Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Welcome to Scranton

Author: Greg Halpin
Genre: Fiction (Autobiographical fiction)
How long it's been on sale: 13 Months (December 2010)
Current price: $2.99

Marketing: I post links on Facebook and ask friends to share. I post on The Office's FB page because the book is set in the same city as the show. I give away a copy on Goodreads each month. I created trailers that have received almost 2,000 views. I comment on relevant news articles and blog posts and mention my book and post a link. I've sold books at two local book festivals. A friend in NYC occasionally rides the subway with my book visible. The cover grabs people's attention and results in hits on my website from NYC and some sales. I've sent copies to some NPR hosts because the book mentions NPR in a few scenes. I sent copies to local newspapers to review. I gave away about 150 print books. I've tried Google and Facebook Ads but they not work well.
Total sold so far: 335: 200 ebooks, 135 print copies.

Link to book on Amazon: Welcome to Scranton

Product Description:

It's a wild ride through Scranton in this darkly funny and touching story about friends in their twenties trying to figure out life in their hometown. The boundaries of friendship are tested as one of them hits rock bottom.

Welcome to Scranton paints a portrait of a small town that includes political corruption, a disgraced teacher, and the hilarious antics of young men.

First 300 Words:

Someone was banging on my door in the middle of the night while I was sound asleep. The noise worked its way into my dream where it was a phone ringing. I rolled over in bed, picked up my real phone and answered it. No one was there, of course. The noise didn't go away. I reached over to my alarm clock but no combination of pressing the plastic buttons put an end to the sound. Instead, I accidently knocked it off the bedside table. The crash of the clock hitting the hardwood floor woke me enough to realize someone was at the door.

I looked at the clock on the floor. It was almost three in the morning. Who the hell was it? I rarely had visitors at proper hours, let alone at this hour. My apartment was on the fourth floor of a building that didn't have an elevator. Even friends didn't want to climb all those stairs.

I got up from the bed and walked down the hallway to the door. I felt a bit anxious. There was a break-in across the hall the week before. No one was hurt, but everyone in the building was on edge since. I looked through the peephole. My eyes were blurry and I couldn't make out who it was. I cracked open the door, leaving the chain latched.

It was Ed Rossi, an old friend who moved into a first floor apartment a few months before.

"Huh?" I said and unlatched the lock and opened the door.

"Hank, what's up, buddy?" Ed said. He was holding a can of beer.

"It's three in the morning. What are you doing here?"

"Yeah, I know. Sorry, man, I ran out of smokes. Can I bum one from you?"

"You woke me up for that?"

Gina's Comments:
First of all, I like the cover. The lettering style is great. It's colorful and intriguing. I'd pick that book up to figure out what it is about. On the down side, I can't possibly figure out what the book is about from the cover. So...there's the good and bad of that. But artistically, very cool.

$2.99 looks like a good price to me.

Hmmm. Autobiographical fiction. That would not be a genre I would choose to read. I do not know what the readership is for that. Is it limited? For me, I would be interested in autobiographies of famous people. Are you famous?

My first thought is if you've sold 335 copies, that's not too shabby. It IS selling. Sounds like you're doing things right regarding marketing.

I think the product description is lacking. It didn't make me want to read further. It's a bit detached from the story. Don't tell me, show me. You're telling me it's a wild ride...but I don't see it. Show me why.

The first sentence has the word 'was' twice. 11 'was's' in the 1st 300 words. This prompts me to ask if you are involved in any writing groups, critique groups, or if you have taken any writing classes.

The 1st 300 did nothing for me, my friend. I am guessing this is why your book isn't selling. Nothing in that made me want to turn the page or read more. Why is your life so interesting, I want to read about it? You have to communicate that right up front. Did you and your friends uncover political corruption? Did you all do something crazy and end up in jail? What is the story that will make me want to read this? If this is just a bunch of guys being guys...uh...that's just not interesting. If it's a bunch of guys who do something amazing...then yes, count me in. If there is a moral to the story...something you all learn...count me in. But you'd better hook me in that first 300 or I won't even give it another look.

My advice: workshop it. Get some other eyes on the story. There may be a story here, but I can't tell from the cover or the blurb.


  1. I agree that the cover is eye-catching but doesn't communicate anything about the book.

    The description is far too vague and general. It's not helpful to say, "This book is hilarious." Give the reader some information about the characters and the story.

    The category "autobiographical" would never show up in my search results. Maybe it should be in humor?

    The opening text doesn't grab me. I know it's only 300 words, but it doesn't hint at being a "darkly funny, wild ride with hilarious antics". There's no hook in those 300.

  2. Why must everyone pick on poor little "was"?? :(

    Was is a form of the verb to be. It is used as a helping verb in the imperfect tense (i.e. I was singing, was walking, was acting, etc.) This tense is called imperfect because the action is not completed yet. In other words, it's happened in the past, but is still happening. When an author begins a story, sometimes authors like to make readers feel as if they're shoved right into the action. Using the imperfect tense is a nice way to do this, because it creates a sense that the action is still happening. In this case, I really, really feel that revising "Someone was banging on my door" to "Someone banged" changes the entire effect of the sentence. Keep the "was."

    Now, as I understand it, "was" is picked on because it may indicate the evil "telling but not showing." But I do want to point out that there are different stylistic schools for writing. Sometimes, "A hint of waning color caught her attention, and she turned to see a bunch of flowers decorating her desk" works really well. But sometimes, stylistically, what you want is this: "There was a bunch of flowers on her desk. They were purple. She knocked them off into the trashcan." It depends on what you're trying to convey, right?

    Okay, sorry. I've just seen people ragging on "was" so often on this blog, and I thought I would sail in to defend it a little.

    Overall, though, I think that what Gina said here is spot on.

    The blurb is very, very vague. No matter if it's based on fact or not, a story needs to have certain elements, and you need to tell me what they are. A-What does the main character want? (or what threatens him?) B-What's is the way of his getting it? C-What happens if he doesn't get it? Objective, obstacles, stakes. While you hint at this..."figure out life," "hit rock bottom," you aren't giving me enough specifics to actually care.

    I'm confused by the first 300 words, I have to admit, because I was pretty interested in this mystery person at the front door.

    Who just wants a cigarette?

    Is this guy really important to the story?

    Is this supposed to be funny or something? (I often don't find things funny that other people do, but I do recognize that you set me up to expect something exciting or interesting to happen, and then nothing did, which is maybe funny. But it just makes me kind of mad. I feel tricked. I don't know how other people feel. They might think it's funny. Good luck!)

    Overall, I've got to echo what Gina said. "There may be a story here, but I can't tell from the cover or the blurb."

  3. I agree, the cover is very eye-catching, but doesn't tell me anything about the genre, or what I will get when I open the book. That's hard to do with a niche genre like this, but I do think it's possible. I would look at other autobiographies to see what kind of things are on the covers.

    I also agree the blurb needs some love. It's too vague. I'm not sure what I'm going to be reading about.

    I would see what other authors say about the first chapter by joining a critique group. That's the most important chapter, and it needs to grab on and not let go.

    But as Gina said, you really are selling some copies. It's not done too badly. I think with a few tweaks it can be selling even better! Good luck!

  4. From the cover, I thought this book might be a series of vingnettes about people living in Scranton, PA.

    Then I read the genre, and decided it was a fictionalized account of the leading character's life. That didn't make sense to either, because that's what fiction is. Is it a fictionalized account of the author's life? Real stories but with the names changed to protect the innocent?

    The blurb didn't help much. I need to know why it's hilarious. What is it about these young men that makes their lives so unique? In my twenties, it wouldn't have been unusual for me to knock on somebody's door to bum a smoke. It would have been unusual for me to do it at 3am, but not for the guys I knew.

    Three hundred words is a little more than a page, so if you don't have a hook in that time, you have to make sure you have one in the blurb. If you do, you'll probably get people to read a full sample to see if you deliver what you promised in the blurb.

    I like the cover. The blurb needs a lot of help.

    Good marketing.

  5. I agree with the comments so far. Cool cover, but genre vague. The genre listed is odd to me too. Blurb is bland and vague. Be specific. Why should I read this? Why should I care? Good advice above given about how to fix it. Also, it's a real turnoff for me to be told a book is hilarious.

    As others have pointed out, the first 300 are problematic. It's almost like starting a book with a conversation about the weather. There's nothing funny, scary, interesting or unusual happening or in the character's take on things. In addition joining a crit group, I would suggest thinking of shaving the beginning and ending off scenes. Start late and leave early.

    So far the voice of the lead is generic guy. If he has a personality, and I'm assuming he does, show us here. Grab us with it. Make his voice unique. Right now, it's not bad, but it's a bit cookie-cutter.

    Maybe this just isn't the place to start it. Maybe you can cut this and jump ahead in the action. Drop us down in the middle of a prank gone wrong, a night that spiraled out of control, something not of the every day.

    Good luck!

  6. While the cover is recognizable, it doesn't convey anything I can connect to, emotionally. I think the word cloud is a really cool idea, but it's a bit abstract for me.

    In the product description, I'd like to hear less about the "group of friends" and hear instead about the main character and the character who's hitting rock bottom. I'd probably read a book to find out more about those specific people and their relationship. Don't be afraid to let the description be a bit longer. If someone's at all interested in the book, they'll read four paragraphs before they purchase.

  7. Thanks for the feedback. Yes, I need to improve the blurb and will do so. The story has universal themes of friendship, loyalty, love, jealousy. I'll have to include those in the description.

    In words 300-400 the Ed character tells Hank he wants to smoke one last cigarette with his friend. Ed says he took a bottle of pills and is "checking out." That is the hook. The book then goes back a year and a half to what led to that moment. Readers have told me they continued reading to see if Ed lives or dies. Based on your comments, I may have to hook the reader a bit sooner.

    I meet with fellow writers regularly and they gave me plenty of feedback. In fact, this began as a 15 page short story about an "intervention" that I expanded into a 140 page novella based on my fellow writers' desire to know more about these characters. No one mentioned the word "was" in the critique sessions, but now that you point it out, I obviously need to replace some of them with other verbs.

    Thanks again,


  8. I had a different reaction, or reactions. First, if you have sold 300 plus books that's pretty good. You should be teaching the rest of us. ... I liked the cover the way it is. Ambiguity can be a hook. ... I liked the 300 words. I'd keep reading. ... The objection to "hilarious" I agree with. I'd tone it down to "humorous" or some other word that claims less for itself. ... I wonder about the autobiographical novel tag. Do you mean a literary novel? I suspect that is what Welcome to Scranton is. ... Also is Scranton really a small town? I thought it was a midsized city. ... Overall, you left me curious about the book, and that is probably why you were able to sell 300 copies. It also says you are on the right path. I plan to read more on Amazon prime.


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