Recently, I entered my first novel in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, which Amazon has hosted for the past seven years. The contest allows a total of up to 10,000 entries for novels of between 50,000 to 125,000 words in five categories, including:
- General Fiction
- Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror
- Young Adult Fiction
The contest’s Grand Prize is a contract with Amazon Publishing and a $50,000 advance. In addition, the contest has a number of other awards ranging from monetary prizes to free book reviews.
Besides the chance to win a publishing contract, I entered the contest this year for three reasons:
1. Motivation to Complete and Polish the Novel
Sometimes an external event or contest can be a useful catalyst in accomplishing one’s goals. In November of last year, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to inspire writers to complete a 50,000+ word novel from scratch in one month. Since I had an idea stewing in my head for some time, I decided to participate. During the process, I found that having daily word count goals helped me write about 78% of my novel, allowing me to “win” NaNoWriMo by writing over 54,000 words that month. In the first several weeks of December, I finished a 68,000-word rough draft of my novel.
During the month of January, I took a breather from the novel to write two short stories. I then procrastinated on polishing my novel’s “rough” first draft into a solid second draft, because I dreaded going back to something I had written so quickly. Frankly, I didn’t look forward to fixing a slew of grammatical errors, logical inconsistencies, and clunky writing. But when I discovered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in mid-February, I scrambled to complete a second draft of my novel so I could enter the contest by the deadline.
While my novel is by no means ready for the eyes of agents and publishing houses — no one but me has reviewed the manuscript — I had nothing to lose by entering the contest. And by the time the contest ends in July, I will have had plenty of time to receive feedback on my novel and to amend and polish it based on that feedback.
So if the novel isn’t ready for prime time, why did I submit it? The answer to this question leads to the next reason I entered the contest.
2. Validating the Novel’s Concept
In the contest’s first round, Amazon editors review 300-word pitches for entrants’ novels. They don’t even glance at a manuscript until they review the pitch. Only 20% of entrants make this initial cut.
Now did I polish the pitch? Absolutely. The pitch is an entrant’s opportunity to sell a novel’s sizzle to editors. It’s a marketing exercise. If an editor isn’t interested in the pitch, it’s unlikely he or she will be interested in the novel — even if the novel is excellent.
In the past, I’ve also used short stories to validate ideas for novels as well. If an editor is willing to pay for a short story, then there’s a greater chance another editor will be willing to buy a novel based on the same proven concept. In fact, the novel I submitted to this contest was originally a short story that I sold to an outline magazine (and that the former editor of another science fiction online magazine suggested should be a novel rather than a short story).
3. Free Marketing
Even if I don’t win the contest (which is highly likely given that my novel is an early draft), there’s a 20% chance I get free publicity just by entering. If a contestant passes through the pitch stage, Amazon posts his or her name on the ABNA website. At best, it provides entrants with some exposure to agents and/or editors. At worst, a contestant’s blog may receive extra traffic.
If a contestant passes the contest’s second round based on his or her novel’s 3,000-to-5,000-word excerpt, then he or she receives a free Publishers Weekly review, which the entrant can use to market his or her manuscript to agents and editors.
Ultimately, I think my novel still needs a lot more work before it’s ready for prime time. That said, I have a zero percent chance of winning the contest if I don’t enter it.