Thursday, July 21, 2011

Your Turn! I Need Your Critiquing Help, Please.

Many of you know Sector C is making the rounds to some very positive industry feedback. I've dumped on you elsewhere about the sheer frustration of having agents apologize (yes, apologize!) for not picking it up even though they're certain it will sell.

I really think that it's the right genre and tone to do well as an ebook. The full is out now, being considered by a traditional publisher in the UK who used to be an imprint of one of the Big 6 and who is doing absolutely everything right to promote its speculative fiction line. I'd love for Sector C to be published by them, but their books have a little different flair to them than this book has. Even I question whether Sector C is the ideal match for them no matter how much I would love to work with these folk.

So I'm prepping Sector C to be ready to publish out as an ebook the moment I get their rejection.

Here's my first crack at cover copy and a cover image. What suggestions do you have? If you haven't read the query and synopsis yet, which I keep up (but won't be for long!) as examples of copy that has worked to get numerous requests for partials and fulls, please give me your cold reaction to the text below before reading them as they're quite spoilery from the first hook sentence. If you have read them, let me know if this copy hints enough at the spoilers (since they're the real hook) without giving it all away.

Please be as honest with me as I've been with you. (You can even be honest anonymously, if you like.)

You'll note I've used the same main graphic as for the Extinct anthology. Just changed up a bit. And the same tagline, just in a little different context. This is deliberate as I hope to use the novel to market the anthology should the novel gain more traction than the antho has. Feel free to weigh in on this marketing ploy as well. I'm also trying for a cover where the main image and title are clear at thumbnail size.

Thanks in advance for your crits!!!



SECTOR C
Extinct Doesn't Mean Forever

A trending rise in stroke-like cases has CDC analyst Mike Shafer on alert. Afflicting every demographic in the Great Plains area – from young toddlers to healthy adults to the elderly – this new epidemic causes rapid deterioration. And death.

Veterinarian Donna Bailey is dealing with an outbreak of her own. It looks like mad cow disease. But across so many species? Impossible.

Whatever it is, it’s spreading. Fast.

As state and federal governments move to contain the growing threat, Mike and Donna’s paths collide in their search for Patient Zero.

All clues point to a mysterious compound where the answer lies buried in a secret 10,000 years old.

A secret that entrepreneur Walt Thurman will kill to protect.

A secret capable of decimating all animal life on earth.

And it may already be too late to stop it.

Because extinct doesn’t always mean forever.
_________

Ripped from today’s research and tomorrow’s headlines, Sector C is a near-future medical thriller sure to please fans of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Daniel Kalla’s Cold Plague.

The thumbnail:




31 comments:

Chrystalla Thoma said...

Dear Phoenix, the story sounds fascinating. However I am not so fond of the cover - it feels empty with smaller things pasted on and the yellow doesn't really attract me as a reader. I see your point about using the same image as Extinct to promote the anthology, but maybe choosing persons for the cover - faces - would be more attractive, especially since the concept has a strong science focus. It would humanize it more somehow... Just my thoughts!

Beckah-Rah said...

I'm not always one for sci-fi, but that definitely sounds like one I'd pick up and read. I have no notes on your query or synopsis; they sound great to me!

vkw said...

I actually loved the cover - although I'm not thrilled with the yellow. (and yellow is my favorite color).

I think you can lighten the yellow to be more springish or change the yellow to black.

The text isn't doing it for me. Let me work on it a bit.

vkw

jjdebenedictis said...

I like the text--good stuff, and the last sentence makes a fabulous hook.

I don't like the title "Sector C". It doesn't draw me in; that phrase doesn't mean anything intriguing to my mind.

It's also not centred on the cover, but that's a separate issue.

I'll join the chorus saying I don't much like the cover art, but my reasons are different. To me, it looks like non-fiction--the images seem more appropriate to a science textbook. That could work, given this is science fiction, but in conjunction with the un-evocative title, I don't think it does work.

vkw said...

A trending rise in stroke-like cases has CDC analyst Mike Shafer on alert. Afflicting every demographic in the Great Plains area – from young toddlers to healthy adults to the elderly – this new epidemic causes rapid deterioration. And death.

“a trending rise” sounds a bit retailish to me. I’m not sure what CDC (center for disease control?) is. I didn’t like “new” epidemic.

Veterinarian Donna Bailey is dealing with an outbreak of her own. It looks like mad cow disease. But across so many species? Impossible.

Maybe – "but from bovines to reptiles to the rare California vulture? Impossible. Diseases rarely cross species lines. (this is actually true a cat can’t catch kennel cough from a dog and they can’t catch feline leukemia. Bet you already knew that. :) )


Whatever it is, it’s spreading. Fast.

As state and federal governments move to contain the growing threat, Mike and Donna’s paths collide in their search for Patient Zero.

(agencies not governments. It’s not a new civil war) race not move, threats not threat. Mike and Donna’s research/work intercept for their search for Patient Zero, the patient believed to be origin of the outbreaks.

All clues point to a mysterious compound where the answer lies buried in a secret 10,000 years old.

Clues lead them to a mysterious compound unbelievably 10,000 years old.

A secret that entrepreneur Walt Thurman will kill to protect.

A secret capable of decimating all animal life on earth.

And it may already be too late to stop it.

Because extinct doesn’t always mean forever.

vkw said...

So the rewrite -

Afflicting young and old alike an epidemic is sweeping the Great Plains. Mike Shafer, lead analyst for the Center for Disease Control is desperate to contain and cure it before it claims more lives. With a 999% mortality rate, he has no choice but to succeed.

Veterinarian Donna Bailey is dealing with an outbreak of her own. It looks like mad cow disease. But how could it affect the rare California vulture, bovines and the nearly extinct fluffy red turtles? Diseases don’t spread across species like this. Impossible.

Whatever it is, it’s spreading. Fast.

As state and federal agencies race to contain the growing threats, Mike and Donna’s research intercept for their Patient Zero, the patient believed to be the origin of the outbreaks.

Clues lead them to a mysterious compound unbelievably 10,000 years old.

A secret that entrepreneur Walt Thurman will kill to protect.

A secret capable of decimating all animal life on earth.

And it may already be too late to stop it.

Because extinct doesn’t always mean forever.

(I'm not sure I like the tag here because I don't think it fits well. I know what you're doing but you did it up front)

It's not a good plan to mess with mother nature nor father time.



I hated "collide" that sounded so cliche'. their worlds collide - unless you know they actually do collide in the hall or on the road. :)

AA said...

"A trending rise in stroke-like cases has CDC analyst Mike Shafer on alert."

This sentence is rather awkwardly consonant-laden.

The cover looks like a high-school textbook, or some of the dry literature sent to me by Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

AA said...

vkw has a point about CDC. In the US, it's Center for Disease Control, but in the UK it might be an acronym for something else. I wouldn't know but that's a thought.

Landra said...

Phoenix... okay *winces*, here are my thoughts.
The white space on the cover kills me. I know white space is admirable in some cases, but for me this doesn't fall in that category.
I tend to agree with Chrystalla, maybe faces would make it better. And the yellow is a little to plucky for me. I see black lettering again something red, but I've been off before.

As far as the words go: I'll be back later.

Chelsea P. said...

I think the cover copy sounds awesome. It gives just enough info to entice without giving too much away.

As for the cover itself, well, the good news is I think it is very graphically beautiful. The bad news is it does come off a tad textbook-ish to me. I, too, would love to see a cover with a human element, if only to compare it to this one.

For what it's worth, I had a really awesome, charismatic, fantastic agent apologize for not picking up my story even though he felt it would sell, and it was crushing. Crushing. My offer came in the following week. Those rejections are tear-out-your-hair-and-cry frustrating, but I think it means you're really close.

Just my two cents. Can't wait to read this book :)

Whirlochre Cunningly Masquerading As Anonymous said...

I'm definitely with the No Yellow theme of the comments.

I don't know what colour best sums up Extinction without going all black and gloomy, but yellow is too buoyant and insipid.

Actually, yes — go black with ivory text.

Plus, your strapline is so good it doesn't need any kind of font and colour change for 'doesn't'. Speaks for itself.

'Doesn't' in a fancy red font is too Chandler Bing.

Jo-Ann said...

Hi Phoneix
I have to agree with JJ Bendicts - my immediate thought upon seeing the cover was "biology text book" - the inserts of the DNA and histology samples definitley do not say "thriller".

As you have pointed out in the past, thrillers need a ticking clock. Maybe a silhouette of a male and female form running from something, superimposed on the skull could suggest this? Or does that sound just too clich├ęd?

Now, I think I’ve got an idea about the plot, so your query made sense with this information, but I have to say that without prior knowledge, the lines:

"A secret capable of decimating all animal life on earth.

And it may already be too late to stop it.

Because extinct doesn’t always mean forever."
could be mis-interpreted as a non-sequitur – or even contradictory. The "secret" sounds like it can make all life on the planet extinct, but the next line sounds like that's no big deal, because extinct doesn't always mean forever. I knw that's not your intent, but it can come across that way.

Matt said...

That is a bad, bad cover. It's almost like you're trying to use the infant trick: drawing the eye with contrasting colors.

I don't think you should tie into Extinct. I'm assuming it hasn't sold as well as SoW, so I'm wondering what the point would be. Other than one of the themes, the two books aren't related in any way.

Knowing that Sector C draws on heavy sympathy for animals, I'm thinking you might be better off designing a cover that appeals to pet lovers.

Considering Sector C strays a bit from the conventional thriller format, have you tried sci-fi publishers? Donna's an intelligent and accomplished woman; the male dominated thriller market tends to be unkind to such characters (or so I've heard), but sci-fi is different in that respect.

Also, SC spends the first half of the book building tension. Thrillers poke you in the eye on the first page but sci-fi books open with more world building.

Make sure you exhaust all potential markets.

Anonymous said...

Hey Phoenix, I'm delurking to give you feedback. Because I've learned a ton from your querying critique work. Maybe commenting will be a good way to say thank you :) In case it's not, I apologize - but in any case, here's a straight-up, heartfelt THANK YOU for sharing your time and thoughts and wisdom and expertise with the world like this.

Writing cold without reading the other comments. (Or the query/synopsis.)

Cover graphic - it has an amateur vibe to me, and I think that's because on top of the main image having three disparate elements put together (the skull, the four bubbles and the gun sight), the text is kept away in the frame and there's quite a mishmash of fonts used. The result is my first thought is "disparate elements oh my! Where do I focus? Where do I start?". I wonder if you might like it better with just the skull and the gun sight, with one of the bubbles (the blue one?) used as a background that goes right to the edge (no frame). Two fonts - one for the title and your name, and the other for the tagline. I am not a designer so evaluate accordingly :)

Text

- Maybe: "Whatever this is, it's spreading" (seems more how she'd say it than "Whatever it is")

- I had no idea what Patient Zero meant.

- "mysterious compound" I found annoying because I didn't understand why I needed to know there was a compound - so mentioning it and adding the adjective just felt like trying too hard to make the reader wonder.

- Loved the last two lines. (And it may already be too late to stop it. Because extinct doesn’t always mean forever.)

- Thought the storyline sounded great.

- Got a definite vibe of excitement due to your pacing - think that's excellent

- Was torn over the ref to Jurassic Park. I know you mean the book. But for me, who saw the film (or 20 minutes of the film, before I walked out) and haven't ever read the book, it was a turn-off because I thought the film was so lame.

Fingers crossed you get your dream publisher, BTW!

Jan

AA said...

"Because extinct doesn’t always mean forever." I also think this line would seem non sequitur to anyone who doesn't follow this blog.

Can you find a more recent reference than Jurassic Park? There have got to be newer books that explore similar themes.

This book is a thriller, so it should be selling in thriller markets. Many thriller writers use the technique of building suspense through the first half or even three-quarters of the book and then have the action pick up quickly. It's a legitimate technique. But I think it will do well as an ebook, too. It's interesting and timely subject matter, and all the plot elements are there.

Matt said...

You have to think about the current market, which is not books on the shelves, but books coming out soon. Building suspense is a fine technique that I personally prefer, but publishers seem to be buying thriller/action novels set up for instant gratification (This is the impression I'm getting from publishing sites and the blogosphere -- I have no data to support it).

I'm assuming Phoenix has exhausted agents and publishers who represent thrillers, so what's wrong with sending a few feelers for sci-fi? Cloning is a sci-fi concept and the setting is in the (near) future. If she receives five more rejections and/or letters for rewrites, what has she lost? It will be E-pubbed just the same.

But...I get the feeling Phoenix is eager to make this an e-book, putting to use the lessons learned from SoW. I may be reinforcing a moot point.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Thanks, everyone! I am paying close attention to all the feedback. I know I'll emerge with a much better cover and stronger copy because of all your comments and suggestions. You've proven the adage that we're all blind when it comes to our own work :o)

I'll definitely change things based on consensus and look at other ways to improve what resonates.

Matt: The full is actually with a spec fiction publisher in the UK right now. The irony is that one of my gut-wrenching apology rejections came from a well-respected UK agent who reps mainly SF who suggested it would probably sell better as commercial fiction in the US. Even when I write a fairly commercial, by-the-numbers book, it seems it still can't be appropriately shelved :o(

I'll definitely share the complete query journey for this book in a future post.

Again, thank you, everyone! And I'm still open to anything else you have to say!

BuffySquirrel said...

Looks like a non-fiction book.

Sylvia said...

Wow, lots of feedback here. I hope you don't mind a bit more. There comes a point when I think it can be a bit overwhelming to make sense of.

Well, feel free to glaze over but here are my thoughts:

I don't think the circles work because they don't look integrated into the cover. They almost look like stickers. You could try giving them a thick yellow border to match the outer cover story.

I'm not overly fond of the handwritten "doesn't" because my mind tries to remove it from the sentence (treats it like a scribbled addition) and then I'm left with Extinct Mean Forever which bugs me. Other forms of emphasis wouldn't bother me but the handwriting one implies "added by a second person" to me.

Reading the comments, I'm pretty sure the "textbook" feel is emphasised by the white background - the anthology doesn't have this issue. But it may also be skull plus the microscopic images that make it feel more like science and less like sci-fi.

I like the blurb and I love the description of "ripped from today’s research and tomorrow’s headlines", that immediately catches my interest and verifies that it is based on science, not fantasy.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Thanks more!

Obviously, when I finish that treatise on the rewilding of megabeasts in North America I already have the cover for it ;o)

Michelle4Laughs said...

Here's my two cents worth:

I like my covers either more personal with characters depicting a scene from the book or less cluttered, necessary words and one image.

I like the cover copy all the way down to the line about spreading. Fast. This line and everything above it is concise and gave the intensity of a thriller.

In the paragraph about their paths colliding, I'd like to more of a sense of the characters' personalities.

Truthfully, I didn't care for the tag line at the end. You could end with the part about it might be already too late.

That's such a disappointment about the agents and publishers. I wish I could reach through the screen and give you a hug. You'll have a certain sale in me when the ebook is ready. Crossing fingers the last publisher comes through for you.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Most of my thoughts have been said. My eyes did glaze over at one point (in the comment trail) so forgive me if the following has also been said.

Sector C is canned hunting of the dino variety - yes? Is this a big secret you want the reader to find out later? I think you can add in something about hunters with too much wealth and not enough sense. Or something (much better) along those lines. Something that ties the ending lines together. It doesn't have to give away any secrets.

I strongly agree that you have a contradiction at the end. And the cover needs work though I love the skull picture.

Sarah Laurenson said...

One other thought - animal also means human to me. Did you mean to include them as well? They're not necessarily tied together in everyone's minds.

Whirlochre said...

Biology textbook — that's exactly right.

In my previous comment, I did think of noting that I thought it looked like a cookbook, then thought better of it.

So I was half right.

And yet, curiously, half wrong.

Matt said...

I'm thinking the query letter is a better blurb than the actual blurb

Jo-Ann said...

Hi Phoenix

I really feel like I'm teaching my grandmother about eggs, here.

I've had a go at tinkering with your back cover blurb. Feel free to take it with a grain of salt.
jo



SECTOR C
Extinct Doesn't Mean Forever

A new epidemic is sweeping the Great Plains area. Nobody seems safe - young toddlers to healthy adults to the elderly – this new epidemic causes rapid deterioration. And death.

Searching for the source – patient Zero - analyst Mike Shafer crosses paths with Veterinarian Donna Bailey.

Donna is dealing with an outbreak of her own. It looks like mad cow disease. But across so many species? Impossible. Whatever it is, it’s spreading. Fast.

Mike and Donna’s investigations converge to a mysterious compound, and to a 10,000 year-old-secret.

A secret that entrepreneur Walt Thurman will kill to protect.

Because something that previously decimated all animal life on Earth is back.

And it may already be too late to stop it.

Because extinct doesn’t always mean forever.
_________

Ripped from today’s research and tomorrow’s headlines, Sector C is a near-future medical thriller sure to please fans of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Daniel Kalla’s Cold Plague.

K.C. Gray said...

Okay, I feel really strange offering an opinion since I suck so much at this sort of thing... but here it is:

I'm not a fan of the cover. Like many others, it's mainly the yellow. The pictures don't fit well with it. I suggest a darker color, maroon, gray, navy blue... something not so cheery.

As for the blurb, I enjoyed the beginning, but the end didn't flow well to me. It's interesting, but the choppiness of single sentences didn't appeal.

Also, with knowing nothing about the story, it left me a little confused. There is conflict between the sentence "decimating all animal life on earth" and the tagline "extinct doesn't always mean forever." If all animals are going to die, why the need to state the tagline, unless the plan is to bring them back in an altered way?

Anyway, I hope this makes sense.

The query is great (of course), and I was very, very happy to read the synopsis!

Thanks for giving us a chance to share.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

1. I don't care about the cover.

2. I think your sentences are too direct and the transition is wrong. I'd smooth them out. "And death." for example. Not a sentence. "Fast." ditto.

Show us how Mike's and Donna's paths collide.

I'd drop "Extinct doesnt mean forever" line. You need a fresh line. That line, much as I love it doesn't belong here.


Extinct, how many more species will leave the planet before M and D find out etc).

Patient/animal zero reminds me of patient zero in the AIDS thing. I'd kill that.

This is a great story, don't use anything you've used before.

I'll try and give you more comments. I love the story. Don't get bogged. That's the truth from

fairyhedgehog said...

To me, the cover looks like non-fiction and I'd pick it up if I was looking for popular science.

The description comes across as rather bitty to me. I'd be inclined to have just two or three longer paragraphs.

I didn't understand why "extinct doesn't mean forever" was meant to be scary - surely it means that the threatened species can be brought back? And I didn't know what a CDC analyst is.

Here's the sort of thing I mean, with comments:

"Medical Researcher Mike Shaffer is deeply worried by the epidemic of fatal strokes that's sweeping across [where]. When he meets veterinarian Donna Bailey they start to wonder if it's linked to the outbreak of mad cow disease that's affecting all animal species.

The answer may lie in a mysterious compound where a secret was buried 10,000 years ago. They must find the secret and stop the epidemic before it kills all life on earth but the owner of the compound will kill to keep his secret. [why? won't he die too if the epidemic takes over?]

Can they save the world or is it already too late?"

That's cheesy, but you get the idea! Just my thoughts, anyway.

AA said...

Alright. Might as well post my take on this.

CDC analyst Mike Shafer is on the alert for stroke-like cases in the Great Plains area. From young toddlers to healthy adults to the elderly, victims of a new epidemic are suffering rapid deterioration of health ending in certain death.

Veterinarian Donna Bailey has a mystery of her own to solve. It looks like an outbreak of mad cow disease- but across so many species? Impossible.

Whatever it is, it's spreading fast.

Mike and Donna meet in their search for Patient Zero, the source of the outbreak. Both know that government agencies' containment measures will be too little, too late. How can they stop the plague if they don't know how it started?

Entrepreneur Walt Thurman knows- and he'll kill to keep his secret. A 10,000-year-old secret capable of decimating all animal life on earth. And it may already be too late to stop it.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Thanks again, everyone. I'm taking all suggestions to heart! I have a revised cover up and continue to think about the blurb for the description.