Don't forget to visit my website! Jackie Coleman - Author

Monday, March 18, 2013

My stomach hurts!

My stomach hurts, and it has for well over a week now. When it started I figured it was because Amazon was just a few days away from posting those moving to the Quarter-Finals. A week later, I began to think maybe it wasn't nerves at all, but a stomach bug. Now, a week and a half past the onset of my upset tummy, I'm back to thinking its nerves. 

Every time I get ready to look at the ABNA forums on Amazon's website, my stomach twists into knots. There are some really nice people posting there, but there are also some pretty hateful ones. The ones I loathe, however, are the ones who are blatantly promoting their work under the guise of a question. Promote your work if you want. Ask people to read and review your excerpt (most everyone does) … but don't pretend you're asking for advice when you just want to draw attention to your excerpt. Nearly everyone is asking others (particularly unbiased strangers) to read and review their excerpt. The ones that leave a bad taste in my mouth are the ones who pretend their embarrassed by their work and what others will think of their excerpt. I find it less than a coincidence that those are always the ones with overly-foul language, written to shock rather than entertain.  I can understand why they would be embarrassed to have others read it, but look ... you don't enter an international contest of this caliber ... in your own name ... if you don't want your family to know! Even if they had written under a pen name, how are they going to explain the prize money ... or the trip to New York for the awards ceremony ... if they were to win?

I downloaded all the Quarter-Final entries of the romance genre, and have been steadily making my way through them. A few were quite good, and I would have happily continued reading the rest of the novel if I could. A few were written well, but not my kind of romance (paranormal). Nevertheless, I would probably have finished them, if for no other reason than I'd started them.

Some, however, are beyond bad. There is a splattering of poorly written "mommy porn" in the Quarter-Finals, and that really bothers me. Erotica is not romance. Like all pornography, erotica is created with the intention of selling a lot of books, not with telling a compelling story. It doesn't belong in this contest any more than porn movies deserve to be showcased with mainstream movies at the Oscars. I don't believe it requires explaining … we all know there's a reason pornography holds its own award ceremonies, away from those of "real" movies.

Fifty Shades of Grey is touted as an erotic romance, but there's really very little romance to it. It's basically an older man subjugating a young, impressionable woman. It has sold a LOT of books, but not because people want to read about the love between Christian and Anastasia, but because they want to read about the perverted sex between them! There's nothing wrong with that, but trying to pass it off as a romance is.

A lot of people bought the book to see what all the hype was about and were disappointed in it. I know at least one woman who saw a group of housewives on morning television claiming "this book changed my marriage". She bought it thinking it would help hers, and was shocked to find out she had bought an x-rated, bondage book. I know someone who reads erotica. An avid reader of all types, she bought the book, but can't force herself to finish it. The plot is implausible and the writing is mediocre at best.

Mommy porn sells, and I'm fine with that … just be honest about what it is … and don't try to pass it off as romance. If you take out the sex, all you're left with is a couple of poorly written passages that no one would bother buying or reading. Without the sex, there is no story, and if there is no story without the sex, it's neither a romance nor literature. Let's just say that anything a twelve-year-old boy would hide under his mattress has no literary merit.

There is also a book about a young girl abandoned by her father after her mother dies. She's raised by an aunt, who leaves her in the care of her teenage sons and a neighbor boy. As she grows up, they molest her. As she grows older, she's beaten, raped, and impregnated … more than once … by these three boys, one of which, is her "love interest". Really? A love story between a victimized six-year-old child and her abusers? I find this one to be very disturbing, as did many others (per the reviews).

If you uploaded your entry with Internet Explorer, it uploaded the excerpt as one, long, unformatted paragraph, which makes for very difficult reading. If you were one of those people, your writing had better be spectacular to make up for the difficulty in reading such a passage. I read one that was formatted like this, and I hope English was not their first language (all entries had to be submitted in English). The story may have been well written in another language, but the translation made for some very stunted, confusing sentences … the kind you read a couple of times to make sure you read it right, then think "Hmmm, that's really what it says. Wonder what they meant to say!"

These are just a few of the examples, and they temper my enthusiasm at being one of the "chosen" Quarter-Finalists, and once again, cause me to question the overall quality of the entries submitted in the romance category.

Everyone believed in the piece they entered, myself included. I realize others could read my entry not care for it, but they won't walk away scratching their head or feeling like they need a bath … or antibiotics. I have been told I should be more graphic with sex scenes, but I don’t' think it's necessary. I'm not writing a sexual "how-to" … it's a love story. As far as I'm concerned, the sex is irrelevant and it is a by-product of their love. The sex is not the story, so it's left to the imagination of the reader. The sexiest movies I have ever seen are the ones that have no sex scenes in them!

I'm certain that by the end of the contest only the well-written stories will remain. In judging this round, Publisher's Weekly reads and reviews the entire manuscript. They are blatantly honest in their reviews because it's what they do. They aren't in business to make writer's feel warm and fuzzy inside … they are paid for their honest opinion, which can be brutal at times.

There are numerous typo's and grammatical errors in my submitted entry, and I can only hope that it is written well enough that the reviewers will understand I can write well, even if the piece still needs some editing. The reviews I got from Amazon reviewers/editors were very positive, so obviously the typo's didn't bother them or get in the way of the story I was telling, and I can only hope that's the case with the Publisher's Weekly reviewers.

Like all the other writers who entered this contest, I believe I write well and told a compelling story. The reviews I've garnered on the Amazon website for my entry are all very good and give me hope that I'll continue on, but there is certainly no guarantee. I'm not exactly worried about what Publisher's Weekly will say about my work, although I am somewhat anxious. I hope if they are critical of something, it's done in a way that I can use their criticism to make the story and/or writing better. If their only criticism is that it needs editing, I will take that as a glowing review … everything has to go through an editing process before it's published.

There are twenty-nine days until Amazon releases the twenty-five entries lucky enough to continue to the Semi-Finals. Out of the one hundred per category in the Quarter-Finals, only five per category move on.

Ninety-five percent of the Quarter-Finalists will be eliminated … and I can only pray that I am among the five percent deemed worthy enough to move forward.

On April 16th, the pool of entries moving forward will have gone from 10,000 to 2,000 to 500 to 25. Regardless of the odds, I will remain hopeful … and, most likely, dehydrated and nauseated!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Judges Reviews

Those who made it to Round Two had two top reviewers from Amazon read the excerpt, score it, and answer three questions. Those who judge the excerpts are only human, and their bias plays into their scoring, but I think they all tried very hard to do a good job and be fair. It's a lot of work for them, with very little compensation. I have a hard time believing any of them would take on this responsibility if they weren't committed to the task. I believe they were honestly trying to be helpful, in both their criticism and praise.

The reviews are posted privately, but some entrants are posting theirs on the contestant forum boards. Some posting their reviews were cut this round, others are continuing. Only a few are openly complaining. Most seem to think the reviews were fair and honest, even the ones with less than stellar comments.

To my complete and utter amazement, both of my judge's reviews were excellent. I'm still blinking back tears that two complete strangers loved my work so much! I guess I'm having what many would call a "Sally Field Moment" ...

You like me! You really, really like me!  

I have lived my whole life dreaming of the day I would become a published author, and with these two amazing reviews, it feels possible that my dreams may actually come true!

So, to the anonymous reviewers whose words filled my heart with joy, validated my passion for writing, and give me the courage and drive to continue ... thank you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Here are my reviews, copied and pasted verbatim:

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

Amazing prose. Perfect flow and delivery. It's like being with Chuck and Tara, being a part of their story. Well done!

What aspect needs the most work?

Honestly there was nothing that I felt really needed a lot of work. Sadly the excerpt was a little short, I would have liked to read a bit of the 'present' Tara. But I won't hold it against you since we only get 10 pages!

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

I admit that I am not a huge romance novel reader, but I enjoy the literary romance novels, especially those with something beyond the interaction of a young, troubled couple (looking at you Nicholas Sparks!). I enjoyed the memories and the way it all played out. The reader gets a feel for how much Chuck loves Tara and then 'poof' he's gone and the reader is left with a sense of loss and a sense of sadness and sympathy for Tara. We are hooked into her story just with the near death memories of Chuck. I would very much enjoy reading more!

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

This is an absolutely breathtaking excerpt and the strongest part is the snipets of life that Chuck is seeing in his dying moments. It is written very well and easy to follow and lovely to read.

What aspect needs the most work?

There is nothing that needs any work. Great story in my opinion.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

Overall, I can't wait to read the finished product. This was a very good excerpt. The story of a woman who goes back to where she grew up with her father and grandmother and where her father drowned just months after her last visit, seventeen years ago. Tara and her father had a very close relationship after loosing her mother when she was just a little girl. It is beautiful to see the way this burly cop melts in the presense of his daughter. The "pitch" tells us that Tara is going to learn things on this trip that will surprise her and she will meet a man. This promises to be a good read to the end. Well written!!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"A Summer in Ocracoke" Made the Quarter-Finals!!!!!

What a relief!!!!  I didn't realize how nervous I was until I opened up my iPad this morning to see if the results were posted.  My stomach was so twisted in knots I actually thought I might get sick.  What a tremendous relief to make it to this round!

All Quarter-Final excerpts are available for download (typo's and all!!!).  Here's the link to A Summer in Ocracoke ...

Click here to download the excerpt of "A Summer in Ocracoke"

So, out of the 10,000 entries, 500 are still contenders, 100 of which are in the romance category.  I can't wait to download the excerpts of the other romance Quarter-Finalists and see what kind of competition I have.

The Semi-Finals will be announced April 16th.  Only 25 total will make it through ... five per category.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Six Days to the Quarter-Finals

In six days, Amazon will announce those moving to the Quarter-Finals.  The decision is based upon the score by the reviewer of the excerpt (the excerpt is the first 3,000-5,000 words of the manuscript).  Once you become a Quarter-Finalist, the entire manuscript will be read and scored.

Round One was the initial submission ... 10,000 submissions into one of five categories.

Based on the pitch, 2,000 (400 per category), were moved to Round Two.

Based on the excerpt, 500 (100 per category), will move to the Quarter-Finals.

Based on the entire manuscript, 25 (5 per category), will move to the Semi-Finals.

Based again on the entire manuscript (though I don't know how it's rated at this stage), 5 total (1 per category), move to the Finals, at which point you are offered a publishing contract.  You can refuse it, but who would?  That's why we all entered this contest!

I hope to move to the Quarter-Finals, as does every other participant in Round Two, but there are no guarantees.  I have read of people who have entered the same manuscript in multiple years, each with varying results ... one year they made it to the Quarter-Finals, one year to Round Two, once to the Semi-Finals, and more than once they never even made it to Round Two ... and this was with the exact same manuscript!

I have read a good many of the pitches in all of the categories of the ones that made it to Round Two.  Some were really good, and it was easy to understand why they made it to Round Two.  Even if it was a book I would never read, I could see it had value.  Some I had to read two or three times, trying to figure out what they were actually saying ... and some I never could make sense of.  To be fair, it is very hard to condense the essence of your novel into 300 words or less, so the excerpts and manuscripts may be very good even if the pitch is poorly written and/or confusing ... but since those who advanced to Round Two were selected based on solely on the pitch, I couldn't help but wonder about the overall quality of the pitches.

The above examples prove that good writing isn't necessarily enough to propel you from one round to the next ... your work also has to fall into the hands of someone who finds the premise of your story interesting and intriguing.  As much as I enjoy Nicholas Sparks, I would not have passed his last two novels from the Quarter-Finals to the Semi-Finals.  Supernatural stories turn me off.  Safe Haven, his best selling book-turned-movie was a huge hit at the box office.  A good friend of mine LOVED the book and the movie (as did millions of others), but I did not.  It certainly doesn't mean the book wasn't good ... it just means I didn't enjoy it ... and that if I were judging his work, he wouldn't get a favorable score on those two particular books.

For the record ... I think Nicholas Sparks is a master at writing romance novels, to which his bank account holds testament.  But when you throw in ghosts or super-duper, too-coincidental elements ... you've lost me ... and his last two books had both.  Regardless, I'm sure I will buy his next book.  If the ghost thing continues, I may not continue to read his work ... but I probably will.  I don't enjoy horror or gore, either, which means I'm not a Stephen King fan ... but something tells me both of these men have enough loyal followers that my humble opinion won't make a bit of difference.  And I think it's safe to say that my sweet, romantic, little love story would make a Stephen King fan gag ... so I do understand it works both ways.

All that to say ... even though I think the excerpt for A Summer in Ocracoke is well-written and tells the beginning of a really good, unique story, it has to fall into the hands of someone who doesn't think a love story without vampires or violence or Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-sex isn't worth reading.

I am prepared for the possibility that I will not make it to the Quarter-Finals.  If I don't continue on in this contest, it doesn't mean that A Summer in Ocracoke isn't good ... it simply means that the one Amazon reviewer who read my excerpt didn't care for it.  I deal with this by reminding myself that both Nicholas Sparks and Stephen King were rejected many times ... by successful industry professionals who should have recognized literary genius (and they both are) when it was (literally) dropped into their laps.

If I don't continue on to the Quarter-Finals, I'll go back to researching agents to query.  Until then, I wait nervously, for ... Six.  More.  Long.  Days.