Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Garden on Sunset

Author: Martin Turnbull
Genre: Historical Fiction
How long it's been on sale: Jan 2012
Current price: $4.99
Marketing: Website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads
Total sold so far: 117
Link to book on Amazon: The Garden on Sunset (The Garden of Allah novels)

Product Description:

HOLLYWOOD…as seen through the eyes of its most infamous garden.

When Marcus Adler’s father runs him out of Pennsylvania, he can think of only one place to go: 8152 Sunset Boulevard, the home of luminous silent screen star Alla Nazimova, who visited him on his sickbed when he was a child. But when Marcus gets to Hollywood, Madame Nazimova’s home has been converted to a hotel. Marcus checks into The Garden of Allah and starts his new life. He soon finds friends in Kathryn Massey, who ran away from her overbearing stage mother to become a journalist, and Gwendolyn Brick, a hopeful actress from the Other Hollywood—Hollywood, Florida—who wants to try her luck in Glitter City. The three na├»ve hopefuls band together to tread water against a tidal wave of threadbare casting couches, nervous bootleggers, human billboards, round-the-world zeppelins, sinking gambling boats, waiters in blackface, William Randolph Hearst, the Long Beach earthquake, starlets, harlots, Harlows and Garbos. But how will they get their feet inside Hollywood’s golden door?

THE GARDEN ON SUNSET is the first in a series of novels following Marcus, Kathryn and Gwendolyn as they leap and lurch, win and lose their way through Hollywood’s golden years. If you love Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books, you’ll want to get lost in The Garden of Allah.

First 300 Words:

When the Hollywood Red Car lurched to a stop, Marcus Adler pulled open his eyes to find a wheezing old conductor staring right at him.

Marcus looked around. He was the only passenger left. “Where are we?”

The conductor jerked his head towards the door. “End of the line.”

“Don’t suppose you know where 8152 Sunset Boulevard is?”

“What do I look like? A street map?”

Marcus took that for a no, picked up his cardboard suitcase, and climbed down to the street. A line of rickety stores huddled on the south side of Sunset Boulevard up to where the asphalt ended; a sign near the curb read Los Angeles City Limit. Past the sign, west of Crescent Heights Boulevard, Sunset disintegrated into a wandering dirt road. A knot of horses stood in the shade of a tree with thin, dusty leaves Marcus had never seen back in Pennsylvania. One of the horses raised its head to study him for a moment, then returned to grazing.

“Hey!” The conductor hung from the streetcar’s doorway. “8152 Sunset? Try thataway.” He pointed towards the horses.

Eighty-one fifty-two Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, California. It was an address Marcus had repeated over and over to himself since that time when he was eleven years old, swollen grotesquely with diphtheria in the hospital. His parents had written Madame Alla Nazimova a letter at his request, never thinking that a motion picture star so unspeakably exotic, so stupefyingly glamorous would respond. But she did. And she came to call on him, a diaphanous vision in lavender tulle. How kind she was, and so humble. Surely she would remember him. How many bedside visits had she made to children inflated with diphtheria in the middle of Pennsylvania? How many did she look in the eye and say, “If you ever come to Hollywood, I want you to come visit me. My house is very large, and I have plenty of room for you. I live at 8152 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California.”

Comments: First of all, let me say that selling 117 in the first three months (this was submitted to me the end of March) is pretty decent. I'm guessing the book just needs time to get going, but I'll look at things anyway.

The cover is good, but the Hollywood kind of throws me off. It looks like it should be part of the title, or sub title, and I feel like I would like it better without it. Having said that, I do like the feeling of the cover, I think it nails the genre and the time period.

The description needs work, in my opinion. The first part is fine, but the end where it lists things the characters face should be cut. It felt like a laundry list to me, and didn't make me want to read the book. I would pick the main conflict and expand on that. Who is the antagonist? Maybe introduce them in the blurb. Or maybe just stick with the main conflict.

The beginning of the novel is good, in my opinion. (I would cut 'right' out of the first sentence, I think it's redundant, but other than that I don't have any nit-picks about the writing.) The premise is kind of interesting, and it's well written. I would continue reading if I had picked this up.

I feel like the main issue with this book is the blurb. I would rework it, get some outside help from other writers, and that should help the book sell better.

What do you guys think?


  1. I think, first of all, that 117 in three months is really pretty good. But that said, the cover is too dark, IMO, and the typography not nearly striking enough to standout as a thumbnail. Why is a book about Hollywood brown? Why not pink? Or green? Or something that pops off the screen? What I'm getting from the cover is depressing literary fiction but what I'm getting from the blurb and the excerpt is interesting glamor and spice. I wouldn't click on the cover, but if for some reason I made it to the blurb, I'd probably bite. I'm going to suggest working on the cover -- can you colorize it green? It ought to be vibrant and fun, not bleak. (Even if the book is mostly bleak, bleak doesn't really sell nearly as well as gossipy and gorgeous.)

  2. The cover doesn't quite grab me in the thumb size. I have to squint because yes, the Hollywoodland sign competes with the title. I'd make the title bigger and bring it down a little over the Hollywood sign to make it pop out. A Garden on Sunset already makes me think Hollywood, and the advertising for a suburb is recognizable with even just a few letters.

    The first sentence doesn't force me to keep reading. I was caught up on pulling eyes open. :) I don't really feel what the character does. Is he worn out? Pulling eyes open just makes me think he's using his fingers to open his eyes. :)

    I loved the dialog of the streetcar operator. Not willing to help but then does. Very human. Great job. :)

    Overall, I think 117 copies sold is great. It took me 3 months to hit 100 sold. I'm coming up on 500 sold after 7 months being published.

    Lastly, I think the reviews might be killing it a little too. They're a little verbose, a bunch of people without verified purchases and only one review to their name. Coupled with the fact there's not a single less than stellar review, it makes me as a reader pause. I have reviews from people too that are 1 review and they gave my book a great review... I know it happens. But if you did a giveaway etc. there should be at least one less than glowing review. Obviously you don't have any control over that, but just wanted to let you know that the reader forums are VERY suspicious of books they think the reviews are shilled.

  3. (1) I found the cover dark, dim, and vague. It does not clearly convey any sense of genre or tone to me. If anything, it seems dreary and depressing, or possibly scary.

    (2) The description tells me that the story is about three people living in Hollywood. That's all. There's no antagonist, no clear conflict, no rough outline of plot or interesting events.

    What does it mean when you say a book is about how people "leap and lurch" around town? Is this book funny or exciting or dramatic or romantic? Does it discuss real historical events or people? So far, I have no idea what happens in this book, or what type of book it is.

    (3) There's nothing wrong with the opening text, but it does not grab me personally. A sick kid grows up and wants to visit a celebrity who visited him? It feels like a cheesy TV movie. Not my style.

  4. I like the cover a lot, but I'm not sure the color says historical fiction. I'm getting a horror vibe from it with the roiling clouds and the mysterious house and all that brown.

    The blurb is too long and gets too wordy at the end. It needs to be tightened.

    In the first line, he "pulled" open his eyes. Maybe I'm being nit-picky, but using that word pulled me right out of the story.

    Other than that, the opening looks good.

    117 sales in three months is pretty good.

  5. The cover says horror, or western/horror. A Hollywood sign? Oh, yes, I see. It's kinda mushed up with the building that looks like it's dripping snow. I guess a clearer cover would help. It's not particularly attractive or clear.

    The description is--to be perfectly honest--a mess. A guy arrives, and then he did this and then he did that and blah and less than halfway through I've lost interest. Rewrite it from scratch to have a clear character, and give the character a problem to solve.

    The beginning is not too bad, but I agree with others that the first sentence jars. I know the effect you're going for, but I think you're trying too hard. I have never seen anyone pull their eyes open, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying that he woke up with a shock because he'd been dozing or words to that extent.

  6. Even just removing pulled strengthens the sentence:

    "When the Hollywood Red Car lurched to a stop, Marcus Adler opened his eyes to find a wheezing old conductor staring right at him."


    The Hollywood Red Car lurched to a stop and Marcus Adler opened his eyes to find a wheezing, old conductor staring right at him.

    I know it can feel like "why are they picking on my first sentence?" it's because readers do that, they just don't know it or vocalize it. We only get one shot at a first impression.

    I've put aside books because the first paragraphs didn't get me.

  7. I agree with Margaret about the blurb - it needs to be more punchy, more dynamic. The way it's written, I'm not interested in why Marcus wants to visit the old screen star, I'm more interested in why his father ran him out of Pennsylvania. I actually like the "old-world" top half of the cover, not so keen on the hotel image beneath it.

  8. Cover: The cover's not bad, but could be better. I get the color scheme. It gives an old-fashioned antique feeling. It might be a touch too busy so I'd play around with removing or reducing in size what you have there. Also, as a thumbnail the title doesn't quite pop out (title bigger and shrink the rest maybe? Not sure, play around). When it's small, the book just sort of looks like a brown jumble with random letters. For an ebook, the thumbnail's where your book first meets a reader's eyes. If it looks a mess or forgettable, they'll assume your book is the same.

    Blurb: Now I don't read this kind of book, so keep that in mind, but I thought this was the weakest link. I had to read the first sentence a few times and even then I was confused. Ideally, the first sentence of a blurb should draw us in and force us to keep reading. Like your cover, there was also too much going on. Too many characters thrown around that we're supposed to care about but don't. I'd stick to your main guy, tell us what he wants (goal), what's standing in his way (conflict), and what will happen if he fails (stakes).

    First 300: Again, I don't read this sort of thing, but it was sort of bland. Your main character doesn't seem very interesting, so being in his head up to this point wasn't much fun. Sounds harsh yes, but remember, with over a million books to choose from, you've only got a few lines to grab someone's attention. As someone else pointed out, setting up some nice conflict on that first page would really help.

    Reviews: Some unscrupulous writers have been putting up fake 5-star reviews of their work and as a result it seems to have cast a shadow over all exceptionally well reviewed books. That's not to say yours aren't real, but as the other commentator indicated, it might be a factor in people's apprehension. Of course, your main focus should be on things you can change and improve. Good Luck!

  9. I agree that 117 sold at three months is pretty good. People often have somewhat unrealistic expectations about how long it takes for a book to take off.

    I agree with the comments on the description. I couldn't tell who the main character was or what the conflict was. I'm a historical fiction reader as well as a historical fiction writer, so I should be your target and I have to say the description didn't draw me in. Skip the laundry list and tell me what the story is about, especially the start.

    It is almost always a mistake to start a novel with someone waking up or opening their eyes. On the other hand, I don't think it is one that will kill your sales.

    Don't worry about 5 star reviews. That is something you can't control. It took forever for my historical novels to get a spread of reviews. I think that people who really like a novel are simply more likely to post a review. The bad reviews will come eventually. You can count on it.

  10. I LOVED this cover and was all set to buy it just from the thumbnail. Maybe it is a local thing, but it really captures the spirit of the early film industry that is ingrained in our Southern California culture. I went, "Yes! I know that world! I need to read this!"

    The price is what would hold me off. I would recommend dropping it to $3.99. Also, I stopped reading the blurb three sentences in, which is a shame because the first 300 words are FANTASTIC. I heard a marketer say that people will MAYBE give you eight seconds before they flip to the next page. I'd condense the blurb to five snappy lines.

  11. Hey everybody, it's the author here. I just wanted take a moment to say thanks for all your thoughts and input. While I didn't agree with all of it, it certainly gave me much food for thought...especially as I'm gearing up to put out book #2. There's not a whole lot I can do about the reviews, or the cover, but I've spent a fair amount of time rebuilding the blurb from scratch. Clearly, that was a must-do! And I now feel I've got a much stronger blurb and I'd like to thank you all for your help.


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