Thursday, April 1, 2010

Feedback from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards

In January, I entered The Know Circuit in the yearly Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards and received word in February that it had reached the second round of judging, as mentioned in this earlier post. The second round of judging ended in late March, and I am sorry to say I did not get through that round. The judging for this round was based on reading a 3,000-5,000 word excerpt, and the ABNA's expert reviewers would offer feedback to all entrants in the second round.

I welcome all criticisms. As you may have noticed, I link to every review my work gets on this blog, and they've all been positive. That worries me: positive reviews are great, but I know good and well that the work isn't perfect. I want as much negative feedback as I can, otherwise I run the risk of believing that nothing is wrong with my work. Tear my book a new one, as long as the review fairly considers the book, I'm happy to hear it. With that in mind, here are the reviews from the ABNA in their entirety.

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

Has potential. Interesting cyber-effects and gadgetry, interesting cyberpunk New World. When the psychic attack hits, a new element is introduced.

What aspect needs the most work?

It's hard to say on the basis of this short a segment. The three segments presented here are all setting the scene for the longer term plot development.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

Pretty strong but needs a rewrite for clarity and focus.

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

The foul language is strong, but not in a good way.

What aspect needs the most work?

Words like goddamn bullshit, fucking, damn, etc. could be toned down a bit. This is offensive and detracts from the storyline. Some of the language isn't even discernable.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

You lost my interest in Chapter 1 with all of the foul language. This needs some work.

I'll be honest, their feedback is pretty sparse. Understandable when you have 1,000 entries to go over. I do take exception with the second reviewer, even though the criticism is fair. As a matter of fact, when I gave my mom Under the Amoral Bridge to read, her first criticism was the abundance of foul language. I'm well aware of my tendency to swear like a sailor, both in real life and in my writing. I consider myself a gourmand of profanity, a veritable connoisseur of cursing. I love the idea of coming up with entirely new swear combos like some wacked out avatar in a street fighting video game, only instead of fighting with fists, I fight with words.

I expect my mother to get offended by curse words. She's my mother. But an impartial reviewer of a literary contest? This person ought to be able to take a few f-bombs now and then. I made a very conscious choice about the profanity in the novels. Profanity is the verbal texture of the criminal world. A criminal world without excessive profanity is the sanitized, unreal world of television pantomime, a caricature that lacks punch and menace. Could it be removed? Certainly, but my opinion is that to do so drains the world of character, of believability. Obviously, this reviewer feels differently. I think it's a damn shame my book would get kicked because someone can't stand a bit of the salty talk. By my count, there's 15 swears in that 5,000 word excerpt. That doesn't seem excessive enough to warrant a thumbs down.

As I said, it's a fair criticism, but a very disappointing one. How is the ABNA going to pick interesting work if they are more concerned with potty mouth than interesting subject matter? What do you think? Am I being the pissy artiste? Is this criticism a valid reason for bouncing the material from the competition? Does the profanity turn you off?


jwiv said...

So you got fucked because some member of the Parents Television Council was your judge. Right on.

Jovanna said...

That reviewer should restrict themselves to cozy mysteries. People talk like this today. When a reviewer uses the term "offensive" to refer to fucking, there's a real credibility issue. The sexualization of children is offensive. Fuck is just a word. Put this one out of your mind, it's a waste of time and thought.

Jason said...

I wouldn't sweat it. If it fits the scene, it should be in there.


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