To pass the time while waiting for the next round of cuts in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, many of us 500 quarterfinalists chatted on an ABNA online forum. A common topic was whether we would be upset if we made it no further.
Most of us agreed that we’d be thrilled regardless.
Our novels had been selected from a pool of up to 10,000 first-time novelists. That earned us critiques of our excerpts from two Amazon reviewers and, we would soon be receiving full manuscript reviews from editors at Publishers Weekly.
The reviews alone, we said with skin thicker than armadillos, were worth it. We couldn’t wait to read the critiques from Publishers Weekly, we wrote. And most all of us agreed that harsher was better. What good was a pat on the back? We wanted to know how to make our novels better.
Bring it on, Publishers Weekly editors.
Bring it on.
So they did, and virtual lips started quivering.
Not all of them.
Most folks took it well and vowed to move forward.
But the volume of the sniffling few hurt my ears.
One woman wanted to throw in the towel because, amid all the compliments, a reviewer wrote that her novel suffered from disorganization. Gee. A disorganized first novel? Writing takes skill and talent. Organization is simply hard work.
My advice to her?
Disorganization is fixable.
From what I read, every criticism by the Publishers Weekly reviewers focused on an issue that could be addressed: organization, depth of characters, pace. Now I didn’t read them all, but I didn’t find any that bashed a writer for lousy writing.
A successful writer needs thick skin and an open mind. And, for that reason, I have a feeling that the loudest of those rejected and dejected contestants will never be successful. That’s a shame. They had some good stuff there.
My own review was everything I had hoped for.
Before entering the contest, I had shelved Spring Melt for further revisions. Too much back story, especially in the second chapter, I figured. I had wanted to rip those parts up and incorporate the same information more smoothly and at a faster pace throughout. But I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing.
Then I saw the announcement for the contest. Entry was free and, with each round of cuts, contestants got more reviews.
With the first cut, I learned that my pitch (the general storyline) and my first 17 pages were good enough to attract professional attention. That was, for me, the validation I needed that my novel was worth my time and effort.
(As the rejections pile up, you start to wonder, you know?)
On April 15, I learned that I did not make the semifinals, where the field was trimmed to 100, but I did get that Publishers Weekly review last week. That single paragraph consisted mostly of a well-written synopsis.
But, in that paragraph was a one-sentence gem.
A precious one:
“At times muddied with flashbacks and digressions, this is still a solid story with believable characters and a pleasant and surprising resolution.”
Those words –“muddied with flashbacks and digressions”– were the words I was looking for. That meant that I was on the right track. That meant that If I could just resolve that issue, I would probably have a pretty good book on my hands.
I wasn’t just guessing any more.
Now I have to admit that my skin is not thick all over. I’m more like a well-frozen river. I’m super thick-skinned in most areas of criticism, but my skin gets dangerously thin in those few areas where currents run fast underneath.
I’m human, afterall.
But the folks at Publishers Weekly knew just where to skate.
My lips didn’t quiver. I didn’t start sniffling. I didn’t throw any towels.
I did, immediately and with renewed enthusiasm, started tearing my novel part.
So thank you Amazon.
Thank you Create Space.
Thank you Penguin.
And thank you friends, family and strangers who posted encouraging reviews.
And I feel good.