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!