Monday, May 14, 2012

Zachary Pill, Of Monsters and Magic

Author: Tim Greaton
Genre: Young Adult - Fantasy
How long it's been on sale: 2 months
Current price: Free
Marketing: Twitter and Facebook notifications; Free on Amazon (and through Smashwords affiliates); updated cover and description.
Total sold so far: None. Given away 472 ebooks.
Link to book on Amazon: Zachary Pill, Of Monsters and Magic (The Zachary Pill series - book 1 in the boy wizard dragon epic fantasy)

Product Description:

 Dear Reader,

I'm humbled that you've considered the Zachary Pill series. Though more than 80,000 of my novels have been downloaded in the last few months, it's not sales that motivate me to keep writing. It's, instead, a crappy childhood.

No matter how much I got bullied, no matter how loud my parents fought, and no matter even if the police arrived at our door in the middle of the night...I learned to cope by escaping into books--mostly fantasy books. Not only did those stories allow me to forget how miserable things were, for at least a while, those heroes also taught me how to stand up to childhood bullies and to get away from the insanity at my house whenever I could. I even wound up having a few real life adventures. Though what I went through back then was terrible, in some ways I'm lucky to have experienced that life. It taught me how NOT to live when I grew up.

If you do enter the world "Of Monsters and Magic," I hope that Robin the beautiful readhaired thief, Bret the werewolf and Zachary Pill the world's first wizard/dragon will provide both entertainment and friendship. If my stories can provide even a few moments of escape during times of need, I will have succeeded.

Your friend always,

Tim Greaton

The five-star reviews for the Zachary Pill wizard dragon series are piling up...

Patrick Jones says, “This book is really FANTASTIC and it’s written with such a unique writing style.”

A.J. Grady, author of “Proof of God: An Ontological Adventure” declares, “It’s seldom you see fantasy written with such verve and panache.”

Edwin Stark, author of “Echo Station One,” “Cuentos,” and other novels has this to say: “…this book is greatly recommended… and it will get you more bang to your book at any price.”

(These reviews are all posted on Amazon and refer to the complete trilogy.)

Book description:

Getting beat up by three boys is bad enough, but when a swarm of bats invade his Boston apartment, Zachary Pill's father disappears and his world spins out of control. After being forced to move to New Hampshire, he soon learns that cleaning Madame Kloochie's filthy house is the least of his problems. When the evil wizard Krage sends monsters to find him, Zachary has to find a way to defend himself and and his friends...and so begins his journey into the dangerous world of his family's magic.

First book in the Zachary Pill series. 252 pages.

First 300 Words:

Wishing that magic really did exist, Zachary Pill kept smashing the Billy Timkin voodoo doll he had made from a white hand towel until its blue toothpaste eyes and mouth were smudged beyond recognition. When the bar of soap fell out of the Billy doll’s head, he glanced up at the mirror to see his bruised cheek and swollen lip.

“I never did anything to him,” he muttered.

He made a fist and debated whether to put the doll back together again and give it another good couple of whacks.

Why can’t I be more like Uncle Ned?

He pulled up his tee-shirt sleeve up and made a muscle, but the pathetic little rise at the top of his arm depressed him. He sighed and let his arms drop back to his sides. No way would his uncle let someone get away with what Billy had done to him. Anyone that touched Uncle Ned would have been the one with bruises―or worse.

Disgusted, Zachary ran a wet comb through his offensive hair and managed to push a few stray cowlicks back where they belonged. He smacked the comb against his skull. Why did his hair have to be such a weird color!

“Snot hair!” he muttered.

“What hair?” a voice asked from the open bathroom doorway.

Zachary’s face turned red. He wished his father hadn’t heard that.

“That’s what Billy Timkin called me yesterday, just before he started hitting me.”

“Maybe you heard it wrong.”

“No, he definitely said ‘snot hair.’” Zachary already regretted telling his father.

“Then what happened?”

“I told him to shut up, so he punched me.” He left out the part about trying to punch Billy back―twice. Half the students in the cafeteria had laughed when he missed both times. By today, the whole school would...

Comments: I'm going to temporarily change my blog name to "Why can't I give this book away?" because that's what we've got here today. A free book. So, let's examine why this free book isn't being downloaded in the thousands, because I had a book go free and gave away 45,000 books in five days. And that was a children's book.

Let's take a peek at the cover first. When I look at the cover it says "Middle Grade Fantasy" to me. I do not like the green font on the blue background, but other than that I would say it's not a horrible cover for middle grade. It does however look like it was made in the 1980's. The author says this is a young adult novel meaning it should appeal to kids between 12 and 18. Now, the writing suggests to me that main character is younger than that age range, so I'm thinking this book might actually be a middle grade book. In that case, there is our first problem. The author is trying to sell this book to young adults, when he's actually written a middle grade novel. My suggestion would be to embrace the middle grade, and maybe tweak the cover so it has a fresh 'today' look to it.

The description is way too long in my opinion. I see that wall of text and my head starts to hurt. I want to skip it and go on to the next book. I see it starts with a letter to the reader, and it gives the reader very personal and disturbing information about the author. I'm very sorry the author had a horrible childhood, and bullying and abuse are terrible but that's not something to tell a potential customer. Cut the letter to the reader.

Then we have snips from reviews. I didn't look at the description to read reviews. I looked there to read the description of the book. I can scroll down to see reviews. Cut the reviews as well.

Finally we come to the book description. I'm finding some "movie guy voice" moments in the description. Things that are highly dramatic and yet don't tell the reader anything. Like, "his world spins out of control," and "is the least of his problems." These are not helpful to someone trying to figure out what the book is about. I'm also getting confused a bit. His father disappears the night there are bats in the apartment? What do bats have to do with disappearing people? I would highly recommend re-working the description.

The writing isn't bad although I prefer to get more of a feel for a person's surroundings. I didn't know he was in a bathroom until his father stood in the bathroom doorway. And I thought he was at school. I wondered where he got a wet comb from. But overall I didn't feel like the writing needed a lot of work.

My suggestion is to update the cover and work on the blurb.

One more little thing. When a book used to go free, it would get a lot of attention. Lots of blogs would mention it, and the book would get a lot of downloads. This is no longer the case. A writer needs to submit a free book to all the blogs, and they choose which books to feature because there are so many free books. I suggest studying how to successfully have a free promotion by reading this article. It's slightly outdated, but still has good advice. Most of the time short free promotions work the best.

What do you guys think?


  1. (1) The cover looks amateurish, and overly complicated. Plus, my instant reaction to the art and the title said "middle grade" to me, not YA. Hire an artist, or use some photography.

    (2) The description is pretty bad. A letter about the author's disturbing childhood? This does not make me want to buy this book for my children. The actual description is only one little paragraph at the end, and it barely explains anything about the book.

    (3) The opening text is okay, but does not grab me. And the character's whining about his green hair again says "middle grade" to me.

  2. The cover needs serious help, and the green text is useless. Can't read it, makes the overall design muddy, and is just not attractive. Light on dark or dark on light. Let's make it a mantra!

    Description needs to be tightened and clarified. For me, a blurb should open with ONE SENTENCE that takes me to the plot, and follow with no more than 3 short paragraphs outlining the basics. I didn't get that here, and I'm still vague on what the book is about.

    *Caveat: I hate writing blurbs; they are harder to write than the book.

  3. Cover:
    Yes, redo the cover. Remember kids normally read up in age. I learned this the hard way. So if you're aiming at 15, the protagonists need to 'feel' at least fifteen and ideally a touch older. To my eyes, I'm not crazy about the green font, it doesn't say adventure to me. It says boogers and slime. Maybe that's what you want. Once you figure out your real target market, you can then make decisions on the cover.

    A) The letter:
    I read the description to this book and others you have on Amazon and I find most of them suffer from the same set of problems. First, ditch the letter about your sad childhood. Yes, it's horrible what you went through, but it's also a huge warning sign for readers to stay away. That kind of thing belongs more on a blog or something and even then I'd tone it down. It needs to look professional. Right now it sounds angry, a touch martyrish and outs your parents in (what I feel) is an inappropriate way. Let your story do the talking.

    B) The reviews:
    Paste the glowing reviews either after your description or get rid of them entirely. It's cluttering your presentation. Remember, you have 10 seconds to impress a potential new reader. Do you want to waste that time having them hack through forests of text?

    C) The blurb:
    Th blurb was confusing. You introduce a number of characters, but there's no link as to how they're connected. How do the bats steal dad? Why is he sent to Madame Kloochie(she related?)? Why is the the evil wizard interested in Zachary? We can't assume he's special just because he's the hero. Does he have powers he doesn't know about? (I see some potential parallels to Harry Potter here, which is not a bad thing in and of itself, but if the stories are close, then study how Potter was marketed (ie: cover design) and read Jk Rowling's back cover for tips on your blurb).

    First 300:
    The main character comes across as really young. I can't judge the writing because I'm not sure who this is aimed at. If it's an adult novel I might recommend one set of changes. Prepping it for teenagers is a whole other thing.

    Good Luck!

  4. I like to look at the cover first and try to guess the genre. This cover screams MG at me. So does the book description by the time I finally got to it.

    Get rid of the "dear reader" letter and all the praise. With computers and video games and text messaging, the YA group you are trying to reach, has a very short attention span. They'll never read all that extraneous stuff to get to the description.

    The blurb is confusing. Okay, Dad disappears and he has to move. Why? He has to clean this lady's house. Why? And why are there worse things? It's very choppy and needs to read more smoothly. How old is this kid? What grade is he in?

    In the first 300 I found this sentence.

    "He pulled up his tee-shirt sleeve up and made a muscle, but the pathetic little rise at the top of his arm depressed him."

    When I see a mistake like that on the first page, I wonder about the rest. Nothing wrong with the writing otherwise, but I would suggest a fresh pair of eyes to run through once more.

    1. Thanks for all the comments, everyone. I, unfortunately, find myself agreeing with most of them. We have already begun to change the description, and I have been on the phone with the cover artist for the last hour. Please post any other feedback that you think might help.

      Thanks again!

  5. Nothing revelatory to add, just agreeing with the other posters.

    We all, as writers, feel kind of odd and vulnerable about putting our work out, so I can understand why you went with the personal letter. It would be nicer at the back of the book, however, with a more traditional product description on the book page. You can still have the personal touch on your website, etc.

    Good luck!

  6. Hey Tim,

    I'm glad to see you've taken our comments to heart. I visited your book page again and not only saw you had changed the blurb, but I noticed your sales rank seems to have gone up. Or was that my imagination?

    About the new blurb. I like it so much more than what you had before. Just the end threw me for a loop where you introduce two new characters we've never heard of. Does Zachary use his powers to go looking for his Dad at all? If so, then I'd think about changing or cutting this bit:

    "Desperate to find a way to defend his sickly friend across the street and the beautiful red-haired thief next door"

    Instead it might reason something like this:

    "Would he ever see either of his parents again? That's what fourteen-year-old Zachary Pill wonders when his uncle abandons him to live at Madame Kloochie's filthy house in New Hampshire. But while Uncle Ned is searching for his father, swarms of vicious bats and giant flying snakes appear above Madame Kloochie's dead end street...and they're looking for him!

    That's when Zachary realizes he isn't human!

    Desperate to find his parents, Zachary delves into some of his father's magical items. The ones his father told him never to touch. And besides, how could he have known the dangers he was about to unleash.

    First book in the Zachary Pill series. Ages 8 and up. 252 pages."

    Obviously, I haven't read the book, and I'm pulling stuff out of my backside here, but you get the idea. Don't intro new characters at the end of your blurb and maybe up the tension a notch or two. Otherwise, with a new cover, you'll be well on your way.

    Good Luck!

  7. Thanks again, everyone. I'm hoping to see new cover art by sometime this coming week and will be further improving my blurb and opening. We're even looking at the age-aim issue. The cover and blurb will try to appeal to YA not middle-grade. Your thoughts were and are very much appreciated!

  8. Hi, Everyone. The new cover just came in yesterday. Brand new blurb is also up. I hope we can now get the FREE ranking below 2000. It's been hovering between 4500 and 7000 for nearly two months. Thanks again for all the input. Fingers crossed (and further comments always welcome!) :-)

  9. The words Maine's other author are catchy but the giant TM just turns me off. It just looks un-professional like don't you dare steal my tagline! Also the green shade on the cover is way to close to the blue making it hard to read.


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