Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Reviews
The feedback on CreateSpace, which I had to log in to see, has entries from two "ABNA Expert Reviewers" and contains a review that doesn't appear on the public page. I found that review interesting because of this:
Reviewer 1 said:
Perhaps an opening action sequence, followed by the present opening, would get the book off the ground faster.
Although the book is a bit slow out of the wattled gate,
while Reviewer 2 said:
It would be nice to have more description of the setting, perhaps slow down the pace a little.
Which is why listening to everyone's advice can drive a writer crazy.
Reviewer 2 also said:
The strongest aspect of this excerpt is the beauty of the writing. It is descriptive, catching, and musical.
When Women Were Warriors has great strength of plot and prose.
Which is lovely, so I'm really not complaining.
Reviewer 1 also said:
The book might be better served by a stronger hook to catch the reader. Instead, the opening is more subdued, assuming that the reader will ride along patiently until some action (which is surely foreshadowed with all of the war talk) takes place. Perhaps an opening action sequence, followed by the present opening, would get the book off the ground faster.
This is advice I've never taken because of an experience I had quite a few years ago in a writers' group. One piece that we read started with a fight between two combatants who were trying to kill each other. It was very dramatic, but no one in the group could read past page 2. We didn't know who the combatants were. We didn't know who to root for. We didn't care about them. We didn't care who won. We just wanted it to be over, so that we could get acquainted with the world and its characters.
Perhaps the fact that all the members of the group were women accounted for our instant response of catatonic boredom when faced with several pages of two people we didn't know fighting each other.
The kicker was that the writer had originally started her book by introducing us to the world, the characters, and the issues before launching into the fighting. On the advice of her editor, she put the fight scene first, to "hook" the reader.
In the world of book publishing, there are some items of "received wisdom" that are never (almost never) questioned. One is that you have about 5 seconds to "hook" a reader, so you have to open with a whirlwind of activity that will keep a reader reading. Long, slow introductions are out of fashion.
I think this advice vastly underestimates our readers. It assumes that they have the attention span of a flea and not enough depth of understanding to appreciate something that goes deeper than what can be conveyed by action scenes.
Which is one reason why I'm glad I self-published. I wanted to tell the story the way I wanted to tell it. I wanted my narrator to tell the story as she was living it, step by step. The slow start prepares the reader for what is to come. And that seems to me to be appropriate for a three-volume epic.