In 2008, Amazon.com launched its annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. This contest was designed to promote their new CreateSpace subsidiary. CreateSpace is a Print on Demand service that allows writers to upload print-ready files which can then be ordered as paperback books on Amazon. Each time a customer orders the book, one or more copies can be printed and shipped.
At the time the contest was initiated, I had little interest in CreateSpace or POD. It sounded like a great technology, though I couldn’t see many people ordering my books at the prices I’d have to set them at. It didn’t seem financially feasible, but the contest itself sounded great. It was free to enter and one winner would walk away with a $25,000 advance and a publishing contract from Penguin. The contest was designed to work a bit like American Idol. Contestants would upload short samples of their book, and editors (or contractors) from Publisher’s Weekly and Penguin would narrow them down through a series of cuts. In that first year, the first cut, I believe, was from 10,000 down to about 2,000. After that, the general public would weigh in and the final result would be solely decided by popular vote.
I was pretty sure I had a good shot at making the first cut, at the very least. I entered a book I’d been working on called “Natalia,” about a girl from Eastern Europe sold into slavery in Turkey. I worked so hard on this book, I’d even traveled all the way to Istanbul to research the locale. I had to make the first cut, right? Well, no. The night that the announcement was supposed to be made, I kept checking my e-mail obsessively. They were late. Very late. I finally went to bed around midnight, but got up early in the morning to check again. Disaster. I didn’t make it.
The following year I entered the manuscript for a book now titled “Sweet Ophelia and the Tinsel Town Blues.” This was a lighthearted romantic comedy. Surely this would make the cut. Again, no go. I was nearly as disappointed as the first time around.
The third year they changed the format just a little. Now they would offer two categories, Adult and YA, with 5,000 entries per category and a $15,000 contract for each. Instead of the first cut being judged on a sample of the novel, it would now be judged based on a pitch, which was basically a short, compelling description of the work. This time I entered “No Cure for the Broken Hearted.” I worked on that pitch, and polished it, and was sure I would make the cut this time. At least the first cut! No. Nada. Didn’t happen. Three years in a row, three different novels, and I couldn’t even make the first cut.
Now it is time for ABNA version 4.0. Again they are offering two $15,000 advances on contracts with Penguin Publishing. And you know what? The way things have changed in the past year, I'm no longer very interested in a $15,000 advance. To give up my ebook rights? Hmm... Sure, maybe I’d make more on royalties in the end, but right now I’m having too much fun out here on my own. Even though I’m still small potatoes, it’s fun to be part of this ebook revolution.