Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Photo Journey To The Mailbox - And Questions!

Now that query crits are nearly out of this blog's equation (although we have a revision scheduled for Monday!), you may have noticed it doesn't have a very clear direction. I haven't decided if that's a good thing or bad.

Should I have separate blogs for "me" (my farm, personal woes and celebrations, etc) and for "writing-related" (sales stats, industry observations, the odd query crit, etc)?

Maybe reserve specific days for different types of topics?

Keep everyone guessing whether the next post up will be of interest to you? What is of interest to you?

Please discuss!

Meanwhile, more random photos because I'm busy working on a super-secret marketing/publishing-type project that launches this weekend. I'll tell you all about it next week. After our query crit on Monday and the July sales stat post on Tuesday.

Mailboxing!

The trip to and from my mailbox is a little over 1/4 of a mile (400+ meters). I look at it as a mini adventure. Sometimes the dogs (and maybe a cat) accompany me. Depending on time of day, we might see rabbits or skunks. Sometimes there are wildflowers in the pastures and sometimes the drying grasses are a reminder of how little rain we've had. It's always an opportunity to keep an eye on some of the water pipes that lead to the house and barn -- breaks in the water line are quite frequent and I'm responsible for repairing them and paying for the water lost, so best to find them sooner than later.

While most people would take you on a pictorial journey from house to box, my hook is this: we're going to start at the box and work our back. I know! It's the same, but different. See how the principles of query writing can help us in real life?

If we look up and down the road from the box itself, here is what we see. While there are vast regions of flat, treeless plains in Texas, they are west of where I live. In fact, many of the ranchers around here have bulldozed down hundreds of red cedars to open up the land for better grazing.

Looking to the left, to the right, and across the street
I have some new neighbors across the road. Two years ago, the Herefords lived there. Then the Anguses moved in.

So we've picked up the mail, waved to the neighbors, and oohed and aahed over their new babies. Time to head back. Here's the entry to the drive. Yes, there's a house up there somewhere.


If we're very lucky we might see great herds of wild horses. Or we might see these guys instead.


If we take a look back toward the mailbox about halfway between the road and the house, this is what we see. (Poor brown grass -- the drought has not been kind.) Yes, we've walked a looooong way already! And sometimes without having received any mail for our trouble.


You'll note there are pastures on either side of the drive. When I put in new fencing last year, I had the brilliant idea to install a gating system that, when I open the gates up, provides a corridor the horses can use to get from one side of the drive to the other. The added benefit is that there are two gates across the drive to deter anyone who doesn't have business on the property from coming onto the property. Sometimes that backfires as it also can deter UPS drivers and others from bringing me things I want right to my door.

Bela left, Bonita center, Ricky right

The house is quite private, hidden from the road by a small copse of trees. As soon as we've finished petting and feeding the horses a few treats (you did remember to bring along some apples and carrots, didn't you?), we go through the gates and see a twist in the drive. Beyond, we can almost make out the detached garage.


Past the twist in the drive and yes, we can see it! We're finally -- almost -- home.


Thanks for joining me! Next time we'll pack a lunch and maybe an overnight bag for the trip.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

E-Publishing's Dirty Little Secret

I've never been good at being a team player. Don't get me wrong. When I was in the corporate world, every decision I made was based on what was best for the team. I was 110% loyal and fought like a mother tiger protecting her cub for whatever team I happened to be a part of.

But a rah-rah cheerleader and follower of every new plan implemented I was not.

Management, I found, would do well to play more chess. In chess, you need to be able to think 10 moves ahead. There's little luck to do with chess. Every piece is on the board, visible, and every piece has hard-and-fast rules by which it's played. It's all cold strategy. The only variables lie in how and when those pieces are moved.

I was not beloved of management. I was outspoken -- often about pet projects that, while the instigators lauded instant gratification and short-term gains, 10 moves ahead looked like trouble. I was an albatross around management's neck.

So why would I change now that I'm retired?

I've been hanging out a lot lately with authors who have taken the e-publishing route. I read their blogs and I participate a bit in the Amazon and B&N e-pub forums. And more and more I've been seeing a huge gap among the haves, the have nots and those who haven't yet.

First of all, there seems to be a sense of entitlement out there. "Amazon owes me. When I sell books, they make money. They should promote the hell out of my book, and if they don't, then Mr. CEO is going to hear about this! They've taken tagging away from us -- that's all we indies had as a way of getting noticed. Doesn't Amazon realize when they screw over the independent author selling 5 copies a month, they're screwing themselves!" Um, Amazon doesn't care whose books it sells, and if a greater percentage of readers buy Author A's book than Author B's based on the same number of impressions, you can bet if Amazon can figure out a way, it's going to up the number of impressions Author A's book gets. It's simple economics.

Second, there are a handful of big players in the field who are quite evangelical. It's easy -- so easy -- to get swept up in their religious awakening over e-pubbing. It's seductive. Like the motivational speakers a handful of years ago who wanted to help YOU make your first million in real estate or with dot-com stocks, they play on hopes and dreams and offer promises that, like the lottery, only come true for a minority of the folk being preached to. It happened to them, it can happen for you. Come worship with us at the Church of the Average Joe.

I lured you into reading this with the promise of a dirty little secret, right? Well, here it is: The e-commerce platform today's bestselling indie authors built their names on is ALREADY changing. And you know what? E-pubbing is NOT an egalitarian industry. It is NOT a democratic playing field. But try to introduce the business equation into conversations on certain blogs and boards, and you're going to be met with fingers firmly inserted in ... ears.

Those of you watching from the back may not have noticed but Amazon is *shock* tweaking its business model. The traditional publishers are starting to cave to the notion that ebooks are here to stay. Surprisingly, traditional publishers want to stay in business, so they are working with the biggest book distributor in America and soon-to-be the world. And Amazon, after having set up the indie publishing and distribution model, is turning traitor by actually helping traditional publishers sell books. Twice this summer Amazon has partnered with the enemy and run sales featuring books from *gasp* traditional publishers. As a consequence, a lot of indie authors have seen a fall in sales. Most of those affected are the ones who haven't yet gotten good traction in the sales engine that is Amazon. "Just have to hold out till this sale ends, then things will be back to normal," seems to be the common thinking. Only normal today isn't what it was yesterday. Normal now IS monthly Summer Sales, Back-to-School Bargains, Fall-Back Pricing, etc, etc. Normal IS Amazon catering to publishers who speak in the language business understands: money. Want to be a part of these sales? Ante up.

I've posited in comments elsewhere that I believe Amazon will continue tweaking its sales model and its algorithms as it learns more about the new world being forged. But evangelicals don't want to hear that. They WANT to believe Amazon is on the side of the little guy and that the internal promoting it does will democratically elevate every newbie's book published into an eventual bestseller. Heck, some of these evangelicals have built their own platform promoting that idea, so they have a personal stake in keeping the dream alive.

Currently Amazon's sales engine is a self-feeding model. The more sales a book has, the more Amazon's internal promotions kick in to help sell more. Ad-based Kindles and monthly sales of already popular titles are just the beginning. I'm predicting algorithms in the near future that skew the titles readers see in the "also bought" lists to authors/publishers who fund a certain number of impressions for their books. The outcry I hear against that is that readers won't stand being advertised to.

Here's a bonus secret: Those "also bought" lists are ALREADY skewed in favor of better-selling titles and readers are already being manipulated by them. Do you actually believe Amazon is presenting an unbiased list? To appear in the list of an associated title that's selling a lot of copies and where such an appearance has a chance to drive sales of your book, your book has to cross a certain threshhold of copies sold (or maybe amount earned - 100 copies? $100? Who knows?). Until then, it doesn't help much if your book that's selling 3 copies a month is cross-promoted with another book that sells only 2 copies a month, does it?

The gulf is already widening. A look at any of the discussions around "How many copies have you sold this week, month, ever" shows a whole lot of people despairing over just 3 to 4 sales a month. YOU don't hear about those struggles because how many folk are willing to admit those sales publicly? Even on the boards, a lot of folk are reluctant to talk in real sales numbers. If you see authors mentioning their sales have doubled or that sales are down by 50%, you can just about bet doubling sales means going from 2 books sold in May to 4 books sold in June. Many of these books probably don't deserve even the few sales they are getting, but some of these books are decently written and formatted with good reviews and/or cheap prices. They may or may not ever hit their strides.

The wisdom that says "E-books are forever" is likely shortsighted. Right NOW Amazon may not be kicking off the books languishing on their site, but when the database doubles and the buyer's experience is compromised because the search engine is slow or the site can't display its lists quickly enough or update them as frequently, what's the easiest, most economic solution? Hmm?

I've said it elsewhere in comment sections where I felt I was getting the same reaction as back in ye olde corporate conference room pointing out the inherent flaws in management's new go-forward plan. Yes, everyone will still be given the opportunity to publish in the future -- in just the same way every native-born citizen in the U.S. has the opportunity to become president. We're all born equal, but to have any hope of succeeding, you have to have the proper grooming, the right schools, popular support and -- the real deciding factor -- the money to fund your campaign.

Some people seem to think Amazon isn't learning new strategy and becoming a better player here in the middle of the game. That its sales model today is what it will still be when Christmas rolls around. That they can count on Amazon's support no matter what. They aren't looking 10 moves ahead. And they'll be the ones to cry foul the loudest when Amazon quietly announces, "Checkmate."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Release Day! Jennifer Blake's By His Majesty's Grace

[Teaser: Thursday's post will be "E-Publishing's Dirty Little Secret" -- a frank discussion that not only doesn't regurgitate popular opinion, it refutes one fundamental idea that is the cornerstone of much of today's philosophy about e-pubbing. Hope you'll come read!]


What would you do if you had over 60 books in 20 languages, totaling a staggering 30 million copies in print worldwide? Retire? Yeah, me too.

But not Jennifer Blake. Oh no. She writes more books. Today, the first book in her new Tudor-based historical romance trilogy, The Three Graces, launches. Next month, the second book of the trilogy comes out. And the month after that, the third book. How brilliant is that, marketing-wise? The books are being released simultaneously in both print and ebook versions through Harlequin's MIRA imprint. Jealous much? Well, book deals don't just fall into your lap. They have to be worked for.

Even if you aren't a romance fan, listen up. One day you might be faced with the problem of a huge backlist too :o)

You have to recognize that the industry changes. That what you're writing now may or may not be what you'll still be writing 35 years from now. Tastes change. Conventions change. The world changes. Two solid strategies for staying popular after a lot of years and a lot of books:
  • Write consistently.
  • Don't be afraid to try new things.
The Three Graces is Jennifer's first foray into the Tudor era. She identified a new market that wasn't over-saturated and that interested her, then did tons of research to prepare. Then she had to juggle the writing, editing and proofing of all three books on three different time schedules. This is what it means to be a successful author. Persistence isn't just the watchword of the wanna-be. It's the hallmark of the already-there.

Here are the juicy details for By His Majesty's Grace
The Three Graces of Graydon are well born sisters bearing an ominous curse: any man betrothed to them without love is doomed to die…

Her hand may be bestowed by others, but her heart is hers alone to give…

Much to her chagrin, Lady Isabel Milton has been given to Sir Rand Braesford—a reward from the Tudor king for his loyalty to the throne. The lusty nobleman quickly claims his husbandly rights, an experience Isabel scarcely hoped to enjoy so much. But youth and strength may not save Braesford from his bride’s infamous curse…

Accused of a heinous crime with implications that reach all the way to King Henry himself, Braesford is imprisoned in the Tower, and Isabel is offered her salvation—but for a price. She has the power to seal his fate, have him sent to the executioner and be freed from her marriage bonds. Yet the more Isabel learns of Rand, the less convinced she is of his guilt, and she commits to discover the truth about the enigmatic husband she never expected to love.
There are already many 4- and 5-star reviews around the interweebs, but this one sums it up best, I think:
“Set in 1486 England, By His Majesty’s Grace takes place in a new historical era for beloved award winning author Jennifer Blake. Her masterful writing and exquisite sense of pacing shine in this novel, bringing several elements together in one perfectly executed story. …a stunning entrée to a new sub-genre for Blake.”
~ Eye on Romance
You can sample pages right now.

And, of course, watch The Three Graces video.


Ready to buy?

     Paperback                Kindle
 

Also available from Barnes and Noble:
nook
paperback

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Better?

I haven't found any people images I like so far, so I'm staying with this theme again to see if this version resonates at all and, if so, which color scheme works best.

Revise of the blurb to come. Ya'll had some terrific suggestions.

Tuesday, a special author guest!


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Baby, It's Hot Out There (A Photo Roundup)

100 in the shade - before noon
 It’s hot in North Texas. Record-breaking hot. Just how record-breaking is the subject of intense debate. Did the area officially hit 99 degrees or 100 degrees last Wednesday? If 99, that put a halt to a streak of 100+ degree days that ended with a total of 22. If 100 (for the Fahrenheit challenged, that's about 38 C), then we’re well into our 26th straight day. In either case, the previous record, in 1980, was 20 days in a row.

Some of you may have thought it was hyperbole when I mentioned the possibility of eggs laid in the sun being baked in their shells. That observation was actually extrapolated from crab apples that have ended up being baked through and too hot to handle within just a few hours of falling onto a sunny patch of ground.

Dragonfly!
In addition, my area was officially listed a couple of days ago as being in a “severe” drought. Drive west for 30 minutes and it becomes an “extreme” drought. 30 more minutes and it’s “extraordinary.” And “extraordinary” is creeping east.

There are still green things growing. But plants that normally put out profuse blooms are struggling to provide photo op moments. Water-loving plants like ragweed and pigweed aren’t growing at all, which is both good and bad. Grass is also water-loving – and there’s none new growing. That means no mid-season haying, which means no second cutting, which means less hay on the market this coming winter. Area farmers will have to import hay from out of state, which means it will come at top price and there may or may not be enough to meet demand. Animals destined for slaughter will go to market early. Non-food animals such as horses owned by people who are also being hard hit by the economy will be neglected and starved.

There’s no rain in the forecast for the next 7 days. Temperatures will be 103 to 105 all week.

And it’s not even August.

This roadrunner has been hanging around a lot lately, coming up on the porch (center) to chow down on grasshoppers (right) and catch a drink from the cat's water bowl.


Still, the price of hay is not what gives me nightmares.

The ground here is prone to moving and cracking even in the best of summers. This puts stress on every structure. House foundations are moving. Walls are settling. Concrete and framework are being undermined. Doors don’t open and close properly. The driveway is separating. These aren’t tiny hairline cracks in the asphalt. The shifting ground is heaving some sections of it upwards and dropping other sections down. The drive is only two years old. I’ll be surprised if it lasts another three.

I’m not losing sleep over that. It’s just tar and oil.

The cracks farther from the house are the ones I’m most concerned about. At 2, 3, even 4 inches wide, some of them have opened enough to trap a small horse’s hoof. These aren’t just surface cracks. Many of them run up to 2 feet deep.

L: 2" lift to the driveway. The edge is basically cracking off.
C: Scooter is concerned the small cracks in the chicken yard may swallow him up. Oh no!
R: Cracks in the pasture -- the pipe on the far right is 2" in diameter.



It wasn’t long ago I loved watching the horses gallop around, kicking up their heels and playing tag. I see them now and my stomach just knots up. Images of snapping bones as the ground catches a leg and won’t let it go prey on me. It isn’t easy being a mom.

My first year retired trying to establish a garden and produce enough hay to keep the horses and goats rolling in it during the winter? Gonna have to call this one a bust. If all the beasties come out the other side alive and well, I’m gonna call it a win and be very, very happy.

Still, A Few Cheerful Flowers

It's hard to keep a good sunflower down. There aren't as many blooms this year, nor are the blooms as big as in previous years, the leaves are rather sparse, and the overall look is rather scraggly. Still, who can't help but smile when they see these little beauties?


Bitterweed is very drought tolerant and will bloom in nearly any conditions. Ranchers, especially those who raise dairy cows and goats, consider it noxious. That's because it imparts a bitter taste to the cow or doe's milk after it's eaten. Animals will eat it, but it's sort of a last-resort plant when nothing else is available.


Once established, trumpet vine is nearly impossible to kill. Here it's blooming happily even though I haven't watered the landscaping at all this summer. Hummingbirds love the trumpets' nectar; this year, though, the local hummingbird population seems to be way down. The long bean-like things are the seed pods. They'll grow to about 8 inches and the shell will become fairly hard and turn a mottled brown in fall. Even though I've gathered 100s of these pods, I've never been able to grow a trumpet vine from seed.



Dogs and Cats Demanded Time In The Spotlight Too

Callie

Orion

Angel 
 
Ginger, the submissive and a natural nuturer, taking good care of Loki, who obviously hates all the attention

How could I not end with Loki, the camera hog who always, always make me laugh


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:




Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Backyard I Didn't Want

Pictures!

Before I moved to the country 6-1/2 years ago, I had a tract home on a little lot. There was a sideyard with a patio, a koi pond, a floor-to-ceiling parakeet habitat, and a low fence with an arbor gate draped with trumpet vine and morning glories that led to the backyard proper. There, I had a second smaller patio with a small goldfish pond and, because that's where my 3 dogs played, a couple of tufts of tough pampas grass and some easy-care cannas. I also added hanging baskets to the wooden fence. It looked, you know, landscaped.

L: parakeet abode ; C: Small goldfish pond ; R: Gate between sideyard and backyard
L: Koi pond in sideyard (that's Bailey, one of the smartest, sweetest dogs I've had the pleasure to live with.
Sadly, she's gone now)  
C: Bailey, Ginger and pampas grass
R: Cannas and hanging baskets
L and C: Friendly koi who would come to take treats from your hand ; R: waterfall in the koi pond
What visions I had for my new backyard when I moved to the country and fenced off a 50' x 70' section to provide a safe zone for the dogs! The ugly storm shelter with its ventilating system and raised metal door with the counter-balance weight to open and close it could be dealt with by the strategic placement of a few shrubs. The wire mesh fence would be perfect to train grape vines and morning glories on. The 3 trees -- a crab apple, a non-fruiting native pear and something I still haven't identified -- would provide lovely shade. And I had plans to add a few more crepe myrtles to the one lonely specimen along the back fence.

What I didn't count on was the vendetta the dogs would wage against any new plantings. Then came the two unexpected goats that had to live in the backyard under the shade trees until I could build shelter from the hot Texas sun elsewhere. They took care of the few new plantings I had managed to start and ate down the half-grown crepe myrtle to its roots.

When the ducks came, the plan was to grow them up in the backyard for about a month then move them to a pond in what I thought was a safe pasture. Not only did the ducks not want anything to do with the pond, the pasture wasn't as safe for them as I'd tried to make it. And who would have thought 3 little ducks could be so destructive in one short month?

So I gave up trying to force the backyard into being something it obviously couldn't be and the beasties didn't want it to be. I put the duck house my dad built into a sheltered corner of the yard, laid a few pavers down to stall some of the water erosion under the trees and threw a kiddie pool on them for the ducks. I let one or two of the horses in to graze the yard down every few weeks, but I also let some grass and weeds grow tall to give the ducks a sense of security. The backyard is far from the well-groomed paradise I dreamed about.

It took awhile, but I finally realized the backyard isn't my haven but the beasties'. And they have made it into a far more vibrant environment that my well-planned vegetation ever could. Life has a funny way of showing us that what we really want isn't always what we think we want, and that letting go of preconceived ideas can open up possibilities we might never imagine otherwise.

The Backyard Today

Fafnir doing her Jurassic Park impression
Fafnir
Fafnir, the iguana, is allowed to camp out for a few days at a time in the backyard under strict supervision. Since she can  easily climb the fence, I check on her every hour or so during the day to make sure she's keeping entertained on her side of the fence. Iguanas are diurnal, and at night she shuts down completely so I don't have to worry about her running off while I'm sleeping. I do worry a little about owls, but as she's something undreamt of in Texas owls' philosophies I'm not too concerned they'll recognize her as prey.
I actually have to persuade Fafnir to eat her veggies instead of the ducks' food. Kids!

Cooling off in the ducks' pool. This is the "swampland" section of the yard.
Sunning herself in the morning on the metal door to the storm shelter.
Well-camouflaged in the crab apple tree
Look at that expression! She's really enjoying herself out in the "wild"

The ducks
The duck hens are very determined layers and brooders. Trouble is, it's waaaay too hot for the eggs to hatch. In fact, I'm pretty sure the insides of the eggs are being baked as soon as they're laid. Keeping a bit of unmown grass helps the hens think they're hiding, safe from the world. I pretend I don't see them.

The Rooster
No, he's doesn't have an official name, though I do refer to him as Roo Boy. He wound up in the backyard over a year ago when the other roosters unexpectedly beat him up and blinded him in one eye. I have no idea why they turned on him -- he was in with 5 others, all brothers, who tolerated each other just fine then and now. He does well with the ducks and dogs, so he's stayed. He wasn't too sure about Fafnir invading his territory at first, but he's come around -- especially now that he's figured out there's generally leftovers from Fafnir's lunches.
The structure with the doors and windows is a storage shed. The structure to the left of it is the goat shed. It has a raised front porch, a roof extension for shade and a box thing that they like to nap on.

Bella
Bella is the mother to Bonita (aka Bonnie), who was born last fall. Bella's been my lawnmower choice this spring and summer to give her a break from nursing Bonnie and to encourage Bonnie to wean. I love how the beasties all feel so comfortable around one another.
L: It looks like she's watching the ducks, but she's really upset that she can't get to the crab apples on the ground since she's outside the fence.
C: Invited in, she's scarfed up all the apples and is headed for the house.
R: "Can I come in, please?"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Synopsis 18: Redux

Under a Starlit Sky

JASON CALVERT loved his wife, lived for his job and was content with life – until he lost it all when his world was turned upside down. Waking next to a small harbour in Victoria he can’t remember anything about his past. He meets BARLOW PUCKETT, who says his name is IAN HOWTON, and that they work together. After finding a matchbook for a pub, Jason heads to Vancouver hoping to find more clues to his forgotten identity. There he has an unsettling encounter in a bar with REMY HOLBROOK, a man he cannot remember, but who definitely remembers him. Remy angrily asks ‘Jason’ why he is there. Thinking his name is Ian; Jason is confused and tells the irate man he is mistaken. Remy is taken aback, flustered, and quickly realizes Jason has amnesia. Remy apologizes for the case of mistaken identity before hastily leaving the bar.

Jason is plagued by a recurring dream set in a tower library overlooking a war-ravaged city, dominated by a locked wooden door. In the dreams, answers emerge about his life and the people who love him – his sister, his best friend, his ex-wife, memories of his childhood and teenage years and his old Vancouver address.

Desperate for help remembering his past, he approaches EVE HENDRY, an attractive psychic medium, even though he ‘doesn’t believe in that sort of thing’. Guided by visions and instructions from Eve’s spirit guide, Jason runs into a young woman, a student, who tells him his name is not Ian Howton but Jason Calvert and he is a poetry teacher at the University, unaware he was fired as it was kept quiet by University heads.

At the same time Jason has been struggling to find himself, Remy Holbrook is struggling to stop him. Remy, a social studies teacher, who has always despised his job and always dreamed of teaching English, has always envied Jason--who is automatically enemy number one. Before losing his memory, Jason’s career meant the world to him. So much so, he had a quote from a poem tattooed on his arm. His students loved him and colleagues admired him. The feud between Remy and Jason ultimately led to the breakdown of Jason’s marriage and Remy jumped at the chance to take Jason’s newly single ex for himself but she refused his advances. Using false allegations of sexual assault against a student that led to Jason being fired, Remy eventually got what he wanted - Jason's job. Not wanting Jason to oust him as a liar and loosen his grip on his newly acquired dream, Remy resorts to harassment and threats to scare Jason away. It works. For awhile.

But now that Jason is back in town searching for his identity, Remy must again turn to unscrupulous means to keep him away. After witnessing a violent attack on a homeless man, Remy threatens to call the police and report TODD, the young man responsible, unless Todd helps him deter Jason from finding his identity. Using blackmail worked before, scaring Jason away to Victoria where he changed his name to avoid the threatening phone calls, emails, and texts. But when Todd takes Jason for coffee the morning after getting him drunk, all part of Remy’s plan, and starts asking too many questions, Jason snaps. Hung-over and frustrated by the lack of information about who he is, normally easy going and mild-mannered Jason uncharacteristically attacks Todd in the café, throwing a chair and smashing Todd’s hand with a table leg. Shocked by his actions, Jason runs, scared Todd will come after him.

Falling asleep while stargazing after Eve says someone used to tell him to lie under stars, Jason wakes to a stranger mugging him. Recovering his wallet, he finds an old photo of himself and his sister in Toronto that has fallen from a hidden compartment. After uncovering more clues that point to Toronto and borrowing money from Barlow Puckett he jumps on the next flight. While in Toronto , he runs out of the money. Hungry and alone in the big city with no one to turn to, he turns to shoplifting food, narrowly escaping with his stolen goods, embarrassed, and angry with himself. That isn’t him. Jason also runs into HYDE VINSON, who is the man he saw in one of the dreams - bizarrely dressed and threatening, with a strange metal prosthesis and slip of paper with important information. Hyde drops a bombshell on Jason when he mentions hearing about a sexual assault allegation against him. Next, Jason finds CAROL, his sister who reminds him of an estrangement with his mother, the person who used to tell him to lie under a starlit sky – that doing so would make all your problems seem insignificant compared to the vastness of the universe. Intent on making amends and repairing their relationship, he visits her rest home only to discover she passed away that night. Due to shock, he passes out in sudden overwhelming grief.

When Jason learns from his ex-wife about the false allegations that cost him his career, he confronts Remy and a violent struggle ensues. Remy stabs Jason who manages to hide in an empty auditorium. Passing out from blood loss, he experiences flashes of memories – a young woman crying in front of a panel of men; receiving threatening messages from Remy; a table strewn with empty beer cans. Jason finally realizes the reason behind his amnesia: As a biological safeguard against the fear and pain from continuous harassment by Remy, the psychological trauma became too much and his memory shut down.

He awakes in hospital to two police officers standing over him. Remy has been arrested. Not only for stabbing Jason, but also for the student he was blackmailing into lying about being sexually assaulted by Jason. Remy was giving the girl straight A’s. In return for sex.

Jason dreams of the library one final time. The door is unlocked. He comes face to face with himself and realizes he likes what he sees.

Comments

I think there are still a couple of subplots and characters that aren't as important to the story as the synopsis makes them out to be. That said, I'm also concerned that there's one subplot that could be elevated: the one with the psychic. There seems to be a hint of possible romance with her, plus the query mentions her trying to jolt his subconscious into remembering things by engaging in hang gliding, etc. It seems if it's important enough for the query, it's important enough for the synopsis.

In my version, I've rearranged events so that the synopsis follows Jason's thread of the story then switches to Remy's then brings the two of them together in the end. I'll let other critters weigh in on whether they think it's easier to follow the story line that way. Since the synopsis still doesn't feel too awfully thrillerish, I don't think cutting back and forth between them adds anything to the tension. My version also cuts about 120 words from the original 1000.

I didn't change the last paragraph, but the coming face-to-face with himself part still feels a bit weak to me. Does anyone else have an idea for strengthening it?

If this really should be feeling more thrillerish, then you'll probably want to focus on cutting back and forth between Jason and Remy even more. And put more of Remy's actions and motivations into the present tense.

You can also do two versions of the query and synopsis -- one pitching it as a thriller where you amp up those aspects in both the query and synopsis and the other pitching it as literary suspense where you use the approach you've got here. Then you can send targeted versions to agents who handle commercial thrillers and those who handle more literary types of suspense.

My Version

When he wakes by a small harbour in Victoria, JASON CALVERT can’t remember anything about his past. The man who claims to be his coworker doesn’t seem familiar and certainly the name “Ian” that his coworker calls him doesn’t feel right. What he does have on waking is the memory of a dream that makes him afraid to go to the authorities or to a hospital that might report him. Determined to track down his identity on his own, Jason finds a clue in a matchbook from a pub in Vancouver. There, he runs into a man who seems to know him as “Jason.” The man’s irate, hostile even, until Jason convinces him it’s a case of mistaken identity and the man hastily leaves the bar.

After the encounter, Jason’s dreams become more vivid and disturbing. In one, he’s in a tower library overlooking a war-ravaged city, unable to get out through the only exit: a locked wooden door. In others, he catches glimpses of answers that continue to elude him: an ex-wife, a best friend, a sister…

Desperate for help remembering his past, he engages a psychic, who helps Jason interpret his dreams. More importantly, she points him toward a university student on summer break who greets him as Jason Calvert and reminds him she was in the poetry class he taught in the spring. The psychic also helps him recall there was someone important in his life who told him to lie under the starlit sky when troubled. When he tries that and falls asleep, he wakes to stranger mugging him. It's a violent act that actually becomes a stroke of fortune. Recovering his wallet, he finds an old photo of himself and his sister in Toronto that falls from a hidden compartment.

Using the last of his money he hops the next flight to Toronto. Hungry and alone, he has to shoplift food, embarrassed and angry with himself for doing it. Snippets from his dreams of a bizarrely dressed man with a metal prosthesis and a slip of paper with important information lead him to HYDE VINSON, a childhood friend. Hyde confirms Jason’s real name, then drops a bombshell when he mentions hearing about a sexual assault allegation against him. He also gives Jason the address where CAROL, Jason’s sister, now lives. Carol helps him piece together early memories, but she can’t help with the 10-year gap since they last saw one another. She also reminds him that he’s been estranged from his mother, the person who used to tell him to lie under a starlit sky. Intent on making amends, Jason visits his mother’s rest home the next day, only to discover she’s died during the night.

Meanwhile, the man Jason met in the Vancouver pub has been planning how to keep Jason out of Vancouver permanently. REMY HOLBROOK is a brilliant but delusional man with double master’s degrees. A university instructor, he despised teaching social studies and coveted Jason’s job as an English teacher, envious of how Jason’s students loved him and colleagues admired him. Remy also coveted Jason’s wife. In a desperate ploy to seize them both, he blackmailed a student into making false allegations of sexual assault against Jason and coerced a dean into giving him a hiring recommendation. The university quietly fired Jason and gave Jason’s job to Remy, who resorted to more harassment and threats to keep Jason away. And when Jason’s marriage fell apart and Jason moved to Victoria to start a new life with a new name to escape the stigma of it all, Remy moved in on Jason’s ex-wife.

Now that Jason is back in town searching for his old identity, Remy again turns to unscrupulous means to keep him away. After witnessing a violent attack on a homeless man, Remy recruits TODD, the young man responsible, by threatening to file a police report if he doesn’t help. Todd invites the vulnerable and grief-stricken Jason out for drinks, then takes him for coffee the next morning and starts asking questions. Jason snaps. Hung-over and frustrated by the lack of information about who he is, easy-going and mild-mannered Jason uncharacteristically attacks Todd in the café, smashing Todd’s hand with a table leg. Shocked by his actions, Jason runs, afraid Todd will come after him,

It’s Jason’s ex-wife who supplies the final puzzle piece about the false allegations that cost him his career and about Remy’s advances. Jason confronts Remy, who stabs him. Jason manages to hide in an empty auditorium and, just as he’s passing out from blood loss, he experiences flashes of memories: a young woman crying in front of a panel of men, threatening messages from Remy, a table strewn with empty beer cans. Jason finally realizes the reason for his amnesia: It’s a biological safeguard against fear and pain from the continuous harassment by Remy.

Jason wakes in a hospital to two police officers standing over him. Remy has been arrested. Not only for stabbing Jason, but also for blackmailing the student into lying about being sexually assaulted. Remy was giving the girl A’s -- in return for sex.

Jason dreams of the library one final time. The door is unlocked. He comes face to face with himself and realizes he likes what he sees.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Synopsis 19: Hard Nox

Life in River Styx, Ohio is anything but easy for sixteen year old Nox Sumner. A human lightning rod for tragedy, everyone close to her dies. When her older brother and legal guardian, Haden is killed in a car accident, Nox is stuck living with her crush’s family, the Coles. The last thing Nox wants is to become the de facto ‘sister’ of Memphis, the boy she loves, despite her desperate need for family. Nox refuses to let the dangers threatening those brave enough to get close to her hurt the second family that is all she has left, but this is one problem her rambunctious survivor support group and kind therapist can’t help her solve.

In the midst of gut-wrenching grief, while burying her dead pet in her backyard, Nox finds hope in Death himself. Introducing himself as Grim, he offers her a way to save Memphis from imminent disaster. Grim lost a bet with his boatman, allowing his centuries long partner to disguise himself as River Crowe, a mortal boy at Nox’s High School for one year. Only one teeny, tiny problem. The year’s up, but the Boatman refuses to return. Never born, the Reaper’s List doesn’t hold his name and Grim, for once is powerless to do anything about it. But Nox isn’t.

If Nox convinces River to return to, then Grim will move Memphis Cole’s name out of its current position – dangerously close to the top. If River refuses, Memphis will die and he and Haden are stuck on this side of the River Styx with no way to cross over. They’ll have lots of company in the other stuck souls, too. It’s not a good idea to leave lost souls confused on the river banks, they become lonely, distraught, angry. They start eyeing the living for new company. The River Styx claimed more lives lately than it should.

Grim is crystal clear, if River won’t return of his own volition, Nox will have to force his hand – and kill him. Having experienced the pain of loss so often, Nox can’t bear the thought of taking even a ‘borrowed’ life, even for the greater good. Crossing her fingers and praying River will see reason, Nox accepts Grim’s proposition, determined to persuade River to surrender his mortality so she doesn’t have to take it from him.

River, a centuries old being in love with life and bursting with vitality, is not what Nox expected –of the Boatman or of the slightly snotty senior he pretended to be. To protect Memphis and his parents, Nox uses River as a wedge to force distance between them, pushing him and his family away with both hands as if shoving them out of a burning building. Nox cleaves to River and her mission. He not only understands her, he answers questions she has yearned to know all her life. River confesses he has never been in love, never experienced physical intimacy. Nox has only one thing River wants in return for giving up his mortal life, herself.

Unsure of what to do, Nox delays resolving her quest, reveling in a stronger connection than she has ever known, until the unthinkable happens. During a group therapy outing, a member of her support group nearly drowns. Nox is able to save her by attracting and distracting the souls piled up on the bank since the Boatman abandoned his post, but she recognizes the warning shot across the bow. Things rapidly fall apart. Her favorite cop and part time father figure is shot in the chest. Another member of her survivor support group drowns when Nox isn’t there to save her. She succeeds in pushing Memphis away, only to have Memphis confess he has loved her all this time and beg her to forgive him for whatever he had done. Finally, Billy, the taciturn survivor she finally forged a connection with comes through his suicidal downward spiral, only to be killed saving Nox’s life.

Furious with Grim, furious with Haden, furious with River, Nox demands to know why didn’t they help her, warn her, stop this from happening? Grim reminds her she has the power to end all of this; River named his price if she will pay it. Nox turns her anger inward. She didn’t want River to die, to leave her and now Billy is dead because of her own selfishness. First, Nox goes to Memphis and lets him down as easily as he always let her down. She no longer needs to cling to Memphis, her childhood love for him is preserved perfectly like a pressed flower in her journal, but it is not the real love she feels for River.

Nox accepts River’s offer and confesses her feelings, knowing after this they will never be together. River accepts the bittersweet gesture, his anticipation painted with sadness. They spend one last glorious night together, talking, touching, getting comfortable with each other. When the moment for them to consummate their feelings rises, they are both nervous and excited. They kiss for the first time, and are immediately struck with lightning in a very literal sense.

River dies; Nox survives and everything in the world shuffles into its proper place. In the dream state between life and death, Nox bids her farewells to Haden and Billy on the banks of the river. Billy she will never see again; Haden has his own destiny she can only guess at now. As they step onto the boat, she catches River’s eye for a moment, but he does not speak or acknowledge her in any way. Before Nox can call to him, she awakes in the hospital to a world unchanged by the events of the past few weeks. No one knows River Crowe. The Boatman attends the river. Grim reaps souls. And Nox is heartbroken. Grim comes to her side. She inquires about River, but Grim is evasive. His last words in her ear chill her bone marrow as she repeats them, “Be seeing you.”

Comments

There is a lot of energy here, and a lot to like. There are few questions I have that I think can be cleared up easily, and there are some grammatical issues that can be dealt with post-haste. I accept that many of the larger “why?” questions can be ignored in stories of this ilk. The author sets up a premise and then the rest of the story simply has to be consistent with this premise for it to work. So I promise not to bring up any of the theological and philosophical questions the story raises.

The synopsis clocks in at exactly 1000 words. It would be nice to excise 100-200 words.

Life in River Styx, Ohio, is anything but easy for sixteen-year-old Nox Sumner. A human lightning rod for tragedy, everyone close to her dies. When her older brother and legal guardian, Haden, is killed in a car accident, Nox is stuck living with her crush’s family, the Coles a foster family. Despite her desperate need for family,The last thing Nox wants is to become can't bear becoming the de facto ‘sister’ of Memphis, the boy she loves's crushing on despite her desperate need for family. Nox refuses to let the dangers threatening those brave enough to get close to her hurt the second family that is all she has left, but this is one problem her rambunctious survivor support group and kind therapist can’t help her solve.

I think you can tone down the hyperbole. Everyone dies eventually. Are those close to her all dying at once or did her parents die when she was a toddler? Has she lost a couple of best friends before she figured out anyone she likes dies? I wouldn’t name Haden. When his name shows up later, a reader like me will need to refer back here to remember who he is.

You’ve also presented two issues here: Nox doesn’t want her new family to start dying nor does she want to become Memphis’ sister. The synopsis says the last thing she wants is not to become his sister, so you’re prioritizing that over him dying. Just another example of the excess hyperbole.

I don’t understand the last sentence. How can she refuse the danger when she doesn’t know what it will be or how it might appear?

In the midst of gut-wrenching grief, while burying her dead pet in her backyard, Nox finds hope in Death himself. Introducing himself as Grim, he offers her a way to save Memphis from imminent death disaster. Grim lost a bet with his boatman, allowing his centuries-long partner to disguise himself as River Crowe, a mortal boy at Nox’s Hhigh Sschool for one year. Only one teeny, tiny problem. The year’s up, but the Boatman refuses to return. Never born, his name isn't on the Reaper’s List doesn’t hold his name and Grim, for once, is powerless to do anything about it. But Nox isn’t.

The first sentence reads a little oddly to me. It seems she's having a stronger reaction to her pet's death than her brother's. I kind of like the detail of yet another thing dying around her, but ultimately I think it can be deleted.

If Nox convinces River to return to, then Grim will move Memphis Cole’s name out of its current position – dangerously close to the top. If River refuses, Memphis will die and he and Haden are will be stuck on this side of the River Styx with no way to cross over. They’ll have lots of company in the other stuck souls, too. It’s not a good idea to leave lost souls confused on the river banks,; they become lonely, distraught, angry. They start eyeing the living for new company. The River Styx has claimed more lives lately than it should.

Grim is crystal clear,: if River won’t return of his own volition, Nox will have to force his hand – and kill him. Having experienced the pain of loss so often, Nox can’t bear the thought of taking even a ‘borrowed’ life, even for the greater good. Crossing her fingers and pPraying River will see reason, Nox accepts Grim’s proposition, determined to persuade River to surrender his mortality so she doesn’t have to take it from him.

I’m confused here about what Grim is/isn’t capable of doing. Earlier we’re told because River’s name isn’t on The Reaper’s list, Grim is powerless to do anything. Now we find out Grim can kill him. So why doesn’t he? I’m not clear on what Grim’s motivation is. Can he reclaim his Boatman only if River returns voluntarily?

Also, Nox is once again (as in the first paragraph) faced with two priorities: If Nox can’t convince River to return then 1) Memphis will die soon and become a homeless ghost and 2) River will die. Which one is THE priority for her and which the collateral damage?

Why does the synopsis claim a couple of times that if Nox can’t convince River to return that she’s the one responsible for Grim killing him? She isn’t the one taking River’s life, right? Just because she can’t save him doesn’t mean she kills him.

River, a centuries-old being in love with life and bursting with vitality, is not what Nox expected –of the Boatman or of the slightly snotty senior he pretended to be. To protect Memphis and his parents, Nox uses River as a wedge to force distance between them, pushing him and his family away with both hands as if shoving them out of a burning building. Nox cleaves to River and her mission. He not only understands her, he answers questions she has yearned to know all her life. River confesses he has never been in love, never experienced physical intimacy. Nox has only one thing River wants in return for giving up his mortal life,: herself.

Unsure of what to do, Nox delays resolving her quest, reveling in a stronger connection than she has ever known, until the unthinkable happens. During a group therapy outing, a member of her support group nearly drowns. Nox is able to save her by attracting and distracting the souls piled up on the bank since the Boatman abandoned his post, but she recognizes the warning shot across the bow. Things rapidly fall apart. Her favorite cop and part-time father-figure is shot in the chest. Another member of her survivor support group drowns when Nox isn’t there to save her. She succeeds in pushing Memphis away, only to have Memphis confess he has loved her all this time and beg her to forgive him for whatever he had done. Finally, Billy, the taciturn survivor she finally forged a connection with comes through his suicidal downward spiral, only to be killed saving Nox’s life.

Instead of being unsure here, I think this is where you can mention that Nox knowingly delays so she can be with River longer.

Would the support group girl drowning have been more thinkable?

It doesn’t sound like things were really ever together to have them be falling apart now.

I think Billy can be lumped in with the support group girl who does drown. And if we aren’t going to learn why Nox’s life was in danger, being vague about it doesn’t help us connect.

Furious with Grim, furious with Haden, furious with her dead brother, and River, Nox demands to know why didn’t they help her, warn her, stop all this from happening?. Grim reminds her she has the power to end it all of this; -- just pay River's named his price if she will pay it. Nox turns her anger inward. She didn’t want River to die, to leave her and now Billy is others are dead because of her own selfishness. First, Nox goes to Memphis and lets him down as easily as he always let her down. She no longer needs to cling to Memphis, her childhood love for him is preserved perfectly like a pressed flower in her journal, but it is not the real love she feels for River.

I think we need to know that Nox has a change of heart before she goes to Memphis to break up with him.

Nox accepts River’s offer and confesses her feelings, knowing after this they will never be together. River accepts the bittersweet gesture, his anticipation painted with sadness. T and they spend one last, glorious night together, talking, touching, getting comfortable with each other. When the moment comes for them to consummate their feelings rises, they are both nervous and excited. They kiss for the first time, -- and are immediately struck by with lightning in the most a very literal sense.

River dies; Nox survives and everything in the world shuffles into its proper place.

I’m confused again. River can indeed become the Boatman if he dies. He doesn’t return voluntarily but is killed – I’m assuming by Grim. If Grim can kill him that easily (River was truly mortal, right), why doesn’t Grim just kill him in the first place? I’m just thinking the setup for this moment could be made clearer earlier.

"Everything in the world" is just more hyperbole.

In the dream state between life and death, Nox bids her farewells says good-bye to Haden and Billy her brother and her dead support group members on the banks of the river. Billy she will never see again; Haden has his own destiny she can only guess at now. As they step onto the boat, she catches River’s eye for a moment, but he doesn'ot speak to or acknowledge her in any way. Before Nox can call to him, she awakes in the hospital to a world unchanged by the events of the past few weeks. No one knows River Crowe. The Boatman attends the river. Grim reaps souls. And Nox is heartbroken. When Grim comes to see her,  to her side. She inquires a heartbroken Nox asks about River, but Grim is evasive. His last words in her ear chill to her bone marrow as she repeats them,: “Be seeing you.”

Is the clause about Haden put there as a clue this is part of a series? It seems out of place since we have no indication earlier that there is anything special about Haden.

With a little editing to tighten and attend to a few loose details, I think this synopsis will read quite well!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mid-Month Update

First piece of business, we’ll continue to be donating proceeds from the sale of the Extinct anthology through the shopping weekend. We’ve sold a few copies and made a few dollars, but it would be nice to present the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal with a bit larger virtual check, if possible.

Queries/Synopses

We reached Query 100 yesterday, so Yay! And Boo! I’ll still accept revisions from the queriers who haven’t yet submitted any. And in future, those of you who have been hanging around the site and commenting are more than welcome to send along your query for critting.

You may have noticed we’ve had a flurry of synopses. We’ll have a new one for critting on Monday and a revision to look at on Tuesday. The problem with a lot of synopses in a row is burnout from our critters. Generosity of time extends only so far. Same conditions apply for synopses now as for queries, please.

Mid-Month Sales

Since upping my price for Spoil of War to $2.99 on July 1, sales have dropped off pretty dramatically. The book has been buoyed by some very, very lovely reviews, which I'm sure are helping to keep it from tanking completely. Rank-wise on Amazon, it's been hanging out in the mid-20Ks to mid-30Ks on average.

22 – Amazon US
00 – Amazon UK/Germany
03 – Barnes and Noble
03 – Smashwords
_____

28 – Total through July 15

As a point of reference, I sold 184 copies at 99c in June. As another point of reference, Spoil has made about $55 so far this month compared to about $65 in all of June.

Smashwords is having a Summer Sale and through that campaign I’ve got Spoil at 50% off through July 31 if you have the secret coupon code (SSW50). All 3 sales have come through that campaign.

Through another Smashwords Facebook campaign, I also have it available for FREE through today only (Saturday – Eastern Time, I think) with coupon code RR55E. It’s been downloaded 16 times so far (I don't count the freebies in the sales figures I report here).

It’s available on Smashwords in all formats, but I sell direct through Amazon and B&N for two reasons:

  1. I can keep track of the sales myself in near-real-time on those sites (and I’m all about control, baby)
  2. Important to the buyer, I’m able to add a couple of bells-and-whistles to the Kindle and nook versions that the Smashwords conversion tool can’t handle
For example, I use graphics for the title on the title page, for chapter headings and for chapter breaks. E-readers can’t handle special fonts, so the graphics add a little character to the pages that very few of the self-pubbed works have. But Smashwords kept kicking back the graphics, so I had to reformat a blander edition for them.

That means you won’t get all the pretty inside stuff if you buy from Smashwords, but if you get it free do you really care?

Mid-Month Marketing Observations

I promised to be transparent, even – and especially – about stuff that isn’t working well. In order to stop spamming my personal Twitter thread with buy-my-book pleas, I opened a separate account last week to put out a few tailored tweets to hashtag threads where there aren’t really any conversations happening: #kindle #nook #historicalromance #historicalfiction #romance #ereads, etc.

I’m getting click-through but no buyers. This is the same complaint I’ve heard from others when it comes to ads on Facebook and Goodreads. Impressions but no sales. And on those sites you’re paying every time someone clicks through. Eek. I haven't sprung for any paid ads yet.

Last month, people clicked through my buy links to Amazon 138 times. Result: zero sales.

This month, I’ve had 75 clicks. I’m absolutely delighted to say that the one person who bought something purchased the Extinct anthology as well as a few other books. So yay! Money for the Tasmanian Devil Appeal! I’ll even donate the commission from Amazon Associates to the Appeal. My cut for the person buying 4 books total after clicking over to Amazon using one of my special links: 64 cents (~45p). Sorry it's not more, little Tassie devils, but happy that it's about $2.75 total for that sale for you.

Some of the clicks were mine when I tested them before I sent messages. So out of roughly 200 legitimate clicks total over about 30 days, one person followed through with a buy.

Because I can’t have multiple Associate links, when I use one of those links that Amazon tracks, I have no way of knowing which link it was that was clicked. The person who bought Extinct might have been one of you lovely blog friends who clicked the link in my sidebar. It could have been from where I’ve promo’d the Tassie Devil campaign on Facebook. Or on Twitter. It could have been from someone who saw one of my own Tweets or who saw a re-Tweet from someone else’s account. Or shared the link on Facebook. I just don't know.

That would be bad if there were people clicking away and lots of buying was going on. Because there are virtually no sales from the tweeting I’ve been doing, it doesn’t really matter that I don’t know where the sale originated. The way I’m using Twitter obviously isn’t working. And, yeah, while I’m pretty lame at it to begin with, this marketing experiment validated that guerilla tactics on Twitter – at least for me – aren’t the way to go. I’d love to hear how others are doing on this front!

Beasties

I’ve been taking lots of pictures, so I’m planning a couple of posts mid-week that are all about the beasties. I’ve missed showing them off -- and they've missed being shown off!

HAPPY WEEKEND!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Query 100!

Under a Starlit Sky

A quote tattooed on Jason Calvert’s arm is the one key to his past keeping him grounded. Its permanence, unlike the recurring dreams he has experienced since waking without his memory, is a comfort

Jason has been spending more time in a dream world than reality. Through haunting vivid dreams, answers begin to emerge - about his estranged mother he has not spoken to in thirteen years, the childhood best friend with abandonment issues and the meaning behind the words on his arm. A matchbook leads Jason from Victoria to Vancouver where he finds more clues to his forgotten identity: an old photograph, a lighter and a scrap of paper with letters and numbers. Desperate to piece together the mysteries of his past, Jason turns to an enchanting young psychic medium for help. Taking her advice of daring risks to awaken his subconscious, he goes hang-gliding and bungee jumping. Frustratingly, these only give him glimpses of jumbled memories.

While in Vancouver, Jason has a tense encounter with a stranger in a pub. However, Jason is no stranger to the man, who has stolen his job, his wife, his identity, and who will do everything in his power to keep Jason from remembering who he really is. In order to obtain his dream life, the man uses false allegations of sexual assault against a university student to take Jason’s job and blackmail to scare him away to keep a firm grip on what he has stolen. When Jason is reminded of the allegations that cost him his career, and ultimately his marriage, he confronts the man from the pub to find out why. In doing so, Jason realizes too late, that there is no guarantee he will get anything back in one piece.

UNDER A STARLIT SKY is a psychological thriller with fantasy elements complete at 60,000 words.

Comments

The author provided the word count in an addendum, so naturally it will be the first thing I jump on :o). If you’re really going to pitch this as a thriller, that’s pretty short. My understanding is 80-100K words average, although I had one agent recently scold me for pitching an 82K-word thriller as being too short (I did get many requests for the MS so I think her 90K word count minimum seems a little high). Still, 60K definitely falls well below normal word count for the genre.

But is it really a thriller? If it is, neither the synopsis we saw yesterday nor this query conveys that level of intensity. A mystery-suspense, perhaps, but where’s the ticking clock? Where are the dangerous stakes? Where are the hallmark conventions of the thriller that even a psychological thriller has? You’ll also want to convey a pulse-pounding sense of the story through word choice and syntax in your query.

The “with fantasy elements” also throws me completely. I don’t see anything in the query that even hints at fantasy. Jason seems to be having flashbacks to his earlier life and they’re being weirdly interpreted by his dreaming mechanism. That is the psychological part. The psychic’s advice in the query seems to be more psychological in nature. If the stranger really wants Jason's dreams (note the term "dream life" in the query), then that's not clear at all and I've misunderstood this story completely.

A quote tattooed on Jason Calvert’s arm is the one key to his past keeping him grounded.

I think I could let not knowing what the quote said slide if it wasn’t brought up again. It seems to be meaningful, but without specifics, the reader has no choice but to shrug her shoulders over it.

Its permanence, unlike the recurring dreams he has experienced since waking without his memory, is a comfort

I’m not clear on the comparison here. If the dreams are recurring, they seem a bit permanent, too.

Jason has been spending more time in a dream world than reality. Through haunting vivid dreams, answers begin to emerge - about his estranged mother he has not spoken to in thirteen years, the childhood best friend with abandonment issues and the meaning behind the words on his arm.

Is Jason choosing to spend more time dreaming because answers seem to be forthcoming there?

A matchbook leads Jason from Victoria to Vancouver where he finds more clues to his forgotten identity: an old photograph, a lighter and a scrap of paper with letters and numbers.

This is a rather abrupt segue to finding answers through dreams to a solid clue he’s following in the physical world.

Desperate to piece together the mysteries of his past, Jason turns to an enchanting young psychic medium for help. Taking her advice of daring risks to awaken his subconscious, he goes hang-gliding and bungee jumping. Frustratingly, these only give him glimpses of jumbled memories.

While in Vancouver, Jason has a tense encounter with a stranger in a pub.

Since Jason was in Vancouver in the last paragraph, we don’t need to be reminded he’s still there. “Tense encounter” is vague.

However, Jason is no stranger to the man, who has stolen his job, his wife, his identity, and who will do everything in his power to keep Jason from remembering who he really is.

One thing that confused me in the synopsis as it does here is whether the man has actually stolen Jason’s identity or forced Jason to take a new one on. Given the other circumstances, it doesn’t seem likely that the man is posing as Jason.

In order to obtain his dream life,

If you’re going to talk about dreams prevalently earlier and the man stealing bits of Jason’s life, then a reader may well take “dream life” to be Jason’s actual dreams rather than that he thinks Jason’s way of living is the one he wants for his own.

the man uses false allegations of sexual assault against a university student to take Jason’s job and blackmail to scare him away to keep a firm grip on what he has stolen.

Simple present tense doesn’t work in this sentence. “uses” should be either “used” or “is using” to convey whichever sense you’re intending.

When Jason is reminded of the allegations that cost him his career, and ultimately his marriage, he confronts the man from the pub to find out why. In doing so, Jason realizes too late, that there is no guarantee he will get anything back in one piece.

This ending seems not very thrillerish at all. “When Jason is reminded” is passive. I know you’re not bringing in another character, Todd, to keep the query clean – and that’s an excellent strategy – but this is a turning point moment, right? It doesn’t deserve passive treatment.

UNDER A STARLIT SKY is a psychological thriller with fantasy elements complete at 60,000 words.

My Version

After Jason Calvert wakes on the docks without his memory, he has only two things to keep him grounded: the quote tattooed on his arm and the recurring dreams that haunt his nights and intrude on his days. It’s in those dreams that answers begin to emerge: a mother estranged for thirteen years, a best friend with abandonment issues, and the meaning behind “Under a starlit sky” permanently inked along his forearm.

Something dark and evil also flutters across the dreamscape. Something that’s keeping him from remembering who he was. Something that moves just out of reach every time he tries to pin it down and confront it. Taking the advice of a young psychic, he tries to jolt his subconscious awake by engaging in risky activities. But hang-gliding and bungee jumping only result in glimpses of jumbled memories.

Following clues found in a matchbook, an old photograph, and a scrap of paper scrawled over with a mishmash of letters and numbers, Jason travels from Victoria to Vancouver looking for his forgotten past. He finds it in a quiet pub where a stranger waits. A stranger who’s stolen his job and his wife and forced him to abandon his old identity. A stranger who’s now more him than he ever was and who will do everything he can to keep Jason from remembering who he really is.

Snatches of memory soon reveal a sinister scam involving a university student, allegations of sexual assault, and blackmail. He tracks down the stranger, determined to take back his life.

Too bad there’s no guarantee he’ll get it back in one piece.

UNDER A STARLIT SKY is a psychological suspense complete at 60,000 words.