Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Picking a Decent Publisher

I don't think I have to mention any of the Big Five giants out there. They always have some type of legitimate distribution, like APG, IPG, Midpoint Trade, Consortium and others. These distributors actively represent publishers and send or hand deliver publisher catalogs, especially new releases. The Big Five and all their imprints usually get some book shelf stocking because they can afford the price of a legitimate and effective book distributor who contacts the stores and chains directly. They also have personal sales teams that directly solicit used and privately owned book stores. Their publicity departments can be quite huge and involved, in seeking out TV air time, radio and national and local newspapers and review persons. For that reason, we'll concentrate on the small and medium presses which might not have these amenities.

On a side note: If you get an offer from a ginormous publishing house, breathe into a paper bag, throw your shoulders back and smile. You've accomplished something incredible.

Small press publishers are usually start-ups by mom and pop operations. They can be started by author and writer group ventures, self-publishers or even birthed by editors. There is a finite limitation on what they can provide. For the most part, small press publishers don't require agents (although it not uncommon for some of them to welcome one), don't provide advances and have a very limited publicity department or even none at all. They rarely, if ever have any hard distribution behind their books and must rely heavily on the author's sales participation. Some small presses might buy ads, sponsor and arrange books signings, blog tours, video presentations, reviews and inclusion in a few or many online distributors. 

If a small press publisher spends money or goes to extraordinary lengths to spotlight a book, it is called "marketing." Anything else by the author is considered promotion, unless the author spends money on banner and placement ads, sponsors their own book signings (buying the books) or gives lectures at meeting halls or libraries that allow the title to be sold there. BTW, don't expect tons of sales at a book signing if you are new to the game or not a heavy seller with multiple break-outs. You can reasonably expect to sell a 12 to 15 books for your first outing--more if you have a huge friend, family, coworker and relative base. You might unload 30 books in that case.

If you can find a small press that provides hard distribution to book stores and offers an advance, which could be a token $100 up to $2,000, you should submit to them first. They are highly sought after and very popular. They usually have huge fan and readership bases. Many of them are award winners. Most of them have glowing sales stats on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and the like. They may frequently land in the top 10 or top 100 consistently. 

Some of these lofty small presses or medium houses can require an agent, so find out about that up front. An agent can work miracles with a publisher that has worked with agents in the past. It is not unusual for an agent to get a $500 or more advance from a plain, ordinary small press publisher--this has happened to me. If the publisher wants the book bad enough, or several offers have come in, they'll buckle and come up with the cabbage. But an offer will have to earn out before getting any royalites. 

Evaluate a small press by the number of years they have been in business. Two to three years is a fairly good indicator that they've survived the hardships and weathered any financial storms. But not always. A seven to 10 year longevity record is much better.  Although they can fold up at any time for any reason. Check out their website hits for very high numbers--in the millions would be considered fantastic.  Low thousands or hundreds indicates a lack of presence. If nobody visits their site and knows about them, they won't know about you.

How many books do they have? Are they an "author mill" that grinds out a dozen or more books a month and have a huge backlog? If they are, they should be avoided--they don't have the time or finances to spend on promoting or marketing any title. They make money with hundreds of books in the stream while the individual author suffers because of small or non-existent sales. Google their name. Do they appear on multiple Internet distribution sites? If they appear on six or more, they are doing their job in bang-up fashion in getting the word out. Three or four online distributors is about average across the board.

Negotiate the contract if you don't have an agent. Don't shy away from putting a red line through any clause or confusing phrase that seems like a rights grab. If they are an e-book only publisher, why would they want the rights to POD (print on demand) or mass-market paperback? Don't sign all your rights away--especially world rights covering all foreign countries. All publishers, great and small, benefit by having you sign fast, and sign fast on a non-negotiable or boilerplate contract. If you find a publisher that won't budge--walk. Put out some more queries and play the field some more. You don't have to take what you don't like or understand. 

It goes without saying that you and your publisher/editor should click and at least like each other. little disputes over cover art, editing and marketing is not a good starting point in a relationship with a publisher. Don't make things hard on them--their job is difficult enough--they're dealing with many authors just like you. Open your ears and listen. Keep your yapper from interrupting or crowding the conversation. Your editor/publisher just might have something very vital and important to say. Learn from them; you'll use that knowledge with future publishers. Praise and support your publisher in the world of ether. Try to avoid smearing their name in public venues. We all have our little quirks and ticks, and sometimes things just don't work out. Attempt to be civil in all your correspondence. And for gawd's sake be patient. 

Don't publish with a small press house because you are smitten with the process and the promise of holding a book in your hand. Forget about bragging rights with an e-book publisher. There are hundreds of thousands of authors out there who have signed with an e-book only small press. Although those hundreds of thousands of authors are not really competing with you directly, they sure are diluting the pool and making it harder for your book to be discovered in the vast sea of titles out there.

I have nothing against self-publishing--I've done it with a back list title. However, for a new book, understand that you will be responsible for formatting, editing and creating the cover art. You'll also be the sole promoter and marketer. If you have these resources and the energy, go for it--many small press and display site authors have hit the big time. But don't do it for this reason. Those authors that break sales records are the outliers. It very difficult to get that type of recognition and success.

The best way to increase your odds at acquiring a decent and well respected publisher is to seek out an agent. Always go the agent rounte first. If you've exhausted 30 or more queries without a bite, rework your query until your fingers bleed. A boring query that seems static and familiar is the surest way to get the agent boot. 

Whatever you decide, keep writing and enjoying the process. We are the creators and the dream makers.

Remember that:

A Writer is…
A humble, receptive student and negotiator
But the heart that beats within his breast
Is a determined savage
Unfamiliar with surrender

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I Have an Agent--Why am I submitting?


I’ve been asked this questions until my head spins, but I’ve brought it on myself. Once again, my writing group peers have asked for an answer, including publishers that don’t feel like working with agents. 

I expect that there are a lot more publishers out there that want to avoid agents. Most publishers will straight up tell you that they'll deal with agents or un-agented authors--that's the majority. The gun-shy publishers will often not put that kind of information in their guidelines--I didn't see both options with this one publisher who offered me a contract until after I re-visited their site. That was an "Aha" moment. There was little or no mention of agents. Note: This is a pink or full-on red flag that the publisher really doesn’t have the advance money for the author, nor do they want their boilerplate contract shredded by a literary contract professional.

My Double Tap Procedure:
When any of my books start to wind down with my agent's submissions, I have permission to get proactive and query the smaller presses and independents. Primarily, I go after those who offer a token or small advance. This takes the workload off my agent. But I must swap info with her and give her my list so we don't have any head-on crashes (double submissions). If I make a sale--she gets notified and then examines the contract. If she can work/mold it for us, and we are down to the dregs as far as publishers, she'll make contact with them. On the other hand, if she advises against it, we both strike them from our list and politely decline. Then the search continues.


In some cases we find we're on the fence with a potential publisher, and we ask them to be put on their back-burner for future consideration on down the road--this tactic has worked remarkably well--we're not promising, but we're not declining either and it doesn't tie up the publisher. I'm on a few back-burners right now. So I know this book will be published no matter what. It’s just that I’m not signing a contract that I'm really searching for—mostly an advance in the $300 and up range.

Again, this only works well when the sub trail begins to dry up for the agent. I call it a "double tap" when I jump in to help out. I've got a blog post about this back in my archives and it explains the theory and process more thoroughly. It worked out well with my last book--I found a potentially good publisher and then my agent came in and doctored the contact and garnered a nice advance.

I can’t say that I recommend doing this. It's a fine balancing act that requires calm under fire and tactical negotiation. Try it out if you like, but get permission from your agent and hammer out the logistics first. All three of my past agents since 1989 have enthusiastically agreed and welcomed my participation. All you have to do is ask them. Even if you’ve just acquired an agent, bring the topic up and see what the agent’s opinion is on the matter.

Write on...and don't stop....

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Poor Or No Sales?

So what's up with this? I can't be the only one in the literary world experiencing abysmal sales. I suspected this started in late 2009 (this date is important) for me, and then it really slowed and went almost dead calm in 2012. It hasn't changed much today, and that's with a total of seven full-length novels, two non-fiction books and two long shorts, all of them percolating in the millions rank on Amazon. This was not the case prior to 2012, where I could expect to sell at least one copy a week, maybe two or three. It was enough to keep my rank down to respectable numbers. Other retail sites showed the same lethargic numbers, Sony, Kobo, etc.

I belong to the basic social media groups--FB, Twitter, this blog and about 25 other displays sites, groups, sub-groups and writing forums, including the Kindle boards. I've stayed up-to-date with all of them to some degree, participating and promoting when I found a conservative opening (and if you don't think that's an expensive time sink, think again). I've spent as much as eight to twelve hours per day on promoting that lasts for weeks or months for one book only. I've done blog tours, have had dozens of articles, interviews, and hundreds of book reviews. I have not spent a dime on marketing--I just won't do that, nor have I ever.

Physical book signings? New Authors? You better have a huge family and peers' list to chalk up some sales there. If you sell a dozen or more paperbacks, pull out and laugh your way to the bank. If you sell two to five, consider it normal. 

It seems that no mater what effort I put into the promotional end the positive results are not forthcoming. This even goes for a new release. Of course it does depend on your publisher's efforts as well, and I can't say that really any of them have failed, even with the lacking resources, time and contacts they have. My current publisher is a promotion and marketing tiger--no complaints there. The larger NYC trade publishers might be a different story. I am, and have been since the past ten years, published by independents and small press. So I can't speak for the larger outfits and their vast promo and marketing resources.  

This slump is not exclusive to me--aside for the breakout exceptions, a large contingent of my fellow writers are all surprised by their low numbers. I've been watching this happen with award-winning books and very long series. The blurbs and back-copy are dead on. The artwork is spectacular. The format and word construction is to be envied. There is not one thing that is causing this lackluster sales slump. Except maybe one.

A few comments from the Gardian: 

Self-published books' share of the UK market grew by 79% in 2013, with 18m self-published books bought by UK readers last year, according to new statistics. 

Price Waterhousecoopers predicted that the consumer market for digital books would almost triple from £380m to £1bn over the next four years.

 "As authors are becoming more established, they get followings, just like mainstream authors, so the self-published market is becoming more like the traditionally published market," he said. "Self-published ebooks tend to be impulse buys, discovered by browsing in genre, or in the recommendation or offer sections. However, they are increasingly planned, via author. [So] price and blurb are the top prompts to buy self-published ebooks, but series and characters are increasingly important. The 99 cent price point is impossible to beat by the larger publishing outfits.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this publishing trend/option began in 2009 with the writers known as the "O'niners" and completely flooded the market place.
There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published. On average, they sell less than 250 copies each. (incidentally, it has been estimated that small press publication will produce about 75 sales during the book's lifetime).

So what's the main-lying fault here as far as dismal sales? It's not the self-published authors, they're only taking advantage of a new publishing trend/option, along with previously trade published authors getting their back-list out. Hell, I'm self-published--it was a back-list title. It's not the price for small press books--they're running steady and competing with the SP books.

Two things I believe might be contributing culprits: We are diluted, besieged and overwhelmed by the sheer number of books that we have in inventory. It's a literary runaway of titles--books, noveletts and shorts. You just can't get noticed if you're a lowly drop in the vast ocean today. The self-publishers, for the most part, are supporting each other by making purchases of their self-published titles. These same self-published writers were purchasing small press and large trade books before the advent of SP--they really had no choice or other outlet. The SP group is a very loyal and exclusive club--not to mention, the Kindle Boards is a massive writing forum.

Small press and large trade has inevitably lost a huge chunk of fans and readers to the SP sector. The SPers are no longer customers of the trade published. They are ultra prolific and putting out a cheap product that has quality merit. They are now being officially recognized, have their own awards and can garner professional reviews from some of the distinguished trade reviewers.

I cannot account for any other reason why sales have been on a continual slump from late 2009. Can you, in general terms? I know everything is subjective and no two books are alike. But what else could account for this downward sales spiral?

I'd love to hear your reasoning or theories. For all that is Holy and decent, do you think that anything can be done about it--lifting sales, I mean? Uh...other than becoming a full-time self-published author, hah!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Flashbacks--Alive and well?

I'm going to attempt a chapter flashback to get things moving in the opening scenes. My agent suggested it and I kind of went along with it. Flashbacks were really profuse 30 or so years ago. We were told to use them if absolutely needed and there's no way out of the jam but to use one as a last resort. I've had luck twice before using them. In fact the publisher of my sci-fi book asked for one and I guess I pulled it off.. I've always thought of them as adrenaline shots. Trouble is, that they are so damn obvious.

My 1rst chapter flashbacks are rather short and I only use them to get the steam up.  I'll go to an intriguing action scene somewhere in the book that shows some kind of obvious conflict, cut and past that over my old first chapter. I have to lead in and lead out, making sure my reader doesn't get confused. I like the "How in the hell did I ever get into this mess? opener because it belays a future scene. I then have to sew up or patch the gap I left which had the action. This wouldn't have been necessary if I hadn't had such a sluggish first act. Too much lead-up frustrates the reader--you know? Where nothing significant is really happening? I have to use a flashback because I've got three to four lethargic chapters that are clever, but contain too much dialog. If you have a slow first or even second chapter you can usually go in there and speed things up with a rewrite. You can also cut from the front, but how much are you taking away from the storyline?

Poul Anderson used an effective flashback in Virgin Planet that went straight to the problem, and then left it with a tease. It was a pretty nifty hook.

Have you ever tried a flashback, and how did it work or turn out for you?

I still believe there's some stigma or taboo attached to the flashback. I also know that a slow start out of the gate can be handled with a montage, but that requires really tight writing that covers a LOT of ground fast. Prologues also raise a lot of stink with editors and agents unless they are done very well. Two to three decades ago, prologues had their rightful place--not to sure about that today. 

This is one jam that always makes me nervous and ill at ease.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Again, sorry for the delay. I was terminally ill for a very long time and am now just starting to recover. I knew the consequences of having a pulmonary embolism which produced multiple clots in both lungs. But, shit, nobody warned me about being crippled or nearly bed-ridden. I even have memory loss and have to re-learn the keyboard. I'm making godawful mistakes with words and key positions. So, I'm typing this real slow.


Since 2001 the amount of Zombie books and films has doubled. It's still going incredibly strong with no letup.  I can't help thinking that this trend will continue or morph into something very similar. Plagues, bugs, viruses, strains, more of the same--pandemics. I guess we owe it all to Romero, although it was alive in culture thousands of years before that. I know some of the self-publishers who got on this trope years ago and are still profiting from it. Me? never wrote one. I just can't ascribe a thorough characterization to a foe/protag that either is fast or slow and eats flesh. Oh, and many of them need head-shots, fire or complete dismemberment. 

Zombies are so ill-struck, deteriorated, limited in agility and function, it's a wonder they're alive at all. They attack in shear numbers and are usually brought down by gunfire or other instruments of mayhem and destruction. For the life of me I can't see a complex plot in any of these movies. I'm sure some of the books (I haven't read yet) have a semblance of motivation and diversity--but I wonder what, other than wiping the hoard out, surviving or finding a cure, is the statement or solution to this. I mean, how much better could one Z flick be from the next? Do we add sparkles or really smart zombies who can mask their identities? Shape-shifting zombies--really pretty or handsome ones. We've got them on ships/boats, grocery stores, in the forest and in desolate cities and townships. Just keep changing the environments and locations?

I'm agog at running through the TV listings and finding Z movies in the droves. The science and nature channels are running series and special programs. I think the only Z movie that made me laugh and pay attention was Zombieland. That one had some personality.

What say you? Is this Zombie thing a tiresome, worked over trope or trend, or are we headed for more of this for the next couple years? I wish I had a crystal ball--As far as trends go--this one's got me stymied and a little bit fed up.

I had two editors tell me that Michael Crichtonish type strain and plague books were as dead as ever. This was four years ago. I'd like to ask them about that now and see what they're buying.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Writer's Heath

Sorry it's been such a long time for a post but I do have a legit excuse. I've been in and out of three hospitals lately over a period of 2 months, plus. It took forever for a cardio specialist to find out why I was nearly suffocating. In short, A blood clot in my leg traveled up and plowed into my heart, nearly wrecking it and producing an A-fib condition. The clot exploded and traveled to both lungs, where it shut down my breathing. I'm currently on heavy and precise meds and oxygen, trying to recoup slowly every day. It's been a critical time for me to say the least. 

Warning to all writers out there: Get up out of that typing chair and exercise those legs. I'd been idle for the past eight years, ignoring cardio exercise. Now I'm paying the piper for it. Force yourself to take at least a swift 45-minute walk every day if you are shackled to a desk. 

I'm going to hang in there and obey the doc's commandments, hoping I pull through this or at least recovery enough to lead a normal life.

Love to all who have e-mailed on the social media sites. 


Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Well, It finally happened:

The Girl They Sold to the Moon is finally here in e-book format on Amazon for $2.99! Don’t miss this award-winner—it’s fast and furious—a dark and edgy Burlesque in space.
Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Girl-They-Sold-Moon-ebook/dp/B00LDFLR0S/ref=s...

Eighteen-year-old Tilly Breedlove's father has just pawned his daughter for a huge cash advance to escape a penitentiary sentence. She’s whisked away to Luna-the Tranquility Harbor Mining Company, 240,000 miles from home. Family Trade and Loan, an unscrupulous company, is more than willing to take her on and exploit her talent. Forced to be an exotic dancer, she performs risqué shows for the filthy, but filthy rich ore miners--a far cry from her classical and modern dance training. If she isn't resisting obscene advances from bearded "Prairie Dogs", she's fending off jealous head-liner acts who view her as a threat to their status-and when those jealous showgirls say "break a leg", they aim to cause it.

The only reprieve she finds in this shop of horrors is a few close ward friends, a sympathetic dance coach/choreographer, and Buddy Gunner Bell, who just might become the love of her life. It's just enough to stem her psychological meltdown. A tragedy on the Moon base lands Tilly back on Earth. Tilly plots a daring escape plan with her friends. Their plan requires split-second timing and a daring dash. If she can just get past the corporation's airtight security.


5.0 out of 5 stars Great soft Science Fiction for those who like it easy over, June 19, 2014

Kindle Customer (okemos, mi United States) - See all my reviews

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The Girl They Sold to the Moon by Chris Stevenson

I wanted the ARC to this book but they never got back to me; so I had to buy a copy and wait patiently for it to arrive in the mail, which was all well and good because I had other things to do anyway. Finding myself with an extra day, where I wanted to read something just a bit on the light side, I picked it up and read the boldfaced type all the way from the front right through to the finish. This book reminded me some of the old science fiction I read some thirty years ago. Some of the Robert Heinlein juvenile Science Fiction series. I enjoyed reading it and I want to give it high marks, but I'm going to be brutally honest about a few things.

Chris Stevenson has created a sort of sassy character in Tilly Breedlove who is sold into a sort of slavery in order to keep her father out of prison. Her mother has some few years earlier passed away and without her influence her father has fallen prey to all his vices and she has no delusions, going into this whole arrangement, that he will change his ways. In this dystopic future that sounds like a throwback to the times Charles Dickens wrote of; we have a society that allows parents to sell their children into some sort of work camp slavery while parents try to pay off their debts to stay out of prison through a loan which they must then pay off before their children can be released.

That whole arraignment lends itself toward some real potential for failure.

The Girl They Sold to the Moon bears some strong resemblance to the one other book I have read by this author: The War Gate. By this I mean that it has several threads running through it that make up a whole bunch of mini plots that revolve around the main plot that seems to be a soft science fiction light weight which is why I call this light reading. It is a good Young Adult novel and it almost seems like a twisted merging of Dickens' David Copperfield and Oliver Twist and Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars staged in the environment of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. But the whole thing diverges into it's own world because of that potential for the slave workers to become permanent property of the company when someone defaults on the loan.

Of The Girl They Sold to the Moon and The War Gate similarities there is that striking male character that is a magician. And both books delve into the world of entertainment while striking off in slightly divergent directions of Science Fiction in the one and Magic in the other. If I have any complaints at all it's that there sometime is a difficulty for me to zero in on which plot is the prime plot of the novel.

The most likely candidate is the dystopic society's inhumane treatment of these young family members who are traded off and sometimes left to pay their own way out of a system that seems to have the cards stacked against them. But I get confused about this very plot when the potential evil motives of the company are often glossed over too quickly in favor of the sub plot of the infighting between the chatteled entertainers vying for the top position; a position that only serves to make the company richer through their success. Then there is the moon-crossed love story hindered by the presence of rules prohibiting the girls from fraternizing with anyone in any close manner on or off work. Along with all of this we have a thread about Tilly's desire to be in the very work she is now in and the frustration in the knowledge that her unexpected success is all going to someone else benefit until she gets released.

This is a great light read of soft SFF with some romance and a couple of good cat-fights.

J.L. Dobias

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique idea!, June 12, 2014
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This is a well written, very unique book. I have never come across and idea like this in all my reading and I very much enjoyed it. The writer has given his heroine everything she needs to make it through the rough times in her life. You have great empathy for her and her friends.The writer also brings to life the places he takes his readers to, so you feel as if you are right at those locations.I would certainly recommend this book. It is a fast read and very enjoyable!
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Girl They Sold To The Moon ARC copy review, June 10, 2014

The Girl They Sold To The Moon Review
Review by: Naila Gutierrez
Author: Chris Stevenson
Publisher: Intrigue Publishing
Rating: 5 Stars
*This book was given to me as an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review*
This book is basically about an 18 year old girl named Tilly Breedlove, her father sells her into a form of slavery on the Tranquility Harbor Mining Company located on the Moon. She is forced to be an exotic dancer for filthy rich ore miners. After a disastrous explosion on the Moon, they send her back to Earth, imprisoned to the Las Vegas-Henderson Gambling Complex. Her father fails to pay the loan and goes into hiding, exiling Tilly to be temporary property of FTAL. Tilly plots a rebellious escape plan with friend Fia, and also with the help of blossoming love Buddy Gunner Bell, to break out of FTAL.

To me this dystopian read was exuberant, imaginative and creative. From start to finish this book grabbed me in for one wild ride and didn’t let go, for such a short book it was certainly delightful and whimsical. The plot in this was very well put together and it flowed with the story quite nicely, from when her journey began in FTAL, to the meteor shower that hit the Moon base at Tranquility Harbor , to the very ending where she escaped and finally got to fulfill her friend’s wish as well as hers. From the beginning when her father turned her in for FTAL I could feel how scared Tilly’s character was towards the situation of leaving her home to work in an entertainment division for 6 consecutive months. But then you can really notice the change in her character as the story progresses, she becomes more confident in going through all these obstacles, I really admire her character. Although I really did feel connected to Tilly’s character the most I did however appreciate Buddy’s and Dorothy’s characters. I did quite enjoy the growing romance and feelings between Tilly and Buddy growing feelings and a relationship from friends to lovers, their romance was just right as to not be sappy and come off as a desperate and rushed romance, like you see in so many books. Their growing relationship blossomed in just the right way, starting off when they met in the book and started talking I could feel chemistry between them, and it left me wanting more of their romance.

In a way, I have to say there was a bit of suspense sprinkled within the many wonders of this book, for example; when you found out that Fia Bluestone, supposed friend of Tilly’s was actually her long lost birth mother. Also when Tilly stood there and had to witness the suicide of her best friend, Dorothy, I have to say that scene was so wickedly crafted that it got to me. Then there are those well thought out action scenes of Tilly and fellow refugees scrambling about to find shelter from the meteor shower, and also when Tilly, Buddy, and Fia were escaping the Vegas Gambling Complex in search of freedom from the so well manipulated form of slavery.

Overall, I gave this book 5 stars because I like the well written, professional use of vocabulary, well thought out and procedure that was this lovely book. I personally am a HUGE fan of dystopian and post-apocalyptic worlds and this was one of the best I have read so far. I’m not going to say it’s the best I have read because I still have a lot more to read, but I can safely say that this was an extraordinary book, it was refreshing, action-packed, suspenful, and not bad in the romance department either. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a short yet giving book that hooks you in once you indulge in it and who enjoys books in the dystopian and apocalyptic category.
*thanks so much to the author for sending me an ARC*