It was a pretty different kind of experience. My first thought was to invite a group of friends to comment on the chapter. Good thought, I suppose, but the web site is bit sloppy and hard to navigate, so several people had difficulty signing on. I got comments from several of my friends on the chapter, but mostly through private emails.
In the first several days, I got about 6 comments and perhaps 8 votes. The voting was on a scale of 1-10, so one low early vote was enough to keep my score low (like 3.4) for a while. The comments were a mixed bag: some were tuned in and quite constructive, whereas other readers just did not seem to get what the chapter was about.
At that point, I got into marketing mode. One of my relatives was also in the contest, so we helped refer various people to each other's entries and that seemed to help us both get more readers, better comments and higher scores. I also wrote a couple of articles to plug the piece, which are here and here. However, I was also trying to produce some value, so the 2nd piece is actually a book review of the new Robert Stone book "Prime Green", which is his memoir about the Sixties. It just turns out that one of the themes of Growing Up Single is to take a look back at this time, but as seen through the eyes of a teenage boy from a small town. Naturally, there is more to the book than that, as the links above indicate. It is intended to be a story of the times from the Sixties to the Eighties, but there are also some timeless aspects of growing up which the novel explores.
Good news: Some readers really love the first chapter and do feel it captures the time (1966) and experience of being a thirteen-year old. Hurray!
Other news: Some readers felt it dragged a bit, had a bit too much detail and could be otherwise tightened up. There were also some useful comments about the transition from a prologue to the first chapter, with a variety of opinions on how well that transition worked. Certainly good food for thought.
After 14 days, my vote count was up to 24, the chapter was rated at 5.8 (down from a high of 6.2) and there were about 14 comments. Then, per the rules of the contest, the chapter was removed.
So, what did I learn from this experience. First, it is a really good thing to get lots of people to comment on your work, especially if they don't know you and need to focus on what the actual text says. However, I have also gotten excellent feedback from people who do know me and have a bit more context on the setting of the chapter in Connecticut. Only the top 20 entries move into the next round and my 5.8 score won't get me there. However, there is a wild card, based on votes of the Gather editorial staff, so there is still a slight chance there. I personally believe my chapter is among the best I've seen there, though arguably not the best, but we'll just have to see how that turns out. One of the difficult parts of this contest was the mixing of all kinds of genres; one goes from reading SF to light fiction to horribly gripping tales of a child rape.
I now have more sympathy for the publishers and agents who wade through the "slush pile", that is, the submissions of queries from would-be authors. The Gather contest attracted over a thousand entries, so there are a lot of aspiring novelists out there competing for attention. My goal, like that of the others, is to get my book published. I've lived with this book for many years, to the extent that it feels almost like my third child. It did feel good to lift the covers a bit and let some readers have at it. It confirmed my suspicion that there is a readership for this book; among the Gather readers, it seemed that woman readers were most receptive to this chapter. That might change for later chapters, but the themes of exploring relationships and changes in gender roles should be of interest to readers of both sexes that enjoy character driven novels. I also still feel there is plenty of room for good novels that truly capture the feel of the transition from the Sixties to the Eighties, which was one of my key goals when I set out to write the book. My hope is that I can get the book published so that a much larger group of readers can read the book and decide for themselves whether they think it works.
Novel writing is a craft and I have learned a great deal just from the writing of Growing Up Single. By the latter third of the book, the process of writing scenes and dialogue felt much more natural and one hopes, produced text which was that much better. I'll now take stock of the book, consider some additional edits and continue to market it. However, I've also got some other writing ideas which I've begun to pursue as well. After all, writing a book is much more fun than marketing it, even if you are a marketing professional as I am. The journey continues...