Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Educated Thoughts on -- c.anne.gardner

Back in September 2010, I posted about a new feedback site called The site launched in October, and sad to say, I was just too busy with the release of Logos to get over there and check it out. I know; I should have got over there sooner, and I am perturbed at myself about that, even though I was then and continue to plug the site to all the writers I know far and wide who were/are looking for objective criticism of their work. Heck, I even started an Indie Page 99 group over on Goodreads, so my not signing up immediately wasn't for any lack of enthusiasm. I just missed the mark.

However, it's a brand new year, and I wanted to be able to share an "educated" opinion about the site based on my real time experience as a reader and a writer. I love it BTW, but my professional opinion is as follows:

I always have some downtime around my birthday, and so on January 8th, I loaded up the page 99s of three of my print books: The Splendor of Antiquity, The Thin Wall, and Logos. I didn't have to enter much information about the books, just the title, author, genre, and then select whether it was unpublished, published, or self-published. After that, they give you some formatting guidelines, and pretty much, you just copy and paste your page 99 into their text editor and hit go. The only bit that was problematic for me was selecting a genre, since my work, though primarily literary, does cross a few here and there. I was forced to pick literary as the default, which I thought was kind of limiting, but it is a start up website, so there might be tweaks down the road.

After you load up the goods, you make some coffee, have a smoke, pet the dog, or just sit back and wait for the comments to come rolling in. Well, I tend to exaggerate, it’s the writer in me, so maybe rolling in, isn’t the right term. It will take some time before you get commentary, and here's why: the site is completely anonymous by design. You won’t be able to find your friend's or relative's book and vote them into the top anything. The site is designed to provide objective commentary from real readers, and it does that brilliantly, mind you. Here's how it works for a reader:

I log in and select the read a page 99 button at the top of the screen. This randomly generates a page 99 based on the genres I selected as preferred when I signed up for my account. I can read the page 99 in front of me and give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down based on how likely I am to turn the page. I also select, based on my reading experience, whether or not I would be likely to buy the book. After that I can add critical commentary if I choose to do so. I can also opt out by selecting "no opinion." And here is the beautiful truly liberating thing ... you are not forced to read or rate anything. If a page doesn't grab your attention, you can just move on to the next randomly generated page without voting at all if you don't want to, which is especially nice for me. Sometimes, a page might be well written but it's just not my style or maybe the subject matter isn't something I would normally like. All I see at the onset is one page of a manuscript. The reader doesn't know the title, the author, or any other information about the book until they cast their vote on the page. Comments are optional. You can just vote and move onto the next page 99. If you do decide to vote, once you hit submit, the title, author, and whether or not the book has been published will be released to you, the reader.

So what about scamming the system? you ask. I am sure it can be done, but the system is designed to avoid authors monopolizing the site in an attempt to use it as a free promotional tool. You, the writer, can only load three page 99s at a time, and they only stay active for 30 days or 50 reads/ratings.

Here is the FAQ from their website:

Here, writers (published or not) share their page 99s with a world of readers ... and get real-time feedback. Does your writing hook readers? Let them be the first to tell you.

So, how does it work for writers?

Writers – published or not – come to the site, sign in (easy 4-field sign-up), and copy-and-paste their ‘page 99' from their manuscript (MS) into the text field on our site. They enter a few details – like book genre, title, and publication status – and submit it.

Writers can upload up to 3 page 99s (all from different MSs, obviously). Each page stays up for 30 days or 50 reads/ratings, whichever comes first. As ratings come in, writers go to their My Uploads page to see reader feedback, including comments.

And how does it work for readers?
Readers come to the site, sign in (easy 4-field sign-up), select their preferred genre, and get shown a page 99, which is randomly generated within the selected genre. They read the page from top to bottom (hopefully) and then answer 2 questions: Would they turn the page and how likely would they be to buy the book.

(OPTIONAL: Add comment for writer.) Once you hit Submit Feedback, you’re taken to a page that reveals to you info you didn’t otherwise know, like:

• Whether the page is from a published book or not
• Who the author is
• What the average rating is for each of the 2 questions
• Verbatim feedback/comments

I have to say, I am loving this so far. There was talk of a fee based service for authors, which technically would connect their unpublished manuscripts with agents and editors, but that is still in the works and everyone already knows my feelings about that, so I won't go into it here.

With respect to my own work, all three books have been live on the site as of this writing for exactly 12 days, and here is the vote/commentary I have received thus far:

The Thin Wall -- 3 thumbs up and 3 thumbs down with the comments:
1. It isn't that this is poorly written, it is just not the type of book I read.
2. Not bad, I was drawn into the story.
3. Gooey emotion ... yuk

Logos -- 3 thumbs up and 2 thumbs down with the following comments:
1. Gabriel Garcia Marquez (100 years of solitude)? I think this is professionally written, and if not, it should be published.
2. Well written, and interesting. Curious as to what it's about, and as to what happens next.
3. Not my favored type of reading.
4. Brilliant. The "and I did...want" seems a bit fragmented though, especially as there was a really nice flow up till that point.

Antiquity -- 2 thumbs up and 2 thumb down with the comments:
1. Interesting
2. Not Bad
3. "the how" does not seem grammatically correct.

As you can see, the comments, such as they are, are not really all that insighful or helpful in most cases, and some are downright inept. "Gooey emotion is yucky" doesn't really fall into true literary criticism and doesn't help the author at all, nor should the author take that sort of subjective commentary seriously. The commenter who thought the article "the" in front of "how" was grammatically incorrect was obviously an inexperienced reader who didn't understand that the paragraph preceding it alluded to the analytical construction in the common phrase: the what, the why, and the how, and that to remove the article would have made the idea and the sentence structurally unsound. As for the commenter who thought the "and I did...want" sentence was fragmented, I am not sure what they meant by that. I did break the flow there for a reason, so maybe they just found it uncomfortable. Anyway, For the sake of viable feedback, I am really hoping more hardcore critical readers and writers will embrace this site. There will always be new material to read; you don't have to invest in writing a full-blown review; everything is random and completely anonymous provided you use an anonymous user ID; it's not a popularity contest site; and it's a nice quick no obligation way to help the Indie community. So come on ... whatcha waitin' for? Give it a try. It's fun, easy ... and you might find a few new authors to read while your at it. Currently, I am rating one page a day and it only takes about 10 minutes to read and formulate a useful comment.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

P.S. So how many of you have listed your work with Tell us about your experience; we would love to hear from you.


Jim Murdoch said...

I uploaded two page 99s. 34% of 44 readers said they’d turn the page of Living with the Truth whereas 47% of 34 readers said they’d turn the page of Stranger than Fiction. Some of the objections were reasonable and highlight the flaws of just picking a random page but as a bit of fun I think it was interesting. It really all boils down to what’s on your page 99. What I would like to see the site include is a link so that those who have some real interest can read more about the book, a link to Amazon and to the author’s website would be a great help because of the 31 who found something there they liked I suspect none tried to find out any more about my books by themselves.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I agree Jim. I was surprised that it didn't ask more information about the book upon entry. I figured it would at least ask for an ISBN or a link to buy even. I know they are working on a pay to play option where you will able to load up the whole chapter, but that doesn't seem to be functional yet. I am running 40% on Antiquity, Logos is at 60%, and Thin Wall is at 50%. The Logos page had much more say violent ideas than the other two and all three are wildly different in their content and themes.

Catana/Sylvie Mac said...

I went to the trouble of formatting one of my novels into Open Office since Scrivener doesn't do pages. When I looked at my page 99, I realized that it would reveal almost nothing about the book. It was one of those quiet sections where whatever is going on is meaningless (and possibly boring) unless you know the context. Any arbitrary page could come up with something similar, so the exercise has no real value beyond the fun, if you consider that fun. No one chooses to read a book on the basis of one page, and judging it on that basis has no real value for the author.

MCM said...

Somehow all my averages float above 50%, but just barely. Some of the comments are really good attempts at being helpful (though it's hard to be truly helpful when you have no context for your comments), but others seem to be left by people who don't understand the point of the site. "Nothing happens. Boring." is a great example. How much is supposed to happen on a random page? Is there a rule that says page 99 needs to be action-packed? How much is enough? An odd standard.

Another great one I got was "I don't know who any of these characters are!" I was kinda stunned by that one. Wouldn't that be somewhat expected? Do you often read books where every character is re-introduced on every page?

And the greatest comment of all was this: "This revelation belongs on page 150." Wow. I mean... wow. I could definitely see that being a valid point, but without access to the rest of the book, it's a difficult point to make, isn't it?

So yeah. The site is great and fun and does lots of cool things, but oftentimes the comments are just plain silly.

Sarah Ettritch said...

I'll probably go ahead and post my page 99, but only for the potential (albeit slim) promotional value. As others have stated, it's difficult to offer constructive criticism based on a single page taken out of context.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Exactly my point everyone when I said we need more real hardcore critical readers to jojn the site. Real readers understand that one page isn't going to necessarily be action packed and all those other ridiculous comments. Real critical readers are going to focus more on the actual writing: the style, the poetry, and the functionality of the prose, that sort of thing, instead of trying to focus on the mechanics of character and plot. Becasue you just cannot do that with one page. However, you can identify if you like the voice and style in just one page.

I'm sorry MCM, but I have to to giggle at the page 150 comment. How the heck do they know your book even has 150 pages? My novellas certainly don't. Too funny. That's better than my "gooey emotion" comment.

Lance Jones said...

Cheryl Anne, thank you so much for taking the time to post your thoughts. I learned about your post via Google Alerts (gotta love Google Alerts!).

We're happy with the overall response to the site (now 3 months in) but we also understand there is plenty of room for improvement.

Right now -- when you're uploading a new or revised Page 99 -- you can include a link to your published book on page and your Twitter handle. We plan to offer even more options for building a following via our site.

But before we do that, we've got 2 major changes coming (with the former launching Monday the 24th and the latter a couple of weeks later):

1. Writers who upload their page 99 (again, either new or revised) will have the option of posting a direct link to their Page 99 on Twitter, Facebook, or email. We've had this request from many writers, but we were concerned about introducing bias and the potential for 'gaming' results. To solve that issue, when a reader comes to the site via your 'direct link', they are identified as "Invited"... and while they can post feedback and comments, their ratings are not tabulated with those from the regular site users (i.e., who come across your page randomly).

2. To give readers more context for a single page, we will give writers the ability to upload a short synopsis along with their Page 99. Readers will have the choice of reading the synopsis or not.

We're excited about the changes, and we hope writers are too!

Again, many thanks,
Lance Jones (Co-founder,

Kristine said...

It sounds interesting, and I've been tempted off and on, but it's the random (somewhat ridiculous) comments that turn me off. I know these people probably mean well - the readers - but reactions such as "goey emotion, yuck" and "this should have been revealed on page 150" are the kinds of things that send me into batshitcrazy mode.

They're not helpful, or even intelligent, because clearly they don't understand what to expect from a page 99. Constructive, well-thought out critic would be helpful, but this stuff is as destructive to my brain cells as constantly checking my stats.

Until I can get a handle on my sanity and tolerance for wtf comments, I'll have to pass on my own uploading.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Thanks for participating in the discussion, Lance. I was unaware you could post a link to your book. That is very helpful since most links have a longer preview than one page. I am also all for the back cover copy or synopsis idea. It will give the readers a lot more information as to genre and storyline. If my gooey emotion, yuck, person knew Thin Wall was a Literary Romance of a sorts, they probably would have just skipped my page and moved onto something more suitable.

I think when the two options you mentioned go live, I will revise my pages. I think also, authors should be allowed to select a secondary or sub-genre. Thanks again Lance. I think this has a lot of potential.

K.C. May said...

My book's page 99 averaged 56% yes. The comments were less than helpful -- along the lines of "I don't get it." and "What's a sapher?" -- the kinds of things that would be explained in a SF novel long before page 99. What I like about the site is that it provides a way to examine writing style, so I can determine whether it's for me. What I don't like is that readers are critiquing or reviewing the entire story experience based on a page in the middle taken out of context.

Steve Anderson said...

Great comments everyone. Thanks Cheryl Anne. I'm currently at 75% for my novel The Losing Role (also on this site, below) with 28 votes; and I'm at 50% for False Refuge after six votes.

I definitely am getting the same feel you are all getting. I've seen some helpful criticism, but much of it is strange.

Lance, thanks for checking in with an update. The Amazon link you mentioned would be helpful, though I just opened an upload page to check it out and didn't see the option. Hopefully it's coming.

Beyond that, the ability to add a synopsis and more genres is critical. For an example, let me use a third page 99 I had posted, from Besserwisser: A Novel.

This novel is humor and satire and farce. There was no subgenre available that touched any of those, so I chose General Fiction. And without being able to offer a synopsis, readers had no choice but to expect my scene to be serious in intent.

The comment that stood out was this absolute: "Utter crap."

Now, maybe after knowing more context this reader might have still judged it utter crap. But at least he could know. Other comments mistook it for literary fiction or indulgent coming-of-age mystery, both of which my page 99 scene was supposed to parody.

So, I took that novel down. I wasn't hurt, but rather kind of felt sorry for giving the reader something misleading.

Which brings me back to the great comments about readers being critical in more constructive ways. Among the weird comments, one of my favorites was for False Refuge:

"Ugh!! What on earth is 'infomercial'?!! 'The cute couple.' Oh dear. You must be American. This is terrible writing ..."

Or this one, for The Losing Role: "Not my type of novel."

Without more context, readers are invited to comment at the lowest gut level.

If I open a book to a page 99 or 69, say, in a bookstore, I'm still able to flip to the covers and see what it's about. That extra info is crucial, and it looks like it's coming soon. So thanks for that. Maybe I'll put the quirky Besserwisser back up and see how it goes.

Thanks for providing the service in any case. I do value it. And thanks Cheryl Anne for yours too.

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