ABNA Post-Mortem Part II

May 8, 2009

Continued from Part I.

On Amazon:

  • I'll be the first to admit that writing a large-scale software system like the one they have is hard.
  • But it seemed vulnerable to "gaming", and to what Amazon admittedly calls "voting attacks". Part of their solution seems to be to simply discard votes after a certain amount of time, so the system self-resets. But a quicker response to complaints might be better in a time-limited competition like this one.
  • It took Amazon over a week to correct the international download problem. Admittedly, setting up a competition like this is a lot of hard work for the software guys. But this was Year 2, the problem existed last year and was known, so I would expect it to be a non-issue the second time around.
  • Amazon never allowed people without Amazon.com accounts to post reviews. Yet they said anyone, even internationals, could vote. This puts the onus on international supporters to open a new Amazon.com account and buy something in order to give a review. This makes it hard for an international entrant to drum up support. It wasn't that big a deal for me in the quarterfinals. But the semi-finals contain entrants from seven countries. Those people are going to need all the support they can get.
  • The whole #amazonfail brouhaha broke on Twitter the Sunday before semi-finalists were announced. I can totally see how the situation wasn't really resolvable right away on a holiday weekend (and I still think they could be more transparent). But precisely because I was in the competition (which put me in a conflict-of-interest situation), I felt it was important to state my opinion immediately.
  • Amazon puts a TON of work into this. Some entrants who didn't make the quarterfinal cut were expressing a lot of impatience when they didn't receive their editorial reviews right away. But that's 1500 entries x 2 reviews each = 3000 reviews to input into the system. Wow. My PW review arrived about a week after the semi-final cut. Not bad.
  • Reading 5000 word excerpts is time-consuming. Hats off to the reviewers, judges, editors and others who've been slogging through them all.

On the entries themselves:

  • There are lots of talented people out there.
  • Even so, the quality of entries varied widely. I'm amazed at how many I saw that seemed to be first drafts, or hadn't been proof-read or perhaps even been read by at least one or two external readers.
  • Then again, there are lots of talented people out there.

On the people:

  • I met lots of great people on the forums. I've got a bunch of new Twitter and Facebook friends as a result.
  • I also discovered a lot of people who seem hugely frustrated with the publishing world. If it did nothing else, the competition reinforced for me the notion that one should never rant in public. Especially if one can't do it with the right kind of humour.
  • Many entrants were extremely generous with their time and their reviews. One entrant read all 213 entries in the General Literature category! Someone else read each and every single fantasy entry and provided reviews. I have no idea where they found the time. But they deserve a reviewing prize.
  • Oh, and there are lots of talented people out there :-)

Would I do it again? Maybe. I'm getting close to taking Untalented out of its submission phase, and focusing on my next book, so it seemed like the right time to try it in a competition. I would probably only enter my next book when and if it gets to the same point. While the cycle of rejection from agents and editors is hard, it is the way the system works, and it isn't necessarily a bad thing in giving me the time to make my writing better.

Postscript: And if you made it this far, a little laugh to cap things off. In promoting my entry I posted a link to it in an open pimp thread on John Scalzi's Whatever blog. Thus proving that he is indeed the king of all things bacon on the Internet. And that he has some serious bacon followers. Because this is what showed up on my entry's Amazon page later that day:


4 comments on “ABNA Post-Mortem Part II”

  1. I suck. I set myself the goal of reading all the entries in the fantasy category (when there were only 24 of them), then just got destroyed by the first entry I read. It was really, really, painfully amateurish (and hey, I *know* amateurish :-) and I lost all will to proceed. Then they posted the REST of the fantasy entries (it was, I think, 53 in total?) and poof, I was done.

    I did read your piece, and liked it, and didn't get off my ass and go vote for it in time. #tkfail for me. So I definitely owe you one...

  2. Tim: Yeah, there were 53 or 54 fantasy entries. I think I read a dozen or less. The day job thing :-) So don't be too hard on yourself. But thanks for reading! What this reinforced for me is that my story is at least competent, it may just be missing a certain je ne sais quoi, extra sparkle, voice, or something.

    Kristan: when to retire from submission is a tough decision. Mine's been in the pipe for 3 years, and I've got another work I'd like to start shopping soon. That's not to say I will give up completely on Untalented. I may need to retool it somewhat or try some creative distribution methods :-)

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