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Amazon Breakthrough: Brass Ring for Novelists
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Last year, novelists from around the world with unpublished novels in English flocked to the first Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Bill Loehfelm emerged as the 2008 Grand Prize Winner from a pool of 5,000 entrants with his mystery novel Fresh Kills. This year Amazon with the support of the Penguin Publishing Group, is opening up the competition to 10,000 entries or to February 8, whichever comes first. There are three days left.

Realize that the top ten winners are likely to have really polished their novels well. This isn't a lottery but a competition. Amazon editors will quickly reduce field to 2,000 novels based solely on the novels' one-paragraph pitch. The editors will then read short excerpts of each of the books to bring the field down to 500.

The full text of those 500 novels go to Publisher Weekly reviewers, who will narrow the field to 100, at which point Penguin Editors will read the 100 manuscripts and select three as finalists. Amazon will post excerpts of those three novels for Amazon readers to vote on.  

My agent, Jim McCarthy in New York, tells me that publishing fiction is harder than ever in this bad economy. Editors are extraordinarily conservative. The well-written mid-list book that will bring in moderate income is not wanted. The idea of grooming writers is long gone. It's basically blockbusters or nothing.

Amazon's contest is using five criteria for judging: originality of idea, plot, prose/writing style, character development, and overall strength. My approach in writing my books has been simple: tell a story clearly, truthfully, and with moments of vision or insight that even surprises me. Writer Tim O'Brien in 2000 wrote a piece in the New York Times that remains a touchstone for me, along with his bookThe Things They Carried. The article told about his revisiting Vietnam that year, which was heart-rending and showed him as fragile, a man still haunted by the war. O'Brien's book reflects what he writes in one chapter: that stories can save us. His stories are about deeply felt moments and ideas. I push myself to do the same.

Thus, if you have such a book in your closet, or your agent has it out but it hasn't gone anywhere yet, you have three days to get it into Amazon. Make sure you’ve got your entry submitted by 11:59 PM EST on February 8th. You can submit your entry at www.createspace.com/abna. For more information and instructions on how to enter, watch the helpful video tutorials located there as well.

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Not Every Editor Knows

Most of the finalists from last year's contest have had their novels published, so I look at this contest not just as having one winner, but several. The top 100, in fact, will have reviews in Publisher's Weekly, so that's a thing to hope for. May your novel make the top 100.

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Too Many Zeros

Make the top 1.

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Dale, that's the way each novel we write should feel: the top 1. I've send my short story collection "Months and Seasons" into the Frank O'Connor Award in Ireland. It's the top prize for short story collections, and Jumpra Lahiri won the award this year for her book "Unaccustomed Earth." While I feel my collection could be #1, I'm going into it like Rocky Balboa in the first "Rocky." I just want to stay in the ring. That is, if I make even the long list, my book will get attention from readers.