Monday, November 7, 2011

Perception of Evil

Author: Budo von Stahl
Genre: Epic Fantasy
How long it's been on sale: 14 Months
Current price: $.99
Marketing: Facebook, KB, Goodreads, multiple forums
Total sold so far: unknown
Link to book on Amazon: Perception of Evil (The Eastendland Saga)

Product Description:

Unexpectedly turned out of his home by his aged master, armed with little but an insatiable curiosity, a vast education, and a marvelous sword, Valkane the apprentice sets out in search of many things, among them his ancestry, the meaning of a vision, and knowledge. He stands a good chance of finding all of this and more, if he somehow manages to survive. His journey brings him into contact with Elves, Dwarves, monsters, evil magicians, howling Barbarians, and more. With a penchant for getting lost, he finds himself caught in the middle of innumerable plots, secret locations, and possible war. The greatest danger he will face, however, is the mysterious pursuit by The Hand of Doom. Join him and experience these many things with him, meet his friends, and share his...doom? 

First 300 Words:

Though hours remained before dawn on this cool, rainy spring morning, Valkane could not sleep.  In truth, he had not slept well for nearly a week.  He had tossed fitfully the last few nights, reliving the same dream, searching for any meaning in it, perplexed by the sense of urgency the vision left in its wake.

The dream troubling him appeared to have been triggered during a session with his scrying bowl.  While researching some interesting events of the distant past (his favorite subject), he had come upon an image of a large, black-clad man sitting on a great throne in a dark, dank room.  Valkane had absolutely no knowledge of who this man was or what he was doing, or even why he should appear in the place Valkane was examining.  The dark man’s attendants were as intriguing as the man himself; actually, even more so.

Just as Valkane was beginning to admire these attendants closely, he became aware that the figure on the throne was aware of him.  Horrified, Valkane had wrenched himself away from his bowl to discover he was breathing hard and had an awful headache.  By all of the laws of nature, science, and magic, what had transpired that day was impossible.  Not even a friend on the other side of the same table would be aware of a scrying session, to say nothing of a long-dead stranger.

That very night was when this recurring nightmare had begun.  In this vision, Valkane sees himself in the lab, bent over the scrying bowl again.  Looking over his own shoulder, so to speak, he sees himself in the bowl, walking through a twilight mist, as if strolling along the edge of a marsh at moonrise.  No sound or color comes to him at this point, only white mist, black sky, and pale light.  

Vicki's Comments: The cover doesn't say "High Fantasy" to me. In fact, the background looked like a stained glass window at first glance. The font didn't look professional, which gave the entire cover an unprofessional look. I would suggest a re-design of the cover. Maybe check out some other covers in the high fantasy genre and see which ones catch your eye, then try to put into words what you like about it.

The blurb isn't specific enough for me. It could be any number of novels where the protagonist goes in search of something. I want to know why this book is the one I should be reading, instead of hundreds of other novels that have a main character going on a journey. I would re-work the blurb as well, trying to be more specific to the protagonist and plot of this novel.

The novel starts with narrative summery instead of a scene. I think this is hurting your book. I also found a few awkward sentences, like: he became aware that the figure on the throne was aware of him. And some tense issues. I would join a critique group to polish up the piece, or at least run the first chapter through to get some outside eyes on the prose. The beginning is often the hardest part to get just right.

What do you guys think?


  1. I don't mind the stained-window effect, but the fonts make the whole unprofessional and difficult to read.

    The blurb suffers from clause overload and a few clich├ęs, superficially. More deeply, I don't really know what the book's about nor why I should read it. Valkane's searching for stuff and stuff happens to him and we should join him. (Please, please, people, stop using "Join my characters as they..." in blurbs.)

    As for the opening, dreams are always difficult to deal with, especially in openings. You might have been better served to start with the scrying session itself. I understand what you're trying with the tense change toward the end, but it's not working. You're breaking the fourth wall into third person omniscient, which is fine (I love that myself when it's done well--see Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope), but if you're going to use that you have to set the style from the very beginning. I mean, the very beginning. It's so uncommonly seen in contemporary literature that if you wait more than a couple of paragraphs you're going to confuse people when it kicks in.

  2. I think the big problem with the cover is the font. What makes it worse is the red outlining. It makes it nearly unreadable.

    The blurb isn't bad. The fact that he keeps getting lost leads me to believe that there might be some humor in the book. That alone would lead to at least sample.

    The opening, if I've got this right, has a vision within a dream? Or is it a dream within a vision? I'm not sure what's going on here.

  3. I agree with Vicki and MeiLin.

    Cover - Fair, but could be much stronger. The text/font definitely needs an upgrade. The art is okay, particularly if there is a religious/church-like aspect to the story. But I would recommend finding more dramatic and interesting artwork.

    Blurb - Far too generic. A hero goes on a quest, sees things, and fights things. You need to give a specific teaser of the actual plot to help me decide whether this particular fantasy adventure is interesting to me. What is it similar to? Is it funny or romantic or horrific? Who is the villain? What is at stake?

    Opening - I hate to have the whole "telling versus showing" argument (because both are valid styles), but this opening is all telling, and it's about a dream, which is just slow and disjointed for me. It has no tension, no immediacy. I found myself skimming, looking for the point where the story "really" starts.

    Reviews - I see you have four 5-star reviews. Unfortunately, that looks like you got four friends to post fake reviews for you. Find a way to drum up more reviews (and more diverse ones).

    Sales - It's been on sale for over a year. Why don't you know how many you've sold?

    Sequels - I see you have lots of other titles, that's good. They also appear to need better covers and descriptions.

    Length - How long is this book? Full novel? Novella? I recommend including a word count and estimated page count in the description.

  4. The assumption is that an epic fantasy is a novel, so I don't think it's necessary to include a word count, a practice that I don't care for since it screams amateur.

    The cover says more historical than fantasy. Definitely improve that font. It's terrible. I'd look for some way to say fantasy though. The figure looks like a knight which is a complete disconnect.

    And I think your blurb is a big problem. It doesn't even hint at what the conflict is in the novel. Obviously there is one.

    The switch to omniscient voice in the last paragraph of the sample threw me totally. I hate omniscient voice. On top of the dream sequence start, I wouldn't go any further if I were reading your sample. Sorry if that is excessively harsh. People often have problems with their start and in my opinion, you do.

  5. Ok I am just an average reader and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I'm sorry if I don't disect the book on its leteral qualities. I enjoy the Story and way its told, and yes it has plenty of humour in it and not in the least difficult to read..... But hey I am just an ordinary person so my opinion obviously doesn't count.
    Get off your know it all high horses and live a little you might actually see the good in others apart from yourselves

  6. Personally, I like the cover as well as the lettering at the top with the title. We've all been taught that evil is outlined in red, cool look! This book is written in the style of Tolkien and makes one use their mind to think a little. I like thinking when I read. Thank you, Von Stahl!

  7. Anonymous, you're mistaking this commentary. He didn't ask us if the book was any good, and we're not weighing in on its merits AS A BOOK. He's asking us why it's not selling--he asked us, we didn't pick this book out of the blue--and we're giving him advice to help him sell more. I'm sure the book is fine. That's not the issue here.

  8. The title on the cover looks like it says "Peiception", and I agree it is rather evocative of stained glass.

    I would never get past the blurb though. It reads as if you've gathered together every fantasy cliche ever and rolled them all up into a single book.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. @JR Tomlin - I for one appreciate some sort of indication of length with ebook only. While it's true that people aren't really accustomed to seeing word counts for books, it's also true that people will scream bloody murder and give you one star reviews if they thought they were getting a 1200 page novel and it turns out to be a novelette.

    Page estimates are also fairly common, and probably make more sense to non-writers, though words per page actually varies considerably from book to book. (250 w/p is often repeated online, but I'm fairly certain this originally referred to typewritten manuscript pages in pica, not printed book pages.) I think in the long run it would be nice if everyone just got used to word count as a gauge of length, even if it seems a little odd at first. Of course it seems a bit ironic as publishers were never really interested in word count other than as a tool to calculate expected column inches or the number of printed pages.

  11. created an ID so I am not anon... Joseph get your claws in!
    I was one who gave him a five star review. I have never met the Author Von Stahl or even know what he/she looks like. so to say he got friends to write a review for him is way low... sounds like sour grapes to me.
    Are you by any chance a struggling Author? Jealousy is not a pretty trait.
    I usually like to give independant Authors a look at but your attitude stinks.
    To say something as low as that ... as far as I know I am not even on the same continent as this Author.
    Sadly if I read one of yours and liked it I'd still give it an honest and fair review without questioning the integrity of those who have reviewed before hand.

  12. I don't really have much to add. I agree with the consensus on the need for a new cover, blurb and workshop of the manuscript.

    The cover doesn't work on several levels for me. In addition to those mentioned, it feels disconnected from the type of story/character the blurb promises.

    The blurb is really holding you back. I think it's trying to do far too much and just ends up with a vague laundry list of "fantasy things". Try a new one focusing on your MC's journey/struggle and what's at stake.

    I won't reiterate what's been said about the text, but I do want to encourage you to workshop it. If you can find the right group, it's a fantastic (and fun) experience.

  13. To the author and anonymous and named fans of the author: Titles are submitted to this blog for commentary and criticism. Please note the title of the blog: "Why is the Book Not Selling?" We're trying to help, and sometimes help is harsh. Just remember every precious jewel went through a lot of abrasion and grinding before people "ooohed" and "ahhhhed" over it.

    So, sometimes, so must our books, including the packaging of them.

    I see observations being made, offering opinions. Not flames.

    If it LOOKS LIKE reviews are fake (not if they are) people will shy away.

    If it LOOKS LIKE the font is unreadable in the small size we see at Amazon, or elsewhere, or LOOKS LIKE it is misspelled, as it does to me, it can make a potential reader shy away.

    Savvy authors and friends of the authors will take comments to heart and go "Hmm. Maybe with so many saying the same thing, something really might be improved if I can listen without getting ego in the way" or leaping immediately to the author's defense when he volunteered his book to appear here exactly for the kind of suggestion, critique, and thoughts it's getting.

    Okay, my take on the cover:

    Outlining fonts in red works--sometimes. If the background is dark. If the font is heavy enough to stand up to the outline. Other than that, it clutters and confuses the text, making it looks awkward. I don't mind the image, but the typography and font choice is not good. Since I'm picky, I'd probably not bother even moving on to the description, but since it is here...

    It has a lot of words, but doesn't tell me much, or make me very interested in finding out more. There are far too many lists, and a few repeated turns of phrase, and it sort of just trickles away at the end to the... "well, come along if you feel like it" feeling, like the writer of the description was exhausted or had a bad day at work and just threw something up there without thinking too much.

    The sample...
    I found it confusing and meandering; and the change in tense in the last paragraph really threw me.

    I would not have gone past the cover had I seen this on Amazon, really. I clicked on it mostly to see if the title really was misspelled, and I still can't tell for sure.

    Also, the switch in tenses in an already confusing opening (to ME) sends up another red flag.

  14. Has the cover changed as this is not the cover I have on my Kindle?

  15. @Lizuks,

    Please understand, the author asked for our advice because his book is failing to sell. He wants suggestions and ideas. We are not here to attack him or his book. We are here to identify possible problems and suggest solutions based on our experience (and success).

    I'm sorry if my comment about the reviews sounds critical, but it is a common assumption that if the only reviews of a book are 5-star, then they may be plants or fakes, even created by the author himself using dummy accounts. Sadly, many authors do engage in fraudulent practices like this. Many readers, myself included, are more inclined to trust reviews if they are more diverse.

    And for the record, I am not struggling at all. I'm selling many hundreds of books per month, and more as each month goes by. And I think one of the factors that has helped me is having a large number of diverse and thoughtful reviews from my readers and book reviewers.

    I personally value well-written 3- and 4-star reviews more than enthusiastic 5-star ones. I thought the author here might benefit from my success with this.

    I'm certainly not attacking the author or the book's reviewers (or you). I'm simply offering advice as to why this book is failing to sell, advice that the author asked for. Perception matters a great deal in marketing. That's why cover art and descriptions are so important, as are reviews.

  16. Please don't take anything I say the wrong way. I'm just offering the opinion of a reader (and a professional editor).

    I don’t mind the typeface on the cover, but it shouldn’t be italicized. I’m not quite sure about the image, though the stained glass calls to mind a Christian church; and the shadow figure in it looks like that famous statue of the Roman Emperor Augustus.

    Anyway, I think your biggest problem is the prose in the product description and the first chapter. There’s no way around it: it needs work. I can tell that it’s probably been proofread (few typos), but that it’s never been edited, because there’s a lot of awkward phrasing and every sentence has redundant words. Here are some examples:

    1. “Unexpectedly turned out of his home by his aged master…”

    First, being kicked out by one’s master is always unexpected. Second, “turned out” has unfortunate contemporary meanings (see the Urban Dictionary or any episode of Law & Order: SVU). Third, only wine and cheese are “aged,” humans are “old.” So it should read something like:

    “Cast out by his old master…”

    2. “…armed with little but an insatiable curiosity, a vast education, and a marvelous sword…”

    First, “little more than” a vast education and a marvelous sword? Sounds like he left with a lot to me. Second, his level of curiosity might be an important part of the character, but it’s redundant in the product description. Third, “education” is too broad; it should either be an education in something (or knowledge of something—sorcery maybe?).

    3. “Valkane the apprentice sets out in search of many things, among them his ancestry, the meaning of a vision, and knowledge.”

    First, the placement of “apprentice” makes it part of his name, so it should be capitalized; if it’s not, it should be “the apprentice Valkane.” Second, he sets out in search of way too many things. I say stick with either the meaning of the vision or his ancestry. Judging by your first chapter, it should be the vision.

    The first chapter also needs work by the looks of it. I’m just being totally honest when I say this: if I opened to the first page and read the following, I wouldn’t buy the book:

    “Though hours remained before dawn on this cool, rainy spring morning, Valkane could not sleep. In truth, he had not slept well for nearly a week.”

    For one, a first line about weather is generally death. Second, don’t begin a sentence (let alone a book) with “though.” Third, “in truth” is inappropriate because his sincerity isn’t in question. Fourth, the adverb “nearly” is inessential information. Fifth, “week” is a bit of an anachronism for the medieval period. So I’d rephrase something like this:

    “Valkane waited for dawn in the cold rain. He couldn’t sleep. He hadn’t slept for days. Each night he tossed and turned, kept awake by the same dream, a vision he didn’t understand, one that filled him with a strange urgency.”

    Maybe that’s not perfect either. But my revised first lines frame the scene and the narrative to follow.

    Finally, yes, I am an editor, so I’m bound to be nit-picky. Nonetheless, I think any writer or reader will have to admit at least ninety-five percent of what I’ve said. Moreover, none of what I’ve said should be taken as a criticism of the story itself. The story may be fantastic. I’m only talking about the style.

    Hope this helps.

  17. @DDW I understand what you are saying, but since publishers don't give a word count I don't think it is a good idea for Indie authors to do so. Yes, there are people who think it's a good idea but when the advice is given I tend to mention there is another way to think of it.

    I DO think it is vital to make it clear whether the person is buying a full length novel, a novelette, novella, or short story however that can be done on the cover and in the title.

    My novel, Freedom's Sword shows as titled: Freedom's Sword, A Novel of Scotland, for example. If I put one of my short stories up, I would certainly put Short Story in the title.

    You're right that the 250 per word page count thing is totally off for the printed page. The page count for a printed page can be all over the place. 250 words is the estimate for a properly formatted MANUSCRIPT page which is totally different. Since there is no standard count for the number of words on a page (it depends on kind of book, font, line spacing which varies) a page count is meaningless and deceptive. And most readers have no clue (why should they) the word count in most novels. Heck I don't know the word count in a lot of novels I've read.

    @Lizuks Really. You need to calm down. The author asked for advice. Being put on this blog and offered criticism is a favor.

  18. I am perfectly calm I took it more personal as I was one of the reviewers who gave Von Stahl a 5star rating... It was offensive to say the least that someone implied it was not a genuine review.
    Its enough to put people off reviewing for anyone.
    Vohn Stahls books I could not put down and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I got perception and was back on Amazon ordering all available books of his. Some didn't even have proper covers at time of purchase.
    There is an old saying "you should never Judge a book by its cover" Personally I have used this throughout my life and in all situations whether literally or figuratively. People, items everything should be judged on everything not just a snippet of them. There are a couple of people who I feel were helpful to the author you were among them. Others I am sorry got my back up. As they made me feel stupid for having thoroughly enjoying the book. I know I am not stupid, and that my opinion is still the same. As an avid reader covers are not the be all and end all to a good book. The title attracts me to a book. The blurb is what most folk look at granted. But I tend to scan and if certain keywords attract my attention I take a closer look. I have just found an Idie booksite and am loving reading things from writers I have never heard of.
    I think a lot hinges on public awareness that you guys exist. A lot of people don't look at the books if they don't know the name of the author. Sad but true. I have friends who have stuck to one or two authors.

  19. I'm not reading the other comments yet because I want my impression to be immediate. I found the cover striking and it captured my attention (I ignored the font style). What made it fall flat was the actual title. Maybe this can't be changed, but it sounded like a precursor to a moral lesson.

    In the blurb, I'd like to know the name of the MC asap, not after you've given us a laundry list of his possessions.

    The premise is definitely intriguing, although I wouldn't start the book with the MC waking up or a dream. IMHO.

    Best of luck!


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