Book review word cloud

I’m sorry I can’t help myself.  I’m going to talk about a bad review one of my books got.  Actually,  it was more than a bad review.  It was a losing entry in a major awards competition for independent writers like me. Okay, go ahead and say it:  I am a poor loser…I’ll abide by that, but this was stupid.

I have entered this competition several times and one thing I like about it is, win or lose, you get a “professional” review of your book.  Good reviews are a good thing, they tell me, and one from this competition counts because the sponsor is a major, respected publication in the industry.  In addition to the review, your book is scored in five categories using a one-to-five scale:  1 means “needs improvement” and a 5 is “outstanding.”

It is possible to get a very good review and not make it to the award platform.  That’s pretty much what happened last year with my entry for Dead Letter.  I scored a 5 in every category except one.  The latter category was for the cover. The judged gave it a 4.  I think the judge really didn’t like the naked lady on the cover even though he/she denied it..and that’s okay.  Other than that, the judge had good things to say about DEAD LETTER.  If you wish to see the review, here’s the link:

Now, the latest review, the one that doesn’t sit well, is for my most recent book, ANCHOR.   Here is the judge’s report:

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 2

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 3

Production Quality and Cover Design: 3

Plot and Story Appeal: 3

Character Appeal and Development: 3

Voice and Writing Style: 3

Judge’s Commentary:  I liked the story. You did a great job with creating Ryan, and I suspect that’s because you have experience with the radio industry. That sort of verisimilitude is something that cannot be replaced in telling a story that is as wed to setting as yours is. The setting and atmosphere were incredibly believable which helped the reader get into the book.

I do have some suggestions to make. The back cover text is more of a summary than a tease. The back cover should not give away major plot points in the story, and I felt that at the halfway point of the novel that I was still reading things that were referenced in the back cover text.

Additionally, the text should not reference the author or the writing process. This text is for the reader.

The introduction is labeled “First a note about…” I felt that the header made it feel optional, rather than something that the reader should read to understand a part of the book.

The book needed to have headers, which alternate between the author’s name and the title of the book. This may seem trivial, but in fact, it’s free marketing and cements the title and author’s name into the reader’s head since they see it on every page.

(the above review is credited to:  Judge’s comments, 24th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Book Awards)

Okay, here’s my sour grapes:

The judge says he/she “suspects” I worked in radio.  This is the same judge that spent much of the review critiquing the back cover of the book…where it clearly states that I worked in radio.  …and where the hell did verisimilitude come from?

I have no idea what the judge is talking about in the second paragraph regarding reference the author or the writing process.  Is this still something having to do with the back cover?

The judge’s next criticism (still not dealing with the story) has to do with the author’s note at the front of the book that references the short news stories that are at the head of each chapter.  The judge felt it was implied these were optional reads. Yep, that’s exactly what they are, as clearly stated in the author’s note…duh!

And finally, still not addressing the story itself, the judge suggests my name and the title of the book should appear at the top of every page.  Really?  Couldn’t the judge have found something more significant to discuss, like  why I earned only a 2 in style, organization and pacing?

I guess I should be happy that the judge found nothing substantive to critique in my story, but if that is the  case, why then all the  3’s?   Feedback on those items would have been a lot more helpful and constructive.

The entry fee for this conest is $100.  If nothing else, the contestants deserve better judging.

Okay, thanks for letting me vent.  I’m moving on now…wait’ll next year!


About Marc Kuhn

I am a retired radio exec. I've worked at major stations in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Miami. That was then. This is now: I've published seven books and this blog thingy. Need to know more? Really? Okay, I bare/bear all at The other links are for the websites of each of the books I've written. I've been busy! Hope you'll stop by and check them out. Thanks for your interest!
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  1. Marc Kuhn says:

    marieryan: THANK YOU so much for your comment. I do not enter many competitions, primarily because they all have a fee and, heeding your suggestion, NO TENGO mucho dinero! I will pick and choose among those that I think would have the most benefit should I get lucky and win. That said, I am not the type to complain. In fact I have to spend time trying to convince friends who read my books to be thoroughly honest and not just say nice things to make me feel good. I need the criticism because, like you, I am new at this and I don’t have a lot of time to learn how to get it right (No TENGO mucho tiempo!). My advice, for what it is worth, is to simply check the sponsors of the competition for credibility and the value of their award should you win. I wish you great success. I hope you are working on your future Pulitzer acceptance speech like I am!


  2. marieryan says:

    Hi Marc.
    I found your article by chance and was quite depressed about the experience you related.
    I’ma newbie to writing and have just submitted a short story to a competition, and as any ‘new’ writer (I’m old!) , I paid the fee for feedback, as I have no idea whatsoever if my story has any merit. I’m still waiting for the result!

    It was amazing to read that your 100$-worth feedback did not once refer to your story and just to the technical minutiae of the cover, etc. All which could be fixed in no time.
    I’ve got a bad feeling that there must be a lot of good business being made out there by some who claim to be able to help the multitude of aspiring writers who are finding a voice in this new era of technology.

    Thanks for your interesting posts!
    Regards. Marie.


  3. rcarmean says:

    7 likes in little time. Your article strikes a chord. I wonder what these people would think of your book(s)? My guess: it would get a better reception from your readers than the reviewer. And with good reason.

    Liked by 1 person

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