Friday, December 30, 2011

The New Death and others

Author: James Hutchings
Genre: Fantasy
How long it's been on sale: September 27 2011
Current price: $.99
Marketing: I've contacted around 1000 blogs asking for reviews, interviews, guest posts and/or giveaways. I've also promoted it on my own blog.
Total sold so far: 24
Link to book on Amazon: The New Death and others

Product Description:

Death gets a roommate...

An electronic Pope faces a difficult theological question...

A wicked vizier makes a terrible bargain...

44 stories. 19 poems. No sparkly vampires. There's a thin line between genius and insanity, and James Hutchings has just crossed it - but from which direction?

First 300 Words:

The God of the Poor

In the beginning of the world the gods considered all those things which did not have their own gods, to decide who would have responsibility and rulership.
"I will rule all flowers that are sky-blue in colour," said the Sky-Father.
"I will listen to the prayers of migratory birds, and you all other birds," the goddess Travel said to him. And so it went.
At last all had been divided, save for one thing.
"Who," asked the Sky-Father, "shall have dominion over the poor?"
There was an awkward silence, until the Sky-Father said,
"Come - someone must. Those with no gods will grow restless and cunning, and in time will cast us down, and we shall be gods no more."
"Not I," said blind Justice, and her stony face flashed a momentary smirk at the thought. "Why not Fame or Fortune?"
"Darling I don't think so," said the sister goddesses together.
There was a long pause. The gods shuffled their feet and avoided one another's gaze. At last a voice broke the silence.
"I will," said Death.

How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name

Death stalked the cats of Telelee.
Throughout the city there was much hiding under couches, and a yowling fear of shadows who came in the night. These shadows gathered squint-eyed kittens and cats trembling with age. Starving alley cats like leather bags filled with bones and pampered house-cats more spherical than cat-shaped, alike were taken. The shadows asked not whether a cat was tom or queen. White cats and black, tabby and orange, grey and tortoiseshell, cats that looked like their owners and cats that looked like nothing but cats, the shadows hungered for all.

Vicki's Comments: I like the cover art. I do. But I like ink drawings from the early 1900's, and this is what this book cover art reminds me of. The style makes me think this was public domain art that the author took and used for cover art. Which is great if the book was written in the early 1900's. But not so good if you're trying to sell it to people looking for new stuff. I usually advise people to stay away from public domain art. It makes people think they are looking at something written a long time ago. I would highly recommend getting a new cover.

The description is pretty anemic, however I like the end paragraph. I'd keep that. The short descriptions of the stories don't hook me. I would get help reworking those hooks, because you want those bits to really make the reader want to buy the book. You want to give enough information about the stories that the reader knows what they are getting. Death getting a roommate isn't a story. What's the hook? Where's the conflict? Is the story humorous? I want to know these things before investing my time. (Because, I throw away 99 cents all the time on crap. It's my time that really is more precious to me.)

After reading the sample, I think this collection should be selling better than it is. I liked the quirky nature of the writing. I do think this book needs some editing. For instance: "Starving alley cats like leather bags filled with bones and pampered house-cats more spherical than cat-shaped, alike were taken." This sentence reads like the leather bags were filled with bones and pampered house-cats.

The title could use some tweaking. It could be a regional thing, but I would expect to read: The New Death and Other Stories.

I would suggest a new cover, reworking the blurb, and having an editor correct the little things in the book. Now, short stories and poems don't sell like best sellers, but I do think this book should be selling better than it is. The writing is good and the ideas in the book are interesting, at least in my opinion. In fact, I just bought a copy because I want to read more. What do you guys think?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Not Fit For Human Consumption: A Comedic Farce

Author: Elmore Hammes
Genre: Humor with elements of science fiction and fantasy
How long it's been on sale: 2 years
Current price: $1.00
Marketing: When it was first released, posts in Amazon discussion boards and a couple other online forums such as Kindleboards. Participated in some local author book fairs, which is where most of the print copies were sold. Sent out a few review copies, the one reviewer who posted on Amazon gave it 5 stars. I also traded a few Amazon tags with some other independent authors. I set a low price ($1 Kindle, $7.95 paperback) hoping that would help but I don't think it has.
Total sold so far: A little over 100, with 25 print copies and the
rest Kindle sales.
Link to book on Amazon: Not Fit For Human Consumption: A Comedic Farce

Product Description:

A tale not to be taken too seriously, featuring cockroaches, genetically enhanced rats, foosball table destruction, rabbits, high school science clubs, hedgehog conspiracy theorists, military coups, adolescent bomb shelter romance and cosmic entities bent on annihilation.

Sadly, not enough beer was drunk during creation of this novel to include an airplane lavatory sex scene. Oh wait, there is one of those. But don't get your hopes up - all the good parts are left out.

The novel contains suggestive language (the PG-rated variety), and those seeking enriching literature are best served by looking elsewhere. However, if you are in the mood for a farcical comedy step right in, and meet:

Arax the Annihilator, an entity bent on destroying the earth;

Henry Stewart, member of the Hedgehog Surveillance Network, who hopes to be part of the New World Order after the government topples;

Loretta the rabbit, who just wants to hop free in a meadow after a lifetime of captivity;

Omar Sharteen, who wants to bomb his own Parliament building so the US will build a nice shiny new one;

Mortimer Johnson, president of the Mount Carmel Junior High Science Club, who fears he has betrayed Science by having a crush on Alicia Fleppe;

Peter the Cockroach, a prophet who sees cockroaches as the final survivors;

Alice Walters, widow of a fallen soldier, who discovers her husband's secret life;

June and Robert, a happy couple who might find more happiness than they can handle;

Mark Andrews, who is in an underground bunker and is afraid to push the button when nuclear war is imminent;

and a host of others, including but not limited to strippers, teachers, t-shirt vendors, bookstore clerks, football players, moths, prime ministers and cats.

The author regrets immensely not having any zombies in this book. Or monkeys. Or zombie monkeys. 

First 300 Words:


People across the city of Kanapolis, Indiana, cursed as their TV programs were interrupted by the dynamic tones of channel KAN’s news bulletin alert. The camera zoomed in to an impeccably-groomed man in his late thirties, wearing a grim expression but one that still let them all know that whatever the crisis, he was more than prepared to deliver the news without a single lapse of decorum or misplaced hair.

“Good evening, this is Peter Wellington, KAN News, with a special report from the Middle East. A coup has occurred in the small territory of Jartanzia. Located at a crucial juncture of three area powers, the territory had been controlled by Iranian forces since 2003.”

The picture changed from a close up of the middle aged anchorman to a map of the Middle East, with Jartanzia outlined in bright yellow, with Iran, Iraq and Sudan labeled in large red type, showing how Jartanzia met in between the three countries.


“Oh, so that’s the Middle East,” Georgia Stewart said, smiling at her son Henry who sat next to her on their living room couch. “I always thought it was somewhere near Maryland.”

“Hush, Mother, I want to hear this.”

The report continued. “Communication had been cut off from Jartanzia since yesterday afternoon, and forces from each surrounding nation had begun to gather, as previously reported. The United Nations was urging caution on all sides, hoping to prevent war. A declaration of independence from all foreign territories was issued just moments ago.

We do not have any details as to who is behind the coup or who is now in charge. Let’s go to World News Correspondent Melissa Rivers.”

“Are we on?”

“Melissa, Peter Wellington here, and yes, we are broadcasting live.”

“Oh, hello, Peter.”

Vicki's Comments: I think the cover looks like a non-fiction book. To me, it looks like a kid's encyclopedia. The words at the top are very hard to read. I think this is a major issue for your book. Anyone browsing for a humorous book will probably speed right past yours, as it doesn't give me the feeling that this is a humorous novel. I would suggest a new cover.

The description is humorous, but I'm afraid that the huge wall of text made me not want to read any of it. I highly suggest reworking the description totally. When I read a description I want to know the basic storyline in a summary fashion. I'm still not sure exactly what this book is about after reading your description. It doesn't make me want to read the book. Don't feel bad, descriptions are the hardest part, IMHO.

The story itself kind of confused me. It could just be me. I would get some more opinions on it to see if it's just me, or if the story needs some work. I would suggest getting some beta readers to give you some opinions on it.

I would change the cover and the description and you'll be leaps ahead of where you are now. What do you guys think?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Volumes of the Silver Leaf

Author: E.W. Saloka
Genre: YA Fantasy
How long it's been on sale: 8/2011
Current price: $2.99
Marketing:The first two months I read posts from KB and other forums. Last moth I set up our author profile on Goodreads and  joined a few groups. I found a few book blogs and set up twitter and facebook profiles.
Total sold so far: Less than 10
Link to book on Amazon: Volumes of the Silver Leaf

Product Description:

Fifteen-year-old Zach Wellington has lived with his grandfather Thomas since his archaeologist father disappeared years before. Now his dad has turned up dead. A letter in his pocket says he was trapped all these years in a parallel world where magic is real--hard for Zach to believe, until a winged horse appears out of nowhere and whisks both Wellingtons away to Brandiss-Dor, the land where Zach's father died.

Zach wants to discover who murdered his father. Instead, he's pulled into a tug of war between wizards over a powerful medallion that will decide the fate of two worlds: Brandiss-Dor, and our own.

"The Far Kingdom" is the first volume of the new epic fantasy series "Volumes of the Silver Leaf." 

First 300 Words:

The sky was darkening and the clouds looked angry as they changed to deep and soulless gray.  Thunderous hoof beats echoed towards him as he raced through the forest. He was soaked down to his skin, first from sweat and then from the heavy rain which came at him in torrential sheets. The ground was thick with mud, and he almost slid into it waist deep. There was a ringing sound of clanking metal and shouts heard throughout, as he tried to stay one-step ahead of his pursuers. They were close on his heels and determined to cut him down. It had been apparent from the past months that his life was in danger. He really could not say why.

However the witch of Blackshire warned him and the wizard too, advising him to leave this place and soon. Those awful recurring dreams that kept him tormented in his sleeping hours and avoiding his would -be assassins in the waking hours, well ,it just kept him busy trying to stay alive. Several months ago, he found a tunnel, a passage hall, to pass from one realm into another. This would lead him back home and that simply was the only way. On one occasion he found the entrance and it slowly opened up, however when he moved towards it the boy had followed him. When he turned, it closed up and vanished.

Therefore, each time he tried, someone or something would stop him. Philip Wellington was determined the next time he would make it through and finally leave.

He stopped quickly, seeing several large rocks that would be easy to crawl into and take cover. Here he would secure a place to hide, if only for a little while. At least he could stay dry he thought. He felt bad wanting to leave the child behind, but was eager to go home. It had been too long already and he grew more anxious each passing day. He sometimes wished he could take the boy back with him; however, it was best this way. Someday he hoped the child would understand.

Vicki's Comments: I like the cover, but I think it can be improved. The people blend into the background, I had to look hard to figure out what exactly was depicted in the scene. I think the typography could be improved as well. The words don't seem to stand out as much as I usually see. I do think the cover gives me a "fantasy" feeling, so that's good. Showing the genre is very important on the cover.

I like the description. I might be a bit more specific at the end, what exactly are the stakes? A tug-of-war isn't very compelling. I'd like to know what might happen to our world, and what the MC can do about it.

After reading the first 300 words, I would suggest putting the novel through a critique group. The story itself is good, but some of the wording is confusing and clunky, and I think it would greatly benefit from a critique group. I also found mistakes that could be fixed by hiring an editor, such as "would -be assassins" and "well ,it just kept."

I did get curious about a few of the things I saw, so I downloaded a sample to my kindle. The book itself is rife with formatting errors. I would highly suggest hiring someone to help format the book. There are paragraphs with two spaces in between, followed by multiple paragraphs smashed together without any spaces. There are no indents, so it's hard to read without spaces between paragraphs. There are some strange things, like in the first sentence part of the word 'looked' is bold. This book is in desperate need of formatting help.

I would run the book through a critique group or find a few beta readers, hire an editor, and tweak the cover to see more sales. What do you guys think?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thieves at Heart

Author: Tristan J. Tarwater
Genre: Fantasy / Gray Fantasy
How long it's been on sale: October 1, 2011
Current price: .99
Marketing: We had a booth (and spoke on a panel) at Seattle's GeekGirlCon in October.  We've paid for 2 online ads for Oct-Dec (1 webcomic site, 1 fantasy RPG site).  We maintain a presence on Mobile Read forums, Createspace forums, Kindle Board forums, and link to our site in the signature of all of the various forums we frequent.  We participated in a free paperback book give away on Goodreads.  We have sent out free copies to reviewers.  We're currently working on optimizing the SEO of our website.
Total sold so far: Less than 75.
Link to book on Amazon: Thieves at Heart

Product Description:

Tavera has grown up an outsider. A half-elf in a land of humans, she finds herself dragged through various jobs for other people’s benefit and used for their gain. When a thief named Derk plucks her from her latest job she expects more of the same from the cunning rogue, but instead finds direction, guidance and protection for the first time in her life. Her pa belongs to a group called The Cup of Cream, a group of elite thieves, scoundrels and other sorts who seek not only personal gain but to keep balance in the Valley. To join their ranks would please her father and give Tavera the acceptance she’s been seeking all her life. When the unthinkable happens, she is forced to wonder if the Cup sees her as just another tool their sleeve, or if they under-stand she is an individual with her own desires, whose heart beats faster with every take. When she needs them most, with they be there for her? She’s about to find out.

First 300 Words:

Chapter 1
Out of the Dregs

“Tavi, I really wish you weighed more, girl. You can never pull these things tight enough!” Prisca the Tart stood up from the bed, examining the ties of the wide belt she wore under her bust in the full length mirror. A look of disappointment came over the woman’s highly painted face as she looked over the leather cords crisscrossing her back, brown threaded through pale pink matching the dress she was wearing. Her light eyes lit upon the tiny bit of the girl reflected in the mirror, a small brown hand crawling away once it was noticed. The woman sighed and laughed, brushing out her skirts as she walked back to the bed and sat in front of the little girl, the hay and feathers settling with a rustle under her weight. “Come now, sweets, use those tiny fingers of yours and fix what you’ve done.”

“Yes, mam,” came the quiet voice, the girl’s head bowed as she went to work. Skinny legs shifted under the girl’s small frame and she scratched at her greasy dark hair, what remained of her locks barely long enough to cover one slightly pointed ear. Her hand brushed against the other ear as her hands went to Prisca’s laces. Where there was supposed to be a point was instead a straight line, pink and tender where a knife had cut the cartilage away. It still sent a shiver through Tavi when she touched it. The loss of her hair meant she couldn’t hide the telltale signs of her blood or her past and her face grew hot even now, recalling Prisca’s announcement and remedy. Lice and a shave. “Can’t have bugs hopping about when I’m on business,” Prisca had said as she shaved off the girl’s knotty black locks. 

Vicki's Comments: I like the cover. It does look like a fantasy novel to me, however the girl on the front looks very young, so I automatically assume the book is middle grade. This is probably not correct, so it might be something to look into. If most people who see the cover assume this book is for kids, it might be hindering sales. Maybe see what others say about the cover.

I found the description too wordy and confusing. I'm not sure what 'just another tool their sleeve' means. I think the description definitely needs help. I also can't tell from the description if Tavera is a child, a teenager, or a young adult. That would help pin down an audience. Most of the time if a protagonist is a child, the book is aimed toward a middle grade audience.

I might run the first part of the book through a critique group, I found some places where the wording was awkward. I think it could be improved. I also prefer a definite point of view character, and this is written in omniscient, which is an older style, and not very popular these days. It could be off-putting to readers.

My suggestion would be to rework the blurb, and get some outside opinions of the novel itself to see if a bit of tightening up could help. This might be a hard sell if it is written as an adult novel but the protagonist is a child. I might be more clear who the target audience is. What do you guys think?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Forgotten Gods

Author: S.B. Stewart-Laing & Michael J. Chernicoff
Genre: Historical fantasy
How long it's been on sale: Since 17/09/2011
Current price: $4.99
Marketing: Promotion on my personal blog (and group blog), word of mouth, Twitter, blog interviews
Total sold so far: 7
Link to book on Amazon: Name Your Link

Product Description:

Winter, 1745. Scotland is losing a war for independence. Robert Maxwell and his fellow soldiers beg for supernatural aid from the daione sìdhe, magical inhabitants of Scotland exiled in ancient times to a parallel plane of existence. The sìdhe ask to negotiate with the Scottish leaders, who rashly enter into a magical contract promising the sìdhe a permanent return to Britain in exchange for their help in the war.

Access to sìdhe soldiers and magical weapons gives the Scots a temporary advantage, but their agreement lacks stipulations to prevent lone sìdhe creatures from hunting humans, stealing children, or riddling the countryside with hidden portals that can whisk passers-by into parallel dimensions. Worse, the sìdhe leaders seem unable to stop the chaos.

The Scottish leadership work to understand the sidhe and find a way to coexist. But they find sìdhe are not as disorganized as they appear, and harbor a sinister goal: to end the war on their own terms and secure their claim on Britain, no matter what the cost to their human allies.

First 300 Words:

Light from the full moon sliced the landscape into sharp white highlights and dark blue shadows. Robert Wardlaw-Maxwell stood knee-deep in frostbitten weeds, hands clamped around his musket, his every muscle tensed and ready to respond to the first hint of movement. Even though he had fired the gun many times, it still felt foreign in his hands. Besides, he did not know if any of the balls had ever reached their marks, so he could tell himself he had never actually killed anyone.

“They’re no’ comin’ this way,” Hugh MacBain whispered from beside him.

Robert nodded. He hoped Hugh was right, and the prolonged silence meant that the government men had run in another direction. The last time he fought someone at close range was months ago at Gladmuir, and that wasn’t even a proper battle: just him flailing with a pitchfork, more in self-defense than in any serious attempt to kill one of the English soldiers.

A muffled crack of gunfire was followed by shouts and the crunch of breaking branches. Robert flinched, and took a quick, involuntary step backwards.

Another round of gunfire, this time more distant. It sounded as though the English had indeed fled south, into the open moors. Robert allowed himself to relax.

Racing footsteps on the road, followed by shouting.

Before he could fully register the figures sprinting towards them, he heard another gunshot, this time close enough to feel the sound in his bones. Hugh collapsed forward.

Robert first thought was to help his friend. Then he saw the dark patch spreading quickly across Hugh’s back, and realized it was too late. Robert raised his gun to his shoulder and took aim. The English soldier had just begun to run again, a musket still smoking in his hand, as he dodged between his comrades. 

Vicki's Comments: Book cover. I like it, it does give me a professional feeling, but it looks like a middle grade book. If I were browsing Amazon's shelves for a fantasy novel for my 12 year old, this one would attract me. However, you would lose me at the description.

When I read a description, I do it to find out the plot of the book, but I also am looking for the main characters and if they are interesting to me. This description is completely void of a main character, or any characters for that matter. I highly suggest rewriting the description and give the readers a character, their major conflict, and why we should care. I want to know why this character (or set of characters) is going to keep me turning the pages wanting to know what happens to them next.

The opening to the book is good. I think that's right on the money. My guess as to why this book isn't selling is the cover looks too "young" and the description needs a main character to focus on.

What do you guys think?