Saturday, June 16, 2012

Burning Questions [Part 1 of the 1970's Trilogy]

Author: Barry S. Willdorf
Genre: Suspense, Thriller, Mystery
How long it's been on sale: Since August 1, 2011
Current price: $3.99

Marketing: I've promoted it regularly on 11 Yahoo groups. I've advertised on FB. Done a giveaway on Goodreads and LibraryThing. I've sent an email announcement to about 400 contacts. I've done press releases and gotten one large article in a local paper. I maintain a blog for the book. I promote directly on FB periodically, when there is some sort of tie-in. I've had three readings, one at a bookstore and two salons. Reception has been good but it hasn't turned into sales. I've done two guest appearances on blogs. I have a YouTube trailer. One review (four stars.)

Total sold so far: Approx. 75

Link to book on Amazon: Burning Questions [Part 1 of the 1970's Trilogy]

Product Description:

When the young heir of a wealthy Gloucester, MA family, is found shot with his step-father’s gun, the authorities quickly declare it to be a teenage suicide. But his mother wants an investigation. The family’s white-shoe law firm puts Nate Lewis, an inexperienced former intern, on the case. Was he picked because someone wants a bungled investigation or cover-up? Then, Christina Lima, the deceased’s stunning girlfriend from a poor Portuguese fishing family, tells Nate that the young man witnessed a hotel arson just before he died, and together they stumble onto a conspiracy to burn down the town’s old hotels. Soon Nate and Christina are running for their lives—and falling in love—as arsonists-cum-hit men stalk them all over historic Cape Ann.

First 300 Words:

On the day before I met Christina, I was doing a very credible impersonation of a bum. I’d even begun to believe it myself. But in my defense, I was facing the prospect of being drafted and there didn’t seem to be much point in having ambition.

I once had a professor of trial practice who began his classes by reading from an instruction judges routinely give to jurors at the beginning of a case:

“Remember to keep an open mind and do not form or express an opinion about the case until all the evidence has been received.”

He said it was sound advice for lawyers too. “If you fail to reserve your judgments...” he wagged his finger. “...someday you’ll find yourself in the middle of a trial confronted with a messy little fact that you overlooked. If you have to lose a case, don’t do it because, in your prejudice, you overlooked a messy little fact.”

If people had been following his advice, I’d never have met Christina Lima. We both were messy little facts.


I was absentmindedly tapping into a can of Krueger ale when a rag-top Coupe DeVille, just off the showroom floor, pulled onto Shore Road. Though much of her face was hidden by a broad-brimmed straw hat and oversized shades, enough epidermis was out there to tell that its driver was a classy lady with a “Coppertone tan.” She pulled to a stop beneath my window, got out and mounted the stairs slowly. Her slender hand gingerly dodged the splinters on my paint-chipped rail- ing. I didn’t know anybody who could afford a new Caddy. I assumed she’d come to the wrong address.

She was dressed in an expensive plaid skirt that stopped at mid-thigh, and a sleeveless top. Her fine-boned arms had muscle definition and despite some knobbiness in the knees, her legs were long, slim, and looked like they’d seen a lot of exercise.

Comments: I like the cover. I think it fits the genre well. I love the guy with the shadowed face. That's my favorite part. I also like the fonts used. I think the cover isn't the issue here. It's very well done, in my opinion.

The book description kind of confuses me. I had to read it several times just to understand the connection between the events described. I think rewriting the blurb will really help this book.

The beginning of the book didn't grab me. It kind of jumps around like the description. I had a hard time connecting what being a bum had to do with a professor of trial practice, and what they both had to do with meeting a woman.

I would get more opinions on the blurb and the beginning of the novel. If the whole novel jumps from subject to subject, I would definitely put the whole thing through a critique group and tighten it up. There should be a natural progression in a book. Because A happens, then B happens, and because B happens then C happens. If we go from A to 3 to Orange, we get confused.

My suggestion would be to find some other authors and tighten up the blurb and get critiques on the novel itself. What do you guys think?


  1. Actually, I _don't_ like the cover. I mean, it's attractive -- a stunning set of images -- but it doesn't look like a thriller. It looks like a fantasy. Sort of. I can't tell at all what genre it is.

    I think if either image were to be smaller, and let the other dominate, that would help. It also might help if the guy's face were smaller so we get a little more context: his gray collar looks like the hood of a monk's cowl. If we could get a sense of how he's dressed, the "fantasy" aspect would not be so strong.

    But, imho, the big issue is the typography: it needs to support the genre better. The font for the title is a little odd - more non-fiction or contemporary. And the subtitle is not only hard to read, but only words you can easily make out (part 1 and trilogy) also seem like high fantasy.

  2. I like the cover but the subtitle of Part 1 threw me. I wouldn't click on it to check it out thinking it was a serialized novel and short. Also the subtitle of 1970's trilogy is kind of bland. Think of what connects the parts; a location, a crime, whatever.

    I didn't mind the rambling beginning, I see that a lot in first person narrative but the description was rambling a lot also. It needs punch and power words. His mother "demands" an investigation. More ominous tone to set the mood. Really play up the young, inexperienced intern, on the run couple, someone wants them stopped, how far will someone go to make that happen.

    Also watch your descriptors. I have no idea what a white-shoe law firm is.

  3. I agree with the product description. It should be more concise. Particularly this sentence:Then, Christina Lima, the deceased’s stunning girlfriend from a poor Portuguese fishing family, tells Nate that the young man witnessed a hotel arson just before he died, and together they stumble onto a conspiracy to burn down the town’s old hotels.

    The run on sentence just takes away from the description. Maybe try, "Then he meets Christina, the victim's beautiful girlfriend, who tells him that the young man was a witness to an arson right before he died." Something like that.

    Just my opinion. Not that I'm an blurbs need work too. I'm considering the blurb doctor. ;)

  4. I'm good with the cover but the typo in the first sentence of the blurb is a "no." We never get to 'Go' and certainly don't collect $200.

    The first 300 words feels wordy as well as disjointed. If you need a scene break within 300 words, you don't really have a scene. My advice would be keep the first and then chop everything until the first para in the next scene.

    Then watch the description dump. You've got some good action there that can carry the description without having to stop to explain it. You do that well in the first bit but then lose it when you stop to describe her outfit. Don't tell me what it looks like. Tell me how you feel about it.

    Last is the POV confusion. You're a bum and you were tapping into a Kreuger when the car pulls into the street. You saw this how? Are you lying in the gutter as she pulls up? And the hands on the railing as she walked up the stairs? The stairs are outside? You were watching from the landing? Looking through a window? Do you usually open your beer outside? At a window? Why and how did you see all this? Is there something that would explain this ability you have to see through walls to the stairway outside and observe little details from a distance?

    This isn't my genre -- altho I do enjoy a little Robert B. Parker on occasion (neat, on the rocks) -- but this first 300 words would be enough for me to hit "remove from device."

    I like the set up. Fix the blurb and straighten out the narrative and I think you've got a winner.

  5. Interesting. I never even *saw* the subtitle on the cover until I went back to the KB post.

    That's a problem.

  6. I love the cover. I agree with other posts about the blurb. I found it wordy and my focus soon wandered. I actually found it a bit of an info dump and would prefer to know less. There is no suspense in the blurb as too much info is given. Maybe keep it to the key points:
    The young heir of a Gloucester, MA family is found shot to death. Authorities declare it a teenage suicide, but his mother wants an investigation. The boy was shot with his step-father’s gun. Nate Lewis is on the case, and someone suspects a cover-up. What got the young heir killed? What did his girlfriend discover? And what has Nate and the dead man's girlfriend running for their lives?

  7. I really like the cover. I would leave the 1970s remark out as I think it may be sinking it before people have a chance to read it.

    It sounds really interesting to me, but I agree with Jenny that you should tell less in the blurb. Don't tell what they found out or who is after them. The blurb is almost telling them the story. But it does look good to me and it is the type of book I would read. Good luck!

  8. The cover said "thriller" to me right away. I don't much like the placement of the title or the size of the font.

    The blurb is very confusing. Why do we need to know the girl is from a Portuguese fishing family? Why do we need to know she's "stunning?" That sentence is much too long and has way too much disjointed information in it.

    I think the blurb is the main problem. It's your chance to grab the reader. It's thriller/suspense and that's what you need to convey in the blurb.

    Perhaps that opening needs to be a prologue? It would save the opening from jumping around.

  9. COVER: Don’t care for the typeface/font choice. It says “Moderately Serious Government Report” to me. The image is okay though.

    PD: Everyone is knocking your PD because you’ve got about 40 words between the beginning and your protagonist—all of which is about a dead guy. The protagonist is so buried that by the time we read his name we don’t even realize who he is. It should read something like this (keep in mind that it’s a quick rephrase to get the point across):

    “When the death of a wealthy family’s teenage son is ruled a suicide, his mother seeks...” etc.

    (Note. I don’t understand why a law firm would put a nobody on the case and why the wealthy family accepts/doesn’t realize it. Poor people, sure. But wealthy folk don’t get sidelined.)

    And are these modifiers really necessary: “stunning...from a poor Portuguese fishing family”?

    Finally, the syntax is pretty rough. Run-on sentence; wordy.

    300: Surprised no one pointed it out, but you’re starting the story with a flashback to the day before, which moves into a second flashback of an encounter with a law professor. Instant death. Did I say instant death? If not, I’ll say it again, instant death.

    There are also some oddities (e.g., “epidermis,” “mounted the stairs,” “knobbiness at the knees,” and it should “Coupe de Ville”) and poor punctuation and paragraph breaks in there as well. That’s bound to throw people off.

  10. I'm just pretty much nodding my head at most of the other comments. I don't have any real problem with the cover. It's not perfect, but a cover doesn't have to be. But the blurb is a mess. Why should I care about some nameless heir? Then you throw in a nameless stepfather and mother. *yawn*

    Why don't you start with the main character? What is his stake in all this? So far, it doesn't look like he has one. And why does it matter if the girlfriend is from a poor Portuguese fishing family?

    The start also needs to be less choppy and start more coherently.

  11. I definitely agree with the others that the blurb is the main problem. It's on the awkward side and doesn't convey any real sense of urgency.

    The cover is pretty good, but the series title strikes me as odd.

    I liked much in the first 300 words, especially this: "If people had been following his advice, I’d never have met Christina Lima. We both were messy little facts."

    But if I'd been reading this as a reader, I might never have gotten there, since it took me a couple of tries to parse this: "I once had a professor of trial practice who began his classes by reading from an instruction judges routinely give to jurors at the beginning of a case:"

    Short, sweet, and to the point is better, especially in the beginning.

    Hope some of this helps!

  12. Instead of:

    "When the young heir of a wealthy Gloucester, MA family, is found shot with his step-father’s gun, the authorities quickly declare it to be a teenage suicide."

    I recommend:

    "When a young heir is found shot with his step-father’s gun, the authorities quickly declare it a teenage suicide."

    There was definitely a grammatical problem before with the comma after "family." It technically should have been after "MA," since the state name should be treated kind of like a parenthetical. But even that would have been awkward. In the end, do we care that this takes place in Gloucester? And the word "heir" implies a wealthy family, so I'm not sure we need "wealthy family" either. Let's nix some words and ratchet up the urgency.

  13. Cover:
    The image itself can work, but I agree, the font makes the whole thing boring and also far too busy. Chose a different font and play around with the placement of it. Also, I'd nix the whole subtitle thing. Remove it completely. If/when you write part II you can always add in something like (A Nate Lewis Mystery). I see this fairly often.

    I would try several variations on this before you settle on a new blurb. For my own books, I usually go through 10-15 of them. Maybe try starting out right away with Nate and his position in the firm and how he's given what looks like an amazing opportunity, until he realizes he's being used as a pawn in a deadly game...Something like that. Readers want to read about characters they can care about who find themselves in way over their head.

    First 300:
    I agree with the others, very confusing. I sort of understood what you were going for, guy dressed as a hobo on a stake-out (that was my impression), but it jumps around far too much. I haven't read the book, but ask yourself if this is the best place to start the story. You're lucky if a reader downloads a sample and if they do you've got maybe a page or two to wow them. Would starting with the murder work better?

    There's also some work repetition that killed things a bit for me. "Messy little fact" three times in three consecutive sentences lost its charm. Again, I wouldn't mind seeing a body hit the floor first before we meet our hero on a stake-out. If the stake-out isn't completely related to our story and is there mostly to introduce his character, then all the more reason to consider revising.

    Good Luck!


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