ABNA 2009 Post-Mortem Part I

May 7, 2009

I promised a post-mortem of the ABNA; here it is, somewhat delayed.

First, a huge THANK YOU! to everyone who downloaded my excerpt and tried to leave a review (whether you succeeded or not - it wasn't easy for some). Untalented did not make the semi-finals, but I appreciated your support during the quarterfinal round.

To provide context, my goals for entering the competition (aside from winning) were:

  1. learn how to handle reviews
  2. network
  3. learn how to handle myself *as a writer* in a public forum that is not my blog (I have regular blog readers who like me, but I wanted to see if I could dialogue online with strangers a bit on the Amazon forums)

So, what did I learn?

On reviews:

  • I handle good reviews just fine. Who doesn't? :-) I didn't actually get any truly negative reviews (even the PW review had good things to say)
  • I don't like trading reviews. I already knew I don't like starring reviews - in my mind it tries to quantify what's essentially very reader subjective. But by not leaving any stars in the Amazon system, would I be hurting other authors' chances? Amount and quality of customer reviews is one factor in determining advancement to further rounds, but entrants review other entrants. What to do if a work didn't really grab me? In the end, I tried to focus on what I liked about a story, and maybe one improvable thing, whether I liked the story or not. Copping out? Maybe. But I slept at night. If someone did me the courtesy of giving me a review, I reviewed them back. I gave unsolicited reviews only if I really liked the work. But I have better insight into why many published writers aren't so keen to review or read unpublished writers' novels.
  • I'm not a salesperson. So promoting my work felt weird. I settled on a sticky post here, a basic notification of my quarterfinalist status on every social network and forum I belong to, and a couple of blog cross-references. Had I made it to the semis I would have repeated the process. It wound up not being that important for the quarterfinals, and it's hard to tell how much importance any buzz might have in later rounds. But I'm presuming every little bit helps, and it was good practice. I *think* I found a way to walk the line between annoying self-promotion and being too incognito with some kind of balance. But I'd be interested to hear other opinions.
  • Many people went to a lot of effort to provide thoughtful and useful reviews. Even though Untalented didn't make the cut, I found value in what was posted about it. I was especially surprised to find two unsolicited Amazon Vine reviews. Neat. Again, a big thank you to all of you who took the time to read.

On the competition and Amazon politics:

  • First, there are MAJOR politics in a thing like this. And lots of built-in conflicts of interest.
  • Some people do "review retaliation". When given a bad review, they retaliate on the reviewer's entry. Objectivity goes by the wayside. Luckily this wasn't a problem for my entry.
  • On the forums, you can make enemies. But you may never know who they are. I commiserated with someone by making a light-hearted joke at the expense of spammers who were tagging all her posts as unhelpful. The next day, I found that each and every review my entry had received had been tagged as unhelpful. And many subsequent posts I made to the forums started getting tagged with "No"s. Bottom line: some people have a lot of time on their hands. And they'll go to great lengths to do what they think it takes to put you in your place. And the only thing you can do is shrug and ignore them.
  • Because of the politics mentioned above, I found myself thinking twice before expressing any dissenting opinions on the forums. Because you really don't know what will hurt your chances. But ultimately I wound up deciding that if I could disagree politely, I wasn't going to worry about voting attacks anymore, and just err on the side of participation.

In Part II, thoughts on Amazon, the entries, and the people.

2 comments on “ABNA 2009 Post-Mortem Part I”

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