Tuesday, October 21, 2008


By Amy MacKinnon

A lot of people have emailed lately asking that I read their query letters, first three chapters, or entire 400 page, single-spaced YA manuscripts. In one instance, a person asked I read the first three chapters of three different novels and their accompanying query letters--and then choose which she should submit. I know some, most are strangers, but so far I've agreed to read one and only because he's a good friend. I won't do it again.

It's not that I've deigned to read his work, it's not that at all, but how am I qualified to yay or nay another's writing? Here are some of my favorite books and a sample of their Amazon reader reviews. What do I know?

"The ending is stupid, unsatisfying and has all the melodrama of a soap opera...My heart WAS filled with gratitude however that my copy was from the library so I could simply dump it in the return slot." The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Interesting tidbit. This book is currently #2 for literature, is an Oprah pick, and of its 473 reviews, 141 are either one or two stars with an overall rating of 3 1/2 stars.

Here's another:

"...insipid mainstream pap, which is clearly enriching its author. Do yourself a favor: try Jose Saramago, Oscar Hijuelos or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, instead of this uninspired, banal, vapid, intellectual dead-end. Sorry, but this is one of the worst novels I've ever read." Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

One of my favorite books ever has an overall rating of 3 1/2 stars and of the 582 reviews, 137 are either one or two stars. Really?


"Talk about a labor of bore! This book was horrific...If you're in jail, by all means, indulge yourself." Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

This is my favorite book ever. It too has earned an overall rating of 3 1/2 stars, and of the 1,507 reviews, 355 are one or two stars. Sniff.

"Okay, I didn't really care for this book. It seemed dull and pointless, not to mention the plot was very vague. From what I could understand, it just seemed totally random. Not to mention it's hard to understand!" The Adventures of Hucklebery Finn by Mark Twain

Don't tell Jon Clinch. Definitely don't tell him it has 54 one or two stars, with an overall rating of just FOUR stars.

One more:

"...if I didn't know better I would say that it was written by a 10th grader who has done too much glue." The Road by Cormac McCarthy


You see? I am not in touch with mainstream American tastes. I can't predict what will appeal to the masses. In fact, it's pretty much a given that if I do fall madly in love with your book, it will be slaughtered by reviewers.

If you're curious to know what's #1 on both the New York Times' and Amazon fiction best seller list, here's an Amazon review:

"I find that to be the best part of this author, that when he has you crying, laughing, or ready to spit nails, he has the power to make you believe that anything is possible- that fate and destiny are not myths, after all. (Insert sigh here), Another great read from a true gem." The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks

Only 21 reviews so far for this new release; five stars overall rating, with no one or two stars.

Insert sigh here indeed.


Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Oh Amy, the reviews are so all over the place! It is only an indication of a few vocal people's taste. You should not question your writing judgment. And I believe if a writer friend (I don't think you should be reviewing every acquaintance's query) should ask you for feedback, I believe your feedback would be incredibly helpful.

Larramie said...

Although you've made a strong case, Amy, there's one HUGE problem. As a member of The Writers' Group, you do read and critique... ;)

Now these writers asking for your assistance know you've succeeded and -- while paying you a burdensome compliment to behold their mss. --, are also giving Author Amy MacKinnon a ***** review!

Amy MacKinnon said...

Ello & Larramie, within the group a dynamic emerges whereby we are stronger than the sum of our parts. Alone, I honestly don't think my feedback would be that helpful. And Larramie, it's less about the burdensome aspect of it and more about my own esteem. I don't represent what the majority of people like -- in anything. Well, except chocolate. I like that.

T. Forkner said...

wise words, Amy. Thanks for sharing. I often feel the same way when asked to read the work of people I do not know. I feel blessed and am touched they would respect my opinion, but I don't feel qualified either.

Amy MacKinnon said...

Exactly, Tina And the more I do it, the less qualified I feel.