This year I decided to enter my novel, Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, which is one of the biggest prizes there is for unpublished and self-published authors. I made it to the second round but no further. Progress form the second round was dependent on reviews from Amazon's "Expert Reviewers". These reviewers were given the first 3-5,000 words of each book - the first two chapters in my case (you can read the whole book for free here to give you an idea what they were judging). It should be noted that they were not given the book's "pitch" (what you'd see on the back cover, or its genre. That may be evident. A few months ago my wife receioved a hilarious circular e-mail telling the same story from two different sides and showing what a difference perspective plays in how we see things.
I decided to post the reviews here because they show a very similar thing about books.
I will not comment here on the reviews themselves. You are free to, and I will certainly join in once conversation has begun.
ABNA Expert Reviewer 1
What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?I was very intrigued by the title of this excerpt, which may also interest other potential readers as well (though I was unable to determine what relation the title had to the story).
What aspect needs the most work?Without seeing more of the work than this excerpt, I am not sure that the date at the start of the first chapter (December 12, 2007) has much relation to the story. The second chapter does not start with a different date. There is quite a bit of vulgar language that seems to have no other purpose than to shock the reader. This language could be eliminated or replaced with something not as vulgar without detracting from the story.
What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?After reading this excerpt, I cannot identify the central conflict. I am not sure who the target audience is (age and gender) or what other authors' works this target audience may enjoy. It seems as though the author may not have clearly identified this either.
ABNA Expert Reviewer 2
What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?The quality of writing is very consistently very good and the work is finished and polished. The characters we meet are interesting and even in this short excerpt are fleshed out enough to seem like real (if atypical) people. Choice of words and phrases are original without seeming contrived or awkward as is so often the case. The story promises to be a little edgy without being at all crass. It is fresh and contemporary. There are some truly brilliant parts, for example, when Szandi describes the route to Yang's studio or Yang's handwriting or is entranced by her eyes, the description of their lovemaking or her flashback about her Mum.
What aspect needs the most work?I am unable to identify any major flaws in this excerpt. One minor issue is that as far as I can tell, Ilke never tells Szandi her name when they meet yet Szandi knows it.
These certainly aren't flaws, just some thoughts while I was reading:
It took me a heck of a long time to figure out that Szandi was female on the first reading.
There are some Briticisms that may or may not be intended.
What's up with Claire?
Szandi is quite mature for a 17 year old.
There are a lot of little threads started in the beginning of the novel, such as the letter about Szandi's father.