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Hello, writers. The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest looms once again, and once again the rules have changed. Actually, I guess these changes were made last year, but of course I was not paying much attention at that time. This year there will be five winners, and the advance for the grand prize winner has gone up to $50,000.

Before I go into all my caveats, let me start by saying once again that I do think that reputable contests that charge no entry fee are a good way to break in. (And they're how I broke in. The cops are still lookin' for me.)

Now, my caveats.

First Caveat

Previously, the grand prize was a contract with Penguin. It appears that starting last year, Amazon began publishing the winners themselves. So far, brick-and-mortar stores have been pretty firm in stating that they won't carry books published by Amazon.

I'm also not sure where libraries stand on purchasing Amazon-published books.

So if your dream is to see your book on library and bookstore shelves with a penguin, a little house, or one of the other symbols of literary acceptance on the spine, winning this contest won't get you there.

Second Caveat

In the past, the “prize” for making it to the quarterfinal round was two reviews from Amazon Vine reviewers. Honestly, being reviewed by these folks can seem like more of a punishment than a reward. However, this year the description of the people writing these review has been changed to “Amazon-selected Editor”.

It's not clear what that means.

Third Caveat

The rules state that the prizes are not negotiable. A winning author is free to refuse the contract, or to accept it as written. (I don't know whether it includes an option clause on the writer's next book; most publishing contracts do.)

If your book is good enough to win the Amazon contest, i.e. to be chosen as one of the five best of 10,000 submissions, then it's good enough to get an agent and a publishing deal. A good agent may be able to get several publishers interested in it... and if you want a little house or a bird on the spine, you'll get it.

A $50,000 advance for a first novel is good. The other four prizes-- $15,000 advances-- are not bad. But none of these are the kind of advance that would be paid for what a publisher really believed was going to be a “breakthrough” novel.

Those are my caveats.

All of that being said, the contest is legitimate. It charges no fee, and it is not a scam. It's a chance for unpublished writers to get some attention. And if you're looking for something to motivate you to get your manuscript polished and out there and doing something, this may be it.

Which brings us to a question that's come up in these parts before, specifically about the Amazon contest.

How polished should your submission be?
And the answer is the same as for any other submission:

Like a diamond. Until it glows. Until it's blinding at 50 paces.

As nearly as you can make it so, it's got to be perfect.

To quote a classic book on writing:

Circus knife-throwers know that it is indeed possible to be perfect, and one had better be. --John Gardner, The Art of Fiction
An editor once told me that she doesn't read past the first mistake on a submission. I don't think that's at all unusual.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the Amazon contest. The entry window opens on February 16th and closes on March 2nd or when 10,000 entries are received.

Bearing in mind that two of our distinguished Write On! colleagues have advanced to the semi-finals in the past, is anyone planning on going for it this year?

Tonight's challenge:

The Amazon contest rules call for a “pitch” of 300 words. If you've got a novel you're trying to sell, you should be prepared to pitch it in a single sentence (maximum length 25 words) and in a brief blurb. I think 300 words is too long. Try to limit yourself to 150.

Provide both a one-sentence or a 150-word pitch for one of the following:

- The epic fantasy Jewel of Togwogmagog

- The epic fantasy Lord of the Rings

- The Joy of Cooking

- Hogwarts: A History

- Your work in progress

 

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