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?


  1. I would assume from the cover that the book was very young. I'm thinking 8 to 9-year-olds. Then the blurb is confusing: I don't really understand anything about the story from what you've got there. I'd say you want to simplify the blurb. Really figure out what the main point of the story is and focus on that. And then your first 300 words are confusing, too, but certainly if I was a parent of an 8-9 year old, I'd stop reading at Priscilla the Tart as clearly not appropriate for what I thought it was. I think audience confusion is probably a huge part of your problem.

  2. (I should have said this, too: Dean Wesley Smith did a post recently about reasonable expectations for self-published books that is well worth reading, but by the standards he establishes in that post, you're doing fine. 25 copies a month is great if you're a first time author with one book.

  3. I like the cover a lot.

    There were problems in the blurb with both grammar and punctuation which is what, I think, caused it to be confusing.

    The opening was okay, but again, could be less confusing with some editing.

    I also agree with Wyndes. Nothing wrong with 25 a month and, I suspect you'll have a better sample to buy ratio if you fix up the opening.

  4. The cover made me think YA or MG and it doesn't seem to be that. If it is YA then it's fine. If not, I'd work on it.

    The blurb is confusing. There are some errors such as that understand should not be hyphenated, and that kind of error in a blurb is a real problem. I'd polish it and work on showing more clearly who the protagonist is (child? Young adult? Adult?) and exactly what the problem is, which I couldn't tell.

    I don't care much for omniscient PoV but I don't think that will kill sales. The average reader doesn't know the difference and mainly cares if it's a good story. :)

  5. Have to agree with above re the blurb I too found it confusing. I couldn't get a handle on the story from it. I like the cover. The character conveys a certain vulnerability, but with a strength of character underneath. It does seem to be aimed at the younger readership. I think a tinkering with the blurb may help a lot. Good Luck.

  6. I love where the story opened up. The interplay between "Prisca the Tart" and the girl was marvelous. I agree with the group, though, that there are some problems with punctuation and word usage (For example, "A look of disappointment came over the woman’s highly painted face as she looked", uses passive langauge as well as the word 'look' twice.)

    Unlike everyone else, I'm not a fan of the cover. I had to look very closely to see that I was looking at an elve's face. I wouldn't buy this book based on the cover.

    I think you'll have a marvelous story, though, once you've worked out the problems! Best of luck :)

  7. I also like where the story starts, and what I understand of the story does intrigue me.

    However, the cover did not say "fantasy" or "half-elf" to me at all. In fact the first thing that came to mind was that the main character has a cleft palate and I wondered how that was relevant to the story. I would not recommend going with a full-face cover; a fantasy scene relevant to the story might work much better to communicate the genre.

    The blurb has multiple problems that would definitely turn me off. The flow is choppy, such as the sudden introduction of the influence of her father. The use of "pa" to mean "father" threw me off because (at least where I am) it's a rarely-used term and I literally stopped reading and was wondering if it was supposed to mean "father" or if it was a typo or on obscure reference to something else. The phrase "elite thieves, scoundrels and other sorts" seems to slide down into indistinction. What other sorts? Bakers? Farmers? It would be stronger to leave it at thieves (or use another more-encompassing term if necessary). The phrase "just another tool their sleeve" is presumably missing the word "up." As noted previously, understand should not be hyphenated.

    The first 300 words was a bit of a struggle to get through, so that also would not sell me on the book, even if it was free. (Time spent reading, after all, is part of the cost of reading a book, although it's easy as an author to not pay enough attention to that cost.) I'm not one to complain about POV, but things do need to be clear, not requiring re-reading to understand what is what. The reader's mind should be wrapped up in the story rather than being distracted by how it is crafted. The phrase "a small brown hand crawling away once it was noticed" -- although I assume I know what you meant -- was one of those things that completely pulled me out of the story. Also, as is arguably even more important in the blurb, be wary of technical problems. If you really meant "Mam" instead of "Ma'am" you should know that many will consider it an error, not a stylistic choice (unless I'm misunderstanding and Prisca is actually her mother [in which case the confusion is meaningful in itself], and even then readers may not realize that "Mam" can be used to mean "mother").

    Overall I recommend a different cover and revising both the story itself and the blurb, with the help of a critique group or similar resources (depending on your budget). As I mentioned above, I think the story is intriguing, so time spent honing it and perfecting its presentation should be time well spent.

  8. Tris had me blurb doctor her. Here's what we did:

  9. The new blurb is a definite improvement, but there are two sentences that don't make sense to me.

    "Outlaws, yes, but they have their pride; thievery is as necessary as any other profession in the Valley of Ten Crescents."

    Why? Why is it as necessary? And what does that have to do with their pride?

    "When the law finally catches up, Tavera must choose: go against her Pa's wishes for the sake of loyalty and love; or obey him, break her heart and survive."

    What wishes? What love? What loyalty? It's not her father's, then whose? That comes out of nowhere. Same with "break her heart" - how? why? There's something important missing here. We know she wants to become a member and her father wants that too. So, what's changed? Did she meet someone? Change her mind? It needs something to bridge that gap in story/logic.

  10. I agree with Anonymous, the new blurb is much improved, but I would fix those two issues. The 'break her heart' needs to be explained. :)

  11. Like the others, I don't think I would make it past the cover. The new blurb is much better, but it's missing the 3rd paragraph that explains what comes after.

    There are a few things which are major deal-breakers, at least for me, in the 1st 300. Awkward phrasing and word choices, in particular, are too common for a brief sample. I'd have to assume the writing throughout would be as clunky.

    "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."
    Using light/lit may not be wrong, per se, but feels rather awkward to read. The crawling hand also feels off, a bit creepy for this scene.

    The general impression I'm left is that your might be an interesting story, but it's most likely undone by the writing's lack of flow. The others are also right in suggesting your work could be greatly improved with some input from a critique group.

    Good luck polishing up! It sounds like a fun story.

  12. Got it. You're right. It's missing a line. Fixing.

  13. Cover - I think it's very decent. It could be stronger, or clearer, in terms of genre or story. It's pretty, but sort of generic.

    Blurb - Like the others here, I was tripped up by the typos. Also, the blurb is too vague. I'd like a clear sense of the plot and conflict. What goes wrong, exactly? What does Tavera have to do? What are the stakes?

    Right now, all it says is, "A thief-girl has thief-friends, but something goes wrong, and she needs to make a choice!" Way too vague.

    Opening text - I like the feel of the story, but like the others here, some awkward wording made the reading a bit harder than it needed to be.

    Other - 75 sales is a great start. And you have nicely balanced reviews. I recommend fixing the blurb, encouraging more reviews, and then writing a sequel!


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