Friday, November 25, 2011

Lovers and Beloveds

Author: MeiLin Miranda
Genre: Fantasy with a strong erotic component (à la the Kushiel series)
How long it's been on sale: 9/2010
Current price: $4.95
Marketing: Multiple successful submissions to book reviewers, Blogtalk Radio interviews, guest blogs, ads, serialization on website, etc etc etc
Total sold so far: Didn't start keeping strict track till 3/11, but since then 232 across all outlets
Link to book on Amazon: Name Your Link

Product Description:

Sheltered Prince Temmin arrives at the intrigue-filled court of his father and finds his world turned upside down. Suddenly he's the target of assassins sent by enemies he didn't even know he had. His family's immortal advisor immerses him in a magic book filled with the forgotten stories of the Kingdom's women. And he's falling for the beautiful twins Allis and Issak.

But the twins are the human avatars of the Gods of love and desire. To be with them, Temmin must fulfill a prophecy so old it's moved into folklore--a prophecy that may signal the end of the monarchy--and his father does everything he can to stop him.

Temmin must choose a path: one leads to ultimate glory for Tremont, the other to its end.

The first book in the fantasy saga "An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom.

First 300 Words:

Whithorse Estate, Whithorse Province
Ammaday, the 5th Day of Spring’s Beginning, 990 KY

In the stable yards of Whithorse Estate, two lanterns burned. They shone up at their owners, who sat on a straw bale against a brick wall. The low light transformed the rangy, blue-eyed one’s fair hair into a burnished bronze, and turned the shorter, stockier one’s eyes near-black. Both wore battered old tweed caps, and coats just heavy enough for the early spring night. The shorter one held a flask of wuisc, full at the start of the evening, and as its level dropped, they listed into one another more and more.

“Say, d’you plan on drinking that whole thing yourself?” said the tall one.

The shorter one passed the flask over. “Be careful, Tem, you’re not used to this stuff.”

“And you are?” said Temmin. “If I’m going to the Keep, I have to learn to drink.” He took a choking swallow, and pulled a face. “Where did you get this stuff? Besides, it’s our last night to do this sort of thing. Any sort of thing.” Temmin sighed and bumped his head against the bricks. “Why do I have to go, Alvy? Why can’t I stay here in Whithorse? Breed horses for the family or something?”

“Don’t gulp it, sip it,” said Alvo. “The King needs just so many horses, and you’re his only son.”

“Sedra should be the Heir. She’s smarter, and she’s the oldest.”

Alvo took the flask back, sipped, and snorted. “A woman will rule when Nerr gets the Heir. For that matter,” he added, “this wuisc will be drinkable when Nerr gets the Heir. I told you I couldn’t get the good stuff. Crokker would’ve given you some if you’d just asked.”

“And let Mama find out? I don’t think so.” Temmin sat up straighter. “Here’s a thought. You go to the Keep and be the Heir and I’ll take your job.”

Vicki's Comments: I'll preface this by saying I know nothing about this genre, so please forgive me if I say silly things!

This cover is very "Art Nouveau" to me. It gives it an artsy feeling, but I'm not sure it gives me a genre. When I look up the book covers from Kushiel, I get a much different image. I would highly suggest a re-design of the cover, making them look and feel much more like Kushiel's covers. (Not that you want to blatantly copy them, but if you could design a cover that might be used as a Kushiel cover, you'll be much better off, IMHO.) What you want to do is appeal to the same audience as Kushiel's audience, so making a cover that looks similar would right away tell the fans that they probably will be getting something similar in your book.

The description could use some tweaking. I would at least cut 'suddenly' from it, but maybe that's just because I have an aversion to the word. ;) The rest isn't bad, but I think it could be better. Outside opinions might help.

The beginning of the book doesn't have a tight POV, which does bother me, but might not bother other people. I'm the kind of reader that likes to know whose head we are in right away. The 'let's start with omniscient POV and move in' beginnings get under my skin. But I totally admit this is a personal preference. I'm just wondering how many other people don't like that sort of thing. I'd ask for other opinions on the beginning of the book as well.

Honestly, I think if the cover were changed, it would do much better. What do you guys think?


  1. I agree, I think the cover might be the weakest link. It strikes me as somewhat bland and flat. "Fantasy erotica" should have a lot more life and intensity, IMO.

    Your description is decent. It could be a little tighter, and offer more information. Suggested rewrite:

    "Prince Temmin was raised far from the intrigues of his father's court, and when he returns he is attacked by mysterious assassins, his immortal mentor immerses him in a magic book about the Kingdom's women, and he falls in love with the beautiful twins Allis and Issak.

    The twins are the human avatars of the Gods of love and desire, and to be with them Temmin must fulfill a prophecy that will end the monarchy--and his father will do anything to stop him."

    What exactly does it mean to be "immersed in a magic book" about women?

    Can you add some details about the plot in terms of whether there is lots of political intrigue, or swashbuckling adventure, or mystical magic? I'd like a better sense of the tone or style, and what actually happens in the story.

    Side comment: It's a little weird to cheer for a hero whose ultimate goal is to have a threesome. That might turn off some readers. Maybe. I'm just guessing here.

    Good luck!

  2. Cover is weird and the title is a turn off for me. I would not buy it because I would not want to be seen in public with the cover. I like the Kushiel Dagger books and Anita Blake books, but their covers and titles don't make me want to hide them.

    The blurb talks about a prince and twin women, but the cover has two dudes and a girl. I am confused, I don't see these characters and none of them are twins.

    Price seems a bit high in my opinion. There is nothing wrong with a $5 e-book, but I am willing to bet you have missed out on a lot of sales because of it. As my editor says. "you can charge $100 a book if you want, but until they line up to buy your book, you better not."

    I took a look inside at Amazon. I know that that feature can be a bit goofy and the downloaded book might be OK, but the formatting is messed up. There is a lot of spots that are double indented and double spaced when the rest of the book isn't. Another reason I would not buy a $5 book if its not formatted properly. Even if everything is fine on the kindle or kindle apps, this needs fixed because no one will know.

    I am also puzzled by the copyright page followed by a link to the creative commons website. I THINK I know what you are trying to express, but it leaves me even more confused. Are you wanting to sell this book, or let people distribute and torrent it? Should I be looking somewhere else for a free copy of this book?

    In the end, I think you have done extremely well in 9 months keeping track of your sales. Also, not knowing your sales data for the first 6 months seems a bit weird as well.

  3. The drawing on the cover is amateurish. The author may have done it herself, and it's definitely way better than anything I can do, but it needs to look professional.

    I found the blurb to be a little choppy and confusing and the beginning of the story had some awkward phrasing.

  4. The name and the cover combined says something literary to me, like DH Lawrence, Lady's Chatterley's Lover, that kind of thing. I would probably not look a lot deeper than that. I'd say, therefore, that the cover is too artistic, and gives the wrong impression.

    The blurb has phrases that feel vaguely wrong: how can an advisor immerse him into a book? And the tenses on the sentence about the prophecy feel off: ie, it says "he must" but "his father does." Shouldn't that be "he must" but "his father will do?" I'm not actually much of a grammar person, but it sounds wrong to me.

    If I'd made it as far as your first paragraph, you'd lose me there. It's too descriptive, too confusing, and the time sense is messed up. The "as the full level dropped, they listed into one another" means that I have no idea what time this is. Is it the beginning of the evening, before the level drops, or is it the end of the evening as they're listing into one another?

    I hope this doesn't sound harsh. Those are the reasons why I wouldn't buy your book, but it's all just personal taste. (And I'm not your perfect target market -- I'm not a fan of the Kushiel books.)

  5. I have to admit that I don't like the cover at all. There's something I find distinctly 'off' about it. Maybe it's the expression of the blond one's face or the way the dark-haired man seems to be cut off mid-body - I don't know.

    If I'd gotten beyond the cover, the blurb would have thrown me. The line 'his father's immortal advisor immerses him in a magic book filled with forgotten stories about the kingdom's women' - I'm thinking 'What does that mean??". Literally 'immerses'? (I know that doesn't really make sense but we know this is fantasy and the advisor is immortal so anything goes.)

    The next line references him (the prince) falling in love with the twins, 'Allis' and 'Isaak'. When most people think of 'twins', they think of identical twins. Like (I assume) most heterosexual people, I first assumed the twins were both female. But the cover seems to show the twins as a male and female (i.e. fraternal twins). And the names don't help. I can't tell if they're male or female.

    And if they (the twins) are 'avatars' of the god of 'love and desire', I would expect them to be the epitome of 'male' and 'female'. The male twin looks effeminate (IMHO).

    The beginning of the book didn't grab me. Two young(?) men sitting around drinking while one of the (the prince) bemoans his fate at being sent away? Nah, doesn't make sense. Any young person I know would be wild with desire to get away from the 'farm' and to the 'big city'.

    I suspect you're starting too early. The blurb says the story starts when the prince arrives in his father's court - why don't you *start* there?

  6. I've read the full sample (it's quite long, indicative of a long book) and I agree that the beginning could have started farther along in the book. The whole first scene with the prince talking with his old friend is unnecessary IMO; it may set up the stage a bit but since you already have that in the next scene between the hero's sister and mother, it isn't at all necessary.

    I too am not a fan of the cover, nor have I ever been. The author herself doesn't seem willing to hear criticism on the cover; apparently it was "commissioned" by her readers which may be why she doesn't want to/can't change it. Either way I think it, more than anything else, is keeping her from actually achieving a decent following here. There is nothing dynamic in the painting; everything is maudlin and boring, from the composition to their postures to the finishing touches. I've said this to the author on KB and elsewhere and she ignores it, so I doubt she'll listen here any better.

  7. I've got to agree with most comments so far.

    Cover: It reminds me of Fanzines from the 70s. Put pointy ears on the effinimate guy in back and you've got an erotic Star Trek fanzine. But seriously, it looks very dated and awkward. It's not sexy at all, just... odd.

    Blurb: Agree with many of the comments. And I have the sinking feeling that the book is going to use another overused fanfic trope: characters must have sex to save the world.

    300: I'm afraid I'm with the others here too. It felt distancing and wordy. Trying too hard to paint a picture, but evoking no emotion or action or compelling reason to keep reading. The first paragraph would stop me dead.

    Sections like this: “A woman will rule when Nerr gets the Heir. For that matter,” he added, “this wuisc will be drinkable when Nerr gets the Heir. I told you I couldn’t get the good stuff. Crokker would’ve given you some if you’d just asked.” I had to read it a few times and I'm still not sure what's being said or if the quality of a drink is really going to be important.

    I agree with the suggestion that perhaps you start later in the story to get some momentum. Start late and leave early!

  8. I've looked at this cover before. Other than that I just plain don't like the cover art, it leaves me wondering if there is a gay romance element.

    Now I don't object to a gay romance element, in fact prefer it, but I'd want to know for sure before I bought it. I wondered if the author was dancing around the subject trying to "finesse" it. Not a good idea. And gay romances sell well, so there isn't even a reason.

    If there ISN'T such an element, I think she very much needs to get rid of the nude guy hanging on the other nude guy.

  9. Vicki nailed it on the head for me with regards the cover. It looks Art Nouveau, and makes me think of a book set in that era. Something arty rather than fantasy. As for the blurb, as others have said, it could do with a little work to give it more punch.

  10. Wow, I wrote a long response to you guys and it's gone now...

    So I'll just say, "Thanks, guys, you've given me things to think about," and leave it at that! :)

  11. Weird, MeiLin, I saw your comment come through in my email yesterday but it's not showing up here. I wonder why? I'll check the blogger dashboard...

  12. I had a local copy--it was long enough that I wanted to edit it--and I'll try again.

  13. It didn't post again. I'll split it in two and see if that does it.

    Answering some comments:

    Allis and Issak are fraternal twins; Issak is male. The gods they embody (they're possessed twice a year) are as well.

    Joseph: Thank you for these extremely helpful questions. When Teacher (the adviser) "reads" the magic book to you, you become the POV character in the story; you experience what the character experiences. The magic book contains the forgotten--sometimes suppressed--history of the kingdom, especially its women. The book as a whole is light on the magic and heavy on political, religious and sexual intrigue. The hero's ultimate goal isn't so much a threesome; there's a strong religious component as well.

    The opening scene: It's extremely important later in the book and reverberates throughout the entire series; if you read the full sample you might understand why. In early drafts it wasn't there, but it felt increasingly strange to refer to a critical scene we don't actually see. I may be wrong, and my editor and I will revisit it.

    Anonymous 12:44: They don't have to have sex to save the world. And the quality of the drink is important in that Temmin has a horrendous hangover in the next scene. :)

    SBJones: I experiment. For a long time I sold *more* books at $4.95 than I did at $2.99. When book two comes out I'm dropping the price on book one. The book itself is formatted correctly; I don't know how to get Amazon to correct the "Look Inside" formatting. If anyone knows, please tell me! Creative Commons: The license explains it. If you want to share it, fine, but don't change it and don't sell it. I can't stop people sending the file to friends or torrenting, and I despise DRM. I have even gotten paid by a handful of people who've been given the book and liked it enough to pony up. It's free advertising.

  14. Part two:

    The art nouveau aspect of the cover: The world is Victorianesque, not medieval, and the cover reflects that. For every negative comment I hear about it (exclusively on author boards) I get three raves, and not just from fans. I've been loathe to change it based on that. Margaret: I didn't draw it myself. It looks a lot better in every thumbnail except the "Look inside!" one; Amazon did something weird when they shrank it to include the extra graphics. In print it's stunning. I've sold copies in person just from the cover. And I understand that print covers don't always translate. Once more of the series is out I may go in a different direction for the ebooks.

    The difficulties I have marketing the book is that it *is* rather literary and is not typical fantasy. In trying to help me nail down a genre, reviewer Keryl Raist ultimately said, "It's fiction." :)

    The "Kushiel" comparisons are not my own. I've never read them myself, and once I finished the book two draft and handed it off to my editor--just this week--I fully realized I need to remove them from my marketing. If I'm going to be true to the story, sex is going to fade in importance; book two has a lot less of it. I'm doing a series of side stories for fans of the sexy parts, so they won't be completely abandoned.

    In the end, I think I'm just going to have to trust that the books will find their audience; it's not an easy book to categorize. Which doesn't mean I'm ignoring your comments *at all*. They' ve been extremely helpful. Thanks again, everyone.

  15. PS:

    (I hear the crowd yell SHUT UP, MEI--last comment I promise)

    I redid the blurb:

    Eighteen-year-old Prince Temmin has led a childhood as close to normal as possible, far from the capital. When he comes of age and joins his father King Harsin, he's completely unprepared for the politics, assassins and sexual intrigues at court.

    Temmin is even more unprepared when he discovers there is magic in the world, all in the hands of his father's immortal advisor Teacher. Teacher becomes his tutor, and Temmin discovers his lessons are contained in a magic book. When Teacher reads to him, Temmin experiences everything the story's characters do, and he's forced to confront serious mistakes in the kingdom's--and his own--past.

    His present is just as complicated. He's falling for beautiful twins--brother and sister--who are the human hosts of the Gods of love and desire called the Lovers. Being with them is more than sex; it's a religious calling, and the Lovers have spoken clearly to him. But an ancient prophecy says that if Temmin heeds Their call it may spell the end of the monarchy, and his father King Harsin fights him every step of the way.

    Temmin must choose: Serve the Lovers and lose his father--and possibly the kingdom--or serve King Harsin and risk the wrath of the Gods.

    Set in a Victorianesque world of magic, sexuality, political intrigue and military conquest, "Lovers and Beloveds" is the first book in the series "An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom."

  16. Lord love you, Meilin. :)

    Wanted to pop in and say that

    A) I think the updated blurb is loads better. For the first time, after seeing your stuff for ages and ages, I actually thought, "Huh. That might be cool" instead of, "Sounds interesting, but probably not something I'd like." Being that I read neither fantasy nor erotica nor much romance, I'd call that a resounding success. :P

    B)I've always loved the look of the cover. I associate it with you and your work. For me, it is your brand, and I wouldn't screw with it for anything.

    I think that recently in the trad world painted and drawn covers have gone out of vogue in favor of photos. I see this only as a design trend, which I feel is largely motivated by the fact that photos are faster to create and easier to manipulate and thus, probably cheaper. I see no reason why this means that everyone on earth should go in favor of photography on their covers, especially if their work is clearly niche in nature, and it's to their benefit to "stand out" from the crowd of same-old, same-old.

    In closing, I think I agree with your statement that you'll probably have to wait for the books to find their audience. And, after all, it's not as if you don't have a core of very vehement fans already. ;)

  17. I have never commented here and I discovered this blog because I lurk on the KindleBoards as the attitude towards readers/reviewers often amuses me.

    This book has been on my wishlist for quite awhile. I don't think the cover is the problem. The cover attracted me and other readers that I have chatted with. Making it look like another author's work would turn me off and quite honestly saying a book is like "so and so's" is a complete turn off.

    I am a cover whore and that is what initially attracted me.

    The blurb could be tightened up.

    The book could have more reviews in the 3-1 star range, as I am very suspicious if a book only has positive reviews and my first assumption is that they are bought reviews or friend reviews.

  18. If I was not clear...

    I bought the damned book because of the bloody cover. It ain't the problem.

  19. Love art nouveau and I like the cover, not so fond of the opening paragraph of description. For one, it feels a bit clumsy, and two, obsession with eye color is kind of a pet peeve.

    With regards to the sex, and this is where the cover may be creating some problems in my opinion, I get the impression that a lot of m/m readers are really turned off by the inclusion of any m/f sex scenes. In general, I expect sticking to one or the other gives a wider potential audience. The cover leads one to assume there's likely a mix or threesome or something which I would guess limits your potential audience. Providing some clarity about what to expect might help some of the fence sitters to make a decision yes or no.

  20. I know, I wish it had more 1-to-3 stars myself for just that reason. I swear on a stack of whatever holy book/object you want that I didn't pay for one of those reviews, nor are they all my friends. I don't have 62 friends on Goodreads, and a number of the reviewers on both Goodreads and Amazon identify themselves as book bloggers who got review copies. Every book blogger review I've ever gotten but two rated me a 4 or a 5; one named me among the best indies of 2010. The exceptions were Coffee Time Romance (3) and a book blogger just recently who tried to read it and gave up after ten days; she wrote recently and said it just wasn't her thing, and that she wouldn't be posting a review (I'd count that as a 1). I am thinking of writing her back and asking her to go ahead and post!

    And Dhympna, thanks for buying the book. :)

    1. MeiLin, I have been a fan since you had all three books available via internet. I think you have a great story line, and a fantastic way of involving all kinds of readers by having the different stories combine. I do agree, having been a fan of your rough draft that the begininng is a little rough. But please dont get discouraged, I am excited to see how you finish the other books, and would rate you an 8 on a 1-10 scale!!!!

  21. @MeiLin I figured that was the case. I just wanted to explain my merry fence sitting. But the assault on your lovely cover made me buy it, so... *shrugs*

  22. @MeiLinI would encourage the blogger to post a DNF review. I know "negative" reviews feel awful to authors but many readers check them out first or refuse to buy until we see something critical.

    Some of my fave books were bought because of a negative review. :)

  23. COVER: I realize the cover is Victorianesque, but most people are thinking Art Nouveau because the aesthetic was revived in the psychedelic 60s (e.g., Beatles' Sgt. Pepper, Donovan, etc.). That’s what came to mind for me too: I thought, ‘Hippie Fantasy’? Now there’s a new genre!

    PD: First, a few grammatical points. Unless you’re writing poetry, the participle “sheltered” is conventionally only used before “life” or with a dative phrase beginning with “by” or “from” (e.g., “Sheltered by his parents…”). Also “gods” should not be capitalized and “Love” and “Desire” should be, since they’re the proper names of the gods in question. “Intrigue-filled” is also a little clunky.

    As for the content of the PD, I couldn’t understand what was going on or what was at stake. For example, it first seems ominous that he’s in love with god-avatars (“But the twins…”), then it seems like a good thing (“To be with them…”). Plus, is the adviser good or bad? And what is “Tremont” and why is it so important?

    300: As others have said, this doesn't seem like the scene to start with. The dialogue is a big part of the problem. Not because it’s dialogue, but because it’s filled words that belong to the world you’ve created. These words make it harder to follow the action and hence to be hooked into what’s going on. For example, I have no idea what this means: “A woman will rule when Nerr gets the Heir.” I’m sure it makes sense in your novel’s world, and maybe some people like overhearing puns that only make sense in a made-up language, but it’s a turn-off for me so early in the story. I’d rather be brought in at a different point or be given more description so I know what’s taking place.

    A grammatical note: you’re using “near-black” like an adjective, but it’s not a color. It should really be “nearly black” or just “black.”

    Hope that's good for something.

  24. W.H.: Love and Desire are not Their names, and I capitalize Gods and the pronouns that apply to Them in the book (doing it here merely for demonstration) in imitation of the Bible and Christian usage.

    As for your other comments the blurb, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the new one further up-thread. :)

    Thanks for your comments on the rest!

  25. Hi MeiLin,

    I read the original assuming that you meant “the gods, Love and Desire” and that the “of” was a mistake too. At any rate, “gods” still shouldn’t be capitalized in the old or the new PD because it doesn’t refer to any person/god. “Gods of” is in the genitive case (i.e., the word refers to what they are, not to the individual entities themselves). Even if you follow the biblical model, “gods” wouldn’t be capitalized. For example, “Christians say God is the god of all gods. They say He knows there is only one god, and no other gods but God Himself.”

    For what it’s worth, the new PD is much clearer.

  26. W.H., very good point and when I get a moment I'll be changing it. Thanks!

  27. MeiLin,

    I think the new blurb is clearer, but I would go even further. Specifically:

    In para 2, you talk about the Teacher and learning about history by reliving it, which is cool. But what is that point of this? Is it to prepare him to be king? And where is the drama in this? Could he be killed while reliving the past? Is this a test he must pass? Does he even want to pass it?

    In para 3, you are very vague about the stakes. He wants to be with the gods, and he hears their "call". Be specific. Is he being called to be a god? Do they want him to marry them? Does he have to carry their child? And how will this destroy the monarchy?

    Keep rockin!

  28. Joseph--

    Thanks for your thoughtful questions. I will ponder them as I go back over the blurb, as I constantly, obsessively do. :D


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