ABOUT IN RETROSPECTFormer elite operative Merit Rafi suffered during her imprisonment at the end of a devastating war, but the ultimate torment is being forced to investigate a murder she would gladly have committed herself. The year is 3324. In the region once known as Turkey, the Rasakans have attacked the technologically superior Oku. The war is a stalemate until the Oku commander, General Zane, abruptly surrenders. Merit, a staunch member of the Oku resistance, fights on, but she and her comrades are soon captured. An uneasy peace ensues, but the Rasakans work secretly to gain control of the prized Oku time-travel technology. When Zane is murdered, the Rasakans exert their control over Merit, the last person on Earth capable of Forensic Retrospection. Merit, though reinstated to her old job by the despised Rasakans, knows she is only a puppet. If she refuses to travel back in time to identify Zane’s killer, her family and colleagues will pay the price. But giving in to Rasakan coercion means giving them unimaginable power. She has only three days to make this morally wrenching choice; three days to change history. As the preliminary investigation progresses, Merit uncovers evidence of a wider plot. How did the Rasakans defeat the technologically superior Oku? Why did the Oku surrender prematurely? How did the Rasakans discover her true identity? Merit realizes she will only find the answers by learning who killed the traitor, General Zane. In Retrospect is a good old-fashioned whodunit set in a compelling post-apocalyptic future.
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A Review of Reviews
The publishing industry is changing fast. Obtaining a major review from the Big Five reviewers, once considered the basic promotional tool for a successful book, is a concept that has not transferred from the trade publishers to the micro publishers and is generally skipped altogether by the ebook and POD crowd. This is not surprising, since the chances of a POD title or ebook being reviewed by the Big Five (without paying for it) is practically nil. On-line reviews are generally seen as more important, with the number of reviews as important as the analysis.
Okay, who am I kidding? What analysis? These days, it’s the number of stars that counts, right?
I was lucky enough to get three of the Big Five reviews for my sci-fi murder mystery, In Retrospect (Five Star Dec 2013): Booklist [http://www.booklistonline.com/In-Retrospect-Ellen-Larson/pid=6298526], Kirkus [https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ellen-larson/in-retrospect/], and Publishers Weekly [http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4328-2733-5]. The Booklist review generated the most useful pull-quote (“Cleverly structured mix of science fiction and mystery:), PW got the most attention because the review was starred, and Kirkus more or less panned the book by lauding the “twisty plot” but concluding it didn’t make up for the “futuristic confusion.”
Just being reviewed by three of the Big Five is a ticket to library sales. Five Star is a library publisher, and so my book, a hard cover priced at $25.95, has done what it was asked to do, selling out its first print run quickly and making a profit for all involved. Five Star doesn't work with book stores, so most will not have In Retrospect anyway. But what about the Kindle edition? What about the book bloggers and the vloggers and those amazon.com reviews?
I’ve spend a considerable amount of time and modest expense (the cost of mailing out review copies) trying to get In Retrospect in the hands of the on-line community; the folks who will post on amazon.com and goodreads.com. I don’t want fake reviews; I’m happy to be judged on a level playing field. The results have been limited (spend an hour checking out book bloggers and note how many of them admit they are swamped or closed for submissions) but rewarding. So far (six weeks after publication date) about a dozen reviews have popped up.
The larger on-line reviewers have been kind. I got a glittering four stars from RT Book Reviews [http://www.rtbookreviews.com/book-review/retrospect]. Future Fire Reviews [http://reviews.futurefire.net/2013/09/larson-in-retrospect.html] was less impressed, but included tons of in-depth analysis that I really enjoyed reading. The Gumshoe Review [http://www.gumshoereview.com/php/Review-id.php?id=3962] had many nice things to say.
But gems came from the little guys: a Christian blogger at Upon Reflection [http://uponreflectionblog.blogspot.com/2013/09/in-retrospect-by-ellen-larson.html] and an amazon.co.uk reviewer [http://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/B00G5K7VWE/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1]. When you start to hear “I was absolutely hooked…from the first sentence” and “You just can’t help turning the pages” you know you have connected with your readers, and in the end, that is more fun than the more mundane praise from the big guns.
So will this on-line acceptance turn into Kindle sales? Somewhat, I’m sure. But the competition is fierce and enormous; there are thousands of equally good ebooks out there struggling to gain traction. Kindle sales will have to wait for phase two.
Have I learned anything about my writing from the many reviews? Literary criticism was once seen as a useful contribution to the writing process. I myself reviewed regional theater for many years, and have written literary criticism and book reviews, so I know first hand that you can learn from a review, and that there is a difference between the reviewer who summarizes the plot and applauds and the reviewer who analyzes plot and characterization.
Between the Future Fire analysis and the Kirkus complaint, I got a pretty good idea of what elements were lacking from In Retrospect that would some readers. As a result, I plan to provide more social, technical, and historic background in book two, Upon Reflexion. On the other hand, several readers complained that the language of the future was too much like the language of today in the book. I don’t intend to change that, because since I’m writing in English, I prefer to show differences of locale and social status by using different English dialects and speech patterns. But I will include a note stating that we can assume that the language spoken in a post-apocalyptic Earth on the Anatolian peninsula in the 34th century is an amalgam language that has no resemblance to English,
In conclusion, I think it’s fair to say that the Big Five reviews did their job in the traditional library market, where sales have been just fine. But on the Kindle side, it appears that the work is still to be done. And that I guess will depend on attracting those amazon.com reviewers. Not an easy task, and from where I sit, rather far removed from what a writer should be doing.
ABOUT ELLEN LARSONEllen Larson’s first story appeared in Yankee Magazine in 1971. She has sold stories to AHMM (Barry Award finalist) and Big Pulp and is the author of the NJ Mysteries, The Hatch and Brood of Time and Unfold the Evil, featuring a sleuthing reporter. Her current book is In Retrospect, a dystopian mystery (Carefully crafted whodunit -PW starred). Larson lived for seventeen years in Egypt, where she developed a love of different cultures. She is editor of the Poisoned Pencil, the YA mystery imprint. These days she lives in an off-grid cabin in upstate New York, enjoying the solitude. Visit her at http://www.inretrospectbook.com
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