Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Venting: Vicious Vermin

Whereby I have a wee tantrum about my Publisher's Weekly Review...
ROUS (rodents of unusual size)

See, when I entered the contest this year, I didn't realize Publisher's Weekly had hired ROUS to judge the semi-final round. But BOY, do I feel like that's what I just wrestled! MAN, it was scathing. Somehow I'd thought I was going to scrape through this writing thing without a lot of nastiness... I'd thought my writing had passed that phase where somebody would just be mean and rotten to me. Apparently not.

So you know what I'm talking about:

ABNA Publishers Weekly Reviewer
A teen girl escapes her mother’s risky lifestyle and joins forces with three children living in hiding in this absurdly plotted story. In 1988 Portland, Ore., 13-year-old Athena Garnett runs away from home after her heroin-addict mother tries to sell her daughter’s virginity for another hit. With nowhere to go, she lives on the street, sleeping in a park and scrounging food from the McDonald’s dumpster. Meanwhile, in the suburbs, the three Popescue siblings -- Kade, Tasha, and Peter -- are also lying low, but for a different reason. The children of a Romanian professor and a possible spy, they watched their father get gunned down in their house and hid in the secret passageways their father had built. A chance meeting downtown between the trio and Athena brings the kids together and soon they’re all hiding out in the Popescue family home, taking turns keeping watch for men responsible for Mr. Popescue’s death, who also turns out to be linked to Athena’s own past. The deeper they dig, the more links they discover between the four, including evidence of a potential art thievery ring, with a dangerous man named Balto at the center: someone with direct ties to the Popescue murder and Athena’s heretofore unknown past. While the sections detailing Athena’s life as a homeless youth are intriguing and could easily be a stand-alone story, the connections to the Romanian quasi-orphans are ludicrous at best.

So... Ouch, huh? Absurdly plotted? See, last year I felt my review was spot on, but I can't just buy this absurdly plotted thing. I think this reviewer had a large stack and was impatient with a complex plot... maybe even MISSED stuff. I mean the plot description sounds accurate, but I'm JUST not seeing what the trouble is except that the reviewer didn't like it... There is no hint.

Guesses? They aren't buying the coincidence? But there are hints that show WHY these secretive kids TRUST this girl (hints related to them really being connected).

I just think it was the complexity.

If it is something OTHER than that, they've given me NO CLUE.

It had me feeling VERY VULNERABLE there for a while... I mean I really LIKE the story... But maybe I don't have a CLUE what makes a good story? THAT kind of vulnerable... I just really feel like the reviewer could have done a far better job saying WHAT was ludicrous... How to a give it a ludicrousectomy? So I am sticking with my original assessment. I was reviewed by a vicious vermin... or maybe a viper... To cope, I had to go drink Vino and eat queso with the couch to keg team. Have I SAID how much I love the wine bar at Whole Foods? Maybe I will tell you more tomorrow...

So for a book plot, what is your tolerance for complexity? Do you LIKE some twists and turns? Or do you prefer it fairly straight forward? I'd REALLY love some feedback from my friends who've read it? Does this look right to you? Jenny? Stacy? Leigh? Leanne? Chary? I mean I can totally take it from someone I BELIEVE gave it appropriate attention, but at the moment I'm doubting this reviewer did.


Pursuit of a crawling baby said...

Sorry to hear about you not getting through to the next round. I kept my eye on the ABNA results page yesterday with my fingers crossed for you.
Personally, I love complex stories and yours sounds pretty cool. I have no idea why the reviewer had such a problem with your plot. Total ROUS!

Ted Cross said...

It sounds interesting to me. The one area I find a bit unbelievable is that there happens to be a connection between Athena and these other kids.

Ted Cross said...

As for complexity, I love it. My favorite modern books are Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, which are super-complex. I doubt it is the complexity that bothered the reviewer, but rather the seemingly (I say seemingly because I have only the description you gave to go off of) huge coincidence of these kids having some sort of connecion. It sounded like these kids met each other randomly, and if not, that didn't come across to me.

Old Kitty said...

Awww Tart! I'm so sorry!

Hugs, hugs, hugs!

Take care

Jan Morrison said...

Rats! I'm sorry Tartlette. Here's what I'd say about the review - it isn't one. It is like a book report only with a streak of meaness. There is no 'constructive' intrepetation of words like 'absurdly' and 'ludicrous'. As well, 'ludicrous at best' doesn't even make sense.
So, although I haven't read the whole of your book, I do not trust this as a proper review. Don't they have standards? Nameless reviewers who have no creds that can be pointed to are not helpful. And if the reviewer had a pile of manuscripts and was hired to read them then I don't care how many there were. I've judged novels for contests and whether they made it through or not - the crit had to be respectful. This isn't.
Much love flowing to you....

Theresa Milstein said...

Hart, mine was pretty vague too. When I made it through the semi-finals, my comments were wonderful. This was a sobering round. I have to work on middle, characters, and grammar. No specifics for me either.

I feel your pain!

M. Carlson Davis said...

Oh, I'm sorry you got this reviewer and were cut. I read and liked your excerpt but got too busy to review it this year. This sounds a bit like the same reviewer I had last year who had NOTHING nice to say about my GF entry. Luckily I'd received a strong review on the same book in an earlier year, but it still stings. I destroyed mine because there was nothing helpful in it. There are a few nasty reviewers in the ABNA bunch who seem to see the reviewing as an ego trip. It's like they get pleasure in humiliating the writer and bashing the writing. Sending hugs..Marjorie

Hart Johnson said...

Nessa-thank you!

Ted-Yeah... I could probably strengthen why she is familiar. People just ARE at the same place at the same time occasionally, and I DO give a reason, but it's small... Relatively easy fix, though, so I really don't think that could be all of it.

Kitty-*hugs* Thank you!

Jan-Yeah, that was my primary problem, too--nothing to DO to change it. And I KNOW it isn't unfixable!

Theresa-Yeah, mine last year weren't totally glowing, but they were SPOT ON for accuracy. I'd be curious to see yours, too--someone on the boards shared reviews for the same book from 2010 and this year and there is a HUGE difference with this year being far ruder.

Hart Johnson said...

Marjorie-THANK YOU! (you snuck in there!) Yeah--I'm definitely looking for a little reality check from my peeps who've read it. I was really thinking it was near done!!!

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Ouch and so sorry. It sounds brutal. Hang in there.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Don't stress it Hart. Publishers Weekly is just harsh. Go back and read their reviews of both of my books and you'll feel better.

Rosemarie Benintend (Summertime Rose) said...

Hi Sweetheart!

Don't sweat it!

As you well know, I don't believe there is anything "legitimate" about the ABNA contest.

SOMETIMES, writers get proper reviews, sometimes they get hit and run brutality--with no discernible pattern.

The contest has employees who are judges AND contestants, and the forum, last year, became so incredibly vicious--with Amazon turning a blind eye to all complaints--most contributors left, and came to Facebook.

I'm gonna get a real contract, with grownups.

Don't sweat this corrupt, amateurish mishmash.

Just take whatever good you got from it--US--and move on.

jaybird said...

What Publisher's wrote about your book made me want to read it, so his review kind of back-fired. LOL.

I don't ever pay attention to reviews of movies/books until I have watched/read them myself. I find everything people "GUSH" about, leaves me flat and disappointed.

I'm sorry this review was so harsh Hart. I think you are all kinds of awesome and you need to own that, no matter what other people may think, review, say or hint at!

Tina said...

Wow. That sure stings. I think the story sounds intriguing, and I love a complex plot. I really enjoy the contemplations of what's going to to happen, or wondering the reason why some event took place. I enjoy discussing a book WHILE reading it, so that takes some coordination between you and the other readers.
Tina @ Life is Good
Co-Host of the April A to Z Challenge
Twitter: @AprilA2Z #atozchallenge

Jenny Milchman said...

Hart--I really think this review points to something I've felt for a while about critique groups, and contests--so long as something is not between covers (or possibly the digital equivalent, but I'm not sure) it is open to being viewed as a work-in-progress. If this story were already published, I don't think anyone would have this reaction. They may or may not find the plot realistic, but this story is definitely not worthy of being dismissed like that, or spoken about in such, well, ludicrous terms. If it wasn't an encounter with a vermin than it was just a result of getting a tired reviewer who couldn't quite tell which writing had achieved another level. Please don't take it to heart--or Hart!!

Tonja said...

Yikes. That's harsh. I totally understand the feeling of vulnerability - there's nothing worse. I prefer books that are more in the characters' heads than filled with complex plot. I think everyone has different preferences. You can't judge yourself based on one person's opinion. (Easy for me to say with my novels right here next to me where no one can read them.)

LTM said...

First off, ((BIG JUGS)). Second, remember the best books often were met with scathing criticism in the beginning.

But before rushing to why this absurd critique is ludicrous in its attempt to be even minutely helpful, there were a few compliments hidden in there! The parts about Athena on the street were intriguing! :o) yay!

Now, for the useless bits, I absolutely despise turds who fling out words like "ludicrous" and "absurd" without any hint of why they felt this way or what might be done to correct the problem. This book is not absurdly plotted.

It sounds to me like s/he didn't buy the connection btw Athena and the orphans. So OK, maybe look at what you have there and see if there are additional details or hints you can add to strengthen that connection.

You know it's been almost two years since I've read this, and I'm sure it's evolved. But even back then, I wouldn't have used this type of language to describe it. I would've gone more for complex and brutal. You know the parts I mean... :D

Hang in there, honey. You are aweseome. You are a published author, and if you are given constructive, helpful feedback, you are ready to meet the challenge.

I call this useless critique is absurd at best. ;o) <3

Hart Johnson said...

Theresa-thank you!

Alex-I will have to look for those--it will help to see published, well-loved books ALSO being disrespected!

Summaertime--very good advice. I DO get a lot from this contest, but most of it is social.

Jaybird-HA! Win then! So glad you like the sound!

Tina-I like that complexity, too!

Jenny-very good point about published ones getting more of a break, at least from a few. And I'm TRYING not to take it too harshly!

Tonja-it's true we all like different stuff, and I think the reader set-up on this--where they have SO MANY to get through, maximizes a preference for simple...

Leigh-Jugs back atcha! And THANK YOU for pointing out the good. Hard to see in all of this! And that point--the connection... I already have a plan to address... I just have a hard time thinking one scene and a few tweaks would pull off the whole absurdectomy!

vic caswell said...

awww sweetie! i growl at that reviewer for you, because i think it sound really interesting!
my guess as well is the connection... in the way they find each other... is that just coincidence or is there some kind of bread trail of clues that leads them together? because i think the intentional push of some outside force of getting the linked children together would feel more believable than sheer coincidence... but i haven't read the story at all. it really sounds like you are on to something with this plot, and i'm sorry for the harshness directed at you without the constructiveness criticism is supposed to lend.

Sarah Ahiers said...

awww Boromir!!!
Yeah, a bunch of my QT Forums pals also spent all day yesterday talking about the extremely harsh PW critiques/reviews this year. But when i read some of theirs, yeah that were harsh, but they were all things that could be addressed.
"Absurdly plotted" isn't constructive at all. It's just mean. What the hell are you supposed to do with that, other than just trash the novel?
Ugh. What an ass. Don't listen to him

ViolaNut said...

Well, it's been over 2 years since I read it, but if I remember correctly I told you that the bit I didn't buy was all the people who were helping Athena for seemingly no good reason, not the bit about the kids getting together. One coincidence is perfectly okay - they really do happen! - but 3 or 4 is straining credibility. And no, that wasn't a particularly constructive review. So poop on meanies.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Hi Hart,

How can I read it? It sounds right up my alley, and I love complexity. It sounds like a great story, and I can picture it as a movie just from the blurb. You are right, the reviewer didn't give any valid criticism, only a summary and a few mean words.


Kathy M.

Krista McLaughlin said...


That reviewer had to be a ROUS - they were only mean and didn't give any helpful criticism. That's sad that they thought they could review like that. Rude.

Unknown said...

Oof. That was definitely a little harsh - I agree with Jan that it read more like a rude report required for a class than a review.

I'm so sorry you were cut! That definitely comes as a blow to all authors. Although I'd be glad it wasn't any meaner - some of the things I've heard about ABNA reviews were much worse, so at least there's that.

Hart Johnson said...

Vic-that helps a ton to have you growling!!! There is ONE coincidence with a supporting why... but I CAN strengthen it...

Sarah-are other ones super harsh, too? I've seen a couple, but not a ton... not really thinking I should complain much on the actual ABNA boards (cuz you know... they might SEE me)

Leanne-I actually FIXED those! Your feedback on that first run was super helpful! the ONLY one is the running into them when they are connected another route...

Kathy-I am determined to eventually publish this one... when I get my changes in, though, I can shout and see if you have time!

Hart Johnson said...

Krista-HA! Glad for confirmation!

Hattie-yeah, I've actually seen reviews that put down the AUTHOR instead of just the story! Not this year so far, though... Still... I would have liked a HELPFUL review!

VR Barkowski said...

An expression like "absurdly plotted" is a perfect example of why writers should refrain from using vague adverbs. While it's fine to use "absurdly plotted" in a review—I've probably done it myself; I'm brutal—the reviewer is then obligated to pinpoint *what* s/he found so damned absurd. This particular reviewer does not, which leads to a kind of toxic feedback that should be legally punishable as verbal abuse. Instead of providing useful input, all it does is make the writer (in this case you, Tarty), doubt herself and her work.

To say it another way, if this individual isn't capable enough as a reviewer to tell you why s/he thinks the story is "absurdly plotted," then
a) s/he needs to seek out a new line of work;
b) you're obligated to ignore the review because it's so bleepin' vague all it will do is make you crazy.

Megan Bostic said...


What do they know anyway?

Anyhow, I love twists and turns in a book as long as they make sense. Of course I can't judge yours because I've not read your book, but I'm sure you didn't get as far as you did in the contest for no reason.

It's one person's opinion. Always have to keep that in mind. Go to Amazon, look up your favorite writer and look at all their one star reviews. I like to do that when I get a bad review. :)

Johanna Garth said...

I love complexity and what you got was basically a one sentence review. Ouch but I wouldn't give it too much credence.

Hart Johnson said...

VR-that's funny that you are a brutal reviewer! But yes, i could have taken it better if i knew the specifics.

Megan-LOVE that idea of looking at the one-stars of authors I love! That's a fabulous idea!

Johanna-that really is my biggest complaint--there is SO LITTLE!

Cherie Reich said...

*hugs* Sorry about the review and that you didn't move on in the competition.

It's such a vague review. Obviously you didn't write that book for that particular person. That's okay. There will be many people out there who will love your book, and they're the ones who matter. :)

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Last year ABNA's reviewer accused me of lifting the plot of THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH from the Disney cartoon, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (which I still haven't seen.) The other stingers were so personal and bizarre that I felt that the reviewer hadn't even bothered to read my entry.

I haven't even read what the reviewer said of THE BEAR WITH TWO SHADOWS. And after last year, I don't intend to.

I am saddened that they hurled such venom your way. Oh, I had to laugh at your comment on Micheal's blog. Undressed, indeed! How could you have missed that!! :-)


Carol Kilgore said...

What does that reviewer know. Nothing.

Helena said...

Hart darling, as tough as it is at first, you've just gotta ignore the reviewer because her head is in a nasty dark place where the sun won't shine. Publishers Weekly is notorious for giving either rave or ruthless reviews. I'm still stunned that my book got by PW with a lukewarm one, as if it hurt the reviewer to admit my novel had some qualities. I've seen PW pan books that become bestsellers and praise others that vanish, so ultimately there's no consistency in what they and other rags do.

Over the years I've read so many book reviews that I don't believe most of them, whether positive or negative, because I've come to see how shamefully subjective most of them are. Sure, the New York Review of Books will publish in-depth, erudite reviews on worthy-topic books, and the NY Times issues some solid long reviews. But the paragraph-long reviews churned out by industry rags are highly suspect. Just look up archived reviews for certain authors in online records for PW, Kirkus and others you'll see what I mean. I checked out Dan Brown in Kirkus and found a rave for Angels and Demons but a cold dismissal for The Da Vinci Code, and the style and tone for each review was so radically different it was a obvious that each was written by a different person. But whether praising or damning, neither reviewer backed up his/her words with examples of WHY he/she loved/hated it. I've seen book reports by kids that are more illuminating.

The solution? Write what you love and listen to your readers. And don't forget: The Help was rejected by almost 50 publishers, so no doubt it would've gone down in the ABNA contest too.

Trisha said...

I have had feedback like this before - well, my story was boring, not ludicrously plotted, but whatever. ;) I'm sorry you got burned, definitely sounds to me like this reviewer was having a bad hair day! And yeah, where IS the constructive crit in there?!?!

I can take criticism if it's constructive! I got very constructive crit earlier this year (or was it last year?? i can't remember now...) that basically amounted to: "rewrite your entire book." But it was still constructive, and even inspiring.

JCS said...

A viper and ROUS indeed! I'm sure ego, time constraints and a lot of subjectivity were at play here. A review like that should have offered explanation on how to make it better or at least offer good natured constructive criticism. I don't love PW anyway after all the crap they said about Borders (they said a lot of hateful things!) Keep in mind that most people in a creative field will deal with nasty people like that but that doesn't mean they aren't amazing at what they do!

Heather Savage said...

A nasty one for sure! Maybe you outsmarted your reviewer? Remember, to get that far you were good. Top 5%. I'd like to know if that reviewer was ever that good? And good call, wine and cheese make everything better. Me, I had a glass too that night. No nasty for me but I had one great one, one luke warm. Did have an RT like that once though and actually wondered after reading the scathing review: did you read the book? Because like the ludicrous comment, off base and no justification for the damning synopsis. Alas, we are artists and must suffer.

Unknown said...

*sending you virtual hugs and chocolate* I really hate when they don't specify what's not working. After reading your blurb I followed the plotline... but it does seem very involved, which I actually like. But maybe like you said the reviewer was just tired and over the job of reading entries.

Rachael Harrie said...

Aw *hugs* So sorry to hear about the unpleasant review. Another friend of mind had one too from ABNA :( It's hard when there's not really any info given on what brings them to their conclusions, isn't it!