Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Meaty feedback to get my teeth into

After a brief email exchange I have received the feedback for my Wishing Shelf Awards entry 'Russian Redemption' woo hoo.

Well, maybe not so much a 'woo hoo' moment, more of a 'whoop'.

Here is the unedited response with my comments:

Author: Andrew J Wilson
Title: Russian Redemption

COVER: 6/10 
The readers views on the cover were very mixed. Many thought it was excellent: the strong red background, the powerful image of the handgun and the easy-to-read font. But a few of the readers felt it was too simple for such a complex, well-plotted novel and needed ‘jazzing up’ a little. 

In one of the more recent posts I mentioned 'There will never be a book that is loved by everyone' and this holds true. The same applies to every aspect of a book, including the cover, here is the proof - some loved it, some didn't like it at all - it's an uphill struggle from the off. Personally I thought that the raw simplicity of the cover reflected the content.

I would not say the readers ‘enjoyed’ this book. In fact, a few of them, after reading part way through, slammed it shut and went to have a shower. But even the readers who did not finish it understood that such terrible events – even in a fictional novel – must be remembered (but, perhaps not on a Sunday night just before bed!) 
With such a wide range of topics covered: torture, brutality, politics, living under communism, medical experiments on living humans etc etc (and written in such a graphic manner) it is not surprising that the market for such a book is slightly limited to readers with a strong stomach. One reader put, ‘I finished this book and, I must say, it had a lasting impression. The author did not pull a punch and, for that, I’m grateful.’ But another reader put in her feedback, ‘If the author had spent half as much time developing the characters as he did killing them off in horrific ways, it would have been a stunning first novel. There’s talent here; I 
just hope the author’s only fondness is not bloody violence.’ 

Temporarily ignoring the character development part, it seems that some found the content more Quentin Tarantino than Steven Spielberg, it took them outside of their comfort zone. I understand that and it makes me smile with a degree of satisfaction, I've put warnings all over the place "An Adults ONLY story that contains some graphic and shocking violence..." 
Somehow I find this section more amusing than I probably should. But it also leads to a question: How much choice did the panel have over which books they read and reviewed? I would question the logic of giving my book to a person to review IF they wouldn't pick it off the shelf for themselves. That said, it certainly seems to have generated opinion, reaction and left an impression. I may be slightly biased, but as this is a debut novel, I'd give me 12 out of 10 just for that!    :-) 

Now, onto that 'character development' bit. I am noticing a pattern here and I have to sit up and take notice. As I have said before, I have no formal writing training whatsoever so this is a golden nugget for my own development.

In generally, the readers discovered not punctuation, spelling or grammatical errors. They felt it flowed well and had excellent pacing. A few of the reader suggested a good editor might have suggested curtailing the violence slightly to open the book up to a larger readership. 

This is more contentious. Judi at ProofreadNZ has proven to be superb at what she does, but the question I have is what is expected of an 'Editor'? As the Author of the book the content falls to me, it's my responsibility, it's my say, it's my story? Part of the reason why Judi and I work so well together is that we both have clearly defined roles - I write, she makes sure it make sense, it's clean as far as the spelling and grammar are concerned. I wouldn't want an editor to tell me 'its a bit violent, you need to tone it down..' If that was the relationship it wouldn't take long before my story became our story, which is only one step away from her story - nope that doesn't work for me. However, I am reliably informed that in the upper echelons of traditional publishing the Editor will quite happily change content to make it more commercial...... and we're back to the money again. Judi is a great editor, she has proven that time and time again, what she isn't is an interfering editor, and that suits us both.

Apart from the editor bit I take some real positives from this section.

STYLE 8/10 
This, the readers felt, was the strongest part of this novel. Overall, they liked the short chapters, the well-constructed and often intricate plot and the clear, easy-to-read narrative. One reader put in her feedback, ‘This novel is not for me. It is way too graphic. But, what I do like is the style of writing. Not only is error free, it has a lovely flow to it. When this author finds to the time to write a book that is not so stomach churning, I will be all over it.’ 
For the most, they also felt you handled the violence in the story well. One reader put in his feedback. ‘This novel is set during a very violent time in Russian/German history. Subsequently, the characters act violently and often with little remorse. It is shocking, yes. But it is the way it was. The author, I think, shows the true nature of humanity (or the lack of) with great skill.  

There are some real positives in this section to, especially the last sentence, it made my heart burp happy bubbles! And if Judi ever needed confirmation of just how good an Editor she is then this section acknowledges her work as being 'error free'! I am however picking up on a trend, Russian Redemption is more for the male of the species - no real surprise there so again I have to question the selection process of the judges. 

TO SUM UP 30/40
Hi, thanks for entering your book in the awards. I will now go and post 4 star reviews on and Goodreads for you. 
The readers seemed to very much appreciate your novel. It was only a lack of character development that stopped it from getting through to the finals. Also, although we ask the readers not to down mark a book simply due to graphic sex or violence (if it’s appropriate to the genre) I think a number of the older, female readers had a problem with the darker chapters, 
Anyway, well done and good luck with your next novel. 

I am over the moon with this, and I really do appreciate (and need) the feedback. As a debut novel I think Russian Redemption has proven itself to be exactly what it was intended to be, a hard hitting portrayal of very different times, times that most of us have the luxury of not having witnessed or lived through. I've always scoffed at the early war films where shot soldiers or civilians fell to the ground almost gracefully, clutching at the single bullet hole that signifies their untimely departure from this planet. The vast majority of the general public are very happy to believe this; they want to believe it because it makes the whole war thing much more palatable. Ask anyone that has served in an Active Theatre of Operations, a combat zone, they will tell a very different story. So yes, Russian Redemption is quite graphic, it dispels the niceties, and yes I totally understand that some people are uncomfortable with this. So, just in case you haven't got the message "PLEASE do not read Russian Redemption if you are easily offended, squeamish or want to continue to live in your happy place of blue skies and candy floss clouds" I do not want to be responsible for shattering any ones peace and tranquility.

It also indicates the specific demographic that had the most problems with the content. I have to be honest and say that this was never the considered target audience for Russian Redemption so I am not surprised by their reaction - so why give it to them?

Of the 19 readers:
16 finished the book; the other 3 felt it was too graphically violent.
10 thought the cover was excellent; 9 thought it was a little too simple.
8 felt the characters needed more development, except for Yarna who, they felt, was a strong, well thought out character.
4 thought that ‘description’ was the author’s strongest writing skill.
9 thought that ‘pacing’ was the author’s strongest writing skill.
3 thought ‘the structuring of the story’ was the author’s strongest writing skill..
11 would like to read another book by this author.

‘A dark, horror-filled look at Russia in 1941. Powerfully written and fascinating.’ The Wishing Shelf Awards

I like this Quote - Great stuff 

Overall this feedback has given me plenty to think about, plenty to work on which makes the entry fee for the competition worth every penny and I would heartily recommend the Wishing Shelf Awards as a sound investment. Ed (Billy Bob Buttons) has lined up some changes for the next one which will see a smoother operation and quicker turnover of feedback, which is fantastic.

Now I'm off to do some research on character development, any pointers?

No comments:

Post a Comment