Wednesday, March 23, 2011


First of all, congratulations to my blogger friend Hart Johnson for making the second round cut in the YA category!

I was a little proud to make it through the first cut of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, even if I pretty much knew I should given that my query had worked on several really great agents. That cut was just the pitch alone. The second round had two reviewers look at an excerpt of the beginning of the novel, which for me was the prologue and two chapters.

Looking through the ABNA forum, there appears to have been a pretty severe problem with one of the reviewers this year, as some writers received reviews that are simply unacceptable. Some wrote to ABNA and received apologies. I'm not sure if I got one of those reviewers, but I do feel that I got at least slightly shafted. Here are my two reviews:

Review 1:
What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

I liked the character of Midas a lot. Midas is a more interesting and conflicted warrior/leader then (sic) many that I have read about in the past. The background we get on him is satisfying. The loss of his eldest son, Miros, during a troll-hunt has shattered his spirit. He has two remaining son's left to raise with his withdrawn and sullen wife Rina, who only wants to go back to her homeland to be with her family. She seems to have retreated into herself since her son's death almost more then her husband. Midas was the best part of the story because you could feel the stress of ruling over his land taking a toll on him since his son's death. It was played out very realistically for a fantasy genre entry.

I like this because it shows she really got what I was after with Midas and his wife.

I liked the mystery surrounding the elven arrows and the slain peasants outside the bordering Laithtaris (the Elven wood) which is a protected area of woods specifically preserved for the Elves. Why were the men found dead with elven arrows imbedded in them?

The author crafted enough mystery and suspense to keep us on edge and to get us reading more. I really enjoyed this entry.

What aspect needs the most work?

I wish there had been just a bit more female perspective in the novel. The only female character we are given a glimpse into was Rina and she is a saddened, lifeless character. She felt a little wooden to me and I couldn't quite wrap my head around her. I don't like when fantasy plays into the atypical stereotype of making a female character a damsal in distress of a mindless side-character who has no true role in the action and that is what I felt from Rina. I wanted more feminine energy in the story, as strange as that sounds. There was a lot of masculinity to the story with the fighting and Midas and his son's activities. The wizard Xax's character could have been made into a Sorceress to add some estrogen to the tale and I would have liked it a bit more. I am being nitpicky though!

Not too bad, except that this was just the prologue and two small chapters. I do have a very strong female character in the book, but she comes in a few chapters later. Also, Rina may seem wooden, but to me that is a realistic portrayal of a woman devestated by the loss of her first-born child. Also, my book is mainly a masculine story, given that it is a medieval war story and the truth of medieval war is that it is primarily a masculine pursuit. However, the strong female lead that I use is the best warrior in the book and is the one who slays the dragon. I have a nice chapter where there is a conversation between the typically medieval female Rina and the warrior elf Alvanaria, which gives me a great chance to highlight the differences between the two races' expectations for women.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

I really enjoyed this fantasy entry. I haven't read a lot of fantasy lately that has compelled me and kept me intrigued enough to keep reading. This was definitely a keeper. I would have kept reading well into the night with this one. I liked the author's way with words and how he started out of the gates with something as unexpected as the death of a young boy. I was NOT expecting young Miros to be killed by that troll and I found that very, very gripping and shocking. It was a nice jolt to the system.

I felt like the segment with Xax and his magical communication with the kestrel was a bit strange but it only made me want to learn more about him. Does he have something to do with the elven arrows that were found in the murdered peasants? Is he good or evil? I couldn't quite tell but I liked that there was a mystery surrounding him. I really wanted to read more and see where the characters went in this tale. I really enjoyed it.

This is nice. The chapter with Xax is purposely kept very short and mysterious, because that is what is needed with him at this point. When he returns to the story, much is made clear.

ABNA Expert Reviewer It's too bad that it is the 'Expert' reviewer that seems to me to fall short...

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

Assuming Miros isn't really dead, "killing" him off at the beginning is quite a compelling hook. The writing is smooth.

I can't tell if the person read my excerpt or not. If he had read it all, he would already know that Miros is certainly dead.

What aspect needs the most work?

The pacing jumps around too much. First we're with Miros. He dies. Then we're with Xax in the wood, not having a clue what's going on, then we're with Midas and his sons, then his wife in a family crisis, then another crisis.

I get the feeling from this complaint that this person much prefers stories with a straightforward single POV plotline. Perhaps he doesn't like the very successful books that use many POV threads, such as George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series? Martin uses dozens of POV characters, while I use only four. Is four really too many?

Oh, and again, did the guy just skim? He says Xax is in a wood, when the text makes it very clear that he is on a flat grassy plain.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

It is well-written and there are the stirrings of a plot, but it is hard to tell the trajectory (and therefore the strength) of the book from the excerpt.

This really bothers me. My book is an epic fantasy. It has around a hundred chapters and is 140,000 words long. He saw a short prologue and a short chapter followed by one meaty chapter. I don't believe I am doing my job properly with my plot if you can tell what it is all about already at this point. I give loads of hints and clues and mysteries. I don't get the feeling that this reviewer took his job seriously enough.


  1. That kind of sucks :( Sounds like he was attempting to predict the flow and outcome of the novel based on that excerpt, and then review said prediction. On a small plus note, it wasn't just you that got the cruddy reviews. Hopefully there'll be some recompense for those who had bad quality reviews, and I hope it gets a decent look over in the future :)

  2. Jamie, I didn't send a complaint in, as my review was still infinitely better than what some poor people got. Still, with mine I feel like I was right there on the line for acceptance, only the second reviewer killed me.

  3. This is part of the biz unfortunately. We all have to keep in mind that these are subjective opinions based on the persons perception. The responses truly sounds boilerplate to me.

  4. Well, you never know who you're going to get. Bu let it simmer around in your head for awhile and maybe something good will come from it. Stranger things have happened...

  5. Bryan, useful info I can always take, but what is there here? That I should skip doing muliple POV's even though many famous writers do exactly that? I am trying to see what could be useful there, but I don't see it.

  6. Even though you didn't make the next cut, you got some great feedback -- at least from the first reviewer. I agree it seems as if the second one only gave your pages a glance. Still, congrats for entering and putting your work out there. It sounds like a great story.

  7. L.G., the only problem with the first was that I didn't get anything to help me make it better. It basically just said it was good and she would read more.

  8. I think it's painfully obvious that this second reviewer didn't read the whole thing. Or if he did, he skimmed, and didn't pay much attention.

    Thankfully the first review is much more accurate, I think.

    It's been a few months since I read this, but my memory coincides much more with the first review.

    What a waste the second review is. That would really piss me off. It's just plain lazy.

  9. Oh, and I would also argue that you make two great points about Martin. You really have no true idea as to the plot of Thrones until half way in, and he was way more POV characters than you.

    I happen to like your POV characters, Orcbait and the other Ranger whose name is eluding me right now being my favorites, so far. Single MC first person narrators are fine for some stories, and I hope it works in mine, but I can't see that working for yours.

  10. Thanks, Matt. Edo and Orcbait are the ranger pair. Even though I show that arc from Edo's POV, I consider Orcbait to be the actual MC there; it's just that since he is mute he needs Edo to be his voice.

  11. You can't make everyone happy. Just keep that in mind. Keep slugging away at it. You got some very positive feedback. When it stings less, thing over the criticism. Anything in it you can use?

    Sounds like your excerpt would do better with a synopsis attached. As I said, keep at it. And realize you're in good company. The R is part of the journey. Makes the yes that's coming all the more of a triumph.

  12. Ted, maybe it will hearten you... I think the reviewers ONLY had the excerpt... no info about it at all, and maybe the second reader might have 'gotten' it better had they known. That first review is LONG, detailed, and VERY good! I'm so sorry you didn't pass to the next step. I think fantasy is one of those harder genres because it isn't everyones cup of tea and if you get stuck with a reviewer that is the case for... and I really think these reviews are pretty good (though I do think your second reader missed part of what you were about).

    Thanks for the congrats!

  13. THAT's what ABNA stands for!?!

    That is how blind I've been. I didn't even know what it stood for *face/palm*

    Hope you're doing well, Ted, glad to see you blogging (and glad to be able to see your blog!)



  14. Most people don't try at're lightyears ahead of them already. And it seems you came away with some really great feedback. You should be proud.
    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  15. Bru, I am glad you can see as well. I've been reading your blog; just have not been commenting so often.

  16. I read epic fantasy. It is a favorite genre of mine.

    What I like most about it is it takes its time building a world and introducing the characters. The MC is introduced, and usually a supporting character, and the setting is firmly grounded. Character plots are introduced before the story plot. Sometimes you get a hint of what the plot is - is it a philosophical journey, or a quest for talismans.

    An epic takes time to build. Those that want to know everything about the hero, the side kicks, the villian, and the novel plot all within the first couple chapters are obviously (to me) not epic fantasy readers. They want quick action that involves magic and then to move on to the next new thing.

    I don't think those readers are your target audience Ted. But your target audience isn't as large as it was when LOTR (the novels, not the movies) was in its heyday.

    Your reviewers don't seem too harsh to me. They each wanted something of their own natural reading style in the opening chapters. By today's standards, women need to play an almost usurping role to men in any novel. But they (the Vine Reviewers) were not able to take into consideration the overall novel concept. Just the strength of the initial excerpt.

    My very personal opinion of this contest is that it teaches writers to shove a lot of info into the beginning, and then to either repeat it later in the novel, or to delete a lot of valuable setting and character info in favor of quick, action packed read.

    There may be some merit to your reviewer's feedback Ted. I haven't read the entire novel, so I can't really say. But what I will say is, if you feel your continuing novel is addressing all the reviewer concerns - just not in the opening - then perhaps your novel is proceeding at the pace it should.

    Your first reviewer seemed to understand where the novel is going. The second reviewer has probably never picked up a novel longer than 70k.

    Tuck both reviews away for a couple weeks before deciding how you feel about the feedback - but definitely glow with the kudos from the first.

    And keep writing and revising according to your own vision of the novel. Mideval is definitely a male dominated genre. Joan of Arc was an aberration :)


  17. Oh;

    Did you post a preview on create space? If you send me the link I'd be happy to post a review for you. No guarantees I won't agree with your reviewers, or have my own opinions of what could use "improvement".


  18. Ted,

    I didn't even know we got to see our reviews! After reading your post, I logged in and read mine. One liked it, the other hated it (though the one who hated it conceded that teens would probably like it, which I thought was funny, since s/he was reviewing a teen entry).

    It's funny, because the review of the one who hated it didn't bother me at all. It's like being called names by someone who doesn't know you at all. It's the ones where they are really thoughtful and point out the true weak spots that are hardest to take. Truth is harder than bashing.

    Thanks for letting me know about the reviews, though!

  19. Cyndi, it didn't hurt to see the reviews, it only made me sad both that I didn't get input that would truly help me and the fact that my entry wouldn't progress further for potentially even better input.

  20. Wow, Ted, that's a remarkable difference! I have to wonder how many entries each judge had to review; after a while, some may have started skimming, which is unfortunate. Don't sign on for the job if you can't do it right.

    At least you had really positive feedback from the first reviewer!