Well, you guys came through in a spectacular way, and I am now armed to the teeth with blog post ideas, so hang on, because I’m about to become a regular blogger again!

There are also some fun new memes in the works with an author-friend of mine, so keep an eye out for more information on that, because you are all welcome to participate in those once we have them up and running. I won’t give anything away just yet, as I have a whole blog post about them coming later this week (hint: Wednesday), but I will tell you that 1) they’ll be fun, and 2) there will be Linky Lists and everything. Super official!

Today’s post takes us back to the world of the ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award) contest. This is a contest for self-published and un-published authors that I’ve entered for 5 years in a row now. It is made up of FIVE rounds, with the one-in- ten thousand possibility of winning the ever-coveted GRAND PRIZE spot, which comes with a $50,000-advance and a publishing contract with Amazon Publishing.

The first 3 years I participated in the contest the contract was with Penguin and was only a $15,000-advance, but Penguin seems to have left the partnership as Amazon has begun to focus more on their own actual publishing house. There are also 4 additional FIRST PRIZE winners, who each receive a publishing contract with Amazon Publishing as well, and the smaller, $15,000-advance.

The rounds for the contest go thusly:

First round – up to 10,000 entrants are judged by official amazon judges on their 300-word pitch. Each pitch receives a score, and the top 2,000 move on to the second round. There is no feedback in this round, so whether you make it through or not, you will never know why! (Cue creepy music).

Second round – the remaining 2,000 victorious are judged by Amazon Vine Reviewers (2 per excerpt) on the strength of the first 3,000-5,000 words of their novel, and the strongest 500 excerpts will remain for the next round. During this round, you get to read your two reviews whether you continue on or not. This can be heartbreaking, useful, or just plain confusing. The Viners do not get to “choose” who moves on, they simply submit their scores and sit back with all the contestants to see who made it through. Many a Vine Reviewer has expressed surprise that an entry they scored quite high and enjoyed mightily did not make it through this round. But, alas, only 500 can continue. The first year I entered was the only year I made it to this round, and while both of my reviews were very nice, favorable, and complimentary, I did not advance… so… [shrug].

Third round – the 500 advancing contestants will have their entire manuscript read, reviewed, and rated by Publisher’s Weekly. These reviews are yours to do with as you please, regardless of whether or not you advance (a pretty nice prize in and of itself). At the end of this round, only 5 finalists from each category remain. (500 down to 25).

Fourth round – Amazon’s judging panel will read and review each manuscript and the accompanying reviews. The five strongest entries will be posted and there will be a chance for customer voting to take place in order to help determine the GRAND PRIZE winner. (Though at this point in time, you’re among those guaranteed to be offered a publishing contract and an advance of some size).

Fifth round – this is where the customer voting occurs, and we finally get to see which of the Five Finalists is a Grand Prize winner, and which four are merely First Prize winners.

I mentioned earlier that I’ve entered the contest for five years in a row. In those five years, I’ve only made it past the pitch round once, the very first year, and was cut at the excerpt round. This year, the word-count was 25,000 words less than it was last year, which meant I ended up submitting a completely different book than the one I had intended to submit, along with a pitch that I came up with in under 3 minutes. Which mostly means I wasn’t at all surprised not to make it on to round 2. (It was an interesting experiment, however).

Each year, I read through a lot of the winning pitches, and each year I am reminded that my books and writing simply do not fall into the category that Amazon Publishing seems to be interested in promoting. They mostly seem to want gritty, real-world-type characters who deal with some sort of “coming of age” or “enlightenment” transformation (whether or not the story takes place in the real world). Basically, they are looking for the next “Twilight,” “Hunger Games,” or “Divergent.” (Though they’re not necessarily looking for a dystopian or vampire genre). The fact of the matter is that they simply don’t want epic fantasy. And that’s fine, totally their prerogative.

I have also mentioned on here before that I am perfectly happy self-publishing my novels and don’t really want a traditional publisher. I like the freedom of self-publishing, picking my own editors and having a say in the cover art. And while it is a lot of work and effort, I’d rather put that work and effort towards something that is wholly “mine” rather than something that I no longer own the rights to. Maybe it’s because I grew up with a Dad who was self-employed… but that entrepreneur-mentality is sort of ingrained into me.

I don’t really want to win the ABNA.

So, the next question is obvious: Then why enter at all?

A couple of reasons:

1) It’s fun. This is the number one reason I have. I enjoy the month or two of chatting with other authors, some of them familiar names by now, on the discussion boards. I enjoy the sarcastic banter, and the witty repartee of self-published writers who all write vastly different stories but are all working towards the same goal: a professional writing career that can sustain more than a cup of coffee a day. And I enjoy finding a few books outside the “mainstream” that I might be interested in reading…

2) It’s free. It costs absolutely nothing to enter the contest. Considering the potential rewards, that’s a pretty awesome deal right there.

3) Why enter, particularly if you really don’t want to win? Well… $50,000. Seriously. That’s a lot of money. For this day and age, that’s an ENORMOUS advance for a debut or unpublished author. I mean, I’m pretty sure that not a single one of my books, written or yet-to-be-thought-up will EVER fit into the box of “What Amazon Publishing is looking for.” And I’m okay with that. But, if they were to go out on a limb and suddenly start looking for epic, quest-style, family-friendly fantasy… $50,000 would be really nice. But, even if I were to miraculously beat the 1:10,000 odds and actually be offered the Grand Prize and STILL not feel comfortable with the “as is” contract… well, the way I see it, just because they offer you the Grand Prize… in no way means you’re obligated to take it. In the rules themselves, it says that if you are notified as one of the finalists, and you do not return the required paperwork on time, you will be disqualified. So, even if you make it all the way, there’s no need to worry and wonder, “How do I get out of this?” Simply refuse to sign anything, and they’ll disqualify you from the contest and move on to the next finalist, who will probably be more than willing to sign their paperwork.

4) The authors. This group is highly sarcastic, greatly generous, and extremely entertaining. Many of them have a lot more experience in the writing world than I do. And many of them are perfectly willing to share a lot about those experiences, which can be incredibly useful to someone who wants to learn. There is a Pitch Thread that runs year-round, where the whole point is to help anyone and everyone refine their pitch. Even if you don’t ever enter the contest, if you are an author I cannot recommend enough that you swing by this particular discussion thread. It is a great place to learn what makes an interesting “back of book” blurb, or “query letter pitch” or just “how to describe your book in 300 words or less.” (In Dec-Feb it is an extremely fast-moving thread, so don’t be discouraged if your first post doesn’t generate any responses. Just be polite, submit your pitch again, and wait… the people over there do try REALLY hard to make sure everyone gets feedback). It’s also just good manners to stick around and return any feedback you might have for anyone else’s pitch that pops out at you… even if you have no idea what you’re doing when it comes to WRITING a pitch, if you’re a reader, your advice is welcome.

So, those are the reasons I enter. Are there measurable benefits, even if you don’t make it through the first round? I believe so. There’s a little bit of networking, and a lot of advice you can glean. But mostly, it’s just fun.

~ jenelle


DJ Edwardson

You make a very solid case for participating. I hadn’t thought about the networking aspect. I think also the prospect of getting feedback is also something that would be extremely valuable. I also did not realize that the discussion went on year round.

Tons of great insight. Very helpful post. Thanks for sharing this!


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