Book Review – The Altar Girl by Orest Stelmach

Last June, I finally took the plunge and joined Kindle Unlimited. I also decided to branch out and read work from authors that might not be as well known (because the well known authors don’t typically participate in Kindle Unlimited). This led me to “The Altar Girl”, the prequel the Nadia Tesla series by Orest Stelmach.

Synopsis

The daughter of uncompromising Ukrainian immigrants, Nadia was raised to respect guts, grit, and tradition. When the events around the seemingly accidental death of her estranged godfather don’t add up, Nadia is determined to discover the truth—even if she attracts the attention of dangerous men intent on finding out what she knows through any means possible.

Her investigation leads her to her hometown and to the people least likely to welcome her back: her family.

In this thrilling prequel to the Nadia Tesla series, Nadia must try to solve the mystery surrounding her godfather’s death—and his life. The answers to her questions are buried with the secrets of her youth and in post–World War II refugee camps. What Nadia learns will change her life forever.

My Take

From the very beginning, I was intrigued. The world that his protagonist, Nadia Tesla, exists in is a small, but influential community of Ukranian emigres that live in Hartford, Connecticut. His story revolves around the death of Nadia’s godfather and her investigation into the circumstances.

Stelmach does a very good job of telling the story from a female protagonist perspective without trying too hard like many other more famous authors. He also does a very good job of alternating the current story thread with a thread from Nadia’s childhood as she goes through survival training.

I look forward to reading more of Stelmach’s work and I’m grateful that joining Kindle Unlimited led me to his books.

This book was well-written and led me to read the other three books in the Nadia Tesla series. I was struck by how the Ukranian culture is very similar to my own Italian culture in terms of family values.

There were some instances in the book where the plot meandered into unexpected directions, but it was mostly a tight plot.

Overall, I give this book four out of five pizzas

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About the Author

Orest Stelmach is the author of the Nadia Tesla series, which is being translated into five languages. The first of the four books, The Boy from Reactor 4, is currently being developed as a feature film, with the author attached as screenwriter and executive producer.

Orest was born to Ukrainian immigrants in Connecticut and speaks four languages. He’s a graduate of Dartmouth College and the Chicago Booth School of Business. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, he managed international investment portfolios. He lives with his wife and cat on Cape Cod.

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Amazon’s New Bookstore – Why? What? How?

There has been a lot of media coverage over Amazon’s opening of brick and mortar bookstores. If you’re expecting Barnes and Noble on steroids or Books a Billion, you might want to check out this article. I was expecting a possible venue that would feature indie authors. Silly me. With words like ‘heavily curated’ and ‘surplus stock’ you might want to check out this Forbes article for yourself. Check it out here.

Top 10 Tips For Formatting Your Book – Saving Trees/Bytes vs. Making it Look Good

This blog is a continuation of my crusade to help my fellow independently published authors improve the quality of their work, but most of the tips here apply to the formatting of any book. I’m speaking of the formatting of books for the consumption of readers, not formatting your manuscript to send off to an agent or publisher.  There are a whole other set of rules for that exercise.

I’ve put together a list of ten tips that you should consider when putting your book together. They are not in any priority order, but together, they can make your work stand out from the millions of others that are available through your favorite sales channel.

1. Put Some Thought Into Your Cover

I have to admit, this was something I didn’t waste a lot of time on when I published my first book, Frankly Speaking. I just went ahead and used the Kindle cover creator and cranked out a generic cover. I’m not proud, but I’ll share with you what the original cover looked like:

FS Book Cover

Not too exciting is it? More importantly, what does it tell you about the story? Not much. If it wasn’t for the tag line, I don’t think anyone would even know it was a detective novel. It looks like it may be a book of poetry or something about the ocean.

Luckily, I came to my senses. In order to grab the reader’s attention as they peruse the Amazon Kindle store or the Barnes and Noble site, you need to have a compelling book cover. It should tell a bit of the story. Now, Frankly Speaking is about a crime involving a kidnapped girl and the search for her location. There is also the overarching evil from the main character’s past due to his run-in with the mob. Here is the cover as it exists today:

Newcover - Small

This cover tells a story. The young girl is represented by, well, the young girl in the photo. The evil presence in the main characters life is represented by the shadow of the ominous figure on the left side. The color scheme pushers toward a blue tint.

Because this book is a series, I wanted the subsequent covers to have some continuity and also tell a story. My covers for Let Me Be Frank and Frank Incensed achieve (I hope) that goal. In addition, I tried to establish a color scheme for each so they are unified but stand alone. Here are those covers:

LMBF FI Covers

These covers tell the story but also establish their own cover scheme. The shadowed figure and the font are carried through each cover.

So, now you’re probably thinking these covers were expensive and out of your budget as an indie author. That is where sites like fiverr.com come in. There are freelance sites where graphic designers from all over the world will make high-quality covers for your. Because I wanted my covers for both paperback and kindle use, which adds a back cover I paid about $20 each for these covers. I believe that they have more than paid for themselves.

2. Establish your Brand

I know that this one sounds very “marketing-like” and you may hate that. You need, however, to establish your brand. Now what does this mean? Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. This does not mean locking yourself into one genre. Plenty of authors, even traditionally published ones, jump to different genres in the attempt to find new readers. What this does mean establishing your author persona as an entity. You can choose to crank out books and put them on Amazon or Smashwords and hope for the best, or you can build a brand by creating a newsletter/mailing list, a blog, a web site, and be active in writing and reader groups on social media. I have done this and have seen some success, even in my reviews. I have gained readers who have said they received my newsletter because they signed up for one of my non-book giveaways and they liked the cover of my book and decided to give one a try. Some of these readers have become the most loyal because I didn’t establish the relationship by beating them over the head with my book when I first made contact. These other things may not be fun and you may be a purist and not want to bother with them, but take a look at your book sales and see how that strategy is working for you.

3. Font – Don’t Make Me Get My Reading Glasses

As I get older, my eyesight is starting to deteriorate to the point where I got my first bi-focal  lenses about two years ago. That’s one of the reasons that I like my Kindle. I can blow up the font to ridiculous sizes and put the glasses aside. I don’t, however, recommend making your font ridiculously large, but you should consider an 11 or 12 point font in either Arial or Times Roman when you format your book. If you make your font any smaller, you may save paper for your print book, but you may also lose readers like me with old man eyesight.

4. Spacing – Make it Readable

This topic has a lot of varied opinions, but I will give you some key rules that I follow. My books follow the rule of inserting a blank line between each paragraph and between a paragraph of narrative and a block of dialog. Additionally, I like to use proportional spacing. What this does is line the right side of your writing up along an imaginary straight line by spacing the words on each line proportionally. This eliminates the jagged edges within a paragraph. The last thing is to consider 1.5 spaces between each line instead of single-line spacing. I have two examples below, kind of a before and after, of each technique:

Option 1: Spacing rules not applied

ex1

Option 2: Spacing rules applied

ex2

You may not agree with the formatting differences, but it’s all a matter of preference. I find option two more aesthetically pleasing and easier to read.

5. Chapter Length

Some very famous traditionally-published authors use a common-sense technique that I like to use as well, keeping chapters short. Harlan Coben and James Patterson are both known for this. As someone who reads when I go to bed, I get annoyed by long and ponderous chapters that keep me from going to sleep. I hate stopping in the middle of a chapter, but sometimes I have to. If it’s a good book with short chapters, I will try to squeeze in one or two more. The short chapter length keeps me turning the pages.  I usually try to keep the chapters at 1-2,000 words.

6. eBook vs. Print – They Are Not The Same!

Although Amazon and other platforms make it very easy to set up eBook and Print Book formats, these two media types are not the same and your formatting should differ. This starts with the table of contents (to be talked about later). An eBook does not need page numbers in the TOC. It does, however, need hyperlinks. When I’m flying to some destination for my day job and we hit rough air and I touch some forbidden spot on my Kindle screen, I have booted myself out of books or have jumped to locations unknown. If I haven’t synced my book in a while, it can sometimes be difficult to remember where I left off. With hyperlinks, I can at least jump to the right chapter and not get too frustrated. For print books, page numbers are necessary in the TOC and in the book itself. I will talk about these elements in another tip, but you should at least recognize what is necessary in a print book that is not essential in an eBook.

7. Front Matter – Yes it Matters

Front matter is that stuff at the beginning of the book like a title page, dedication, acknowledgements, copyright notice, disclaimer, and a table of contents. To make your book look like a real big-boy or big-girl book, you should be including these things. Some of them are also essential to protect yourself and your book. Let’s start with the title page and what should be on it. I’m including an example for you to refer to:

Title Page Example

ex3

This title page contains the title (duh) the copyright notice, and the disclaimer. These last two elements are essential to protect your book from piracy and to protect you from being sued. You’ll also notice that the front matter is numbered with lower case Roman numerals in the print version of a book.

The dedication, acknowledgments, and table of contents also appear in this front-matter section and should have the same page numbering scheme. You shouldn’t start normal numbering until the first page of the actual book.

Something that I also do in my front- matter that you’ll see in a lot of books is the addition of reviews of either the current book or other books by the author. You can do this if you have enough reviews to fill a page or two.

8. Table of Contents, Page Numbers, Page Header

The table of contents should go in the front-matter. If you are using Word, the automatically generated TOC will work for both eBooks and print. You just have to suppress including the page numbers for the eBook TOC. For page numbers, they should be placed in the center at the bottom of each page in the footnote area. For a page header, I like to put it in the heading area, right-justified, and in the format Author’s Last Name/Title. An example of these elements is shown below:

ex4

9. Preview Chapters

Another technique that I borrow from traditionally published authors is the use of preview chapters. This is especially effective in a series of books. You can keep the reader’s interest up by putting the first chapter of your next book at the end of the current book. You may be thinking, “I haven’t written the next book yet, dummy.” And this may be true. As the release of your next book gets close, however, you can certainly change your existing book to have this preview chapter at the end. Your existing readers can usually re-download the eBook for free and your new readers will find it there and snap up your new book. I usually announce that I’m doing this and have gotten good traction, even from those that have already read the current book.

10. Write a Good Synopsis

A good 2-3 paragraph synopsis is something you can use over an over again. Most importantly, you can put it on the back over of your print book. If someone picks up a copy of your book, the natural tendency (after they marvel at your great cover) is to turn the book over and read the synopsis. You can also use it as the description of your book on your favorite eBook platform and as your “elevator speech” when someone asks you about your book in the hallway or…elevator. The synopsis should tell the reader enough of the story to entice them, but not give away key details or the ending. Think of movie trailers and television show teasers when you build your synopsis.

I hope these tips have helped you. This is a beefier blog than I usually put out each week, but it’s an important topic. As always, your comments and feedback are welcome.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series, Frank Incensed, is available for pre-order and will be released on April 24, 2015

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com