Do Goodreads Giveaways Work?

Goodreads is essentially a social media website for readers. Its stated mission? “To help people find and share books they love.” This April, Goodreads announced that 50 million reviews of books had been posted by users on the site. There’s no doubt that many, many readers frequent Goodreads and that many authors hope to catch the attention of some of those readers.

Goodreads landing page

One of the aids to discoverability offered by Goodreads is its giveaway program.

The author or editor or publisher of a book lists the title in the GR giveaway program, specifying the dates during which the book will be offered, the number of copies to be given away, and which nationalities are eligible to participate. Goodreads chooses the winners. Then the author (or editor or publisher) mails the paperback books.

I first tried the program in 2013 with my novel Troll-magic.

I followed the GR recommendation that I give away 10 copies and that I let the giveaway run for a month, from March 1 to April 1 in this instance. I limited the countries to the US, the UK, and Canada, because I was concerned about shipping costs.

As it turned out, US shipping averaged $4 per book, the UK $5 per book, and Canada $7 per book. I sent each copy directly from CreateSpace. International shipping from the US has become more expensive now than it was back in 2013, so how you get the books to the giveaway winners is even more important. I suspect CreateSpace mails each book from the plant nearest to the specified address and thus gets the cheapest shipping rate possible.

Just last month, when I attempted to mail a brand new copy of Quantum Zoo sitting on my shelf at home to a reader in the UK, I was shocked to learn it would cost me $24 or more! I quickly reverted to sending the book directly from CreateSpace.

thumbnail imageSo how did my first giveaway turn out?

March 1 – April 1, 2013
Sign-ups: 580
# put on GR to-read list: 239
Reviews: 2
Money spent: ~$112

I wasn’t impressed.

At the time, Troll-magic had been out for 14 months. When it first released, about ten of my family and friends bought and read it. After that it sold one or two copies a month. It seemed fairly clear that the book was largely invisible, readers who might like it stumbling upon it by sheer chance.

What I wanted to do was advertise Troll-magic in one of the newsletters then available, such as Pixel of Ink or Ereader News Today. But in order to be accepted by such advertisers, my book needed reviews. Most readers do not write reviews. I’ve heard rates ranging from one reader out of a hundred to one reader out of a thousand who will do so. But no matter where the truth might lie, my book was not selling enough copies to garner reviews.

The Goodreads giveaway guidelines state that the average giveaway book receives six reviews for every ten copies given away. They caution that this is an average. Each title will perform differently.

Troll-magic received only two, and their substance was not in the least helpful. One winner’s review was merely a note explaining that she was too busy to read at that moment, but that she planned to bring Troll-magic on her next vacation and maybe read it then. The other winner said that Troll-magic had too many point-of-view characters for her taste. (It has five.)

I did notice that the book sold 5 copies in April, instead of its usual 1 or 2. But I was not convinced the increase was due to the giveaway. I’d tinkered with the book’s keywords. The increase could well be due to that change. I’d also joined a writers’ group that focused on marketing. There were five of us in the group, and the other members were reading Troll-magic in April. I figured 4 of the 5 sales were my fellow writers buying their copy to read.

However, the GR guidelines were talking about averages. With reason. The tire is always going to meet the road in the specific readers who win. And the readers who enter a giveaway will not be as choosy as they might be, if they were spending their own money to buy a book. Some of the readers signing up would be people whose reading tastes are such that they will never like any of my work. Some of the winners could be readers who will never like my work. If I’m really unlucky, all of the winners might be such people!

I decided I would try another giveaway with a different book.

Sarvet cover image, 150 pxSarvet’s Wanderyar
August 31 – September 30, 2013
Sign-ups: 384
TBR list: 149
Reviews: 6
Money spent: ~$70

These were better results! Six reviews, and all of them positive: one 3-star rating (I liked it!) and five 4-star ratings (I liked it a lot!).

The substance was better too.

“I loved this book and recommend it to everyone…” a cup of coffee and a fairytale    “Short and sweet and easy to read.” Nadhirrah    “I enjoyed the author’s style, and how she successfully wove together a brief story that did not sacrifice depth and detail.” Tyler    “Wonderful tale of coming to age…” Jay    “…quite engaging. Sarvet’s Wanderyar is a bildungsroman that depicts a girl’s transformation from an innocent and fearful child to a wide-eyed and open woman.” Shelby Rollenhagen

I’m not sure I noticed that in the month following the giveaway, Sarvet’s Wanderyar sold 5 copies instead of its usual 1 or 2. Since I spent $70 to purchase and mail 10 copies to giveaway winners, and those 5 copies sold (at $2.99 each, with Amazon keeping its 30%) netted me only $10.46, the giveaway was not a cost-effective way to advertise. But I note the increase now. At the time, I remained focused on gathering honest reviews.

Because the results of the Sarvet and the Troll-magic giveaways were so different, it seemed clear that one could not depend on any one giveaway. The sensible thing to do would be running a series of them. I decided to run giveaways for each of the novels and novellas that I had published.
Navarys cover 150 px

Skies of Navarys
November 25 – December 20, 2013
Sign-ups: 509
TBR list: 187
Reviews: 2
Money spent: ~$70
2014 sales rate: ~1 per month
JAN sales: 0

“The characters are realistic thirteen years old with all their curiosity, doubts, amiability and daring in the face of adversity.” Wendy     “The plot of this novel was more action driven than character driven.” Lyle Appleyard  (Note the opposite reader reactions!)

thumbnail image of cover
The Troll’s Belt
January 13 – February 8, 2014
Sign-ups: 597
TBR list: 207
Reviews: 6
Money spent: ~$70
2014 sales rate: ~1 every 2 months
FEB sales: 3

“Different take on an old classic. Enjoyed thoroughly.” Shelia    “Wow… It was a really good read.” Emilia    “There were a lot of loose ends left.” Bob Stuhlsatz     “The part of the story I enjoyed the most was…about finding courage to get yourself out of a situation that seems hopeless.” Deanna Lenz    “…a good book that I’ll be holding on to to read to/give to my son when he’s older.” Bel

Livli's Gift, 150 px cover
Livli’s Gift
February 17 – March 22, 2014
Sign-ups: 848
TBR list: 332
Reviews: 4
Money spent: ~$90
2014 sales rate: ~3 every 2 months
APR sales: 3

“…the novel was beautifully written.” Eva     “It was truly a trip reading Livil’s Gift. Especially when the character goes into trance…” Jay    “…a good story.” Sabrina Bradley    “I cannot believe how lucky I am to have received this incredible treasure of a novel for free…” Joe

A medieval lady stands in an ancient stone hall
A Knot of Trolls (anthology)
April 14 – May 10, 2014
Sign-ups: 789
TBR list: 295
Reviews: 1
Money spent: ~$95
2014 sales rate: ~1 per month
MAY sales: 2

“I don’t read a ton of high fantasy so I was a little apprehensive to start reading this book. However, I found these stories to be a fun and interesting read. Ney-Grimm has created a fascinating new world rich with details and memorable characters. Very well written, Ney-Grimm paints a vivid world full of magic.” Alisha

A goddess of ancient times under a volcanic sunDevouring Light
June 30 – July 26, 2014
Sign-ups: 599
TBR list: 238
Reviews: 1
Money spent: ~$85
2014 sales rate: ~3 every 4 months
AUG sales: 2

“Pretty accurate understanding of astrology… Hades: I have a real problem with people always portraying him in an ‘evil’ light; as far as gods go he was actually pretty nice.” Jodi

(Okay… the reader is always right about her experience. Yes. But this is my blog, so… my novella Devouring Light has nothing to do with astrology; it is inspired by mythology and the ancient Greek cosmological model of the celestial spheres. I portray Hades as a complex character, not an evil one. Just sayin’.) 😀
thumbnail cover image
Perilous Chance
August 18 – September 19, 2014
Sign-ups: 859
TBR list: 351
Reviews: 2
Money spent: ~$75
2014 sales rate: ~3 every 2 months
SEPT sales: 4

“…lovely fantasies …quite enjoyable …great characters… Thank you.” Vykki    “It was almost poetry-like. That threw me off a little bit and caused me to not enjoy it that much.” Tyler Knight  (Ah. Not fond of lyrical prose!) 😉

At this point I’d run 8 giveaways, spent ~$665, and had seen only 1 or 2 reviews for the last 4 giveaways. It was time to assess my overall results.

My first thought? Goodreads giveaways are awfully expensive for the results they generate! I can’t afford to carry on in this way!

Looking at the average numbers… $84 spent per giveaway, 645 sign-ups per, 250 TBR, 3 reviews generated per, I decided I was done with giveaways.

There the matter lay for nearly a year and a half. “But, but, but…” as Ian Fleming writes in the delightful book (not movie) Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang.

QZ spine photo 600 px

I had 8 lovely, brand new copies of Quantum Zoo sitting on my bookshelves, because I’d wanted to see a pile of them all in one place and I’d been convinced I would give many copies as gifts the previous Christmas. (I gave two of the ten I’d ordered. Ha!) 😀

And then I heard several indie authors say that the optimum number of copies for a GR giveaway was one or two, not ten.

What if I tried a 2-copy giveaway for Quantum Zoo? I’d already paid for the books. Even if both winners lived in Canada, I’d need to spend only $14 to learn how a 2-copy giveaway performed.

I set it up. And then, in a burst of enthusiasm, I set up 2-copy giveaways for Hunting Wild and Caught in Amber as well.

So, how did they go?

First, let me say that I was ill-informed about international postal rates here in the US. The last time I’d mailed a gift to a friend who lived across the Atlantic, the shipping rates were reasonable. Apparently that changed sometime in 2015. As it chanced, one QZ winner lived in Canada, the other in Britain. I would need to spend $24 each in order to get the books to the winners, for a total of nearly $50. No way! I quickly reverted to my old standby of sending them direct from CreateSpace, but it meant I spent ~$24 (for books and postage) instead of the $14 I’d estimated.

Quantum Zoo thumbnail size coverBut what about sign-ups and TBR lists and sales?

Quantum Zoo
May 18 – June 17, 2016
Sign-ups: 1205
TBR list: 294 +292 = 586
Reviews: 1
Money spent: ~$24
2016 average sales rank: ~#300,000
JUNE sales rank: #112,624

“5 stars… an interesting collection of stories… through the weird and the wonderful…” Michael

(Quantum Zoo is on my fellow editor’s KDP desktop, not mine, so I don’t have immediate access to sales figures.)
Hunting Wild cover image, 150 px
Hunting Wild
May 17 – June 17, 2016
Sign-ups: 811
TBR list: 315
Reviews: 0
Money spent: $15.47
2016 sales rate: 1 per month
JUNE sales: 1

“This is really well done. I only meant to read a few pages, and looked up a couple hours later when I finished.” Amazon review

Amber cover 150Caught in Amber
May 12 – June 17, 2016
Sign-ups: 1069
TBR list: 428
Reviews: 0 (one 4-star rating)
Money spent: $20.71
2016 sales rate: 3 per month
JUNE sales: 3

“The writer gave herself a difficult challenge with the setup, as for most of the book there is just one character, trying to survive and figure things out. It works. The writing is atmospheric and lyrical…” Amazon review

Obviously the proponents of the 2-copy (or less) giveaway were correct in asserting that it made no difference to the number of sign-ups. The most I’d ever received for a 10-copy giveaway was ~800. Yet both Quantum Zoo and Caught in Amber broke the 1000 mark. Hunting Wild is a novella. It received 811 sign-ups, compared to the ~500 that my other novellas received.

Nor did the fewer copies offered seem to negatively affect the number added to TBR lists, each in the 300 – 400 range.

For making readers aware that a book exists, 2-copy giveaways seem just as effective as 10-copy giveaways.

What about reviews?

Honestly, I’m no longer pursuing reviews. Sure I like receiving them, especially the glowing ones! If a reader were to ask me my preference, I’d say, “Please! Do leave a review! Yes!” But I’ve had the chance to try some of those newsletter ads that have review thresholds, and none were effective.

Glory review image

Most require that the book advertised be on sale for 99¢, which means I’ll make 35¢ for each sale. The ads cost between $15 and $40 (or more). So I’d have to sell from 43 to 115 copies in order to break even. I don’t. So far, the best a newsletter ad has done for me is 8 copies sold – nowhere near good enough.

I’ve come to the conclusion that most of my audience are not finding their next good book from such places. I’m not myself.

Oh, I tried the newsletters as a reader for several months. And I regretted buying (and reading) the few books that caught my attention. Maybe that makes me a cranky old cow, but I don’t think so. I suspect that not many writers are writing the type of book I enjoy, and those that are do not advertise on Ereader News Today, etc.

Furthermore, I’m guessing that readers of J.M. Ney-Grimm books are also not able to find a lot in the newsletters that appeal to them.

Now that I have the ability to buy spots in the newsletters, I’m no longer very interested in doing so. Wouldn’t you know! 😀

However, I’m reconsidering the proper purpose of GR giveaways and whether they might be useful for overall discoverability. As I prepared to write this post, I did a little digging online (again) for what other authors had to say about giveaways, and I found a very interesting post by Catherine Ryan Howard. She agrees with two of the conclusions I’ve come to: 1) don’t use GR giveaways to get reviews, and 2) don’t give away 10 copies at a time.

I wish I’d encountered her advice before I did all my expensive experimenting! Although she wrote it just as I was starting my last 10-copy giveaway, so… too little, too late? 😀

But I’m wondering if a 1-copy giveaway might have a place in my launch strategy for new books. Reviewing the effect that giveaways had on my sales, looking at the long term, not the short term, was very interesting.

Up until May 2013, I sold very few books. With each new release, the four friends who’d decided they actually enjoyed reading my fiction would make their purchases. Another handful of strangers would buy their copies. And then the book would settle down to selling very sporadically.

Business for Breakfast, cover imageI was in what Leah Cutter, author of Business for Breakfast, calls the “drips stage.”

You write a novel and publish it.

Somebody buys it. Great! This is a drip. You make another sale that month. Maybe you don’t sell anything the following month. Then you have another sale. … A sale here, a sale there.

She described my experience well.

But in May 2013, something changed for me. I reached what Cutter labels the “trickle stage.” (Cutter calls books “properties” in the quote below, as in “intellectual properties.”)

Everyone who has read your stuff loves it. You continue to write and publish. But your work hasn’t found its audience yet. Drips continue. Then, at some point… you notice a change. A single property may still only have a sale every other month or so. However, this other property is also selling a copy every other month. … Not a single property is selling consistently or well. However, all your properties sell one or two here or there. Suddenly you have a trickle.

That was it exactly.

From the time my first book released in December 2011 through April 2013, I sold in drips. Most months I sold 1 copy of one of my titles. Some months I sold 4 or even 8 copies. Some I sold 0. Once I sold 14 copies! That was exciting! But I never knew what to expect. I hated the “drip stage”!

I won’t claim that “everyone” who read my work loved it; the reviews that appeared were by-and-large positive and one reader who kept a blog posted several glowing reviews on his site. I was encouraged, but eager to reach more readers.

Wanderyar review image

Then, in May 2013, I sold 20 books. From that month onward, my sales stabilized. I averaged 12 sales per month, with a low of 6 and and a high of 33, most often hitting the 9 – 15 range. I had reached Cutter’s trickles stage. And – looking back – I suspect it may have been the Goodreads giveaways that did it.

It couldn’t have been the writers’ group I joined (as I surmised in the immediate wake of the Troll-magic giveaway). There were only five of us, and when the other members read Troll-magic for the purpose of giving me marketing suggestions, only two of them purchased the book. The other two sideloaded it to their ereaders from a file I emailed to them. And after they’d read it, three of the four said, “I don’t usually read this type of fiction, but I liked it anyway.” I seriously doubt they converted to Ney-Grimm fandom. 😀

Sales stats May - June 2013So, where did the sudden and sustained increase in sales come from?

It could have been the keyword changes I made, but I doubt it. Their main use is to determine which categories Amazon places your book in, and which “bestseller” list it will appear on when sufficient copies are sold.

Some writers get a lot of sales when their book appears on a bestseller list, due to the increased visibility. My sales have always worked exactly opposite to this. Some unknown factor will prompt a spurt of sales and pop Troll-magic onto the Norse bestseller list. But once the book is there, the extra visibility does not result in more sales. Instead, the book slowly slides down the rankings and eventually off the list. Until the next time a spurt of sales pops it back onto the list.

That behavior fits with what I suspect about my audience. They don’t get their reading recs from bestseller lists, any more than they do from newsletters.

Which means… that the greater visibility for my books that suddenly arrived May 2013 was caused either by the Goodreads giveaways or by some other unknown factor. There’s no way to know for sure, of course.

But my next step will be trying a 1-copy giveaway. Will it receive as many sign-ups as a 2-copy giveaway? What about additions to TBR lists?

I currently average 20 books sold per month. Would a series of 1-copy giveaways with short, 7-day durations as recommended by Catherine Ryan Howard boost my visibility to the next level (Leah Cutter’s “streams”) the way the first giveaways boosted me from “drips” to “trickles”?

I still have more questions than answers, but I’ve got some new questions. 😀



The First Lines

photo of partially open bookFebruary and half of March saw me studying story openings. I was taking an online workshop and learning a lot.

What makes a good opening? How does a writer engage the strong interest of her reader?

Writing stories is an art. In a sense, there are as many good opening structures as there are good stories. Every story’s first few paragraphs are unique to that story.

However…you knew there’d be a “however,” didn’t you?

There is a structure that consistently hooks most readers’ attention. This “hook opening” won’t be right for every story, but it serves many of them well.

A character with a problem in a setting.

Pretty simple, isn’t it?

Ah! But how will you introduce your character and his or her problem? How will you mention the setting without slowing the pace too much? Even when borrowing a story foundation honed by the ages, artistry calls!

There’s also one more critical element.

My teacher recounts how that critical element made all the difference for him. Decades ago, when he was first starting out and before he incorporated this key element, he received nothing but form rejections from publishers. After…he received personal letters for his rejections and…a beginning stream of acceptances! That’s how important this is.

What is it?

Ground your reader in what your character is seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting. Make your opening rich with sensory detail. Your reader will feel like she or he is there, chilled by the breeze, smelling cinnamon, tasting vanilla, hearing chapel bells, and watching the cavalry thunder over the hill crest.

Touch on all five senses in the first three paragraphs and continue to mention them every 500 words.

Is it a formula? Will it generate formulaic writing?

I don’t think so. We humans are corporeal beings, and we relate to our world and the people in it via our bodily senses. Stories are about the human condition, and a story that’s thin on sensory detail is a story rather distant from our human experience.

Consider architecture. (With a degree in architecture, I’m bound to drag it in willy nilly!) The cultural blueprint for house could be considered formulaic: sheltering walls and roof, ways to get in and out, places of privacy within. But think of all the amazing variations: yurts, New England saltboxes, Georgian colonials, Frank Lloyd Wright prairie houses, and on and on. Limits breed art and beauty.

But enough philosophizing!

What does a “hook opening” look like in practice?

Allow me to present some examples.

Before the workshop, I was stumbling in the right direction. As I approached the release of my story Perilous Chance, I sensed something was wrong. I loved the story, and my first readers spoke well of it, too. But, but, but! The opening wasn’t quite right.

This was the original opening:


thatched cottageThat morning, Clary had stood in the front room, turning slowly. The cloth on the table under the windows hung askew, its corner tassel dragging on the weathered pine floor. The candles had guttered in their sockets, the wicks drowning amidst congealed wax. One, burned only halfway, lay fallen under the gluey drips from the gravy boat. Clary’s fingers crept to her mouth.

Why did this morning after an impromptu party feel so different?

The murmur of conversation last night, rising to her bed chamber, growing louder as the hour latened, had seemed normal. Uncle Maury’s deep laugh boomed as always. Aunt Theosia’s mandolin sounded as sweet. But it hadn’t been the same.

She stared at the welter of mismatched briar-wicker chairs, one tumbled on its side. I won’t think about that. Or who knocked it over. But she knew who. I won’t think about it, more fiercely.

Lyrus was whimpering upstairs in the nursery. She’d ignored him on her way down, hoping her mother would see to the baby. But she wouldn’t. She hadn’t risen before the children for . . . how long had it been? This was Thyril. Spring. Had it truly been eight months? Last Sanember in fall? Clary drew her fingers away from her lips to count, but she didn’t really care how long it’d been. Too long. What she wanted to know was: would it end?

* * *
As part of the story, yes. As the opening? No. I wanted something more gripping, something with more immediate tension, rather than its slow rise. I mused and mulled, wondering how I might solve my problem. And, finally, for reasons unknown to me (but probably well known to the muse), a short story by Connie Willis came to mind: All About Emily.

It’s a great story, one I recommend with enthusiasm. What I did was study it. How was its opening structured? I had to go back and look, since I’d been too engrossed originally to notice.

What Willis did was take a snippet from near the end of her story to generate its opening. There lay my answer! I can’t pretend my story displays Willis’ mastery. She’s been writing for decades and is one of the most renowned SF writers in the world. But the underlying structure of her gem of a tale was perfect for mine. And I knew exactly which snippet in Perilous Chance I would use to generate my opening. Here is the final version that I published (the opening above follows directly on these new paragraphs):


web cover image for Perilous ChancePerilous ChanceShe was eleven, and she was hurt. Her leg lay under her, knee throbbing. Her arm ached, the broken bone within sickening in its pain. But worst of all, worst of all, a vast shadow loomed above her, dark wings spanning distances too great for the grotto enclosing them, razor-sharp talons sparking with the spitting blue fire of a strange power.

“No, please, no,” she whispered.

How had it come to this? Her day had started so ordinarily, getting breakfast for herself and her sister, because Mama could not. She cast her thoughts desperately back to the morning. I’m there. Not here. I’m there.

*   *   *
I remain pleased with it, even after the finish of my workshop. But I wonder if I might have included more sensory detail, if I were writing the story now.

With Clary and Elspeth, we see the disorder of the front room, we hear Aunt Theosia’s mandolin and Uncle Maury’s laugh. We attempt to ignore the faint whimpers of their baby brother upstairs. We taste the sweetness of the fig syrup. Is it enough? I’ll leave that answer to my readers. Because stories are an art, after all. Sometimes three senses – sight, hearing, taste – might be enough.

In fact, my second assignment for the workshop was to create an opening focused solely on sound. And my teacher declared my effort gripping and compelling. So the rule of all five senses is clearly a guideline rather than a law.

After listening to the first week’s lectures, I pondered my new world view. The information had changed me. I grew pre-occupied with the opening to an already published story. Sarvet’s Wanderyar didn’t have the opening that would do it justice, and…I had an idea! This one was good, this one was better, this one wouldn’t let me go until I wrote it.

So, here’s another before and after. The original opening:


photo of the mountains of Haines, AlaskaShe awoke to the pleasant consciousness that the morning of a fete-day brings. No chopping cabbage, digging potatoes, or long hours at the spinning wheel awaited her. The preparations for Other-joy were wholly different from normal chores, and this year the calling ritual would include three linking ceremonies!

She smiled with anticipation, started to push herself upright, then changed her mind and snuggled her cheek more deeply into her pillows. Light from the oil lanterns in the hallway was seeping through the chinks around her bednook shutters – Sister Teraisa must already be up – and Sarvet wanted to get up too. But not just yet. Her sheets were so soft, her blankets cozy, and the fur coverlet warm. She wriggled her toes in their bedsocks, ignoring the constraint in her right foot. There was something special to the first beginning of a day, all its promise ahead. She would savor it . . . and avoid a little longer the chilly moment when she doffed her nightcap and gown in order to dress.

* * *
And the new opening, not yet published as of this blog post (sneak preview!):


Kay Nielsen art depicting a lassie wandering the mountainsTense and furious, Sarvet shook her mother’s angry grip from her forearm. “I’ll petition the lodge-meet for filial severance,” she snapped, and then wished she’d swallowed the words, so hateful, too hateful to speak. And yet she’d spoken them.

The breeze swirling on the mountain slope picked up, nudging the springy branches of the three great pines at Sarvet’s back and purring among their needles. Their scent infused the moving air.

Paiam’s narrowed eyes widened an instant – in hurt? – flicked up to encompass the swaying tree tops behind her daughter, then went flat.

“You dare!” she breathed. “You’re my daughter. Mine alone. And I’ll see to it that you and every other mother in the lodge knows it too. You’ll stay under my aegis till you’re grown, young sister, even if I must declare you careless and remiss to do it!”


Sarvet only thought she’d been mad before. “You never wanted me!” she accused.

Was it true? Or was she just aiming for Paiam’s greatest vulnerability, aiming to hurt? Because under her own rage lay . . . desperation. Something needed to change. She just didn’t know what, didn’t know how. And didn’t want to be facing it right now, facing her mother right now. It was Other-joy, and she wanted joy. For just a little longer. How had this day of celebration gone so wrong?

She’d woken to the pleasant consciousness that the morning of a fete-day brings. No chopping cabbage, digging potatoes, or long hours at the spinning wheel awaited her. The preparations for Other-joy were wholly different from normal chores, and this year the calling ritual would include three linking ceremonies!

She remembered smiling with anticipation, starting to push herself upright, then changing her mind to snuggle her cheek more deeply into her pillows. Light from the oil lanterns in the hallway was seeping through the chinks around her bednook shutters – Sister Teraisa must already be up – and Sarvet wanted to get up too. But not just yet. Her sheets were so soft, her blankets cozy, and the fur coverlet warm. She wriggled her toes in their bedsocks, ignoring the constraint in her right foot. There was something special to the first beginning of a day, all its promise ahead. She would savor it . . . and avoid a little longer the chilly moment when she doffed her nightcap and gown in order to dress.

* * *
I’m still not hitting all five senses, but – again – this is art, not science. And revising an already complete story can be a tricky and delicate business. I’d rather honor the story’s essence and integrity than risk harming it by sticking slavishly to a checklist.

But, before I close, I’d like to share an example that does include all five senses. It’s one of my homework assignments from the workshop. I hope to write the full story, but I think it wants to be a novel, so patience on that one!


photo of red neon signMetamorphosis Buffet

Steven glanced down at his tux and shirtfront, then back out through the transparent gleam of the force bubble surrounding his table. His clothes looked cheap compared to those of the other patrons. What else could you expect from a rental? At least they were clean. At least he was clean.

When he’d spotted the lottery ticket in the muck of that back alley, he’d wondered if mere bathing could scrub the garbage stench from his skin. His too-loose coveralls lay sodden against his bony wrists and ankles, slimy with the juices of rotting food. The air was foul enough he could taste it. His hand nipped the foil ticket from its puddle of noxious yuck before he had time to consider otherwise. The liquid burned until he wiped fingers and ticket against his collar, the only dry scrap on him.

He angled the ticket toward the neon glow at the alley mouth. Its plastic coating hiding the winning result was already scraped away. Why would anyone throw away a free dinner at – he squinted – oh, gods and little demons! Fabrine’s.

He’d figured on selling it. Some decent cash to be picked up that way. Enough for a bed in a lockable bunker and a few handrolls out of the vending creche.

But . . . Fabrine’s. Damn!

So he’d called in some favors. Favor’s he’d hoped to save. Favor’s he’d need, if he were ever down and out. More down and out.

And now he occupied a force bubble on the exclusive platform reserved for haute clientele in this purveyor of fine cuisine and deformity. The faint aroma of freshly squeezed lime tingled his nostrils, fighting the sandalwood of his borrowed aftershave. Lighting low enough for intimacy – if he’d brought a dining companion – but bright enough for security (the bodyguards stood outside the bubbles) soothed his eyes. Comfortably firm bolsters supported his back, cushioned the bench under his buttocks. If he were here for a meal – except he’d never come here to simply eat. Did anyone?

His stomach muttered. The murmur of conversation escaping the muffling force bubbles rumbled louder, then subsided.

There was a reason Fabrine’s had the reputation it did: looking for mutations and nightmares? – the haute called them dreams – they were here. Steven? He wanted – needed – an extra arm (with hand attached) smack in the middle of his forehead.

* * *
What are your experiences with story openings? As writer or as reader. Do you have a favorite read that gripped you in spite of yourself? The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold did that for me. Or does your favorite book have a quieter beginning?

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