Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Author: Justin Dillon-Shallard
Genre: Near Future Thriller / Techno Thriller
How long it's been on sale: July 2011
Current price: $3.99
Marketing: Facebook fan page and webpage
Total sold so far: Less than 10, UK only
Link to book on Amazon: Gods

Product Description:


The world has come out of Global Depression a very different place. With startling power shifts on the world stage and game changing technology advances, warfare has matured into the Information Age and the Third Realm is the latest battleground.

The virtual game environment of Third Realm is a rich and deadly fantasy setting, where ultimate power rests with a competitive pantheon of player controlled gods. However, a shadowy cult with a mysterious agenda have begun to resort to real world violence to rip control from even the most powerful of gods.

Stephanie Kane is the newest recruit to the Information Warfare department of Omega Division; Europe's elite armed service. When the Elder God of the Third Realm is brutally murdered in real life, she is given the task of infiltrating the game to investigate.

The Third Realm and reality quickly collide and the edges between them begin to blur.

Who are the mysterious Order of Aurele? How do they exert so much power in the real world and why are they so determined to use their power to rule a virtual game world?

Events cause Stephanie to enlist the help of two young teenagers. Lara, a deadly assassin in the Third Realm, in reality a Dance student with her own secrets. James, an academy student with a bright future and a powerful Mage in the game, is enjoying the adventure of his life time, until his family come under threat.

Together they will face dangers in multiple realities and uncover a secret nations will kill for, a secret that could change the course of humanity itself.

From Special Forces raids, gun battles and airstrikes, to melee battles, magic duels and a struggle between Gods, Angels and humans...

Relevant, engaging and thought provoking, GODS is a must read. 

First 300 Words:

The Holy City of Elesta, Third Realm

The jewelled eyes of the ornate gold statue opened and the Elder God looked out, surveying his richly adorned High Temple.

The God rose amorphously, stretching to fill the Temple like an invisible mist. He briefly admired the twelve-foot high statue created in his image, before focusing his attention on the hundreds of worshippers who were kneeling around his High Altar. He felt each of their prayers as a warm hum in the back of his mind.

As he watched, a slight golden glow emanated from those who were praying to him.

This was the Elder Mass, a weekly ritual to honour the Elder God. Similar scenes were currently being performed at his Temples throughout the Third Realm. He couldn’t imagine any God feeling more powerful than he did now, basking in the concentrated faith of his followers.

Silvana, his High Priestess, stood at the Temple’s High Altar. Dressed in pale blue robes, she smoothed her long silver hair away from her face, before beginning a ritual of blessing. As she spoke the Holy words, a light formed around her hands.

The glow from the worshippers rose into the air above their heads. It formed a rippling wave that filled the God, before it fell and settled back on the worshippers again. The God savoured the resulting momentary sensation of power and bliss.

The worshippers also felt a sense of euphoria and looked up from their prayers in wonder.

The High Priestess smiled and raised her arms theatrically as she spoke:

‘Praise be to El, Lord of the two rivers and Elder of the Gods.’

‘Praise be,’ the congregation murmured in reply.

The God allowed his form to rise through the high vaulted ceiling and out into the world.  The bright sunlight warmed him as he stretched and expanded again, floating above his prosperous domain.

Vicki's Comments: I think the cover needs work. I think it lacks a professional feeling, which might only be the words because I like the picture of the person. That does give me a techno image. I might get some other opinions on the cover. If the genral consensus is that it needs work, I would hire a graphic designer to give it that final polish.

The description should be shorter and get right to the main character and their conflict. The back story can be left out, or summed up in a short sentence. We don't need to know the entire world this book is set in, just enough of the plot to know if we would be interested in buying the book.

I would have liked the story to begin with the protagonist. The God's point of view didn't capture me. I also was wondering about the single quote marks for dialogue. Is that a regional thing? I wasn't aware that any countries used this punctuation. I might hire an editor.

What do you guys think?


  1. Yeah, the description needs to be shorter. And the cover could look better, but you know what? I've seen plenty of indie books with covers of a similar quality sell quite well.

    I suspect that the story itself might be at issue. It's about a World of Warcraft kind of game, which means that most female readers will immediately tune out. It's SFish and SF is one of the worst selling genres.

    I think it's just a hard story to sell.

    And finally I agree -- I'd like to see the hero right away. Or see some kind of action right away. It's basically a church scene.

  2. The cover is a little boring, especially with the font being the same color as the god. Couldn't read the words underneath Gods. I did get SF from it but I think it needs to be a little more interesting. A background for the figure would help. White tends to get lost.

    The blurb is way too long. I admit, I couldn't even read to the end.

    The beginning is pretty good. I like the fantasy aspect of it and I want to know more about these gold and silver gods.

  3. Cover: screams amateur. If no one has told me to go buy this book, I would immediately pass over it. Harsh (sorry!), but the truth. I would hire a professional to give it a polished look -- some sort of background, improved layout, professional typography.

    Blurb: way, way too long. I also had trouble getting through to the end. I wouldn't have tried if it weren't for this blog. I agree, one set up sentence, and then to the meat of the story. Short and powerful.

    First 300: I've been trying to figure out why this lost me, and I think I'm having trouble because it wasn't because of one, single thing. My overall impression was that nothing grabbed me, it wasn't concrete, there were no immediate visuals or sensations to hold onto. I think some that could be the number of adverbs early on (I'm not usually an adverb hater, but here they bothered me), but otherwise...I'm not sure. It didn't feel quite focused. Usually this happens when there are just far too many words. I wonder what would happen if you were to condense this. (Concentrated writing is not always a preference of mine, but I think, given everything else that's going on, that might help here.)

    I hope this helps. Good luck.

  4. I'm a bit unsure about the cover. I love the beautiful cyberpunk image of the blank face patterned in circuits, but the title suggests an epic fantasy, leaving me wondering what the genre is. I'm not in love with the layout either - the circuit person seems to have been abruptly slashed off at the throat, creating the look of a severed head.

    Lots of missing hyphens in the blurb: "game changing", "player controlled", "real world violence", "thought provoking". Also a misused semi-colon.

    I think the "from X to Y" format has been pushed a biiiit too far when you've squeezed in nine separate elements: Special Forces raids; gun battles; airstrikes; melee battles; magic duels; a struggle; Gods; Angels; humans. Yikes. By the end of the sentence I'm starting to gasp for air.

    If you're going to use the title twice in the blurb, make sure that the capitalisation is consistent. At the moment we have "Gods" at the top and "GODS" at the bottom.

    Ultimately, I think both the blurb and the sample suffer from the same big-picture problem: lack of a compelling protagonist. The blurb mentions a few characters we'll be following - Stephanie, Lara, James - but none in any depth. None of them feature in the sample. World-building can be fascinating, but without a protagonist, I don't care enough to read on.

    Just a few thoughts, Justin. Hope this helps.

  5. For the cover, I recommend enlarging the god to fill it (maybe cutting off part of the left side of his face, from the viewer's perspective) and using a bold sans-serif font on the title. Something thick and juicy with a subtle gradient. Look at other techno thrillers and you'll see what I mean.

  6. I'm okay with the cover. It wouldn't turn me off, although it would make me think pure science fiction. The blurb, though, starts with convoluted back story and that would lose me. It makes it seem like too much work, but then I'm a lazy reader.

    I think the problem, though, might be that you're really mixing tones. The beginning of the blurb feels like hard science fiction, then it goes into a mystery, but then you pull the teenagers into it and it sounds like a friendly YA type. Then the story opens as descriptive fantasy. You would have lost me on the opening lines of the blurb because I don't like hard-core science fiction, but I bet you lose the hard-core SF people when you bring the YA friendly feel in. And then the opening of the story is just so different from the blurb. I think one of the really great things about self-publishing is the opportunity to bend genres, but you might have taken it too far.

  7. Note to Victorine. The Brits use single quotation marks. But it’s a good point. If he’s selling it in North America, he should probably “translate” it into American English.

    TITLE: The genre-bending others have observed starts with the title and subtitle/tagline. I read “Gods” and see a big cyber-head I think techno-fantasy. I read “Even virtual worlds can turn deadly…” and I think murder-mystery if only because it suggests concreteness. Maybe something like “The Gods of the Third Realm” would be better.

    COVER: I say go with SM Reine’s advice. But be careful because I’m sure that the cover she’s describing already exists—I just can’t remember where.

    PD: Like others have said, it’s too long and way too much is going on. From fantasy, to military to murder-mystery to YA adventure.

    The prose is also overwrought: too many adjectives (“startling,” “rich,” “deadly”) and buzzwords (e.g., “world stage,” “game changing”). Moreover, I don’t understand some of it. What does “warfare has matured into the Information Age” mean? We already have an “Information Age,” so it’s not clear whether there’s a typo (“into” should be “in”?) or whether you mean some new era—in which case, you should use a different term. Presumably, “competitive pantheon of player controlled gods” means “players control a pantheon of gods” and the gods in question compete with one another at the players behest. But “competitive” before “pantheon” suggests a collective noun (e.g., a “competitive team” is one that does well against other teams, not one where the members compete with one another).

    300: I liked some of it, like the bit about the “warm hum.” As with the description, however, the prose needs parsing. You’ve got “ornate,” “richly,” “amorphously,” “briefly,” for example, all within the first few lines. It weighs the prose down like lead.

    Beginning with the gods (and the gods’ point of view) is also problematic because we expect to see Stephanie by the end of the product description.

    Hope that helps.

  8. Note to Mark Asher: Lots and lots of women play WoW.

    I was ok with the cover. Tweaking wouldn't hurt but I doubt very much that's what the problem is. I found the blurb a total turn-off. Long backstory just doesn't work in a blurb in my opinion. I'd bet that most people don't read long enough to even find the protagonist's name and what the plot actually is. Also there are way too many generalizations. "The "Third Realm and reality quickly collide..." What is that supposed to mean? "Events cause Stephanie to enlist..." What events?

    The blurb, in my opinion, needs a complete re-working.

    The first 300 kind of put me off. I would have preferred to immediately go into the PoV of the main character. The single quotes don't bother me at all but I'm used to British conventions.

  9. What J.R. said: TONS of women play WoW and other online games. I'm in Second Life; two of my best friends are devoted Team Fortress 2 players. The online series "The Guild" stars a woman who in real life is a WoW fanatic.

    On to the book.

    The Blurb Must Die. Justin, you need to edit that thing down to a quarter of its present size. Get rid of the back story. I think it's 100% what's holding you back. The flaws of the cover and sample are miniscule compared to that enormous block of text. As others said, I couldn't read down to the end. Also? When you make your edit, lose that last line.

    More minor:

    The white background of the cover makes your book fade into the background. Your name is so long that in that font it looks like it's barely squeeeeeezed into the cover. Take another run at it; you've gotten a couple of good suggestions. The thing just needs tweaking. I like the central image.

    The sample: The writing isn't bad, but it needs tightening. Too many adverbs, and note that I am not one of those "NO ADVERBS OMGWTF!!!1!" people. :) "Amorphously" is not a good word in a sample. I would also like an earlier indication that this is, in fact, a virtual world and not a fantasy one.

    Good luck, I think you're not that far off.

  10. Thank you for all of your advice.

    I have absolutely struggled with the blurb. I agree that it just isn't working and needs completely re-doing. Back to the drawing board with that!

    Thank you.

  11. I don't mind the overall cover design, but it could use some tweaks to polish it, as suggested in earlier comments. I would not use an ellipsis to end the tagline under the title, and I would either not capitalize "Virtual Worlds" or capitalize every word and leave off the ending punctuation. When you've pared down the blurb, make sure you have others review and proofread it to make sure there are no errors, weak word choices, etc.

    I'm not a fan of being told what I should or will think of a book, so the "must read" part is something that puts me off a bit. Maybe I'm just too contrary, but it makes me think: "Oh yeah?" It's not quite as bad as comparisons to the works of other authors, but I'd still leave it out.

    The way it's described here, your marketing efforts appear to be mainly of the "if I build it, they will come" variety. I think you need to diversify (online and offline) and also find ways to proactively get attention and make specific calls to action rather than hoping that people will discover what you've posted about your book. The marketplace is crowded, and people have a lot to consider (and quickly dismiss). Look for ways to cut through that noise. This is easier said than done, but check out some books on marketing and/or see if you can find a college marketing student who might help you out as an intern.

  12. My new blurb...

    Third Realm is the world’s most popular fully immersive game world. Here, players can become gods. However, some forces have found a way to kill even the most powerful of gods…

    Stephanie Kane is the newest recruit to Omega Division, Europe’s elite armed service. A competent Information Warfare Lieutenant, her first mission may well be her last. Tasked with investigating the real world murder of a prominent Third Realm player, it quickly becomes apparent there is more at stake than she could ever have imagined.

    Lara is a troubled teenage ballerina with a bun in the oven and blood on her hands. Seeking an escape she forges a reputation in Third Realm as a deadly assassin. Then her real problems begin…

    James is a gifted Academy student with a bright future. He is having the time of his life until his actions in Third Realm bring real world consequences. When his family comes under threat, it’s no longer an adventure he seeks, but vengeance.

    Thrown together, the unlikely three face dangers in multiple realities and uncover a secret that nations will kill for.

    Stephanie, Lara and James will face everything from Special Forces raids to magic duels and a struggle between gods, angels and humans. The future is a dangerous place and they will quickly discover that even virtual worlds can turn deadly…

  13. Just a little comment... I wouldn't "translate" it to American English. I think most readers are able to deal with a regional variation.

    I know I read lots of books with single quote marks. The first time I saw it I thought it was a mistake until I saw that it was consistent and then I looked it up and learned that it was the UK way.

  14. Oh, and I play WoW. Also several other MMOs and video games.

  15. I think the cover would look more professional if the text overlapped with the picture (which would require you to show more of the 'body' so it didn't overlap the face, and also to either have the text in a contrasting colour, or have a white border around it).

  16. @Ruth Madison,

    Maybe translation isn’t necessary. But remember two things. There are quite a few conspicuous differences between North American and British English; in addition to punctuation, for example, the Brits generally use plural verbs with mass nouns and proper names for companies (e.g., “Amazon are…” instead of “Amazon is…”). Second, indie books are singled out for scrutiny, so it makes sense to avoid having your book panned for “typos” that are in fact merely regional differences.

  17. Try different fonts. The current ones are a bit generic and not really evoking techno/digital.

    The current cover image doesn't bother me, but you might consider having Stephanie and the twins on the cover. Or the twins in front of a statue of the deity. The image of the High Priestess praying and glowing could also look cool. Most of these would work if your demographic is teenagers, I'm not sure if they are though.


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