'm not totally against starting with Paul, but this too is all telling. It lacks emotion, tension and flow.

    An example: "The woman and her children were monsters." You lose me there in the first 300. Don't TELL me they are. Show me. Creep me out!

    I think this has tons of potential, but would need to read more to see how much work the prose needs.

    I second the idea of workshopping this or joining a crit group.

    Hang in there!

  20. I love the cover. Very well done. The blurb also sounded interesting, and so I looked eagerly at the opening. For me, it didn't suck me in enough, which is a dilemma. The action *should* be interesting, but I found the first paragraph a tad confusing and choppy. Let's dissect it. :)

    Paul Hilch’s Mazda minivan pulled a little ahead of the Winnebago.

    From this, I know we're on a road somewhere, but I don't know who else is in the car, whether he's on the open road or in city traffic. I read on.

    On the hill, the weight of the big vehicle held it back.

    Ah. Open road. Good enough. But... which big vehicle? A minivan's not small, but the Winnebago is bigger, so I'll assume the Winne is falling farther behind.

    It was a very slender lead.

    Oops. I think we're talking about the minivan now, but I had to stop to think a sec to make sure.

    Paul knew it wouldn’t last long. He also knew he was going to die.

    Yikes! So he's running from the Winnebago. OK, that's exciting. Reading on.

    The woman and her children were monsters. Worse, they didn't exist, ...

    Here's where I stumbled and had to read twice. What woman? The driver? But if they didn't exist, then they couldn't be in the Winnebago, let alone driving.

    ...according to the sheriff he talked to in Barstow. Get some rest, the sheriff said. Don’t drive such long hours.

    Until now, the current action is in simple past tense. Now we're in Barstow talking to the sheriff. Did he outrun the Winnebago, arrive in Barstow and talk to the sheriff?

    Then I wondered whether the conversation with the sheriff had already happened, in which case it should be in past perfect tense:

    according to the sheriff he HAD talked to in Barstow. "Get some rest," the sheriff HAD said. "Don’t drive such long hours."

    Another problem with the opening is lack of emotion. Paul knows he's going to die, but he doesn't come across as being scared or anxious. Everything is laid out rather matter-of-factly.

    I think you may be trying to cram too much information into one paragraph. My suggestion is to let the scene build in the reader's mind by mixing in action with thought and emotion. This is your story, not mine, but here's an example of what I mean:

    Paul wrapped his fingers around the steering wheel, turning his knuckles white. He looked into the rearview mirror again, judging the distance between his Dodge Caravan and the monstrous, beige Winnebago behind him. The crazed look in the driver's eyes filled the mirror as she bore down on him. "Come on, come on," he said through clenched teeth as he pressed the accelerator harder, trying to coax more speed from his eight year old minivan. If he could get to the hill before she got to him, he could pull ahead.

    My point is to show that he's really frightened for his life, and there's a reason to be afraid. The next paragraph can go into who the driver is, whether her kids are in the Winnebago with her, and maybe lead into the third paragraph where the sheriff in the town a few miles back (or the deputy who'd pulled him over, maybe?) had said she didn't exist.

    Take your time building the scene and let your reader experience Paul's terror as you crash the RV into poor Paul's minivan.

    Critique groups can be a great asset. Best of luck!

  21. Robin,

    You can add a separate author page for every pseudonym you use, yes.

    I think you might need a separate email for each, but those are easy to acquire from Yahoo or Gmail for free.

    So yes, absolutely, you can create additional Author Central pages for your pen names... and because there are so many other Robin Morris writers out there, it'd be wise to do. It would help readers identify your horror titles more clearly.

  22. I looked at Vicki's comments (which are great, as usual), but didn't read through the rest, so I might be repeating what other people have said.

    The cover really grabs my attention. It also gives away the story. It says this is going to be a gore fest, plus include comedy (because of the shape of the woman's body plus the title). I don't know whether the story really includes comedy, but that's the effect the cover has on me. It's tricky to mix comedy with scary because they tend to cancel each other out.

    The opening lost me, sorry. Scary works when it contrasts with the ordinary world. You don't give us a chance to get to know Paul as a real person in a real car in a real world before all these nightmarish things start happening to him. We haven't gotten to know him and care about him enough to find out what happens to him. We have no investment in him.

    Also, you are telling, not showing. Put us in the scene, don't just tell us about it.

    I would join a critique group if you don't belong to one already. The Online Writers Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror is a good option (it used to be $49 a year, not sure what is now). I used to belong to it and give it a thumbs up.

    Best wishes to you.

  23. A minor point:

    "Fourteen year old Alison sees two creepy children outside the family's motel room. A car follows them, then purposely hits them and speeds away."

    Is 'them' the creepy children, or the main characters?

  24. I'd consider rewriting "Fourteen year old Alison sees two creepy children outside the family's motel room." I'd especially look at the word 'creepy', which tells the reader that the children are supposed to be frightening, but not what's frightening about them.

    "Mama is relentless" and "Mama will not stop" are really the same thing. So I'd consider deleting "Mama is relentless."

    Finally, I'd also consider deleting "and is using them as a lesson for her children." Firstly it doesn't really explain what's happening (how does a supernatural force have children? What's the lesson? Why the Conovers?). Secondly and more importantly, knowing the motive probably makes it less frightening.

  25. My humble opinion:

    The description needs juicing up. The first sentence is weak. The whole thing is far too dispassionate when it should stir up fear in the reader. More lurid language would help.

    The opening paragraphs don't work. They're far too uptight. "The woman and her children were monsters" is way too flat and amateurish. Again, loosen up the language and get the fear factor going.

    Keep the cover, by all means.

  26. I'm sorry, the cover made me laugh. It was cartoony--but maybe I'm in the minority here. I've read plenty of horror novels, and this cover did nothing to make me think "Oooo, creepy!" The writing needs to transpose into a scene, and not be "told" to the reader. Think of all the senses that could be used here. Really, this can be completely gripping, you just need to dig into that next layer. Slow down a little and give us those creepy things one by one.


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