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ABNA 2010

For the past 2 1/2 weeks, I have once again been judging the quarterfinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award – I know, I know, I spend most of the space on this blog bitching about Jeff Bezos and his encroaching army of Kindle-bots, but as a judge, I was hired by contest partner Publishers Weekly, so my morality is intact, thank you very much.  PW has contracted me and 100 others to read & review 5 full-length manuscripts in the time allotted.  By the time the quarters roll around, the field has been trimmed to 250 General Fiction manuscripts (down from around 5000 – 10,000 including the YA category which has the same guidelines), which, based upon the reviews of the PW reviewers, are then again trimmed to 50 by the editors of Penguin (the grand prize is a publishing contract from Penguin) and cut yet again to a final 3 by a celebrity panel of experts. (This year’s panel:  Tana French, Sarah Dessen, and Nancy Werlin) Then, after all that, Amazon customers get to vote for the winner. I’m just a small cog in the machine…

Other than being pretty cool, what does this mean?  Well, my reading life is not my own, hence the relative silence from the Catapult.  (Right, like I post with any semblance of regularity.) This year – unlike last year – most of the manuscripts I’ve been assigned are quite readable (I can’t really talk about what I’m reading, sorry) but the whole process is rather time consuming and at this point, a bit overwhelming. I mean, Monday was the NCAA Final, it’s opening week for the Orioles, the Kings are headed for the playoffs, the iPad was released, and a 7.2 earthquake nearly knocked my overloaded bookcases to the floor over the weekend.

Before the manuscripts arrived, I read Olen Steinhauer‘s upcoming The Nearest Exit, Peter Temple’s Truth, and Yann Martel’s Beatrice & Virgil.  The lowdown:  Steinhauer’s was fantastic, picking up right where The Tourist left off – a fast-paced, complex, believable modern spy novel with enough twists and turns that even the seasoned crime novel reader is blindsided by the ending.  A side note: someone told me the other day that Johnny Depp was currently filming a movie version of The Tourist.  Uh, yeah, that’s a different kind of tourist – in his version, Depp’s actually a tourist in Paris, not a deep cover CIA operative;  Truth is an equally complex, truly labyrinthine crime novel from the master of Australian crime fiction (full review coming, I swear); and Martel’s much-anticipated Beatrice & Virgil… you really have to wait until I finish the review for that one, cuz I kinda hated it.  

That’s all.  Carry on.

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8 comments on “ABNA 2010

  1. crosswaysnet
    April 23, 2010

    I appreciate the character sketch of the typical ABNA PW reviewer. As a YA quarter-finalist this year, I've been curious how many manuscripts have been assigned to how many reviewers. If my math is right, the semis will be decided in the Penguin offices by browsing a single review per manuscript. THAT is decidedly scary.

    It will be fascinating to mine the full review and make hay with it.

    Thanks for your contribution to the blogosphere.

    Bram Floria

  2. Seth Marko
    April 23, 2010

    Hey, sure thing – good luck!

  3. crosswaysnet
    May 4, 2010

    Well, I got catapulted right outta there… There's been a lot of scuttlebutt in the CreateSpace forums about the un-constructive and scathing dismissals so many received from these anonymous PW reviews. I read maybe a handful of posted reviews that approached a sense of evenhandedness and helpful input. Many, many, were just nasty. I'm sure you were much more humane in the way you handled your assignments. 😕 As it is now, PW reviewers are considered the enemy. Open your mail carefully for a while!

    Many of the authors remarked “We waited for THIS? I thought a PW review was supposed to be a PRIZE for making it to the 1/4 finals…”

    If your interested, here's my humble take on my licking: http://bit.ly/duf38j

    Blessings,

  4. Seth Marko
    May 4, 2010

    Well… I don't know what to tell you, except that having your unpublished manuscript reviewed for a contest is most definitely not the same as having your book reviewed by Publishers Weekly.

    Sorry you got bumped!

  5. crosswaysnet
    May 5, 2010

    I'm sorry too, but I'm trying to learn as much as I can about the reviewing process as well as the art of writing itself.

    Confused by what you mean when you say “having your unpublished manuscript reviewed for a contest is most definitely not the same as having your book reviewed by Publishers Weekly.”

    Do you mean that all these ABNA 1/4 finalist manuscripts are NOT treated with the same professional courtesy by PW reviewers as published novels?

  6. Seth Marko
    May 5, 2010

    No, of course they are – my comment was in response to “We waited for THIS? I thought a PW review was supposed to be a PRIZE for making it to the 1/4 finals” Do you think the PW reviewers look at it that way? How can they review with any amount of “evenhandedness” if the expectations are that they are supposed to help edit these manuscripts with helpful notations and flattery? How is that helpful to the author?

    If every author who has ever received a bad review or a rejection letter from a publishing house took things as personally as that, they would all give up and never get their books published.

    “Gone with the Wind” was rejected 38 times -and it won the Pulitzer Prize! Hell, even Dr. Seuss had his first book rejected 27 times. I can only speak for myself, but there is nothing personal about a bad review given – you just can't look at it that way, not in the professional sphere.

  7. Jennifer Powell
    May 5, 2010

    I think there is some confusion between reviewing and editing. A review is meant to be a thoughtful critique or evaluation of the work as written. Editing is meant to revise the work for improvement. By submitting an unpublished manuscript, you, ultimately, are the editor. PW, as far as I know, does not edit books but reviews them.

    The reason we have reviews is to evaluate and even judge their merit. Reviews are also quite subjective and should not be looked at as the end all, be all for placing value on any work. The fact that you have written a full-length novel should be lauded but that doesn't necessarily mean it is a great work of fiction. The truth is that any creative work will be judged to be good or bad (often both). That's the double-edged sword of art. What touches you may disgust me but that doesn't mean it isn't valuable. Whoever reviewed your manuscript may not value it in the same way that you do but that also does not mean the critique is not valid.

    The reality of the publishing world is that it is cruel, unfair and almost impossible to succeed in. An unknown auther needs perseverance, skill and luck to get published these days. As Seth mentioned, many books that are today classics would never have been published had the author not truly believed enough in his work to keep submitting it.

    I think you should look at the positive here. How many unknown, unpublished authors will have the opportunity to have their manuscripts professionally read and reviewed? Even a single review is more than the average unpublished author will get. Hell, the average unpublished author is lucky if someone will even read his manuscript, let alone review it. You have unbiased insight to the strenghts and weaknesses of your novel. Hopefully you will take that insight to heart, take a good, hard look at your book and edit so that then next time you have the chance to sumbit it, it is even better than before.

    Best of luck to you.

  8. crosswaysnet
    May 6, 2010

    Jennifer – thanks for jumping into this discussion. Are you a PW reviewer as well?

    Since you're talking over Seth's shoulder to me let me clarify a bit. I am NOT complaining about getting a bad review. I was glad to get a specific response that explained why I was not advancing. Since ABNA relies on a single review to be considered for the semi-finals, my PW review sealed my fate (for THIS year…) and now I know why.

    Seth mentioned 'editing' vs. 'reviewing,' not me. I'm afraid he might have thought I was the source of “We waited for THIS? I thought a PW review was supposed to be a PRIZE for making it to the 1/4 finals.”

    I didn't ask the question Seth quotes. I was quoting others who felt seriously flamed. As for me, my small hope was that there'd be one quotable line in my review. There wasn't. That's my only disappointment. I provided a link above ( and here: http://bit.ly/duf38j ) to my blog on my PW review if you care to see how an this aspiring author processed the learning opportunity.

    I agree with you it is a rare thing to be given the opportunity to be reviewed by those who do not ordinarily stoop to drink from the self-published pool. I'm glad I took the chance to try ABNA, and I probably will again. The sentiment floating around the CreateSpace communities since the semis announcement is that it's one thing to be panned – it's quite another to be savaged. In this cutthroat field they're probably wrong about that. But I DID read a lot of those PW reviews and, frankly, I was often unimpressed by the quality of the critiques. Many of them did not offer, as you say, ” unbiased insight to the strengths and weaknesses of (their) novel(s).” Any way I looked at the worst of those reviews, they were petty and mean-spirited, providing nothing in the way of analysis or useful input. All 'disgust' and no 'valuation' it seemed. Then again, maybe those books really were THAT bad. You sure think MINE was from reading that one review.

    I know, I know, it's the nature of the business, right? I'm going to have to read more PW reviews of published works to see if they get the same level of vituperation.

    I am also realistic that a PW review is not supposed to be an admiration society or a writers circle. A lot of us authors got softened a bit by the generally helpful criticisms and synopses those lower pay grade Amazon Vine reviewers gave us. Reviews based on our excerpts which got us into the quarter-finals to begin with.

    Everything about the contest has been a positive and stretching experience for me. You need not worry yourself that I'm wallowing in self-pity. It's up to me to make something of my budding skills and keep my growth as a creative artist. And I'll work just as hard on the PR side of things to create some of that 'luck' we all require.

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This entry was posted on April 8, 2010 by in ABNA, Peter Temple, steinhauer.
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